Do You Play the Victim?

By Chris Chittenden

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

… Victor Frankl (1905 – 1997 Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor

Have you ever felt like the victim? I know I have, certainly in my younger years. As we go through life, we encounter circumstances that cause us pain and suffering, often, it appears, through no fault of our own. In those situations, it is easy to find fault in others and blame them for our suffering. However, in doing so, we cast ourselves as the victim and those we blame as the perpetrators. Sometimes this is valid, sometimes it is not.

This may seem fairly straightforward on the surface. After all, why wouldn't we simply assign blame to others who hurt us. However, when we see ourselves as the victim in a situation, we also declare that we were powerless then. As victims, things are done to us that we do not want and cannot prevent.

This does not mean that we can always prevent certain unwanted things occurring. This is unrealistic. However, as Victor Frankl says, we always have that last human freedom, we can choose our attitude in relation to what happens to us. He was speaking as a survivor of the Holocaust, where he found himself at the mercy of the Nazis in a concentration camp. Yet, in the direst circumstances, he spoke of clinging to his dignity by hanging onto this last human freedom.

We all have a choice and rather than acting like the victim, we can recognise our own role in certain situations and take responsibility for what part we can play in it. This does not mean that we can always change the outcome, but we can look for what we can influence.

Why is this important?

The more we feel like the victim, the more we assign only other people's action as being at fault. In doing so, we say that we are not to blame and do not have to take different actions in the future. Yet, taking this stance closes us to learning. The first rule of learning is to admit that we have something to learn. By saying, that all the blame lies elsewhere, there is clearly nothing for us to learn in this situation. If we do this with some regularity, then we may be missing many learning opportunities in life.

Our ability to learn is not the only casualty here. Each time we feel like we are the victim, we feel a little more powerless in life in general. Depending on the severity of the situation, this can have a huge immediate impact or a slower and more subtle lessening of our dignity. As we feel more powerless, we lose our capacity to influence our future and become even more of a victim. If we continue down this path, ultimately all we can do is blame the world for our suffering. We may take solace in our belief that it is not our fault, but we are still suffering.

So here is an invitation. When you feel hard done by, don't just look to find fault, look at the part you played in creating the situation. You may not have spoken up when you could have done or not acted in time. Seek to learn from misfortune and hold on to your power.

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© 2014 Chris Chittenden