In the beginning of time, when God made the Earth and the heavens and man and woman, he planted the most beautiful and lush of gardens for the man and woman to live. In the middle of this Garden of Eden stood the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which he commanded them to never eat from.
But as we all know, Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thanks to the cunning serpent. And upon being questioned by God, Adam blamed Eve for eating the forbidden fruit, who in turn blamed the serpent for persuading her.
Welcome to victim-land.
A place that most of us know well. Us humans have been blaming, criticizing, judging and engaging in self pity since, quite literally, day one.
This victim mentality is the idea that we are not responsible for our actions and circumstances, where we turn to emotional reasoning to dictate and justify our reactions: I feel it, therefore it must be true. It’s our nature to believe that things are supposed to be a certain way, and so we refuse to accept them when they’re not.
That’s why complaining is such a great self defense mechanism. It’s the perfect way to convince ourselves that we deserve better when things don’t go our way, without actually having to do anything about it. It is far easier to complain, blame, and criticize than create and lead and act.
We see a general lack of acceptance (and a whole lot of blame, criticism and hatred) in our daily dialogue thanks to the Internet and social media.
Articles like The Coddling of the American Mind and The Rise of Victimhood Culture have highlighted the increased sensitivities that have emerged in the workplace, and in our high schools and universities across the country. Comedians aren’t performing at college campuses because students “can’t seem to take a joke”. Books aren’t being assigned in class for fear of causing distress.
Aristotle said “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.” But instead of growth through rational thought, experience, and constant questioning and reflection, an idea that Socrates taught over 2500 years ago, we are being taught to respond to even the smallest offense. And instead of resolving the issue on our own, we depend on others to validate our status as a victim. All this does is create a mindset of powerlessness, where we choose negativity over personal growth.
Lessons from the Stoics
I’ve grown particularly fond of some of the ideas found in Stoic philosophy (i.e. Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus) and their practical lessons for dealing with the things in life, large and small, that frustrate, annoy, overwhelm, and upset us.
The Stoics believe that while we can’t control what happens to us, we can control how we react to it. Every response we make to people and events, whether it’s out of habit or consciously thought out, is a choice. Strength of character comes when we can look at obstacles, challenges, and misfortunes as rich opportunities to learn and grow.
We can absolutely be upset and overwhelmed by our problems – nobody is immune to that. But if we rely solely on our emotions as opposed to logic and rational thought as guides for how we live, we’ll be stuck in a stressful web of discouragement and dissatisfaction.
So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. What is done to me is ordained by nature and what I do by my own. — Marcus Aurelius
To combat this disempowering pattern, we must train ourselves to question every negative emotion and situation:
- What am I feeling?
- What is the other person feeling?
- What is the intention behind their action or behavior?
- What is the positive in this situation?
- What is the solution?
As I put this into practice, I’m learning to put my emotions on a shelf and frame things in a more empowering manner, which helps me to let go of things that I’d normally hang onto.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work like a light switch that can be turned off. There’s nothing easy about reprogramming years of hardwired responses to situations and events, so the more opportunities we have to practice, the better we’ll become at dealing with them.
This post contains excerpts from a more lengthy article I wrote on the victim mentality for the Crew Blog, which you can read in it’s entirety here.