Trapped: A Victim Mentality

A great way to stay trapped

Perhaps the greatest lesson that my father taught me about life from a early age is that a victim mentality gets you nowhere.

Likely everyone that regularly reads my blog would agree with me, but recently I saw some posts on Facebook that reminded me that some people earnestly believe that it is perfectly acceptable for individuals to rest on the excuses generated out of whatever unfortunate circumstances their life has given them.

To those people I’d like to say: that’s perfectly fine. From a secular point of view it is totally acceptable for you to use your past as an excuse for your current behavior, if you wish to stay trapped your whole life. That’s perfectly ok, no one will force you out of captivity.

A person in a victim mentality is much like a person who has been beaten, bruised and forced into a cage. Later, whether days or years, the bruises heal and someone will come to them with the key to their escape. Most will not use the key, however. Why? Because once you’re free you no longer have the excuse, you have to take full responsibility for yourself. Most people would rather be able to lean on the excuse of what has been done to them; garnering sympathy and demanding that people be sensitive to what has happened to them.

Before I continue, I should specify that I do believe that there are many reasons for a person to be a victim that they truly cannot help. Mental Illness or chemical imbalances caused by genetics are among them. But just as those people must choose to submit to therapy and/or medication; those who have chosen to be defined by their most tragic and painful moments, they need to eventually lay it all down to be truly free.

I also should say that I do believe in being as sensitive to people as is reasonable in every situation. I can’t begin to imagine the tragedy through which some people have lived and I would never deny them grief, anger, or mourning; all three of which are holy emotions expressed by Jesus himself. However, there is a massive difference between feeling and expressing a holy emotion and allowing yourself to fall victim to your emotions. The difference is in this phrase: “Because ______ happened to me I must always react by ______” When you say that you are becoming victim whether in a small or large way. By contrast each time you say “Despite the fact that ______ happened to me, I will choose to ______” you are choosing to not be victimized.

The Bible tells me so

Please understand that I’m not so arrogant as to say that people shouldn’t be affected by the tragedies of life. I don’t pretend to understand all of the different causes of strife in the world or the pain that people have experienced, but I do know that from a scriptural worldview its impossible to say that a victim mentality is acceptable.

I think you ought to know, dear brothers, about the hard time that we went through in Asia. We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us, for he can even raise the dead. And he did help us, and he saved us from a terrible death; yes, and we expect him to do it again and again. 2 Cor 1:8-10 Living Bible

Or, Perhaps more to the point. . .

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake Col. 1:24a

There are many many more scriptures about rejoicing in suffering. So from a scriptural standpoint, we see Paul – beaten, tortured ‘doomed to die’ and what does he say? “That was good.” Wait, what? “Powerless to help ourselves” “that was good” “overwhelmed” “that was good.” “crushed” “that was good.” seriously. It’s only been in the last several years that I’ve come to realize this. Christians are blessed with the hope in Christ and the ability to say that our suffering only brings us closer to Him and by suffering for Him, we take part in the fellowship of His suffering. We go from “that was bad” to “that was hard” to “that was good.”

Is this some kind of sickness? Perhaps masochism? By no means! Looking back and saying something was ‘good’ is far different then deriving pleasure from it. Again, there is nothing wrong with anger and mourning. The only reason why Paul is able to look back at the bad times and call them good is because he realizes they brought him closer to Christ. He realizes that Christ’s resurrection power is at work in our lives, but to access that power we have to die. Think about that for a minute. Its easy for us to think of Christ’s death on the cross as the great tragedy of history and his resurrection as the restoration of that tragedy. Christ’s resurrection wouldn’t have been possible without His death. A Christian view of suffering is simply realizing that without death there can be no resurrection.

On the practical end of things…

Even if you’re not looking at this from a scriptural perspective, say you’re an agnostic or a secular humanist, then look at it from the purely practical end of things. If we decide that there are some things in life that a person cannot be expected to recover from, some wounds that cannot be healed; that’s fine, but do you really want to work with someone who’s single greatest aim in life is to make sure everyone is sensitive to their life’s tragedies? After a while there must be a reasonable expectation of growing from your past, and becoming responsible for your present. I don’t say ‘moving on’ because I think that insinuates that you must ignore your past, not at all, instead you grow from it and become stronger than ever.

Steven Covey, the writer of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about this in the first Habit. Which is “Be Proactive.” He simply states that a part of being proactive is taking responsibility for yourself and your behavior. He suggests that the main meaning of being responsible is being able to choose your response.

Most people who have the victim mentality get angry at the insinuation that they are somehow to blame for their attitude. They act as if that’s tantamount to being told that they are to blame for the tragedy in their life or their genetic make up. That’s a huge leap in logic.  Between stimulus and response there is a narrow space where you can choose. You’re not Pavlov’s dog, forced to salivate by every bell that rings. You’re not a programmed machine, who’s brain will always produce the same reaction given the same set of circumstances.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing a lecture by Ben Carson. Dr. Carson is the preeminent pediatric neurosurgeon active today. He’s participated in several firsts in his field including the first separation of siamese twins that were conjoined at the head. This is featured in a movie called “Gifted Hands” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. In 2008 he was awarded the presidential medal of freedom, the highest civilian honor in our nation.  That’s impressive, but what’s more impressive is that Dr. Carson came from a low-income single parent household in Detroit. At a young age his parents divorced and his mother struggled to find employment as she couldn’t read – the only work she could maintain was that of a house keeper where Ben would later say “She observed that successful people spent a lot more time reading than they did watching television.” And she implemented a rule that her two sons would read two books a week from the library. You can read more about Ben Carson’s upbringing on NPR’s website.

The reason why the victim mentality is so pervasive is because there is only one alternative: work. It takes work to overcome the setbacks, the emotional stresses, the tragedies of life. No one would’ve blamed Ben Carson for being a  below average student, he had a number of things against him. But his mother chose to fight that and later he chose to fight that as well, working hard to get into med school and then working hard to become the best doctor he could be. That’s because they chose not to be victims of our circumstances.

Most people can’t even admit that they’re choosing to be victimized because If you admit that you can do something about it and choose not to do something about it, it becomes your fault. I wouldn’t be writing about this if it weren’t a struggle for me also, but one thing I’ve realized is that once you are real with yourself about where you are choosing to be victimized then you can start to allow the solution permeate throughout your life.

Personally…

I’ve struggled with having a victim mentality about many different things. There are some ways in which I continue to deal with it. One small example is the fact that I’m not an athletic person and most of my growing up years I allowed myself to be victimized by that, but as I grew up, I began to fight the impulse to feel victimized and I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried new activities. Now I have a whole list of sports and activities that I really enjoy, even if I’m not the best at them. Stepping out in this manner has opened so many opportunities to me that I would have never had if I had rested on the laurels of victimization.

I think the message paraphrase of the Bible phrases paul’s words in Philippians well:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. Phil 3:12-14

I think one of the mistakes we make when trying to overcome our victim mentality is the idea that we need to have it all figured out, that we need to somehow be totally fixed before we relinquish our victim status. In reality, we just have to admit that we don’t always know exactly what the path to healing is going to look like and we need to trust that it ends at the feet of Jesus.

Whatever your excuse is for not living a full and healthy life, that’s not God’s will for you. I can tell you he wants you to take hold of you inheritance now. Yes you have eternal life in terms of length, but you also have abundant life in terms of height and depth, so stop making excuses and grab hold of the abundance that Christ has given you.

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Posted on July 1, 2011 in Everything Else, Health

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About the Author

William H. Adams does creative work for a church. He enjoys sandwiches, jet skis, legos, ultimate frisbee, and living life to the fullest. Will is most passionate about using creative media to tell the story of what God is doing in the lives of those who love Christ. He believes the purpose of his life to glorify God and encourage others.

Response (1)

  1. […] to have challenges, some won’t be your fault and you can choose whether you’re going to be a victim about it or whether you can overcome it. God loves you just the way you are, but that doesn’t mean he […]

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