The Victim Trap

Purposeful Wanderings - Bradford L. Glass - 8/22


Newsletter - 8.22
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“We are so intimidated by other people’s emotions and so convinced by our own that we lose sight of the underlying reality.” – Deepak Chopra



Why does this stuff keep happening to me? Life is unfair; I deserve a break. I’ll never be happy … or enough … or successful. I did it wrong … again. My life is my parents’ fault. I can’t believe she did that … to me. My mother guilts me into everything. You’re hurting my feelings. I have no choice. My life is not up to me. Everything is hopeless. At one time or another, we’ve all stepped into the lake of victim thinking. (Some even choose to live there.)


There’s a problem here. None of these thoughts take you where you want to go in life. None offer justification (or relief) for what’s happening to you. All drain your energy, give away your power, deny your potential and weaken your relationships with others. Yet there’s a lure to being a victim – it’s a [false] sense of power. It says: “at least I can control (and even prove) my opinion of how bad things are.” It’s a short-lived and unsatisfying path, however, because it relies on continually feeding itself with the same toxic stories that gave rise to it in the first place. Now, if your conviction about your victim-ness is so strong that you’d rather prove yourself right than change, then the storylines above will serve you well and you needn’t read on. But if you’d be intrigued by a path beyond …


Victim thinking is about being trapped by the question, “what’s wrong?” (then running down the street with its drama), instead of inspired by the question, “what’s possible?” (then paving new roads with its potential).


The root of victim thinking is emotional immaturity. In the absence of learning to respond constructively to your emotions, you risk laying blame on others for how life affects you. True, life’s complexity and chaos may make it easier to blame others than to take personal responsibility, but nothing changes until you do take responsibility.


The path to emotional maturity is not about how you can control your emotions, or about how you can’t (control them), or about how you’re an “empath,” or about how you tolerate others. It’s about taking responsibility for your emotions (the energy that drives victim thinking) … by integrating these four elements into your way of being:


Your emotions belong to you. They’re not caused by other people; they’re not caused by life’s situations; they arise from energy completely inside you. No one can “make” you feel anything. You do it to yourself.


Emotions don’t come from what happens to you. They come from the way you learned to see and think about what happens to you … which is adopted from others and unconscious … so you’re largely blind to its impact.


Emotions aren’t problems, they’re teachers. If you view emotions as problems, you will either (1) deny/avoid them, (2) control/fight them or (3) become them (get lost in the drama). All three are equally ineffective. But if you see them as teachers, you can learn to listen to them … and learn … instead of reacting to them.


It’s OK to have emotions, but you don’t have to become them. By getting to know the thoughts that drive your emotions, you learn to allow emotions to touch you, listen to their messages, learn from what they offer, and leave. Learning is an alternative to reacting.


The path to emotional maturity (a path that also leads to self-trust, the key to living authentically) sounds difficult. But it’s far easier than living in a way that gives your power to others, denies your potential, ignores your inner truth, and abdicates responsibility for all that’s possible in life. Through simple self-reflective practices, you make these ideas part of your everyday life; you become them. In the process of getting to know the thoughts that drive your emotions, you let go of the “wiring” that activates your emotional response today. The world will always “try to mess with you,” but you come to see it more as a source of entertainment than a call to arms. Peace.



Exercise: The path to emotional maturity begins with an honest openness to new learning. This means holding in abeyance the common knee-jerk reactions about emotions. Ex: No, you just don’t get it; my life really does suck. Ex: Are you telling me I’m a victim? Ex: no matter what you say, it’s not my fault. To these three: no, no, and no.


Each of us has a “victim archetype” as part of our personality. That archetype, or innate tendency, can play out in many different ways. In its darkest mode, the victim sees life as hopeless, all fault belonging to others … a way to gain sympathy. In its brightest light, the victim is guardian of self-trust, keeper of healthy boundaries … making the choice not to “sell” personal principles in order to make life “easy,” either for self or others. Most of us fall in the [big] space between these polar opposites. Yet it’s all “victim energy.” It’s useless to deny it. Yet it’s destructive to collude with it. But you can get to know it. When you learn to recognize the victim triggers inside you, you can begin the process of rewiring your response … even to the point that the victim’s (and the perpetrator’s) messages simply fall on the floor and can be swept up with the rest of life’s dirt that falls beneath your feet every day.


Inquire into your relationship with your inner victim. How does your victim support you (healthy boundaries, sense of self, self-trust, resilience in the face of conflict)? How does you victim limit you (blame, denial, emotional outburst, anxiety)? You can discern all of this with a simple, yet purposeful, practice: sit quietly for a few minutes each day. Recall, and then replay, situations from your day when you felt triggered emotionally – when someone said or did something that bothered you, when a conversation didn’t go well, or “that deal” fell through, etc. – and for each situation, see if you can separate what happened from how you felt about what happened. Next, see if you can notice how your response to the situation came not from the situation but from how you felt! Last, see if you can trace your feeling back to a “thought” that may have caused it to be triggered … likely a thought from the past, a thought that brought into question/doubt your capacity to handle this with self-trust. Just notice. No need to change, judge or fight. Just learn. What was the “message” your feelings were trying to teach you. Now, in the quiet of this moment, can you learn that lesson? Name the lesson. Getting to know your thinking changes your thinking, which leaves you more resilient in the face of life’s inevitable ups and downs.



Life Lessons from Nature: Rivers come and rivers go. None last forever. Each serves a purpose during its life, then moves on. What’s left behind is written on the land: a winding course across a vast plain, a delta fanning out into the sea, the rich diversity of life supported by its moisture, a canyon a mile deep and miles across that awes millions of visitors each year. The rivers didn’t fret the details. They likely were unaware of the “grand design” or even of how other living things would be touched by their handiwork. In any case, they left their mark – in how they lived their lives. What mark will you leave?




Book(s) of the month: The Courage to Be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. Odd, if not intriguing, title, but a wonderful piece on how we mess up our lives [often unknowingly] by making our decisions around what other people think of us instead of our own inner enjoyment. This leads to resentment, as well as to a belief that we’re not good enough (we’re never going to be “right” for everyone). It offers a path to creating tomorrows based on your inner potential and life’s possibility rather than on history or the opinions of others. If you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.



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