Stop being at the mercy of circumstances and drowning in negativity. It’s time to become the master of your own life.
Imagine starting your day feeling irritated: traffic jams, incompetent drivers, long queues at the store, and so on. These are circumstances beyond your control, yet they manage to ruin your mood and set the tone for the rest of the day.
While you can’t control these external situations, you can control your emotional response to them. Emotions shape your reactions to life events, and although they can be challenging to control, it is possible.
Every reaction to people or situations, whether automatic, habitual, or stemming from conscious thoughts, is a choice we make. We can choose to take responsibility for our actions or blame others. We have the power to decide who controls our lives. You can either make your day or let the day make you.
Understanding Victim Mentality and Why We Tend to Embrace It
The victim mentality is based on the belief that we are not responsible for our actions or life circumstances.
In today’s world, thanks to the internet and social media, blaming, criticizing, and refusing to accept life circumstances have become commonplace in daily communication. People of all ages are becoming more sensitive. This sensitivity and vulnerability are evident not only in the workplace but also in educational institutions such as schools and universities.
As sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning noted in their study, we are taught to respond strongly to even the slightest offense. Instead of taking ownership and finding solutions ourselves, we complain to others to validate our victim status, thus becoming dependent on them.
All of this contributes to a sense of helplessness. We feel powerless, blame others, complain about circumstances, and feel sorry for ourselves, thinking, “If only X had happened, everything would be better…” or “Why am I not like her?” and so on.
In his book “The Power of TED,” David Emerald refers to the victim mentality as the “Dreaded Drama Triangle.” The model, originally developed by Dr. Stephen Karpman in 1960, remains relevant today. We often find ourselves playing one or all three roles in this triangle.
As victims, we focus on the negativity in our lives and feel offended by those who judge or criticize us.
As persecutors, we judge and criticize others, usually expressing anger and resentment.
Finally, we turn to saviors who can come in the form of another person or something external to distract us and provide temporary relief.
Complaining serves as an excellent defense mechanism, convincing ourselves that we deserve better when things don’t go our way (even when we’re not taking any action to improve the situation). Complaining and criticizing others is much easier than creating, leading, and taking responsibility.
Mark Twain, the writer, once said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” When we perceive circumstances as external factors, we prevent ourselves from moving forward, growing, and learning from our mistakes.
What to Do: Increasing Awareness and Taking Responsibility
Reverse the Tragic Triangle
The antidote to David Emerald’s Dreaded Drama Triangle is the Empowerment Dynamic.
While victims focus on problems, creators have a clear understanding of what they want and take responsibility for their lives.
Persecutors become challengers who help us learn and grow on the path of self-discovery.
Finally, saviors become coaches who support and guide creators towards their dreams.
Essentially, the same problems, situations, and challengers remain in life. The only difference is how we choose to perceive and interact with them.
To shift from victim mode to creator mode, set aside some time and ask yourself the following questions:
- What is my ideal outcome?
- What intentions have led me to where I am in life?
- Whom do I blame for my current circumstances?
- What or who am I seeking for salvation?
This philosophy of perceiving difficulties aligns with the teachings of various philosophers, including Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, and other Stoics.
Stoic philosophy suggests that we cannot control external events, but we can control our reaction to them. Dissatisfaction with our lives often arises from allowing emotions to govern our thoughts and actions instead of applying logic and rational thinking. We forget that obstacles and failures are opportunities for growth and development.
Writer and marketer Ryan Holiday emphasized these Stoic principles in his TEDx talk, sharing stories of historical figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ulysses S. Grant, and Thomas Edison. These individuals viewed setbacks and problems as opportunities for personal growth.
Ryan Holiday, writer and marketer, said, “There is one thing that helps prevent confusion, frustration, and quitting in the face of obstacles. Few people are capable of it. But after you learn to control your emotions, make objective judgments, and stand your ground, the next step becomes possible—mental shifting. Click, and you begin to see opportunities instead of obstacles. As Laura Ingalls Wilder said, ‘There is good in everything if we are willing to look for it. But we often look poorly, turning a blind eye to real gifts.'”
Recognize that Life Is Filled with Challenges
It’s inherent in our nature to believe that everything should go exactly as we expect. And when things go wrong, we refuse to accept it. For example, we may complain about an annoying colleague instead of using their shortcomings as an opportunity to improve our communication skills.
Complete the “Day Without Complaints” Exercise
During this exercise, refrain from complaining, gossiping, criticizing, and expressing dissatisfaction. Try it for a day. You may find it challenging to go even half a day without complaints.
This exercise isn’t just about avoiding negativity, complaints, and gossip. It’s about changing your thinking patterns. We think in words, and what we say is influenced by the words we constantly replay in our heads. Affirmations can also be effective in this regard. By repeating positive mantras, we influence how our brain filters and interprets external information. One study even showed that affirmations reduce stress, improve problem-solving abilities, and enhance decision-making skills.
By practicing a day without complaints, you become more mindful of your words and how you communicate with others. You learn to choose your words more carefully, avoid negativity, and focus on solutions and positive responses.
Buddha once said, “Our lives are shaped by our minds; we become what we think.” We can’t avoid difficulties, nor should we shield ourselves or our children from them. Instead, we must face obstacles head-on because it is through experience, constant questioning, and finding answers that we grow and succeed.
The next time you encounter a challenging and frustrating situation, ask yourself what is more important: your anger or personal growth?
By implementing these practices, you can overcome the victim mentality and take responsibility for your life.