Living as the victim

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional

In this article, the word “victim” expressly does not refer to people who have been physically or psychologically harmed by an offense or crime, by catastrophic events, persecution, acts of war or accidents. I therefore use the term “victim” in the following exclusively as an expression of a certain attitude of healthy people who are basically able to autonomously change something about a situation that is stressful for them.

We have defined flextime in our office. Starting this year, we introduced a new rule to bring more structure into our daily work routine. Anyone who is late, even if it’s only by 5 minutes, despite the accommodating flextime, gets a formal warning. I find the rule appropriate and fair – only this morning, I suddenly changed my mind. As usual, I left the house at the last minute, walked to the bus station – and saw the bus driving away in front of me. So I have to wait for the next one and, despite numerous prayers, I arrive at work about 15 minutes late. The formal warning follows – and I am furious. Not with myself, but with the bus driver. 

We have all been in this situation, feeling wronged, a victim of external circumstances. It is easy to despair when you feel helpless and powerless, an understandable emotional reaction. With so-called victim types, however, this behaviour is almost compulsive: they literally seek ways to pass on responsibility. 

All victims have one thing in common: they refuse to take responsibility.

All victims have one thing in common: they refuse to take responsibility. They see themselves as the victims of their circumstances, fate, or other people. As a result, anyone is to blame – except themselves. 

Suffering implies pain and powerlessness – feelings no one likes to experience. At least not consciously. But being a victim is usually easier than facing up to responsibility and change. And so, often, we inflict on ourselves the suffering that seems to paralyse us after the negative experience: By getting hung up on unfair circumstances, withdrawing from responsibility aggrieved, or getting angry about things we can’t change anyway. We let those same circumstances take control of our lives. When we blame other people and events for our unhappiness, we also allow them to influence our happiness.

"What would you do if you were in a situation like that?"

Neither fate nor life nor any person other than ourselves owes us anything. Taking the victim position means, at the same time, assuming that you are entitled to something better. This can only result in feeling betrayed as soon as something doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. Is your partner cheating on you? That is awful. But that’s life – so try not to bury your head in the sand any longer. 

Of course, this does not mean you have to settle for less than the best possible. Leave the person who is not good for you! Change jobs. Find a new hobby if you can no longer indulge in the old one. That is the only way to become happy in the long term. 

Becoming self-determined requires a lot of strength, courage and the unconditional will to overcome your fears, especially in times of crisis. It helps to know that there will be days, weeks and months when this is infinitely difficult – but that you will get through them. Because there is one thing, no one can take away from us: the choice to decide. As soon as we understand and internalise this, we take back our self-determination over our lives.