The last few days I have been grappling with the concept of victim consciousness. (I suspect this is only the beginning of conversation on this thorny subject). You hear it all the time: “He’s such a victim!”, “Don’t be such a martyr!” and we all know the kind of person that sort of statement conjures to our minds. But what we often fail to realise is just how insidious and embedded in our collective societal behaviour victim consciousness is, and of course just how much we succumb to it ourselves. It has been eye-opening for me to realise the extent of it in my own life and consciousness. And humbling, frankly.
I should make it clear that I’m not talking about the literal interpretation of victim, such as the elderly couple who fall victim to a con-man or the schoolgirl victim to the playground bully. What I am talking about is our own perception of ourselves as victim to our own lives.
There are, of course, the more obvious causes of victimhood, a word which can often be replaced with the term self-pity: something major happens in your life, rocks your world, knocks you for six. You lose a parent, your home is repossessed, your spouse loses a job – all legitimately earth-shattering events. And I am not suggesting for a minute that those things aren’t devastating. We all need to go through a process that enables us to make sense of it, to find a place to put it, to make it a part of our story without making it central to our lives. We are only human, after all.
Lynne Forrest, who can be found here, describes the tricky field of victim consciousness thus:
“I’ve found that moving out of victim consciousness requires that we move into its opposite, observer consciousness.
A primary requirement for accessing observer consciousness is the knowledge that our thoughts and beliefs generate our feelings, and prompt our behavior. In other words, our reactions and feelings about others and our life situations determine our state of mind, NOT those people and situations. When we respond from that understanding we do not feel the need to personalize what people say and do. We understand that our life situations do not cause our reactions – our thoughts do.”
In other words (and here’s a mantra for you): It isn’t what happens to you, but how you deal with it that counts.
Of course, before you even begin down this road, a large degree of emotional honesty is required: are you completely honest with yourself? Can you face up to your problems / faults / failings / tendencies / ingrained unhealthy habits? Not to anyone else, necessarily, but to yourself? Can you (and this is a big and important one) question yourself honestly? Examine your actions and their motivations with total frankness? We are all capable of shining a flattering light on our behaviours, of presenting them from a different angle in order to gloss over the less attractive parts. We have probably all, after the event, been ashamed of something but not wanted to own that emotion and so put a little spin on it, given it a flavour it perhaps didn’t truly have, in order to present ourselves in a better light.
I’ll hold my hand up to having a big problem with all this. It is all too easy to pass the blame to pretty much anything in my life: people, circumstances, tiredness (as mentioned before)… but ultimately, I am attempting to teach myself to understand, no one and nothing can make you feel anything. People can try to shame you, but unless you have broken your code, strayed from a path of integrity, then shame and guilt are not yours to feel. They can try to antagonise you, but unless you actually make the choice to be angry – guess what? – you don’t have to! Similarly with feelings of hurt: if someone sets out to hurt you, it isn’t imperative that they succeed. It is up to you whether to feel sorry for yourself, or to see that the problem does not necessarily lie with you, that circumstances beyond your (and possibly even their) control have led them to behave in a certain way towards you. It need not affect you. And ultimately, of course, it is generally through such adverse conditions that we are compelled to examine ourselves a little deeper, to search a little harder for explanations, to study the process of life and truth just that bit more.
Far less obvious victimhood, however, but just as problematic, consists of the doom-laden thoughts that infiltrate our minds at any given moment of the day.
10.30pm – Exhausted from a long day. Children asleep, baby asleep, head on pillow, eyes closed, just drifting off and… “Waahh!” Baby awake. My instant reaction is: “Oh God. Not again. I’m too tired for this. Why does this always happen?” also translated as “Poor me!”
Just how useful is that reaction?
As I said before, the buck stops with me. This baby of mine would not be causing these perceived problems had I stuck to my guns on the sleep-training front. Even that, though, smacks of blame, doesn’t it? Rather than wasting time on fruitless self-recrimination (after all, what’s done is done and Teddy is all the happier for the extra months in bed with his mummy), what is the solution? I know very well what it is, but it is up to me to instigate it. I have left it a little late, so it will be a little more difficult. But it will not last forever (everything is impermanent), and a little discomfort now will pay dividends in the not-too-distant future. So. Sleep-training here we come!
Byron Katie, the founder of The Work, has produced a story book for children called Tiger, Tiger, Is it True? which encompasses, in simplified form, her philosophy towards a more spiritual, less troubled and more honest life. I have found that first question enormously beneficial. You know when you’re tired, or hungry, when things begin to pile in on top of you and a grumbling tirade begins in your head? “They never bother to pick up their things after themselves. Nobody in this house knows how to use a bin. That woman never smiles. I haven’t slept for months….” After each negative statement you find yourself thinking, I challenge you to summon up every ounce of emotional integrity in your being and ask yourself: Is it true?