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The Victim Mindset

June 6, 2010

I decided to stick with Horaces for this week’s Latin Quote. He gives such good advice to writers in Ars Poetics that everyone who writes should run out and buy a good translation. In addition to pertaining to writing, this week’s quote is also loosely linked to this week’s topic. “Sometimes even good Homer sleeps.” This is a reminder that we all have bad days, and every page may not sparkle. Or, you win some; you lose some.

In his Discourses, the ancient philosopher Epictetus wrote, “No man is free who is not master of himself.” Those of us in the USA may live in the “home of the free and the land of the brave,” but freedom isn’t truly freedom when someone asks a price in return. So if you live here, you’re only free if you follow many laws and give the government 30% to 50% of your paycheck. That isn’t “freedom” according to our wise philosopher.

So are we victims? In a sense, but I’m not going to talk about political tyrants in a republic. I want to talk about people who are victimized in everyday life. These are the people we write about in our books and meet on the streets. Victims are people who are not in control of their lives.

According to this definition, children are potential victims until they reach the age of maturity. But what about adults? What makes an adult a victim? It’s often a matter of learning through experience or harsh words of others. If you read my free online creativity class, then you know that behaviors are thoughts, ideas and actions. Victims are often victims through habit, because they think they are victims or don’t think they deserve otherwise. Some of us are situational victims, because we are unsure of ourselves in uncharted territory. Let’s look at a few of the beliefs that float around in the brains of victims.

  • Victims often invest their entire self-worth on the success or failure of one thing they planned as opposed to the sum of their selves. Author John Grisham’s first book, A Time to Kill, was self-published, and I bought a signed copy from him out of his trunk. He said he had trouble giving it away, and I’ve always thought it was his best work. Think about it. If John had invested his entire self-worth as an author in that moment in time, he might never have written The Firm. He knew he was better than that. He persevered and eventually found an agent and New York publisher. While most of us recognize failures happen and learn from them, victims have learned differently. A victimized woman might over- season the chili and her husband flings the entire pot against the wall and stomps out, leaving her to clean up the mess. As she wipes her “failure” from the walls and floor, she’s also smearing around her self-esteem to be walked upon.
  • Some victims know in advance they are going to lose, because that’s all they think they deserve. This thought process will almost guarantee failure. If I placed my self-worth in all the queries and proposals I’ve sent out and had rejected over the years or contest wins and losses, my self-esteem would be on the floor with chili-wife. My self-worth is based not on Mary-the-writer, but on Mary-the-woman, created by God in His image – in other words, my spiritual self whom I believe will last through eternity. Many people are victims because they expect failure.
  • Often people are victims because they become anxious in confrontational situations and feel unable to stand up for themselves. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The trick here is to refuse to allow someone else to upset them. Eleanor Roosevelt said no one can make us feel inferior without our consent. People seldom disappoint themselves. If they expect to become upset, they will.
  • Some people think of themselves as the low man on the totem pole and that they don’t have a chance against the powerful upper echelons. If you think you’re the low person in a world of power without a chance, then you have already put yourself on the losing team. When a writer of this mindset goes into a meeting with an editor or agent, she’s bound to fail no matter how good her writing is. She fails to realize several things. At an appointment, you’re not selling a single book; you’re selling yourself. The editor/agent is looking for the next best-seller and hopes to find it in the appointments she’s taking the time out of her busy schedule to keep. Editors and agents are not bosses. Editors and agents are professional colleagues; they expect to meet you on equal footing. The moment you think of them as better than yourself, you’ve given them power over you. Realize that in this world, most people are good and want you to succeed as much as you do. For those who don’t want you to succeed, pray that God will change their hearts and leave it in His hands. There’s nothing else to do.
  • Some victims think I’ll show those scoundrels they can’t pick on me. Believe it or not, this is a victim attitude and not a tough guy. The person is allowing someone else’s behavior to dictate his/her response. Rather than going for your own concrete goal that will advance your career or life, you are playing right into the hands of the victimizer. Writers often let poor contest scores affect their self esteem. I admit, I do not enter contests for the critiques anymore. I look at who is judging my category, and I enter to win if it’s someone I’d like to sell to. In a recent online class, I asked the instructor Sandy Blair about some contest results in which I scored 97-96-45. She used the term “German judges” when referring to contest judges who for their own reasons may trash a manuscript. I mention this for two reasons. I like the term German judges as a perfect descriptor. And, I can’t let the 45 score affect my self esteem. I have to remember that two of the judges really liked my writing. I don’t have to show anybody anything but my smiling face.
  • Some people slowly creep up, clear their throats, run the toe of one foot across the floor, etc., trying to gain attention and pray someone won’t lose their temper over a question or interruption. They are victims because they are allowing their concern for someone else’s reaction to dictate their actions. As soon as people know they can victimize you with authority or anger, they will use it against you anytime it works to their advantage. Intimidation is a choice. Don’t make it.
  • Other victims experience what is known as a stupidity crisis. They believe when someone else discovers something they’ve done, the other person will think they’re stupid. Here again, someone else’s opinion has become more important to the victim than his/her opinion of self. These people are easily manipulated, because they don’t want to be thought inferior. How do victimizers work these victims? Usually not with words. All the victimizer has to do is flash a you’re-stupid look and they’ve achieved their goal. I’m not an expert at everything. I ask questions when I need to and I don’t care if they sound “stupid” to someone else. By getting the answer I needed, I’ve proven to myself that I’m a resourceful person.
  • Some people thing if they do or say something that they’ll hurt someone’s feelings. This is another trick in the bag of victimizers. If they know they can pout and manipulate you into getting their own way, they’ll do it whenever you try to declare your independence. The majority of the “hurt feelings” in this scenario belong to the victim who backs down and doesn’t pursue his/her life and dreams. Running your life on the basis that you must watch out for someone else’s feelings is the hallmark of the victim. I’m not saying you should be inconsiderate.  There will always be occasions when people have hurt feelings and sometimes we may be the cause. If we are in the wrong, we should apologize and move on with a sense of purpose. We cannot let other’s feelings run our lives through manipulation.
  • Some victims think they can’t do something on their own or that they should get someone else to do something for them. Such attitudes are victim builders. If you never fight your own battles, you’ll never win and you’ll just get better at evading the enemy, who in reality is you. Remember the first time you sat down with the idea of writing the next best-seller? Maybe you knew all the basic, or maybe you were like me. I got to the end, and it was the choppiest read in the world. My heroine was preachy and my best-serial-killer-in-the-world novel was a romance. Did I give up? Oh, no, young Jedi! I met other writers. I joined professional writing groups. I took classes and attended conference. I worked with a creative partner. I learned to overcome, because I know that no one could tell my stories for me. I had to do it. Only you can tell your tales, in your way, in your voice, and with your unique finesse. Don’t evade. Learn and win.
  • This isn’t fair. How can they do this? We can’t judge the world on the way we would like it to be, or we’ll make ourselves into victims every time. The world is what it is. Some people will always be victimizers and act unfairly. Our not liking it or complaining about it won’t change things. Sometimes we have to step up and confront injustice. We have to say, “This isn’t right, and I’m going to do xyz about it, so everyone will know what’s going on and such injustice doesn’t prevail.” This attitude may not lead you to a win every time, but at least you can be satisfied, knowing you did all you could or perhaps map out a more effective strategy if the same thing does happens again. I don’t know how many of you know Vicky Henzi. She is one of the most remarkable people I know. From writing to teaching to mentoring to speaking out against injustice, she probably has more energy in her little finger than I have in my whole body.

These are only a few of the thought processes we see in victims; others tend to be derivatives. Most of us know that we don’t have to be anxious, hurt, or depressed when we don’t get our way. That’s the ultimate victim mindset. Like I said, some of us are situational victims. We can step back, take a look at things, and pull ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps.

Unfortunately, there are many victims of emotional abuse who do not pull themselves up. These thought processes are so ingrained that changing them actually means changing their personalities – the very core of their beings. That means that they must change who they are. Can you think of anything more daunting? Is it a wonder that therapy can take years and some people never recover totally from emotional abuse?

Writing about characters who are victims also means writing characters who are abusers. Next time, I’ll address some of the thought processes that make someone a victimizer.

Until next time, happy reading and writing!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2010 4:41 pm

    Great post! Useful info. Thanks!

  2. Bernice permalink
    June 7, 2010 3:18 am

    Thank you for taking the time to share this with everyone.

    • June 7, 2010 4:46 pm

      You’re welcome, Bernice. I know my examples are more related to situational victims, but when these thoughts are so deeply ingrained, they are extremely hard to recover from. I used lighter examples, so people will realize that we are all potential victims and sometimes we can adjust our attitudes before we’re crushed. Not always, but it helps to be prepared.

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