My life coach once told me that martyrdom is like crack: highly addictive and very destructive. I have come to see this mindset of the martyr in myself far too often.
I often notice that I’m feeling sorry for myself because, woe is me, I’m always busy, I never get any time to relax, and my kids won’t leave me alone.
I think most of us have this tendency. For some reason, early in our lives, we became attracted to seeing everything as unfair, with ourselves coming up with the short end of the stick.
I even see it in my own children. My 11 year-old son often tells me that my wife and I are sexist and like our daughters more than him. I can’t wait for his teenage years.
This is an incredibly destructive mentality.
The problem is, the moment a person decides to play the victim, they are giving away all their power and putting it in the hands of someone else. It can take hours, days, even years to dig our way out of this hole; and, as they say, if you’re in a hole, you need to stop digging. Now I’m not saying that you can’t be a victim. There are more serious matters when people are a victim from a work accident that might result in death for example. They would then be a victim of wrongful death and would need to take wrongful death actions. This is only an example of someone being a victim, and I have no problem with people saying that. All I want is for people to try and help themselves by trying to move on.
What strategies can turn the tides of our victim mentality?
Here are 7 powerful ways to overcome the victim mindset that have helped me and many of the students we work with:
1 – Recognize Martyrdom in Yourself
Just like with Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 steps, the first thing you must do is admit you have a problem, which I believe almost all of us do. Pay attention to the damage it is causing, how bad you feel, and really see the destruction it may be causing to the relationships in your life. This acute recognition really is the first essential step. I believe many live their entire lives completely unaware and unable to see this self-destructive characteristic in themselves.
2 – Forgive Others
I was driving by a church the other day and saw a sign that said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.” It made me chuckle, but there was a deep truth in there that we could all benefit from.
The only one being hurt by the hate and anger we feel toward others is us. It creates suffering, damages important relationships, and it gets in the way of the joy and success we all hope to experience in life.
How do you forgive someone? I wish I had the silver bullet, but there is no secret trick; it is simply essential that you find the grace in your heart to forgive. If not, it will eat you alive, and you’ll never have the control and freedom we all desire.
3 – Forgive Yourself
One of our partners has a process he executes with at-risk youth. Many of them have been labeled by others or themselves as troublemakers, bad students or lazy. So much so that they’ve actually come to believe it to their cores.
The process he executes is an exercise in which the students forgive themselves. The goal is to let go of the damaging labels, and orient new energy toward the present and the person each of them wants to become. It is a powerful and transformative process for many.
Much of what gets in our way of taking action are excuses we make about ourselves, and preconceived notions of who we are. A big part of taking new action in our life is having new expectations… which requires forgiving ourselves for what has come before. Forgiving yourself removes the limiting thinking that can make action seem useless, and that’s vital to begin taking the purposeful actions that will positively impact your life.
4 – Meditate or Pray
Perhaps one of the quickest ways to stop feeling sorry for yourself is to create space in your life. Feeling like a victim is often an irrational instinct driven by fear. By meditating, we create space, build clarity and find perspective. It is the best way I know to realign and refocus our energy.
I will also say that meditation and prayer are ways to deeper connection and a sense of purpose in life. For many, including myself, feeling that I’m not alone and that all of this has a purpose gets me back up on my feet and retaking control of my life.
5 – Manage your Mood
When you feel good, you do good. When you’re focused on what you have, you have more confidence and initiative in going after what you want.
A study by Dr. Martin Seligman showed that there are three proven methods of improving our emotions. The first is practicing mindfulness, which is touched on in the previous point (Meditate or Pray).
The other two methods are practicing gratitude and serving others. In you want to feel better, there is no better way than focusing on the good and positive things in your life. Serving others also energizes and empowers us. There may not be a more satisfying feeling than knowing you have the power to help another, and then to see that impact take place when you do so.
6 – Find a Victor’s Mantra
For many people, mantras work wonders. By recognizing that they’re acting the martyr, they’re then able to motivate and empower themselves through self-talk. The key is developing the mindfulness muscles required to catch and call yourself out at the moment you begin playing the victim.
The mantra we teach our students is, “I am not a victim of my past, my future is not predetermined, my life is what I choose it to be from this moment moving forward.” I also love the last line of the famous poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley: “I am the master of my destiny, I am the captain of my soul.”
7 – Take Action
Just this week, there was some financial pressure in my life. Whenever this happens at home or work, it is easy to immediately go to fear. Sometimes I sit around thinking about for hours; meanwhile, nothing is getting solved.
Then I go to a spreadsheet and start mapping things out. I get creative and assume control of the challenge. I start to solve some problems. I am now leaning into the fear and it feels great.
Action is the essential step in the realization of our potential and the fulfillment of our dreams. It gets us out of remorse for past actions and fear of the future. It puts us squarely in the present, which is the only place we have power and influence.
If you don’t know what to do, ask someone you trust or admire what they would do, and then go try to do it. It only takes a spark to start a fire and that spark is initiative and action.
George Washington Carver once said that 99% of all failure comes from people who have a habit of making excuses. That really is what the victim is doing: making excuses, and giving power to everyone and everything else around them.
The results of your life are a product of the thoughts you think, the decisions you make and the actions you take. By realizing this and then living it, you eliminate any chance of becoming the victim, and put your life in the best possible hands: your own.