Updated: Sep 8, 2022
What is your first response when you hit a wall? When your partner disappoints you or when you don’t get what you want?
Do you …
Back off in defeat?
Get angry and lash out?
Feel hurt and freeze up?
Question your own choices?
Blame, complain or fight?
Quietly rehearse all of the horrible things you will do or say to punish them?
The Victim Mentality
One of the biggest patterns we witness in those we work with is the habit of backing off or complaining when expectations aren’t met or desires aren’t fulfilled. A man asks for a raise at work, gets declined, and immediately thinks there is no path for career advancement in his future. A woman asks for help with cooking, and when her husband keeps watching TV, she fumes quietly to herself as she finishes making dinner alone. Or complains loudly about his bad behavior. A man asks his partner for sex, gets a no, and promptly slinks to his side of the bed feeling hurt and rejected.
Another prevailing pattern we see when couples don’t get what they want, is that they blow up. They start yelling, criticizing, blaming, name-calling, explaining, threatening … which can lead to throwing things, or worse, throwing punches.
Every time we respond like this in the face of challenges, we (inadvertently) take on a victim mentality.
Backing off or blowing up from a victim mentality is a favorite pastime for many of us. We are quick to throw our hands up in the air when things don’t go as we had hoped or planned. We pretend we are powerless and at the mercy of others (in long-term relationships, the “other” is almost always our partner).
We tell ourselves there’s nothing we can do to get what we want. We insist it’s the other person’s fault and that we don’t deserve it. Then we withdraw or lash out. Either way, the bottom line is we don’t stay in there to create a positive desired outcome for all concerned.
Why is that? Why do we forget that we are powerful deserving loveable beings capable of creating amazing miracles? What keeps us from staying engaged, taking responsibility, creating win-win solutions, and making good on a situation?
Surprisingly, many of us actually prefer feeling powerless and stuck rather than powerful and resourceful.
Note: The kind of victim mentality we’re addressing here pertains to people who in reality do have choice, agency, and power to take action. This is distinct from situations where someone is an actual victim, such as a victim of domestic abuse, which requires a very different kind of response.
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“It feels strangely comfortable”
One of my clients said it beautifully when I suggested she take some responsibility for her divorce. She said, “I am terrified of owning my power. I prefer staying at home ruminating over past hurts. It feels strangely comfortable, familiar, even safe. Feeling hurt and victimized gives me an excuse to blame my ex for why I don’t have what I want, which frankly sounds way better than going for what I want, failing and having it be my fault.”
I can relate. I spent a good bunch of my life playing the victim card too. It was kinda energizing, really – indulging in “poor me” rants designed to guilt trip my partners into doing things my way so that I could finally feel special and worthy of love. In truth, complaining about my relationships and life was a lot easier than actually changing them.
At some point, I had an epiphany that changed everything. I got to see how much power and skill went into playing the victim. I discovered that victim wasn’t a powerless position at all. It was a game played by a creative powerful person.
The Victim Strategy
I realized that when I broke down my own “victim strategy”, it consisted of structured elements in a predictable sequence. Each of us has our own particular victim strategy. My victim strategy goes something like this:
I feel shocked and blind-sighted when my partner criticizes me, disappoints or otherwise declines me.
I believe that I am not going to get what I want and that I don’t matter.
I believe that the other person is wrong and/or deliberately trying to hurt me.
I complain and blame (I tell my partner what they did wrong and why it’s wrong). If that doesn’t work, I move to …
Feeling hurt (I show my partner my hurt. I look visibly sad, pout or slink away). If that doesn’t work, I move to …
Manipulating, guilt tripping (I tell my partner they owe it to me, that any good partner would show up for me).
These are not random reactions from a victimized, powerless person. It is a (often unconscious) “victim strategy” that can be used for the purpose of getting a particular result. Unfortunately, a victim strategy doesn’t produce the positive result it’s intended for. And even if it does, there are harmful consequences.
Think about it … do you ever love the results that come from complaining, pouting, or guilt tripping? Even when you do manage to convince your partner to give you what you want, do you feel good about how you got what you were fighting for? Do you feel content and connected afterwards? Probably not.
Frame by Frame
Recently, I’ve been coaching several couples using this approach. We’ve looked at their “frame by frame” strategy as a sequence of thoughts, feelings, or actions.
Here’s an example:
Martin and Heather often had the issue of getting into fights when he wanted her attention. Martin might say, “Hey Honey, what are you doing?” while she was engaged in an activity like reading a magazine or browsing on her phone. To Heather, this was disruptive and she felt he was demanding her immediate presence. She got mad about that. Martin interpreted this reaction as a sign she didn’t care about him, and he got mad about that. Now they were both mad, and you can imagine how it went from there.
Slowing down this victim strategy to frame-by-frame speed, Heather said …
I hear him talking to me.
I conclude that he’s giving me an order (whether he is or not) and that I don’t have a choice in the matter.
I tell myself I’m not his pet and can do whatever the f*** I want
I am angry and blast him for being demanding and insensitive to my space and to leave me alone.
I always feel bad afterwards.
Martin identified his victim strategy sequence like this:
I ask her what she’s doing.
I see her tightening her face and looking mad.
I immediately conclude she doesn’t care about and don’t want to be with me.
I feel hurt and mad.
I lash out and give her a piece of my mind.
I always feel bad afterwards.
Identifying this frame-by-frame victim strategy was a real revelation for them. They could both see the predictable unfolding of events, and they both readily agreed they never liked the results.
At this point, you might pause your reading and consider what your own victim strategy looks like. Take any example where you either give up on getting what you want, you blow up, or you try to get it by using indirect reactions as you’ve seen above. What is your sequence of thoughts, feelings, or actions?
What if I Could … ?
This insight raised some obvious next questions for me. If I could channel all of that power and creativity into playing the victim, what could I create if I channeled the same creativity towards being a powerful, resourceful woman?
If I were to deliberately design a new strategy, one that aimed to produce my desired result in a direct, open-communication, guilt-free fashion, what would such a strategy look like?
Any ideas for yourself? What would a conscious, resourceful strategy be for you?
Moving from victim mentality to power, from stuck to unstuck, from no possibility to infinite possibility, is one of the most useful skills we can have as human beings in relationship and in life. It’s the ability to not give up on getting what we want, even when our first, second, and third attempts don’t pan out. It’s the action of choosing to stay engaged until we get a positive result, hopefully for everyone involved.
Disappointments, challenges, roadblocks, and struggles are a given aspect of life. How can we meet them with power, possibility, and grace?
If you’d like some fresh input for how to stay out of victim mentality and keep calm and creative, our 90-minute mini-workshop, How to Stay Resourceful in Challenging Times, is a great place to start. We will offer you some of our favorite tools to help you unlock your “Resourceful Strategy”, so you can get on with creating your best relationship and your best life! And it’s not all talk, either, we’ll help you practice on the spot. Plus, you can join from anywhere you like.
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