Bad things happen in life sometimes. We can’t control that, but we can control how we deal with them. If you constantly respond by feeling like everyone or the universe is out to get you, by trying to not feel anything at all, or by feeling like you only have other people to blame, you might be playing the victim. It can be a coping strategy, a way to get sympathy from others, or a more sinister manipulation tactic (whether or not you consciously mean it that way). It can also involve feeling powerless, resentful, distrustful, argumentative, and more. But what it does it prevents you from moving forward in your life, acknowledging your feelings, figuring out where you do have agency, and making changes. If you think you might be playing the victim – or if someone has recently pointed out to you that you are – here’s how to stop.
You Are in Charge of Your Life
Things don’t happen to you; you decide to make them happen. And you decide how to respond to them. Momentum and positive change aren’t something you find, and they definitely won’t find you – you must create them for yourself.
You can’t control most of your situation. You can’t stop negative events from happening. You can’t control other people (and, as should go without saying, shouldn’t try). You can’t even control how you feel about things. All you can control is your own words and actions.
Bad shit happens to good people. And circumstances are not a moral indictment. It’s not that we’re good people if things are going well, and bad people if they aren’t – it’s that good and bad things happen to everyone, and the options we have to respond to them depend on the choices available to us, which also are not a moral indictment.
When something bad or uncomfortable happens, you can choose to reactively act without thinking, to pretend they don’t exist, or to sit with them and work through them before you proceed. You can’t choose what’s happening, mostly, but you can choose how to respond to it. (Pretending that you have no response is still a response.)
How do you actually do that? First, find a quiet space to sit alone for a little while. Take a few deep breaths. Then, start to feel where the feelings are in your body. What is your body telling you about how you’re feeling? Are you sad, angry, anxious, nauseated? What’s your breathing doing as you try to get in touch with it? How’s your heart rate? Simply noticing where feelings live in your body is a first step to connecting with them and expressing them in a productive, intentional way. Take a few more deep breaths. What is it like to release the parts of the situation you can’t control? What is it like to acknowledge the parts of your response you have agency over? This type of work can take a lifetime of practice, and the first time you consciously try to do it, it might be really uncomfortable. Notice that feeling, too, and breathe.
Surviving versus Thriving
Survival – the act of making it through each day with a semblance of yourself intact, and being there to see the next day – should not be discounted. Survival is hard. Sometimes, survival is the best we can do.
But it’s important to aim higher than surviving. Thriving – the act of growing, expanding, and creating abundance in many areas of your life – should always be part of the picture. And you make it that way when you break out of the day-to-day rhythms of survival and challenge yourself. That challenge might look like seeking therapy to move past your past or your victim-playing behaviors, or seeking coaching to turn your focus forward. It might look like taking on new work, home, or health projects and goals. It might look like asking yourself uncomfortable questions about the way you spend your time because the way you spend your time adds up to the way you spend your life. And then, most importantly, it looks like committing to those goals and that expansion day after day, even when it gets hard, complicated, or uncomfortable to sit with.
Sometimes, surviving is the best we can do. There are a million reasons why any one of us simply making it through to another day is sometimes an enormous feat. And there is enormous privilege in doing so. But if you’re in a place to thrive, and if you’re reading this there’s a good chance that you are, you owe it to yourself to try to do so.
Thriving is a verb. It gets its power not from you committing to it once, but from you committing to it over and over, and taking the steps in your life to support it. Where in your life do you feel stuck? What changes can you make, today, to create momentum in your life? And more importantly, where in your life do you want to move things forward?