Access Point: Victims
"Victims plead to be rescued, and yet it is us who are held hostage by falling prey to their manipulation."
- James McPartland
A victim grates on you with their “poor me” attitude and is resistant to taking responsibility for what is occurring in their lives. Certain people are always against them and are the very reason that they are unhappy with their life. Victims display passive-aggressive behavior and coerce others to save them simply by threatening a meltdown or making someone's life so miserable that compliance seems the path of least resistance. Victims see themselves "at the effect of" what is being "done to them" by "someone or something" out of their control. They complain subtly or loudly that "this is not fair". Underneath all of their words and actions is some combination of whining, groaning, and grumbling.
Being a victim is a choice, and victims are constantly looking to assign blame for their current situation and experiences. They fault others, sometimes even themselves, for their circumstances by sharing their thoughts through conversations dominated by "why" questions:
Why did this happen to me?
Why don't they respect me?
Why are we running our company this way?
Why are my children not listening to me?
Why am I not achieving my goals?
Look at this through the lens of the news media. With many tuned into programs that confirm a particular bias, there is a never-ending sense that "something is wrong" and "someone is to blame". And that “someone” is not us; it is them… We are right, and they are wrong. Someone out there is to blame.
Beware the victim that complains to you about another person as soon they will complain about you, even if you go along with their criticism.
If you typically get drawn into fixing other people's problems, chances are you have attracted several victims into your life.
One way to assess if you are engaged with a victim is to ask yourself:
Is there anyone in my life that seems inconsolably depressed, weighed down, distressed, or discouraged?
Are you fatigued or worn down by the neediness of specific people in your life?
Are you unintentionally enabling a victim in an effort to make them feel better, or with the belief that you can change how they view their circumstances?
Does the negativity associated with their behavior compromise your positive attitude?
Setting boundaries is vital to your health, and to the future of relationships with those that behave in a victim-like manner. This requires both a firm hand and a soft glove. A strong "no", spoken with conviction, is far better than a "yes" to appease someone or to avoid a difficult conversation. Kind but clear boundary setting is crucial. People must take responsibility for their own lives. Without boundaries, a relationship is not on equal ground, and no one wins. While you might feel like telling someone "I'm sick and tired of your complaints", there are a few more productive ways to address common situations…
With a Friend or Relative:
Smile and say gently, "our relationship is important to me, but it is not helpful to feel sorry for yourself. I can only listen for five minutes unless you are ready to discuss solutions". You are apt to get guilt tripped if the friend comes back with a "what kind of friend are you" statement, however it's important to stand strong. If that happens, a simple reply can be, "I am a great friend and only share these thoughts because I care deeply about you, however at the moment this is all I can offer".
With a Coworker:
Sincerely respond, "I am really sorry that these things are happening to you". Then, after listening briefly, smile and say, "I'll keep good thoughts for things to work out for you. I hope you understand, I'm on several deadlines and have to get back to my work." Body language signals that reinforce those words include crossing your arms, breaking eye contact, even turning to walk away. The less you engage, the better.
Gratitude - listing the things in life you are deeply thankful for can quickly shift your mindset. Most of us are not battling poverty, subject to street violence, or about to be sent off to fight a war. We are equipped to take complete responsibility for our lives and have tools at our disposal to overcome negative emotions (exercise, friends, good books, or even watching a sunset). Bad days are also a choice, and that is demonstrated by the power we have in taking complete responsibility for our lives.
Finally, whether you are confronting a victim, or working to transform your own negativity, practicing empathy is essential. Empathy allows you to non-judgmentally understand, showing compassion to those that offend or antagonize you. Further, mastering empathy opens up ways of hearing the feelings behind someone's words. If a friend complains that you are being selfish, the deeper meaning could be, "I’m hurt because I don't feel understood" or "I wish we could have the type of relationship where we spend quality time together". Motives and meanings provide a new context, one where you lead by example as you take full responsibility for the relationship and the impact it has on you and your life.
Protecting yourself from the energy-zapping presence of a victim is not about doing something against them, it is all about doing something positive for yourself.