If there is one thing I know for sure it is that allowing oneself to be defined by one’s wounds, scars and past injuries is a recipe for a miserable life of unrealizable potential. It is not possible to be happy if you are defined by your wounds, and it is impossible to realize your potential if you don’t stop looking over your shoulder at your past. Your wounds may have left scars that will always be there, but even scarred people can have eyes forward and march into a positive future.
I am moving into dangerous territory here. I am at risk of being heard to say that those who have wounds need to get over it. How dare I say such a thing? I have this internal debate going – am I saying that; am I saying something else? Maybe it starts with an understanding of what it takes to “get over it”.
When one says “just get over it” there is the implication that this is a small thing that simply requires that one makes a decision. It’s way more complicated than that, so let me make an attempt at what is takes to “get over it”.
Disclaimer: There is very real psychopathology that has its roots in past experiences and that is not my area of expertise. My expertise lies more in the arena of positive human functioning. Therefore, I will base this article on what I know enhances the human capacity to thrive, and not on psychopathology.
I really like the way Andrea Mathews explains the issue of woundedness: “And THAT is the wound. It isn’t just the pain of what was done—we can get past pain through a healthy grief process. The “damage” is done when we change the identity to match the event, person or circumstance so that we ARE now that event, person or circumstance in some small or large way.”
I don’t think “getting over it” starts with a decision so much as a realization – that defining oneself as a victim is an obstacle to a good life. When you have become defined by what happened to you, you may observe the following in yourself:
- Hypervigilance – constantly looking for evidence of new and related sources of hurt. For example, if you have been hurt by racism in your past, you will be extremely vigilant to new instances of racism – even when that is not what is going on. Think of this as being easily offended or outraged.
- Feeling attacked when someone tries to give you helpful feedback or make a suggestion for moving forward. This is the person who yells “How dare you suggest that I get over it!”
- Blaming external factors and events for one’s life – my life is the way it is because of what so-and-so did to me; I didn’t get the promotion because so-and-so is out to get me; I can’t come across as confident because of what happened when I was a child. Of course, because nothing is their fault or responsibility, they cannot be expected to be responsible for making changes to their lives.
- Having manypeople in your circle who blame everyone and everything but themselves for their circumstances – birds of a feather flocking together.
- Unhealthy coping mechanisms – examples include finding 101 problems for every solution; developing a negative outlook where one’s expectations of life are kept extremely low in order to avoid disappointment; feeling stuck and approaching challenges with a negative outlook.
- Believing that life or the world is out to get you.
This has been defined in the psychology literature as “victimhood mindset” or “victim mentality”.
The impact of a victim mindset is that it creates a whole society of people whose primary identification is with being oppressed. This is a culture in which there is an expectation of some kind of payback, reparations or the expectation that lives will only change when “they” change in some way. No matter how justified this expectation might be, let’s be clear that (1) it is NEVER going to happen, and (2) even if it does happen in some way, it will NEVER be enough. Victimhood is a bottomless pit that just cannot be filled.
It is important to shake off a victim mindset because of its impact on YOURSELF. It holds you back. It keeps you unhappy and resentful. It actively prevents you from enjoying any real personal success. It is completely self-defeating. The most liberating thing that anyone with a victim mindset can do is to let go of the hope or expectation that anyone other than themselves will ever change their lives! There are no saviours! Life doesn’t owe you anything – but YOU owe yourself something. What you owe yourself is the shaking off of the victim chains that keep you bound to the past in order to embrace a winning mindset that has you 100% responsible for defining your future, even if you did not shape your past.
Shaking off such a mindset can be difficult, because a victim mentality has important payoffs:
- You don't have to take accountability when nothing is your responsibility – so you’re off the hook;
- You get sympathy and attention (and maybe even tangible benefits such as grants);
- You don’t have to take risks or be vulnerable.
Because the victim mentality is a learned behaviour, it can be unlearned and replaced with a winning mindset. However, this cannot happen until you personally have a blinding flash of insight – or maybe it emerges gradually – that your victim mindset is preventing you from having the life you want. With this realization comes the acceptance of personal responsibility – you cannot have the life you want if you don’t change your mindset, and only you can take on a new mindset.
Once you accept personal responsibility, educate yourself. Read books, blogs and articles on victim mentality or victimhood mindset. Make sure you understand it as a phenomenon, and that you develop your understanding of how to shift from a victim mindset to a winning mindset.
Consider seeking therapy as a healthy way to process the pain of the past so that you are liberated to start looking forward and making choices that make for a good life.
Choose who you spend time with. Move away from spending time with other victims. Surround yourself with people who have succeeded, who have risen above life’s challenges, who have a winning mindset, who take responsibility for what they can do in the face of life’s difficulties.
Say No to things you do not want to do. You have a choice – exercise your choice. Prioritise yourself and your objectives more than worrying about other people’s feelings.
Be kind to yourself. This can be a tough journey – moving from a victim mindset to a winning mindset. It takes work. You will slip up – but you can notice it, and correct course every time you slip up.
Take time to relish moments of joy. You absolutely will experience more moments of joy as a winner than you possibly can as a victim. Enjoy them!
If you recognise that you need to do some important work in shifting to a winning mindset so that you can create the life you want, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s discuss your coaching programme.
This article is the latest in a series that follows the theme that “Life is Difficult”, and yet we can definitely live a life of victory and fulfillment if we choose to do so. My purpose in writing these articles is to share tips and tools for thriving even though life is difficult.