John J Prendergast, PHD, is the author of the new book, The Deep Heart: Our Portal to Presence. John is a spiritual teacher, retired Adjunct Professor of Psychology at CIIS in San Francisco, and soon-to-retire psychotherapist in private practice. He offers online and in-person retreats. He studied for many years with the European sage Jean Klein as well as with the American teacher Adyashanti. He is also the author of In Touch: How to Tune in to Your Inner Guidance and Trust Yourself.
It’s easy to feel like a victim, especially these days, when the economy is bad and the world seems to have so many big problems. We can always come up with lots of ‘reasons’ to justify feeling like a victim. And, of course, for some people the reasons are legitimate — things they are born with or tragedies (karmic perhaps). It’s not easy, but even these can be overcome.
Most victim stories, however, are mostly just that — just stories … tales that serve as an excuse, or a subconscious strategy of pretending to be powerless … when really we had the power to create the problems through a series of bad decisions we made and possibly continue to make. These victimness temptations represent a personal development opportunity.
What are the payoffs for feeling like a victim? Well, for starters, you get to feel that you are right (about being wronged). Nobody wants to argue with a victim, because that would seem mean. Secondly, to the extent that you argue for being a victim, you gain a terrific excuse for not making progress towards the realization of your personal priorities. And, in addition, taking the victim stance entitles you to sympathy from others.
What should you do if you realize that you are stuck in your own victim story? First, look inside yourself to see if you can analyze exactly what your personal victim stories are. In particular, figure out how you are getting “payoffs” — hidden benefits like those mentioned above.
All too often, victim stories are a con game played by our ego in order to justify efforts to stay in control — of ourselves, of others, of a situation. Since the ego’s function is primarily to protect us, it makes total sense that it feels a need to be in control. The only problem is the ego He tends to go too far, sometimes even to the extent of inventing reasons for its empowerment over our decision-making.
This is the human predicament and challenge — to have a healthy ego that can defend us when necessary, but also to regulate it wisely from a higher, spiritual vantage point. In short, taking refuge in victims stories is a weak person’s form of not managing themselves very well.
It is important that we learn how to manage our egos, so that we do not get stuck in the trap of self-righteous victimhood, where we fool ourselves into believing that there is nothing we can do to improve our situation, while blame it on others or fate, etc.
Sometimes it is hard to resist the siren call of victimhood, because it feels good, a little bit good anyway… and sometimes we need some reassurance that our predicaments are not all our fault, and that we are not alone. Sympathy is not a terrible drug, but getting sympathy from others provides very temporary relief. Isn’t it better to face up to stories that we tell ourselves, feel the pain of this psychic surgery, and come out the other side free from habitual self-limiting thoughts?