“Reject your sense of injury, and the injury itself disappears.” -Marcus Aurelius

In May 2020, my family and I gathered for our TV night. That evening was the season opening of America’s got talent. Onto the stage walked a contestant unlike the others. Archie Williams, 59, channeled his experience of wrongful conviction into a powerful rendition of Elton John’s Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me. “I was just incarcerated for 37 years for somebody else’s crime,” Williams told the judges before auditioning. He was sentenced to life without parole for the 1982 rape and stabbing of a woman at her Baton Rouge home after the victim identified him in a photographic lineup. He was exonerated after new fingerprint technology matched another man to the crimes. During his audition Williams described watching “America’s Got Talent” when he was at the Angola prison in Louisiana. As he recalled, “I would visualize myself being there,” he said. “I always desired to be on a stage like this, and now I’m here. Thank God. I know it’s the chance of a lifetime.” He stated that while he was imprisoned physically, he was not imprisoned mentally. 

That is a powerful lesson for all of us. Although we may not be able to change a circumstance or environment surrounding us, we can change our perception and interpretation of it for better mental wellbeing. Archie had chosen to reject the victim mentality. 

Victim mentality is an adopted personality trait in which a person tends to recognize or consider themselves as a victim of the negative actions of others, and to behave as if this were the case despite evidence to the contrary.   

The victim mentality leads you to view the external as opposition. It is the worldview that says, “The universe is against me!”, “They won’t let me get ahead!”, or “They are always keeping me down”. Adopting this mindset is easy, it can become our comfort zone, and it removes expectations and goals. And it is dangerous. It robs the individual of self-accountability, self-determination, and of will. Self-victimization also opens the door to the manipulation of others for sympathy and attention. 

Silhouette of young businessman pushing large stone uphill with copy space

Life is not always fair. Accepting this harsh reality is the first step in ending the self-victimization game. There is no disqualifying the hurts, pains, and struggles of the past. Our past, along with its inevitable issues and problems, contribute to who we are. Bad things really do happen, and often over multiple occasions, often to people who, like Williams, have done nothing to deserve them. It’s understandable that people who face one difficulty after another may start to believe the world is out to get them. But having negative events happen is part of the human experience. Having those experiences define you, however, is a problem. 

Eleanor Roosevelt stated it well, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die.  And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” Similarly, famed author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer wrote, “Our lives are a sum total of the choices we have made”, a statement echoed by philosophers and sages throughout the ages. 

Archie Williams personifies the triumph of the human spirit. He chose to end the victimization of self and refused to take on the broken mindset, although it would have been understandable if he did. 

Here’s some key tips you can use to do the same:

Stop Blaming Others

Blaming others may provide temporary relief from our pain, but in the long run, it will lead to feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. Habitual blaming over time perpetuates bitterness, resentment, and powerlessness, as the victim suffers from what Henry David Thoreau called “quiet desperation.”

Rather than looking to point blame at others, ask yourself: what lesson can I learn from this? Was I actually the person at fault here? How can I grow from this? 

Take Personal Responsibility

Yes, it is true that there are things outside of our control that we experience. There are many external factors which we cannot control; however, we can control how we respond to those things. Reaction is emotional and can be irrational. Responses however are metered, thought out, deliberate, and more meaningful. It is human nature to react to an injustice. It is human nature to react to being wronged. However, our human nature, as we all know, is quite flawed. The discipline, the self-development, the better outcome is when we take time to appropriately respond to the offense.  Personal responsibility means having the strength to make the right choice when faced with a challenge. And this is how you take control of your life’s direction and become more accountable. Responsibility is a two-way street. By being responsible, you set a great example for others to follow. And in return, they know what kind of actions you expect from them.

 Be Grateful

Yes, I know this is hard to do- especially when you feel you have been wronged. The spiritual sages of every tradition teach us that, even in the most difficult of circumstances, we can find things to be grateful for. The difficulty itself can be the source of our gratitude for the invaluable lessons we can learn. Gratitude expression releases neurochemicals in the brain associated with pleasure (dopamine, serotonin). The habitual practice of gratitude can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and turns the critical eye from the external toward introspection. 

 Forgive

When you stay in the victim role, you elect to hold onto bitterness and anger. Instead of poisoning your own experience with resentful thoughts, make the volitional move to express compassion and understanding for the other. It will be difficult, yes. But doing so defuses the situation, and you as well. Letting go of blame in no way whitewashes unfair circumstances (which are very real – both locally and globally), or excuses difficult people, or invalidates life’s many hardships. But this is not about them, this is about YOU. You do this for YOURSELF in order to reclaim the freedom and power you always had over your happiness, goals, and life. 

Cropped high angle shot of an unidentifiable man and woman holding hands on a table

 Avoid Negative Self-Talk.

Negative self-talk goes hand in hand with self-sabotage. If self-talk is negative, one may be more likely to unconsciously sabotage any attempts they could make toward change. Over time, negative self-talk can damage resilience, making it harder to bounce back from challenges and heal.

 Build Self Assurance

Self-confidence is understanding that you trust your own judgment and abilities, and that you value yourself and feel worthy, regardless of any imperfections or of what others may believe about you. Self-assurance (confidence) is not the same as willed arrogance. The former is security in one’s own person and ability, while the latter is rooted in elevating self over others without their regard. 

 Admittedly, these tasks take time. I’ve had to discover this for myself. With so many resources out there, from books, podcasts, social media sites, there is no shortage of self-development tools. But it takes time. I encourage you to invest in yourself by reading, absorbing, and making a willful plan to change for the better.

 

 


Hector Chapa, M.D., F.A.C.O.G.

Dr. Chapa is a nationally and internationally recognized speaker and published author in the field of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He is a Board Certified OB-GYN and serves as Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Texas A&M College of Medicine in Bryan-College Station, Texas, and as Clerkship Director for ObGyn for Texas A&M College of Medicine. He has published over 45 clinical articles, case reports, and medical commentaries covering both obstetrical and gynecological topics. 

Privacy Preference Center