In the past few months, as Corona pandemic engulfed our worlds, some of us may be left asking this very question. Looking at them and their lives and based on our relationship with them (and this ‘them’ can be ‘us’), we can respond in different ways, and we may also find ourselves struggling to keep our thoughts close to our chest lest we should further hurt or offend the person. Bearing witness to a few such cases in quick succession over the past three months, I decided to spend time understanding this phenomenon myself. And as always, I started by looking within.
Twice in my life, I have found myself voicing that I was at the ‘receiving end’ of circumstances and other people’s behaviors; the two transpired in very different contexts and as I look back and introspect, only in the first case was I truly hurt and feeling victimized. In the other, I was ‘playing victim’ to divert attention and escape responsibility. In this piece, I am focusing on the persistent and self-reinforcing feelings of being repeatedly victimized, as I felt in the first case. [Cases like the second are often shallow excuses which can be articulated as such, exposed, and summarily dismissed, since even the ones expressing such feelings do not believe that they have been at the other end of the stick.]
What is happening within us when we feel ‘truly’ victimized to question repeatedly – “Why me?”. Bitterness from a number of experiences has snowballed, as we have not got or not sought a resolution, externally or internally. If we sprinkle salt on our food and then, instead of mixing the crystals where they land, we scrape them all in one place, we are surely in for some tongue-burn. And so happens when we accumulate hurts, instead of tackling them then and there. We lose sleep and feel bruised and broken internally; the world seems unfair and we either stuff this negativity in our already overflowing box-of-hurts or react (sometimes, unfairly) to what now becomes the tipping-point incident. Do we feel relaxed after that knee-jerk reaction or outburst? May be yes, but the relief is short-lived. The hurt-box is there – intact and spewing venom within us, because we have ‘addressed’ the hurt of only one incident and not the previous others. Would it not have been better to keep resolving matters, as they happened? Well, easier said than done.
Confronting people and situations and engaging in constructive self talk do not come naturally. Addressing hurts as they pop-up is something we come to appreciate and develop competencies in, after exercising much mental muscle and dying a little. By that time, we usually have a populated hurt-box firmly in place. At some point in time, we have to overturn our hurt-box, fiddle with its contents one-at-a-time, stare hard-ponder-laugh-cry, take action and/or lessons, and ultimately, dissolve that memory. We have to be kind to ourselves, while at the same time ask ourselves tough questions. We have to seize the locus of control instead of externalizing the blame. Not always are we able to do this ourselves, and accompaniment by those in whom we trust and sometimes even those unrelated to us or the incident, helps. In extreme cases, seeking therapy might be in order. I was lucky to have a teacher in high school who put things in perspective for me to escape the marsh that ‘victim mentality’ can be. I am grateful to her, and on Teacher’s Day today, I send Dr. Paul, wherever she is, my heartfelt gratitude for that timely chide.
Strangely, seldom do we ask ourselves Why me when good things happen to us, or when we end up happier or with a larger bounty as compared to those around us (worthier or less worthy). Is this borne out of a sense of entitlement (which I think is a more destructive emotion for those around us than self-pity)?
Wallowing in self-pity can become our go-to zone of comfort. Though there may be a minuscule amount of mental wellness to be derived from ‘controlled wading’, the more you flap in this marsh, the deeper you are pulled in. Stillness helps, of mind, in this case. Talking to others can bring useful perspective too, only if we care to share and hear them out with openness. Overall, extrication is our only hope if we have to move on in life with happiness, confidence and as a ‘whole being’. While I cannot over-emphasize the importance of being aware of our inner dialogue at all times, I also see immense in value in Nancy Colier’s advice of turning our focus to helping others, “Offering kindness is the surest antidote to Poor me“, she says.
What to do when we come across people we know and/or work with, who are languishing in or are at the precipice of victim mentality? Listen with a kind ear, explore deeper, counter and challenge, and inject a can-do-belief in the affected co-traveler. Expert therapy may be required in extreme cases. But in all matters emotional, it is an absolute must for anyone feeling victimized to venture within, with kindness – What was the sequence of events? Who did what? What did I do? Could I have done something different to change the trajectory of events? Could I have done anything at all? How is the incident affecting me now? How am I furthering my well being (or am I?) by carrying this emotional burden? What can I take forward and what do I leave to decompose?
Bob Boisture (President and CEO, Fetzer Institute), in the beginning of an ongoing webinar series on ‘Inner Work for Social Change‘ queried – How do I hold myself? How do I hold others? Taken together with the teachings of Gaur Gopal Das, I reckon we have to ‘fix our inner dialogue’ and put our hearts in the right place first. Then, will we be able to discharge our sacred responsibility and help others.
Taking a deep breath, Tyagi Shurjo style, I brace myself for the work ahead.
Fare forward, all!