“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” ―Thích Nhất Hạnh
When we feel victimized by crime, a lover, our family, race or gender it is an opportunity to evolve. After we get through the initial shock, sadness, anger, blame, and other emotions and accept where we are, the potential for something magical can occur. If we have the courage to look inward and to move beyond the pain and immobility being a victim can cause, we can access our personal power.
1. Knowing Your Power
Writer, Alice Walker said, "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any." When we sink into victim mentality, we detach from our own power, rely on others to make us feel worthy, safe and able, and empower the person or circumstances that caused us pain by keeping our focus on the source of pain and not ourselves. The ability to move from a victim mentality to self-empowerment is simply a state of mind. Changing our state of mind can be accomplished by reminding ourselves where we are whole and wonderful, and by putting our attention on the value and joy of our dreams. Once we believe we are no longer in danger, we are not. Once we believe we are capable of supporting ourselves, we do. Once we believe we are loveable and able to attract a loving, caring partner, one arrives.
2. Taking Responsibility
While devastating acts can understandably cause us to have fear, acknowledging that we have the power to move beyond our fear can feel daunting. First, we must acknowledge how being in a state of victimhood serves us. Perhaps it feels good to have others take care of us. Perhaps we feel safer not to make our own decisions or take any risks. Perhaps we don't believe we can make it on our own. When we look inward and discover how our victim mentality satisfies a need, we can then satisfy that need in a healthier way.
Being grateful for what we have has become cliché in the world of "how to," "self-help," and "spiritual awakening." However, it remains a powerful tool in healing and moving forward. The simple practice of a gratitude journal, noting every day three or four things that we are grateful for, can shift us from a feeling of being a victim to feeling self-empowered. Dr. Robert A. Emmons, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis studied the effects of gratitude and found that those who kept a gratitude journal experienced significant improvements in several areas of life including relationships, academics, energy level and even dealing with tragedy and crisis. While he says cultivating an attitude of gratitude may be difficult, it is a "chosen attitude” that is well worth the effort.
Forgiving can be the most magical and powerful step in the process of moving from victim to self-empowerment. Forgiving both ourselves, circumstances, and anyone who has harmed us releases the bond of a victim mentality. We do not have to condone behaviors that are harmful, but we can certainly set ourselves free by accepting what happened to us, learning from it, and releasing it. Thích Nhất Hạnh writes in The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Love and Liberation: “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything - anger, anxiety, or possessions - we cannot be free.”
Releasing victim mentality is the path toward liberation, love, peace, happiness and a true sense of self-empowerment. While it may not appear to be so in the early stages of carrying the load of victim, it is simply a choice to take another path.