Sorting out victimhood and personal responsibility

Most people's lives are being guided along by low-level insights that really don't go anywhere worthwhile and usually keep us stuck in places of brokenness. Higher insights that can lead to true healing and wholeness often contradict or refute the low-level insights.

For example, it's easy to build a lot of energy and consensus around a "victim mentality" - the idea that others are to blame for the difficulties, hardships, and shortcomings of our lives, and believing that our well-being is out of our control and primarily the responsibility of others.

The reason this is debilitating is NOT because it's not true that our lives can be negatively and unfairly impacted by people and circumstances outside our control. Of course this happens. A few unfortunate realities about our human journey are that life is unfair, we experience suffering, and people do evil, selfish, unjust and harmful things.

The victim mentality is debilitating because it undermines our ability to do anything about our situation. If you are having difficulties in any area of your life, and you believe you are capable of being the fundamental cause or agent in managing your life, you can devise a strategy to improve your situation. And if one solution doesn’t work, you can learn from your experience and try again.

But if you have a victim mentality — in other words, if you feel powerless to affect your circumstances or you are making others responsible for your life, well-being and happiness — you are less likely to see yourself as the most important person in the equation.

Here is a way I reasoned out putting personal responsibility over the victim mentality in my own life:

1. Have I actually been victimized in some way? Yes. 2. Was the person who victimized me guilty and wrong, and their actions evil and inexcusable? Yes. 3. Did the experience of being victimized impact me and my life in unfortunate and destructive ways? Yes. 4. Is life unfair and sometimes tragic? Yes. 5. Are the determining factors for my well-being, healing and wholeness my choices and personal responsibility? Yes. 6. Even if others are to blame for my current demise, are the determining factors for my well-being, healing and wholeness my choices and personal responsibility? Yes.

7. Even if the system is rigged against me, are the determining factors for my well-being, healing and wholeness my choices and personal responsibility? Yes. 8. Is it okay to ask for the help and support of others in my journey toward healing and wholeness? Yes. 9. Is it normal to feel sadness, sorrow, and anger about being victimized and toward the person who victimized me? Yes. 10. Am I capable of taking responsibility and making the choices necessary for my well-being? Yes. 11. Will doing so be difficult? Yes. 12. Will it be worth it? Yes.

13. Are there cases where vulnerable people throughout our world are being controlled, enslaved and oppressed in which I should work towards their liberation in any way I can? Yes.

14. Should I be willing to change my own mindsets and actions that are directly or indirectly complicit in causing suffering and making the well-being of others difficult? Yes.

During a season of my life I traveled abroad with an international human rights agency, confronting forced child prostitution and child slave labor. I posed as a customer in brothels where girls as young as 12 years of age were forced to provide sex to "customers" four or five times a day, six days a week. I also posed as an investor in a child slave labor camp where little boys are whipped with electrical cords if they don't meet their impossible quota of rolling cigarettes. I witnessed all of this up close and personal with my own eyes. Of course these girls and boys are truly victims.

I also visited the NGO's that worked with the kids lucky enough to be rescued from the brothels and child labor camps. I met many young women and young men who - through years of professional physical, emotional and psychological care, support, and treatment, and the love and nurture of people who care - have grown in self-confidence and have learned the skills and tools to take responsibility for and direct their lives. It's a beautiful thing to see.

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©  2009 Jim Palmer Author. All Rights Reserved
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