Rarely does a social occasion go by that somebody doesn’t ask me what a psychotherapist does. I resist the urge to mumble something about secret handshakes, decoder rings and electric shocks, then I try to answer the question truthfully: One of the things a therapist does is to help people identify what’s bothering them about others in their lives, and then helps the client figure out how to change that situation.
One of the primary things I see is people falling into the trap of “victim-think.” Sadly, this sort of attitude is constantly encouraged by politicians and the media, because people are easier to manipulate if you convince them they’re helpless.
It is true that we can’t force other people to change their behaviors and choices, but victim-think suggests (incorrectly) that we assume we’re powerless to do anything about others’ behaviors. Well, that’s just not true. Based on my clinical experience, I’ve put together a list of questions you can ask yourself. I call it “Nine Things to Say to Yourself to Combat ‘Victim-Think.’”
- What am I allowing him to do to annoy me?
- How did I manage to convey the impression to her that it would be acceptable for her to act this way?
- What in my thinking is causing me to FEEL upset and angry (rather than saying he “made” me upset and angry)?
- What actions of mine have encouraged her offensive behavior?
- What is she counting on, in MY behavior, when she treats me this way?
- What do I gain from allowing this behavior to continue without protest?
- What do I currently do for him that I can stop doing if he refuses to change the behavior I don’t like?
- What am I willing to do for her that I don’t currently do, provided she stops the behavior I don’t like?
- I have the power to choose to have nothing to do with him, or maybe just less to do with him than I do now. How much is entirely up to me.
You don’t have to sit idly by and feel like a victim. Successful psychotherapy teaches you to recognize your power of choice. I’m not referring to power over people — that’s ineffective and unhealthy. I’m talking about power over yourself. Once you realize that you are capable of managing your feelings, you can then refer to another list that I fondly call: “Three Things to NOT Say to Yourself, Lest You Fall into ‘Victim-Think.’”
- “He makes me so angry!” Correction: Nobody makes you angry. Your thoughts make you angry. Emotions, like anger, are the result of thoughts and beliefs that may or may not be valid. It’s your job to figure that out.
- “I’m sick of being treated this way!” Correction: You’ve probably tolerated the behavior too long. You have to show intolerance if you want things to change. If someone’s stepping on your peace of mind, you have every right to NOT tolerate it.
- “Why does she act this way?” Correction: Understanding another’s motives can be interesting, but beyond that, it’s of little value. Your energy is better spent identifying your role in the problem, and correcting whatever behavior you may be displaying that encourages the actions you dislike.
Unless someone’s holding a gun to your head, you are rarely a victim. Intentionally or not, we are often doing something that enables the actions we find annoying. In fact, most people don’t want to be annoying, especially if they value your friendship. We are not to blame for others’ bad choices. But we ARE responsible for removing that irrationality from our lives. It’s entirely up to us to exercise power over our reactions. In the process, we grant ourselves the freedom to change our feelings and not be ruled by others’ behaviors.
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