DWhether your immediate response to this question is “Never” or “All the time” or somewhere in between, playing the victim in your life is an important red flag to learn how to spot if you want to maximize your sense of well-being. Here are some of the major ways playing the victim shows up:

  • Difficulty accepting what is happening 
  • Self-talk that reflects self-doubt, judgment, or excuse-making
  • Blaming others for how you are feeling
  • Wanting to run away from the situation you are in 

What does it mean to play the victim? The bottom line is it is about giving your power away to your fears, insecurities, or to other people. It is about choosing to tell yourself two key messages: 

  • It is not my fault.
  • I am helpless to create success in this situation.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • You have an assignment at work and don’t feel confident in your ability to do a great job. Instead of problem-solving the situation to get the help you need, you start running fantasies in your head about how inadequate you are and what will happen if and when you get found out. No one else has rendered you powerless here. You did it all by yourself. You told yourself you couldn’t measure up and made that a self-fulfilling prophecy through the fantasies you spun in your head.
  • You claim to be committed to losing weight but aren’t getting any results. You just keep making excuses about how hard it is because after all, it was your birthday yesterday, and you’re going on a cruise next week, and your car just broke down in front of your favorite fast food restaurant. By making these excuses for yourself, you take no responsibility for your choices and try to convince yourself and others that you had no choices. But you did. Each time, you made the choice to surrender to temptation rather than to keep your word to yourself about losing weight. You keep telling yourself you are trying, but are you really? Trying makes you someone who isn’t doing what it takes to achieve desired results. If you truly want to lose weight, you need to do what it takes to make different choices to get different results.
  • You have accepted a date to have lunch with your friend, Jane. As you sit there listening to her go on and on about herself as she always does, never asking you about your life, you are fuming inside and running an internal commentary about how self-centered and clueless she is. Yet, you sit there nodding your head with a smile on your face hiding the fact that you want to smack her, run away, or scream–but you don’t. You have convinced yourself that it is all her fault, but is it? You won’t risk speaking up or doing something to change the dynamic between you. Instead you just play the victim telling yourself it’s all her fault that you feel the way you do.

Stop making excuses and blaming others for your unhappiness. Henry Ford offered great wisdom about taking charge in our own lives:

If you always do what youve always done,
youll always get what youve always got.

Here’s a simple 3-step process for reclaiming any personal power you are giving away through playing the victim:

1.  Notice when you are playing the victim. Without judgment and with a great sense of humor, observe yourself and notice all the subtle and blatant ways that you declare yourself to be a powerless victim. Be really honest with yourself about this because the more you see, the more you can do something about it. Look at things like:

  • How do I deal with technology challenges? 
  • What goes on inside of me when I am on hold or caught in an endless phone tree trying to get to a human being with answers? 
  • How do I react when I am bored, frustrated, or angered by someone?
  • How do I deal with temptations, stress, or unexpected challenges to meeting my goals?

2.  Pay attention to your inner dialogue. What are you telling yourself is true? Be honest about what you are really thinking and feeling. Gather as much detail as you can and ask yourself:

  • What assumptions am I making about this situation and how do they contribute to my unhappiness? 
  • What common message do my playing-the-victim experiences share?
  • Is this message really the truth or is there something I am afraid of that I avoid experiencing? If so, what is it and what am I afraid will happen if I really take charge of myself in this situation?

3.  Make two new choices:  Choose to take responsibility for your behavior and to create a different response. Keeping your sense of humor, start experimenting with new ways of thinking and behaving in these situations. Armed with your new awareness of what you will do and what will happen if you don’t do something different try some of the following techniques:

  • Practice catching yourself in the act and asking yourself, “How else might I respond to this?”
  • Work on one common reactive pattern at a time. Anticipate it happening again and think of two or three different strategies you might try out. Play with it until you come up with a new way of responding that doesn’t make you a victim. Notice how different it feels to maintain your balance when the going gets tough. Become a skill-building junky! In the example above about having lunch with non-stop talking friend, Jane, you might try interjecting something like, “Heh Jane, I want to update you about what’s happening with Jack” or “Jane, did I tell you what’s happening with Jack?” or “Before I forget, let me tell you the latest about Jack.”  Speak up. Let your voice be heard. Make a game of it.

If you want to take this to a deeper level, remember how your life looked to you through your eyes as a child when you were hurt or upset. Look for the bottom line message you told yourself about what was going on and see if that isn’t the same bottom line you are going to as an adult. This can be powerful and illuminating. 

Remember, your well-being matters and you are the boss of what goes on inside of you.

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