Everyone is always encountering some kind of difficulty in life. Sometimes, it’s just a small bump in the road. Other times, it is a catastrophic avalanche. The result is that you are hurt in some way. You are a victim.
You are a victim of some event outside of your control. There was nothing you could have done about it. It is all their fault, who they may be. It is now my fault. There was nothing I could do about it. I was the victim. So what now?
It’s now 40 days into the Shanghai lockdown for me. This experience has been terrible for many people. For some, the lockdown has created inordinate amounts of financial stress due to not being able to work or not being able to run their business. For some, this has been catastrophic to their physical health due to lack of hospital resources or potentially due to lack of food. For everyone else, there is some level of stress related to mental health.
In a situation where you have no control over it where we are all victims, what should we do?
Disclaimer: I am not dismissing the trauma or hardships being experienced. As someone who is very passionate about education and personal development, I am just highlighting thoughts around how to escape from being stuck in a state of victim hood.
One of the earliest concepts shared with me is:
RESULT = EVENT x REACTION
The RESULT of any situation consists of an EVENT that occurs and then your REACTION to that event. The EVENT is defined as some external situation that is not within your control. REACTION is defined as your reaction to said event. The resulting combination of the EVENT and REACTION will be the final RESULT.
What this equation is trying to say is that there are certain things that we can control and certain things that we cannot control. A victim mentality is focusing on the EVENT. Here’s a definition of victim mentality from WebMD:
People who have a victim mentality have often suffered through trauma or hard times, but haven’t developed a healthier way to cope. As a result, they develop a negative view of life, where they feel that they don’t have any control over what happens to them.
Focusing on EVENT creates a negative cycle of never having any kind of control. This feeling will perpetuate itself and grow until there’s a feeling of inevitability. But instead, if we can focus on on the REACTION, then you will find yourself always in the position of control because the REACTION is always controllable. No matter how traumatic or hard an EVENT might be, if you can develop the mental muscles to roll with the punches, then it will be possible to be strong in the face of adversity.
Stoicism tends to focus a lot on this concept and a really powerful quote from Seneca goes as follows:
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’” - Seneca
To focus on the REACTION, you need to focus on the self. This involves taking care of your health. In other words, focusing on your self is literally about taking care of yourself. One health framework to use is from an article that James Altucher wrote awhile back called The Daily Practice. The breakdown is that you need to take care of 4 parts of your health:
Physical health is your body. Exercise, sleep, what you eat, etc. We have all heard that your body is your temple and its true. Your emotional, mental, and spiritual health are deeply tied to your physical health.
Emotional is about taking care of your feelings and energy. This is the closest thing to mental health. Make sure to increase the positive energy around you by surrounding yourself with it and minimizing negative energy around you by removing it from your lifestyle. This could be in the form of people or news and information.
Mental involves your mental muscles and your ability to think. Strong mental health means that you have the ability to think hard and be creative. Training this muscle will allow you to strengthen your ability to choose your REACTION much more.
Spiritual is about finding peace. Note that peace is not necessarily happiness, but content-ness. One of the easiest ways is to express gratitude. Focusing on the positives will build a tendency to direct your attention to positives more so than negatives. Meditation, prayer, etc. are all practices that help with developing your spiritual health.
If you can build up your heath for all 4, you will develop strong habits to allow you to focus on the REACTION rather than being trapped in the EVENT.
The critical key is that this needs to be done by you. Others can help you get started, but the decision must stem from you. Otherwise, it won’t have a chance of sticking.
With the world constantly in volatility, there will be more opportunities to fall into a victim mentality. An unfortunate trend that I am seeing is that the ubiquity of content around mental health is being used as a crux to fall into victim mentality. Mental health vocabulary should be used to help you climb out of victim mentality, not lock yourself in there.
For people in the Shanghai lockdown or anybody facing hardships, this is an EVENT. If you can take your REACTION and find a way to treat this as an opportunity, you will be able to make something positive come out of this.
And once you can help yourself, you will find that this will snowball into something bigger because others are much more willing to help someone who can help themselves.
TL;DR. To avoid the victim mentality, you need to be able to take care of yourself.