Everyone views life from their past experiences. From an understanding of those past experiences, you come to conclusions of what you believe to be true about yourself, other people, and life. Unless you cross check those conclusions with reality, you may be living your life based on a belief about yourself, other people, and life that, frankly, isn’t true or accurate.
Following a situation where you’ve been a victim, it takes some effort to regain a sense of empowerment. But sometimes that process becomes stalled. A condition of learned helplessness was discovered and researched by psychologist Martin Seligman, author of the excellent book Learned Optimism. In a nutshell, the condition of learned helplessness exists when a person’s thoughts or actions from a past situation where he or she was actually helpless, is continued in current situations where the person isn’t helpless. George Kelly, a clinical psychologist and personality theorist, calls this a personal construct—a well-defined conscious idea about oneself.
The book learned helplessness says: When experience with uncontrollable events gives rise to the expectation that events in the future will also elude control, then disruptions in motivation, emotion, and learning may ensue.
An adult in an abusive relationship, will in time tend to develop a victim mind-set of learned helplessness. It explains why individuals who experience repeated abuse or mistreatment often don’t try harder to improve or change their situation. They give up trying to better their lives believing that life will never change.
Robert Burney author of Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls, writes: We were taught to look outside of ourselves—to people, places, things, to money, property and prestige—for fulfillment and happiness. It does not work; it is dysfunctional. We cannot fill the hole within with anything outside of Self. When we look outside for self-definition and self-worth, we are giving power away and setting ourselves up to be victims. We are trained to be victims. We are taught to give our power away. As just one small example of how pervasively we are trained to be victims, consider how often you have said, or heard someone say, “I have to work tomorrow.” When we say “I have to” we are making a victim statement. To say “I have to get up and I have to go to work” is a lie. No one forces an adult to get up and go to work. The truth is “I choose to get up and I choose to go to work because I choose to not have the consequences of not working.” To say “I choose” is not only the truth, it is empowering. When we “have to” do something we feel like a victim. And because we feel victimized, we will then be angry and want to punish whomever we see as forcing us to do something we do not want to do.
People who see themselves as victims are difficult people to get along with. They feel entitled to special attention and privileges. They tend to believe that other people just don’t understand. They blame others for their lot in life believing that if this or that hadn’t happen then their crumby situation wouldn’t exist. This self-defeating behavior fuels the loneliness and the resentment that victims experience. Any situation where an expectation doesn’t occur, that situation will be experienced as unfair, disappointing, or unjust.
A vital need in any unfair or disappointing situation is the requirement to cope and proceed —in other words—adjust and respond! You need to accept “what is” and seek solutions to enable an adjustment to “what is.” When you’re unable to take responsibility for your life, an incorrect learned helplessness results in self-pity and a victim mind-set. People with a victim mind-set are sometimes unaware that their thoughts are full of untruths and unhealthy thinking. Victims do need assistance in processing the circumstances that develop into a victim mind-set. Psychotherapy can be a big help.
Think about it. In caring, Sandy