The “victim” and the “perpetrator” are often the same role. Jump off the coin completely and experience the practice of healing.
We have all had experiences in our lives of being a victim. If you have had a moment in your life (early on in childhood or more recently) where your body went into Fight/Flight/Freeze survival mode, then your body knows what it feels like to be faced with being on the victim end of a situation. You don’t have to have had any serious trauma happen to you for your body to know what this feels like. Even if you have never been in a car accident, or been the victim of a violent crime, your body still knows because you have probably, if you’ve been alive for any amount of time, been scared to “death” at least once in your life. That feeling is something the human animal can feel because it’s a useful feeling when faced with a real danger.
The process our body goes through of fight, flight, or freeze saves our lives. It jumps us into adrenaline responses that help us swerve the car out of the way or whatever needs to be done to end the emergency. The problem comes when our ego high-jacks this useful tool and starts to kick this process into gear every time IT is threatened. Let’s face it, our pride and vanity (ego) are threatened all the time. When they’re running the show, we start to walk around as if we are having some degree of an emergency 24/7. We walk around as if we are in a war-zone, our egos keeping a vigilant eye out for where the next attack may come from. What did she mean by that? They think they’re better than me. What is he implying? This kind of internal dialog WILL create battles to be fought and won, enemies to be destroyed. There will be martyrs and victims to be or to save and life will feel like an epic energetic battle between “us” and “them”.
Life, contrary to some popular ways of being in our culture, is actually NOT an emergency. It is not a battle to be “won” or “lost”. This article is not about actually being a victim of a crime. It’s about “playing the victim” in our own personal narrative about who we are and what life is to us.
The question is “What is the opposite of being the victim?”. Is sticking up for yourself the opposite? If you’re not going to be the victim, does that mean you have to be the perpetrator? Is this really an “eat or be eaten” kind of world? How do you stay centered and strong without victimizing/belittling someone else?
The first thing that might be helpful is to define what feeling like a victim feels like. I would describe it as being the pinball, getting knocked around and spun around by forces completely outside of yourself. It’s an un-empowered feeling. You are flying around and falling through your life, legs and arms flailing, at the mercy of the objects you encounter. How does it feel to be the bumpers and paddles in this game of pinball? Well, if you ask the paddles, they may be feeling victimized themselves. What, with that ball coming around needing to be moved along by powers outside of itself all the time? “That ball bumps into me all the time. If I didn’t push, what would happen to me?” They might ask.
Think about your interactions with the people in your life. Think about every form of relationship you have: coworker, friend, family, romantic. If you are participating in a power play, then there is a victim/perpetrator scene playing out. This can also play out as a “Winner/Loser” kind of energy. Probably you switch roles back and forth, and probably both roles feel equally bad to be in. They feel this way because both roles are un-empowering. The opposite of those roles is to be empowered. Lording power over others is not the same as being empowered. It is actually the opposite. Being in the right and requiring that someone else is in the wrong is part of this game. In fact, this “being in the right” is probably the number one cause of un-empowering behavior. Any time I believe that the actions or words of someone else are my only key to peace and resolution of my hard feelings, I am playing the victim game.
ANY TIME I require something from someone else, a certain way of behaving or an apology for example, to have peace with a situation, I am giving up my own personal power. That mindset alone is disempowering me (and possibly the other person). The fact is that I am TOTALLY responsible for how I feel.
Saying “I feel angry and it’s your fault. What are you going to do about my anger?” is like saying “I have a leg and it’s your fault. Now what are you going to do about this leg I have?”
What can the person possibly do? If a wrong was truly done, and the person is moved to apologize, your anger is still yours to take care of in a good way. More likely than not, unresolved anger even after an apology leads to cutting and belittling remarks, holier-than-thou remarks from you to the person who has already apologized. Those remarks and attitudes can be a bullying kind of behavior. So the equation goes: Victim/Perpetrator = same/same.
“But Lisa”, you might say, “I’ve had people apologize and immediately I felt better! My anger was gone.” Yes, that happens. It happens when the words spoken, and the ears that they land on, come from a softening and forgiving heart. If you are committed to your anger, this softening cannot happen. If you are committed to being in the right, this softening cannot happen. Being committed to being somehow better than another person is also a barrier to softening your heart. Therein lies the answer to the question of this article: “What is the opposite of playing/being the victim?” Well, finding the place in your heart where you will truly be able to feel, in the moment, that the other person is as innocent as you are will help you dissolve the hard feelings and jump off that coin. Remember, feeling it and thinking about the feeling are two totally different things.
One step towards finding your way of doing this is, in the heat of the moment, to ask yourself, “am I willing to take a deep breath at this moment? Am I willing to soften my gaze, and relax my jaw at this moment? Am I willing to relax my shoulders and take another deep breath? Am I willing to soften my heart?”
With this willingness comes the possibility of a new dialog both internally and externally. Try it in any situation! If you are watching TV and getting angry at the news, try it! If you are driving and someone cuts you off, try it! When your mom says that incredibly annoying thing you’ve heard 100 times that always sets you off, try it!
“Am I willing to take a deep breath and soften my heart at this moment…”
“Am I willing” is an incredibly powerful tool. Willingness is like faith, even a small drop can move mountains.*
I’ve been using pretty surface-y situations as examples, but this works with the big moments in life too. Hard things happen. Things we never wanted to happen, things beyond our control. It’s easy to feel like the victim in our life. Life is big and real things happen that create incredibly strong feelings that can rock us to the core. People close to us die young, of cancer or in an accident. Our friends get laid off and have families to support and all of these events have very real consequences. Our brains like to explain why and what could have been done to avoid this horrible thing. It’s hard to escape blaming ourselves or others at this stage, not to mention the trap of logic waiting at the other end of the word “deserve”. All of these thoughts are a recipe for disaster. Victim-hood central!
I recently had an opportunity to use this practice of willingness in my life with profound results. I discovered in early April of this year that I was, shock of all shocks, pregnant. In my 39 years of life this had NEVER happened to me. I’d had all kinds of physical issues in the reproductive area that seemed to point to pregnancy as an impossibility for me. It wasn’t really on the radar because my partner and I assumed we’d need to get medical help to start a family. Then we were pregnant. We were SO happy! We got some books on pregnancy, and started to prepare for this huge change in our lives. For weeks we adjusted to and enjoyed talking about this new being coming to be a family with us and names and how our extended families were going to be so excited and wow! what our very new life was starting to look like for us. The whole universe shifted and we were fully dedicated and excited for this new life for all of us. I ate all the right foods and took my vitamins and rested when I was supposed to and everything. I did everything good and nothing “bad”.
Then I had a miscarriage. And all of the futures we’d felt right on the brink of disappeared just like that. “POOF”.
My brain, in an attempt to help me deal with the intense feelings I was having about all of this, started to make up stories and find the “why” in all of it. If everything happens for a reason, then what was the reason? “I should have done this”… “I could have done that”… “was it that run I took before I knew I was pregnant?”… And the list of blaming thoughts continued until I arrived at the “Maybe this needed to happen in order to bring you and Tony closer” … and “look for the good that will come of it…” but every silver lining story felt like bullshit. The stories seemed irrelevant and unhelpful and frankly, disrespectful. Belittling.
What I needed to do was feel what I was feeling. Every explanation was an attempt to avoid feeling the truth of the pain of what was going on. I had to ask myself, “am I willing to soften my heart and feel the pain of this, without creating a story of right or wrong? Without creating a story about what I deserve, or what I merit? Certainly without asking “why me?”. Am I willing to feel these feelings all the way through without putting them on someone or something else? Without trying to fix them? Am I willing to feel these feelings without a story of suffering? Without a story of victimhood or martyrdom? Am I willing to soften my heart and feel my feelings?!!”
I asked myself this every moment a wave of feeling came over me, which was every minute of every day for a while. At every moment I had the opportunity to create a story of suffering for myself to add to the tome of “Lisa’s Life” and at every moment the freedom lay in my willingness to feel without creating a narrative for myself. “Everything happens for a reason” turned into “everything happens”, turned into no thought at all.
When I did attach to a story or an explanation, the pressure immediately started to build and the situation felt IMPOSSIBLE. Every story was like a dam on the powerful river of my heart regardless of how well-meaning. The only way to move through with any kind of grace was to allow the flow of feelings un-storied. Only on the other side of this could my heart feel any amount of lightness.
The truth is that we can make up a reason that either makes us feel better or makes us feel worse about ANYTHING that happens to us, but by doing so we stop our process of feeling the feelings we are having and truly being alive to our life in real time. Are you willing to soften to your life? We are all victims if we build walls of explanation around our hearts in order to stop feeling our lives.
*Thank you George Bertelstein for introducing me to the power of this question!