I have been thinking a lot lately about what separates those who succeed and live full/happy lives straight to the end from those that seem stuck in a circle of sabotage and bad luck for the rest of their lives. This discussion was provoked by my husband’s new job. In it, he works with many people from all walks of life and it has caused some great sociological conversations in our home ever since. After months of hearing the same stories over and again I started to think beyond stereotypes and subcultures to take a deeper look at a possible common thread applicable to people as human beings.
In short, the main thing that I see is a polarization of perspective regarding victimization. People that continually seem to self-destruct and surround themselves with chaos typically view themselves as victims of the world. There is a very sure and even stubborn insistence that “every time I try to get ahead something like this happens to drag me down”. Easily put, “one step forward and two steps backward” is a phrase I have heard from various people stuck on this hamster wheel.
One of the hardest lessons that I learned in my twenties was that most people that claim to want/need help actually do not want help. Given the resources to build a foundation under themselves, they simply reject every bit of help or even defiantly self-sabotage any opportunities that come their way. Time and again I have helped people that seemed down on their luck only to find out that in the end they viewed me as the “bad person” and the “judgemental” one that just “cannot accept me the way I am”. This lesson hurt me deeply. I want to help people and give them the resources to live better. In my situation with my disability I have tried very hard not to squander opportunities because everyday life is so difficult, and I cannot understand someone rejecting a clear helping hand. it was a lesson that I have learned time and again even until today. Whether the help I provided was financial, practical, currency of time or verbal, the result always ended up hurting more than helping for those that didn’t actually want help (in spite of their words).
So why wouldn’t someone want help? I mean, if you don’t have a bed to sleep in and someone takes apart their spare and gives it to you, why would you call them judgemental of you? Or if someone offers a ride to the gym after you complained relentlessly about needing to lose weight, why would you then accuse them of calling you fat? Or when someone has helped you time and again, stepping into your chaos and crises why would you keep using them rather than make changes that allows you to be independent? In the past I would run myself ragged trying to figure out these people and also analyze myself to see if indeed maybe I was being judgemental or hurtful. The truth I have found over many years and with the advice of my husband, however, is that people that view themselves as victims do not want change because that would change requires work and a different way of thinking. A lot of people do not want to go against the grain when they are comfortably miserable.
Not being a victim of circumstances requires another hard-to-face conundrum: Responsibility. When you feel that you have some sort of power in your life and in your circumstances (granted by Jesus) then you alone are responsible for the outcome of your own decisions. That is tough for a lot of people that are comfortable making poor decisions and that do not want to face their own guilt or conscience about their lack of responsibility. It is easier to cry about the change you want than to take responsibility and be the change.
When I became a young adult it was clear to me that i needed to pay my own way, make enough money to support myself in my own apartment, carry health insurance because of my disabled condition, and keep my car in good working order for work transport. Did bad things still happen to me? Yes. Did obstacles constantly seem to throw hindrance in my path? Absolutely! But in the midst of each thing that happened I made several other choices to help get around it. Some of my obstacles were circumstantial and no consequence of my actions but of course I had some HARD lessons to about my poor decisions to learn as well!
Spending my meager salary money on eating out at lunchtime with co-workers too often caused me to have no money to pay my cable resulting in me having to cancel that service (before the account debt piled up of course!). Not shopping for sales in the grocery store meant that I didn’t have extra money set aside for car repairs. My desire to go out and party as a young single female resulted in me not having transportation to work for a month. In each of these situations I was forced to accept responsibility for my choices, recognize why the choice was bad, and redirect my path so I would not make the same mistake again. Packing my lunch and eating out with co-workers only once a week was a start. Grocery shopping for sales and planning my menu around them allowed me to save and get the new tires I needed, albeit only two at a time. And a friend helped transport me to work and I had to humbly accept her help and recognize it was my own bad choice that put me in the situation of putting HER out. These new choices and change in perspective on my part set a foundation under me to live a chaos free and happy life as much as possible. We can’t control everything but we can steer the ship wisely.
The three examples discussed here from my personal life are limited to financial decisions but there are many other areas of life in which we are not always victims of our circumstances. How about relationships that we know are wrong but we blame on “love”? Toxic friendships that we stay in the hamster wheel of? Not putting in quality work on the job and then complaining about no promotions? Keeping a filthy home or vehicle and not caring for the blessings we do have and then wondering why we aren’t blessed with more? I can go on and on with scenarios that people have come to me with convinced that they had no part in the blame of their own circumstances. They are strictly victims trying to push through, they believe.
It seems when I encounter people that have a victim mentality they not only never feel they are responsible for the situations that they are in but they are actually hostile to anyone that suggests they do have some responsibility to take. They flip out in anger to distract from the underlying truth. There is never any occurance to them that maybe their own choices cause them to end up where they are and they surely don’t want that pointed out. This is where it gets nasty, in my experience. Most people, myself included, are willing to help a friend in need. But it is expected that a lesson will be learned and if indeed there are poor choices being made responsibility will be assumed and they will be corrected. Otherwise, the recurrence of the same drama unfolding again and again become chaotic and ultimately codependent. No one wants to be caught up in other people’s crisis over and over.
Speaking of codependent, in my experience and observations (which are in no way professional) home environment has a lot of influence on the way in which we will approach and interact with obstacles. If we are surrounded by people that are constantly reacting to events rather than being proactive that procrastination transcribes in our minds as normal. If the people around us do not take responsibility and control of their lives in a healthy way it is likely that we won’t either. Then as we grow and make friends…well…birds of a feather, and that. The cycle becomes very hard to break and it becomes comfortable, so much so that any challenge to rise above such limited thinking is greeted with extreme and undeserved hostility.
My mother was good for giving to each of us children what we “needed” and not what we “wanted” or what she gave a sibling. She and my father to this day are always eager to give each of us a boost in life when we need it. They do not support any of us financially but they do provide home carpentry help, advice, treat us to special meals at their home, etc. Knowing and seeing that their help is appreciated by us and that we are otherwise being responsible in life encourages them to help build a foundation for the next generation. But not every family is like this. A dear friend of mine, Nancy, said to me once, “Ashly there are two types of parents. The kind that want to see their kids grab the torch and go farther than them, and the kind that do not.” It isn’t a matter of the “haves and have nots” but a lifestyle perspective that is the deciding factor in this. No matter how rich or poor our parents are they still have the option to equip us with an outlook on the world that teaches responsibility and, well, reality.
The truth is, when we see ourselves as victims of every circumstance we are not free to be the people God created us to be. We are not set up to succeed in stewardship of the things we do have – our families, children, finances, possessions, etc. We are not designed to be robots always doing the “right” thing but were designed with intricate and amazing neuroscience to solve complexities and live FROM a place of victory rather than victimization.
There is something that Graham Cooke said one time that struck me powerfully: “In Christ we are not fighting towards victory we are fighting from victory. It is over, Jesus has already finished the war you just need to complete this battle!” Sometimes when bad circumstances happen to us it is so easy to say things like “I will overcome this” when in fact as Christians we have already overcome through Christ and are simply walking out that victory. At the end of every single one of our problems is Jesus, already standing there and guiding us through them with a smile on his face because He knows that with the Holy Spirit we have everything in us to overcome. Remember, nothing that we cannot handle would be allowed to come our way to begin with.
One example of this is my disability. At just four years old there was nothing I did, no choice I made that caused me to get cancer and an amputation. But it happened. I can sit around and be a victim of this, and frankly I have met many people who did respond that way. I chose to accept this situation even though I vehemently hate that it happened to me. I do not have control over having one leg but I can control a lot of things. My parents instilled that in me. Instead of just saying “I can’t” I was taught to see “I can’t do it the way some people do, but I CAN be resourceful and find a different way to do it.” Because of this outlook I am constantly being asked how I can manage to be happy and successful in spite of everything against me. It is because I am not a victim of cancer I am a woman that is living her life rather than her life ruining her.
By the way, the people that I know that do NOT view their disability as something they could adapt to have not had happy endings. Many of them refuse to be active because of the extra energy it causes, many refuse to perform daily tasks because it takes at least two times longer than an able-bodied person to finish, they become obese, sit in wheelchairs, and give in to depression, physical ailments, alcohol/drugs. If my choice is between taking 45 minutes to change the sheets on the bed or sitting all day depressed about what I can’t do “normally”…I will change the sheets every single time! And why wouldn’t I?
We each have areas that we may not be perceiving ourselves as victors in. I gave a few of those examples from my life earlier. Reframing those situations was key. Finding the areas that I could have some control in changing and being willing to change. Accepting the situation for what it is and responding in a good way. And, sometimes, saying NO even when it upsets others or disappointing myself. Boundaries are a very practical way to move from being a victim to victor. Breaking codependent relationships, making a commitment to step out of chaos and not enter into it, not allowing what is said about you define you, admitting when you are wrong and taking steps to redirect in the future, etc. are all practical ways to align oneself far away from victimization. Having a sense of control and responsibility in life is true freedom. It isn’t easy though, and sadly many will not choose that path. It breaks my heart whenever I encounter someone that has chosen chaos and victimization. As they get older it becomes even more detrimental to them as a lifetime of victimization snowballs with poor choices that have very real consequences. Oftentimes these people become more and more isolated as they age, after all, they are a victim of everyone judging them!
In my own life I have had to learn to honor the wishes of someone that does not want help. If I am speaking with someone who is struggling and everything I suggest they seem to have a complaining answer or excuse not to try – then I see that now as a sign. Again, to be victors we must look above our problem and see Jesus standing behind it. Anything else is a very limited approach similar to a carriage horse being driven with blinders, being steered about by others and their own chaos/harnesses. I do not have the power to change someone’s mind or help them see the way out of a problem if they are not willing to see it for themselves. Backing off is best. (This is the number one reason why I chose not to become a counselor! I could not stand to listen to whining when the answer is in all but black and white! But am I a victim when I can’t help people? Nope…that is when prayer comes in. I can’t change people but I surely can pray for them and not enable them.)
At the end of the day, later in life, the consequences of perceptions do catch up with us. It is sad to see that happen to people we love but it is inevitable when someone chooses the path of lifelong victimization. Loving from a distance, shooting an arrow into the tornado of their chaos but not entering it is really the only healthy choice for a relationship with a victim. Recognizing the pattern of victimization also helps to free you not only of codependency in relationships, but it also helps you break off any victimization in your own life. There are still times that I catch myself and realize that I am on the hamster wheel of victimization in a certain area of life. But you know what? I have the power to GET OFF…and you do too.
It is my desire to end my life surrounded with family and friends, having gracefully poured love and wisdom into the next generation, and meet Jesus with a clear conscience that confesses when I am wrong, knowing that I still rose up to every challenge and did not shy away from adversity being a victim. What kind of ending are you on track to have?