I’ve had experiences where I was made to feel inferior and insignificant. I am sure we all have. No matter what we consciously tell ourselves in the moment, these experiences damage our Ego and have effects that endure for a much longer time than we would like to believe. These experiences have a compounding effect on our victim mentality, they strip away our power and leave us reeling in a tornado of negative self-talk.
Well, the thing is, we allow this to happen to us without thought or question because we have been raised to. From early on in life we are taught that we must submit to the authority of others; a teacher, a boss, a spouse or partner. While this is true in most cases, we have been let down by our parents and the education system for not being taught to understand where the line is draw, or should be drawn. We should absolutely follow the instructions given to us by our teachers, without a doubt pick up our dirty laundry from the floor, and carry out the tasks assigned to us by our boss. But the line of submission must be drawn when the power of authority attacks our character instead of the problem; A teacher mocking you for not catching on fast enough, your partner calling you useless for not performing a household chore, or a boss belittling you at every chance simply because he or she has the opportunity to.
The Stanford Experiment
The power that comes from authority corrupts, not always but more often than not. When given the power to dominate over others we enforce our will and we make sure to remind the people around us of the power we wield. There is a famous experiment where a professor of psychology, Phillip Zimbardo, set out to prove this. In the Stanford Prison Experiment, a group of people were split into two groups and assigned a role in the experiment. Group A would play as prisoners and Group B would play as the guards. Quickly enough, the role of power corrupted the participants in Group B and they became increasingly violent and domineering over the prisoners, Group A. The findings seemed solid; When given the power and opportunity, anyone will become “evil”.
Now it should be noted that academically speaking this experiment is considered as a failure due to the fact that the participants were explicitly told the role they are to play and what types of behaviors are expected of them; Group A, the prisoners, obviously the powerless and submissive, and Group B, the guards, powerful and domineering. This created an implicit expectation completely derailing the objectiveness of the behavior Phillip Zimbardo was attempting to study/prove. He however, to this day, argues against this.
I do believe, in some way, he proved what he set out to. When people are granted power, and are supplied with an expected behavior and result, they will take advantage of their power and do whatever it takes to align themselves accordingly. The mission dehumanizes whoever is on the other end, and the well-being of the powerless is no longer a consideration. It is a bit of an extreme comparison, but the theory holds true no matter what the situation is.
What does this mean for you?
In your life you will always be somewhere on this scale of power, it will tip this way and that way throughout the day. It is your duty to know when you are at which end, and how to own it with responsibility and sensibility. When you are placed in a position of power, don’t give in to the allure; Be responsible and remember to see the human being on the other end. When you are in the other, remember that it does not mean you are powerless; You are the master of your own self, and you decide in the end what you will make of the experience.
No more playing the victim
Don’t give away control of yourself. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you let go of your victim mentality.
- Be accountable for yourself
- Acquaint yourself well with the things that make you feel powerless, and remove as many of these from your situation as possible
- Stop negative self-talk
- Focus outward with an altruistic mindset
- Look at things from the other’s perspective
- Be forgiving
In all honesty this is something that I have struggled with my entire life, and I have not quite overcome it myself. In the past I have always placed myself squarely in the powerless box, wondering why all these bad things happen to me; the classic “Why me?” Little by little though, I’m managing to see things in a different light. And hopefully, by the time I come to the end of this journey, I will be able to say “These things are happening for me” instead of saying “These things are happening to me”.
Many years ago I had a boss, and he told me “The world owes you nothing.” I absolutely despised the man, but years later now I can see; He is 100% right. I did not realize it back then, but right there in that moment he showed me the pathway out of the victim mentality. Obviously, when he said it, I received it while I was still playing the victim and that’s why I was so infuriated by the words. Before I could take these words as wisdom and grow from them, I first had to climb to a vantage point where I could see it as such. Now, I will never be able to say for sure what his intentions behind those words were, whether they were meant to break me or build me, but I’ve decided that it does not matter. Because I matter, and nobody can break me. I hope you can see that for yourself as well. You matter, and nobody can break you.