Join Fred Kofman for an in-depth discussion in this video Understanding the victim mentality, part of Powerless to Powerful: Taking Control.
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- What tastes good is not always good and what is good, not always tastes good. That's why we need the science of nutrition because if we ate based on how things taste to us, we wouldn't last very long. Now we're genetically predisposed to want sugar and fat because many generations ago, the probability of starving to death was much higher than the probability of heart disease but now that food is plentiful, continuing to eat according to our genetic imprint is going to get us in trouble.
In the same way in life, many things that feel good are not really good for us and things that are good and effective don't feel so good. One of the patterns that feels really, really, good but gets us in trouble is to feel at the mercy of external circumstances. You know, whenever something bad happens, like, let's say you're out having a great picnic and rain falls on you and you get all wet and now you're cold and it's disgusting and you're upset because it was such a nice day and you had it all planned and now you and your friends are all wet.
In that moment if someone asks you, "What went wrong?" the typical answer, the immediate answer, the answer that feels good is, "It rained. It was the rain. "I mean, the rain ruined my picnic." And that's such a normal way of speaking that we don't realize that it's only half of the story. Now a typical example that you might have experienced at the office is someone comes late to a meeting. You ask them, "Why are you late?" What are the typical answers? "Well, traffic." I mean that's everywhere in the world.
"Oh, traffic was terrible." And the truth is traffic was terrible so that's not a lie. Sometimes people lie but let's just say they're not lying, but traffic is not all there is. It's true, traffic was terrible, but the time of arrival depends on the time of departure not just of traffic, but nobody speaks about the time of departure. Nobody says, "I did not allow for traffic." They blame traffic. Or another one, "The other meeting ran over." and you feel like, "I was caught in the other meeting." Have you heard that? "Yeah, and I was trapped. I got caught in another meeting." Or you got caught in a phone call.
Like the phone call grabbed you and then held you here by the neck. It's like, "You can't leave. "You can't leave to your next appointment "because I'm going to hold you by the neck." That's not true. You chose to stay in the other meeting. You chose to stay in the phone call but you don't want to see that because that will make you lose your innocence. Now we do this all the time and if it was only that, it was only an excuse, it would be fairly innocuous but there's a problem. The problem is that whenever you claim you're innocent, you have to claim you're also impotent.
The price of innocence is impotence. Why? Because innocence depends on the factor that determines the problem being outside of your control. If you can control, then you're responsible. So you have to choose to focus your attention on the things that are out of your control in this situation. That gives you innocence but by focusing on things out of control like traffic, you're also saying, "There's nothing I can do." You can't do anything about traffic. You can't change traffic.
That makes you powerless. You can't change the other meeting unless you were running the other meeting, but then it would not be a good excuse. The other meeting was being run by someone else and this person ran over. It's easy to focus on that and say, "They did it. "They are to blame. I'm innocent." The attitude of focusing on external factors of turning your attention to the things that are out of your control to justify your innocence is what I call the perspective of the victim.
Let me be clear. We're all victims of things that we can't control. Rain happens. The traffic happens. Meetings run over. All sorts of bad things just happen. They don't happen to me or to you, they just happen. After that happens, the question is, "What are you going to do about it?" And that's the part the victim is blind to. The victim just focuses on what is happening outside of his or her control in order to justify a sense of blamelessness in order to feel okay about him or herself.
In the mind of the victim it's only, "Who can I blame? Why is this happening to me? It shouldn't be happening to me." And the mood of the victim because of that is of righteous indignation. The victim gets tranquilized with the soothing of, "It's not my fault." And then it gets euphoric and energized with the righteous indignation of, "This shouldn't have happened to me! "They did it wrong. They ought to pay. "They broke it, they have to fix it." And that is really like a perfect drug. It's an upper and a downer all at the same time.
It relaxes you and energizes you and once you try this drug, you're hooked for life. Most of us try this drug very early. I mean we're kids and we go to our parents and say, "Mommy, Mommy! The toy broke." The toy broke. Notice the careful use of language. Have you ever heard your kids tell you, "I broke the toy?" No. Kids are natural victims just like kids are natural ice cream eaters. You don't have to educate your kid to eat ice cream. In fact, you have to stop them. Well, with victim, it's like we're all natural ice cream eaters but nobody stopped us.
Nobody told us, "Hey, you know, there's a price to pay. "Maybe you'll have some health problems "if you keep eating chocolate day and night." Well, nobody told us, "Hey, there may be some "health problems if you keep telling "the story of the victim day and night." Now these are natural ways to speak and to think that we grow up in and then when we are old we say, "Oh, you know, the project got delayed. "Sorry, the file got lost." Or, "This is finance's fault, credit is not approving." Or, "The customers are not buying "because engineering developed a bad product." We tell all these stories. We blame each other.
And for all I know, they're true. I'm not arguing that they're not true. I'm simply arguing that if the only thing you focus on is in how you're innocent and other people did it to you, you're not going to have power to change the situation. Let's see how this manifested in John's case.