When we encounter problems and external difficulties, which eventually will happen to all of us, we can choose between two fundamentally different ways of handling the situation.
Firstly, we can see ourselves as victims of the circumstances and cursing the fate or those we consider have caused this miserable situation. This means that we choose to place ourselves in a passive position, where the situation can only change for the better if something or someone else changes.
This is a convenient option because it means that we do not need to take any responsibility for change ourselves. As we enter the victim role, we become passive and reactive and we give up control of our own lives.
The second option is to accept that life has put us in a certain situation, but then looking for inner answers to what we ourselves can do to keep our initiative and dignity and to positively change the situation.
This applies in the small. How many relationships have not crashed because both parties have focused on how the other must change instead of asking what they can do for their partners.
If we want to experience love (a state) then we must start by loving (an action). Believing that love will just descend upon us and then stay forever is to fool ourselves and commit us to the victim role rather than to the role of one who proactively shapes his own life.
But it also applies in the big. Viktor Frankl was a Jewish Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps while his entire family was killed. Frankl was able to create a strong inner conviction that the Nazis could limit his outer freedom, but not affect his inner freedom based on his self-esteem and moral values.
This inner determination not to regard himself as a victim was what ultimately saved him from the same fate as the rest of his family. His nazi prison guards had an outer freedom, but he had a much more important inner freedom. He has described this attitude to life in his highly readable book Man’s search for meaning.
Frankl suggested that in our lives there are three key values – our experiences, what we create and our attitudes to the adversities we encounter. And of these three, it’s the attitudes that are most crucial to how complete and mature human beings we may become.
As long as we do not fully take responsibility for our attitudes and actions, we will always fall back in the victim role.