A Victim of My Own Thoughts

Over the past weekend, I came to a sobering realization.

I suffer from a victim mentality. It’s not the kind where I am actively seeking sympathy or subscribing to that kind of oppressive neediness that drains people. It is, however, the kind where I have a hard time seeing the blessings in my life. I get inundated with a spate of misfortunes and I wonder what I did to deserve them. I fall into the negative trap of asking, “Why does this stuff always happen to me? Can’t I ever get a break?”

A Pity Party

It’s ironic that it was a party that helped me see this aspect of myself. My daughter and I went to a friend’s birthday party. While the birthday girl and her passel of tween and teen friends pelted each other with water balloons, three of us moms hung out around the dining table.

As is often the case when people get together, we inevitably got around to all of the crap that is going on in our lives. Don’t get me wrong, we all have some serious things we are dealing with, but it started me thinking. Why am I and so many of us so willing, eager even, to deal out the negative in our lives, rather than celebrating the good?

Negativity Hurts

I imagine that most of us wallow in self-pity at times in our lives. When our lives get particularly tough, it is natural to wonder “Why me?” However, the problem begins when we get in a cycle of negativity. We start thinking that no matter what we do, how much work and effort we put into something, negative things will always happen to us versus other people. We are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. I am particularly guilty of this one.

When negativity becomes a habit, it can actually make us sick, mentally and physically. Negativity has been shown to worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also gets us stuck in fight or flight mode, surging adrenaline and cortisol into our system leading to adrenal fatigue and a plethora of small health complaints that can cascade into bigger problems like high blood pressure. These habitual negative thoughts can also lead to harmful coping mechanisms ranging from emotional eating to alcoholism and drug use.

It’s a Learned Thing

Negative thinking and excessive worry is actually a learned behavior. Who knew? Now, I don’t intend to blame my family for my mental health woes. There are many factors in my life that lead to where I am, but my memories are filled with many of the women in my family sitting around the table complaining of this or that or throwing out worry like confetti. It was almost like, if we worried about something enough and spoke it out loud, it would keep it from happening.

Some scientists and psychologists believe that this habitual negative thinking is a precursor to many mental illnesses. Over time, that sustained fight or flight response soaks our brain in a hormonal soup that eventually tilts our mental health sideways.

And, to top it off, neuroscientists have shown that once you start down one path of thinking, the brain makes it easier to continue thinking that way. Synapses that get fired often enough are strengthened, like the flexing of a muscle. These strengthened synapses then strong arm your thoughts in their direction. The best analogy that I have read is ‘the road most traveled’ analogy. A wagon trail or foot path is easier to follow the more it is used. The vegetation is worn down; ruts in the trail develop and deepen until you don’t even have to think about where you are going. You just follow where the path takes you.

Taking the Road Less Traveled

When we are stuck in the same negative pattern of thoughts, we start unconsciously believing that we do not deserve anything good in our lives. From my perspective, this seems to be a cornerstone of depression in particular.

So how do we break out of this pattern of thinking? How do we blaze a new trail in our minds? Since I am in the throes of victim mentality, this required a bit of digging.

There is a lot of advice out there, but it really boils down to actively, forcibly, changing the way you think; recognizing the negative thoughts and shifting them. This is another “moving boulders with your mind” task. It is not easy.

I compiled the most common advice:

  • Be Grateful – Try to focus on what is positive and beautiful in your life.
  • Take Responsibility and Be Accountable – Recognize your part in what happens in your life. There will always be those things that are beyond your control, but it matters how you react and deal with those situations. Try to avoid blame.
  • Forgive – First, validate your feelings. People may have hurt you. You may have hurt yourself or others. Allow yourself to recognize how this makes you feel. Then, work to forgive yourself and others. Victim mentality hinges on the blame we place on ourselves as much as the blame we place on others. Put the hammer of judgement aside.
  • Do Something You Enjoy – Every day, try to do something you enjoy. Even the smallest thing will give us a few moments to get off of the negative thought train and break the victim cycle.

To Be One of the Happy People

All of this is obviously easier said than done. Actually, before I stumbled upon the victim mentality, I was looking up traits of happy people. Why are they happy most of the time and I struggle to find peace each day? And how do those centenarians manage to live so long even when they have been smacked down by life? Seriously, a ton of these old-timers have been through situations that I cannot imagine living through.  Yet, here they are; putting a positive spin on being 105. And, here I am, finding disaster in things big and small.

What I found is that the traits of happy people and the lessons imparted by centenarians coincide almost exactly with the advice on how to avoid victim mentality. They look within for solutions, however they value their relationships; giving and staying engaged to others. Slowing down and reflecting on the good things in their lives is a daily practice. They find humor in themselves and their daily lives. Their problems are not dwelt on or internalized and they never dwell on being a victim.

Moving Forward

I credit this blog with helping me find these “A-ha!” moments lately. I mean, I am now very aware of how I think and feel in an almost clinical way. I’m looking for clues in my own life to maybe offer you insight into yours. The challenge lies in taking those moments of personal inspiration and making the changes in my life. I am finding that most of what I need to work on revolves around changing the way I think. This is perhaps the greatest challenge for us all. I plan to take up this challenge. Who’s with me?

 

Do you or someone you know suffer from a victim mentality? Have you found ways to combat this way of thinking? Please share your thoughts below.

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While the articles are written to inform, entertain and support those who visit the site, the Anxious Artist is not a licensed medical professional and the information on these pages is not intended to replace regular medical care. Research and testimonials may show promising results with alternative treatments for mental illness, but these should always be discussed with a qualified medical practitioner before being implemented.

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