The Victim Mentality

What utility is there in identifying as a victim?

Perhaps it could help you be rid of guilt at having suffered at the hands of something truly beyond your control.

Or it could help you cultivate resentment at the thing which victimized you, in order to better focus your efforts on resistance.

But at what cost?

To be a victim is to be defeated and without agency, and occasionally, that truly is the state you’re in.

If someone threatens you with violence and demands your money, for the duration of that interaction, you are a victim.

But two weeks later, when the gun and the criminal are nowhere near you, are you still a victim?

You are if you choose to be.

All your problems can be blamed on the attacker, every financial woe, every insecurity, it can all be that guy’s fault. If not for the mugger, you would have had the money to do so and so, and then something great would have happened, and then you wouldn’t be in such a sorry state.

Is that narrative true?

If you believe it.

But perhaps you were walking somewhere when you obviously shouldn’t have been, and the entire situation could have been avoided if you had possessed better situational awareness.

That’s a difficult narrative to digest. Condemning. Unsympathetic.

But if that is the story, the power lies in your hands. Not the attackers.

Because the truth is, we identify as victims because it allows us to narrow our own influence in an attempt to shirk responsibility for the chaotic world around us.

Victims exchange power and responsibility for the illusion of safety and innocence in the wake of their missteps.

Is that an appealing trade?

The Persistence of Memory

Memories are weak materials in the process by which we construct our personalities.

If you wanted to construct a castle to withstand seige, would you use bricks of ice?

Would you build on shifting ground?

Better to let the ice melt and use the water for idle entertainent.

Memory would be a fine material indeed if we could trust ourselves to derive reasonable, self affirming meaning from the past. Unfortunatley, the process of evolution has rendered us excellent recollectors of the terrible, and it is usually by fear and pain that the past holds precenence in our minds.

We must be careful not to become hoarders of the past.

And just like those who hoard physical objects, the process of accumulation begins innocently enough. We keep happy memories as if they were trophies and diplomas hung up on the wall, there for us to glance at when the chaos becomes unbearable and say “Yes. Thats me!” Other memories we keep because we believe they might be useful. That there might be meaning and experience left to gain from them.  Like old newspapers, they sit inside us unread, outdated, and collecting dust.

I read a story once about a hoarder who became trapped in her house, the stacks of newspaper having grown so high and so plentiful.

Theres a reason newspapers are sold for profit one day, and used to pack meat the next.

Their utility is in relevancy and timeliness.

But we cherish the old memories anyway, either addicted to our own victimhood and in need of reaffirmation of that identity, or else hoping for the sad, strange high that nostalgia gives.

In strange contradiction to our tendency to best remember particularly sharp instances of pain or fear, in remembering periods that make up a category of many consecutive memories, we look back fondly on what in the moment was misery.

High School is a common nostalgia trap. Our minds somehow trick us into believing the structure and order enforced by the institution were somehow the bedrock of a kind of constrained freedom more rewarding than anything we experience in adulthood.

All of this stands in perverse contrast to the rather self evident principle by which all good lives are organized:

That the future be an improvement on the present through our actions in the now.

Of course, to create a better future, you will say we must reflect upon our mistakes in the past.

Yes.

But once you’ve read the newspaper, for gods sake throw it away.

 

How to Not Fool Yourself

We often operate under the false impression that we are born with an unearned understanding of our own talent and potential.

But the truth is, self awareness comes from a retrospective view of our past successes and failures. Only when we have meaningful feedback from the outside world can we understand what we’re good at, and what activities grant us lasting satisfaction.

How many people want to be rock stars or celebrities, never having interacted with a large crowd, or gone without sleep for several nights, or dealt with the scrutiny of an unforgiving general public?

People want to be rock stars, because they don’t understand what the experience of being a rock star actually is.

Its dangerous to pursue something that you don’t love, and that you’re not good at. And its incredible how easily the human mind can deceive itself into doing just that.

Every person who pursues a risky career path wonders at some point or another:

Am I kidding myself? 

The answer to that question isn’t difficult to derive. Action will tell you. Failure will tell you. This is why the idea that failure is a necessary to precursor to success is much more than a glib platitude.

Without failure, we don’t learn our own weak points.

Without success, we have no understanding of our own aptitudes.

The two skills you must possess to answer that terrible question:

Am I kidding myself? 

Are these:

  1. The ability to know failure from success, and stare unflinchingly into the face of either one.
  2. The bravery to deduce your own talents and shortcomings, not from daydreams and intuitions, but concrete evidence from past instances of action taking.