Does it sometimes seem to you like no one in this World still remembers the meaning of words like “honesty” or “trust”?
Like everyone sooner or later stabs you in the back once they get the chance?
Like it’s almost impossible to find a man that’s not an asshole or a woman that’s not a cold, heartless bitch?
It sure used to seem that way to me. All my girlfriends so far had already cheated on me with some of my best “friends”. People always seemed to abuse my child-like naivety and friendly character for their personal gain. Everyone around me seemed to talk behind each other’s back as soon as the other person had left the room.
In short: Everyone I ever met became a dick sooner or later and I didn’t know what to do about it.
Still, half a decade later that stuff never happens to me anymore. If people are all so evil and untrustworthy, how is that possible? And why do other people still have it happen to them?
Some of it is a result of having strong personal boundaries. After a while I simply cut everyone out of my life who showed just the slightest hint of a capacity bullshit. Even though it wasn’t always easy to let people go. But then you can still wonder: What happened to the inflow of new bullshitters, backstabbers and drama queens? How did that manage to stop even though I started meeting more and more new people every week?
I attribute most of that to…
A Shift In Responsibility
When I started reading one of my favorite books, Nathaniel Branden’s Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, there was a sentence at the beginning of the book that pissed me off just because of how wrong I thought the writer was. I couldn’t find the exact wording anymore, so in my words:
“If there seems to be a problem with everyone else but you, it is almost 100% certain you are the real problem.”
I immediately felt myself come up with lots of counterarguments against the writer in my head:
- “It can’t be that simple. If someone else decides to hurt me, how can I be responsible for that?”
- “I’m not the one who did X or Y to them, they did to me.”
- “Do you really expect me to let people treat me like shit and then believe that I AM the one that needs to change/apologize??”
But as they say, the truth often pisses you off before it sets you free. So just like a lot of people will get pissed off about this blog post –or think it doesn’t apply to them- it took me a while to realize the guy was doing me a service by telling me something like that. But not until after I almost decided the book was garbage. (Which it wasn’t. It’s one of the most life-changing books I ever read and I think anyone on the planet.)
Our Victim Stories
Do you know those people with huge inflated egos who look at you like you’re worth less than them because you don’t have their snake leather shoes? The ones who think they are better than you because they are prettier, have a different gender or a higher-paying job?
Well, that same kind superiority complex is at the root of the idea that everyone else is always treating you bad. Does that piss you off? Good, then it might set you free if you’re open to it. And otherwise, I guess I’m just one of those people treating you bad again 😉
People constantly tell themselves they are better than you to avoid feeling worse.
When it fears being inferior, their ego will use everything it can to avoid that feeling. Before you get a chance to form an opinion about their personality, their 8.000 dollar watch, terrible fur coat or respectable job title will already convince you that you’re mistaken and should “know who the heck you’re talking to”.
In this same way, the ego simply loves suffering a “wrong”, being the martyr, being misunderstood and being the endless victim in your story. It’s the exact same thing. You see, if everyone treats you bad but you are the “good person”, then you are better than them and you don’t have to feel inferior anymore. It’s a lot cheaper than a Rolex, isn’t it?
And afterwards, you can go crying about it so you’ll get sympathy, self-pity, and be at the center of the stage where you are the hero(ine) of your own tragic story. Making you feel even more superior.
This is where the shift in responsibility has to take place: Is everyone really always being a dick to you, or does your ego simply love to collect stab wounds and grudges?
Does it love to nurse “hurt feelings” and stockpiling grievances in a grand marathon of injustice collecting? Does it just love to believe that nice guys always finish last? And that if only you weren’t such a good guy you wouldn’t have to constantly lose against the cruel, heartless douchebags of this world?
Please be brutally honest with yourself here. Because my ego sure did love that, but just like 90% of people who read this I would’ve gotten angry if someone told me. That doesn’t matter though, I’m writing for the 10% that is actually dedicated to making a change and becoming better.
When you’re in that mode, the illusion is that this process of collecting victim stories is self-nurturing. But it does the opposite, it makes you feel worse and worse. And it actually helps create the very things you’re afraid of for a multitude of reasons.
One of it will of course be that you enter into every new relationship taking on a victim role. Which makes you an easier prey for potential abusers to spot, but there’s 2 other, much bigger problems as a result of this mindset:
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Imagine for a moment you’re convinced some guy is going to steal your girlfriend (or boyfriend, if you’re a girl) - (yes, that’s a dude stealing your boyfriend, it’s 2016) - (also, side note: I’m aware that in reality it is impossible to “steal” someone’s boyfriend. People are not possessions and have free will, but let’s stick to the standard paradigm of monogamy for now 😉 )
Anyway, in reality the guy has no intention to do so. And your partner has no intention to cheat on you.
Still, because you believe your own victim story, you start acting overly possessive towards your spouse. You start telling them not to hang with that dude anymore. Perhaps because of it, they DO start liking the guy a little more. At least with him they can be free. They can be themselves without feeling like they are being mistrusted, controlled or limited in their behavior all the time.
So they want to tell you about their increasing feelings for the guy and how they want to work things out with you, but they can’t because they know any attempt to do so will only result in you shutting them down and saying “SEE, I KNEW IT!!!! YOU LYING LITTLE CHEAT!!!”.
But by being so unfriendly to them, you chase them away, right into the arms of the “evil thief” who is out to steal other people’s people in your head. You’re also telling them it doesn’t matter if they act good or bad, you won’t trust them either way.
By not creating an environment for your partner in which they can talk openly about emotions or problems without getting attack, you also make sure that if something would EVER happen between them, they would have a pretty hard time talking about it.
And you know what the worst of it is?
In reality, your partner respects you and stays faithful all the way till the end.
But it doesn’t matter. ‘cause you won’t believe them anyway. So whether the guy steals your boyfriend/girlfriend or not. The result in your head is the same.
And it makes you believe that you’re the only righteous person, sticking true to your values in a world where everyone else isn’t.
Which is a very risky frame to have, because it’s exactly how victims become villains without knowing it. It creates a false sense of entitlement.
Becoming a Villain Yourself
Imagine you were in the situation of the example I just gave you. You are 99% sure your lover is cheating on you (in your head, it’s not relevant whether they're doing it or not).
To forget about those worries, you go for a night out in town with your buddies. And you get beyond shit faced. Then outta nowhere, your high school crush enters the room. The one that never had eyes for you. And (s)he’s gotten even hotter. Not only that, they’ve changed. They are literally everything your partner is not. And they’re super into you. But they’re only in the country for one night. And they want YOU to spend it with them.
Maybe you’d normally have a strong will and good morals. But because you’re convinced your partner is cheating on you, you can justify taking advantage of this exceptional situation. After all, if they treat you like shit, why wouldn’t it be okay to just have ONE NIGHT with someone who clearly deserves you more?
And so, your own victim story has made you a villain. But you don't realize it.
More than once, I had friends who had also had taken on this victim role in their life story. Every time I became good friends with someone new, or had a new girlfriend, they became the villain in his eyes. They subconsciously viewed it as if they were “stealing me” from them. They thought other people manipulated me into liking him less, and spending more time with the other person. (Yes I know, I’m not very diverse in my examples today 😉 )
So they started trying to prevent that from happening, by sabotaging my relationships with the other people. I’m not even sure if they knew they were doing it, and I don’t judge him for it. You see, that’s what happens when you think you’re the victim. If you don’t watch yourself, it allows you to do some really bad shit because you have the back story to justify it.
If you feel like a victim because of 9/11, it is now no longer an evil thing to invade countries for their oil reserves.
And if you feel like the victim after a large western country bombed your village, that can be enough to justify becoming a terrorist and STILL feel like the you’re the good guy in the story.
You feel like someone’s done something bad to you, and once the evil done passes a certain threshold it is now justified for you to do bad stuff as well because you’re “the good guy” in the story.
And in this tragic circle victims finally become villains who create new victims who then start to believe everyone else is a villain until they finally become one themselves.
It doesn’t even have to be something as huge as becoming a terrorist. The people who are suffering from a victim mindset are generally the least trustworthy people I know. Including my former self.
Like the bully is also often bullied by someone else, victims and villains are pretty similar. It’s the inferiority and superiority complex that are just 2 sides of the same coin.
And since like-minded people often flock together, nurturing your victim mindset is a surefire way to attract more villains in your life. Or to become one yourself and project those things on other people.
How to Break the Cycle?
There is a company, who I technically (as in: according to the law) owe a small sum of money. The company has never provided me or someone else involved any value though. There was no service, no exchange of goods. Still, technically, I owe them money.
This in itself is ridiculous, but depending on your point of view I should just suck it up and pay. It also the smartest thing to do if I don’t want to get bothered too much by them.
A while ago, I did some digging on how the company worked and decided not to pay them.
Their entire existence is offensive to me. Their target consumers are people in poverty who received very little financial education. Then they charge them money they know they don’t have to be paid on very short notice and charge them more money because they can’t pay it in time.
They kept sending letters and e-mail but they have no responsive e-mail address, let alone a physical office. There is no way to reach them, except by phone. Which is a clear sign other people find them offensive too.
I tried to call them to start a dialogue, but apparently they use external call centers who are only employed to pressure people to pay in the most unfriendly manner before you can even say a word.
After a few unkind remarks before a conversation had even started I told the woman on the phone “Don’t worry about it, I’m just here to ask some specific information about the exact payment I need to make. But I must admit I kinda regret that we couldn’t do this in a more respectful manner.”
Her reply was “You know that’s not possible, it is my job to be unfriendly.”
I told her calmly that I thought it was perfectly possible as a human to talk in a friendly way. That I knew people who actually do that stuff sometimes. She told me to stop beating around the bush and piss off.
The whole situation definitely got me a little angry at the company. Until yesterday they sent me a sarcastic “Merry Christmas” text about doing the smart thing and spending my holiday money on paying their bill so I could have a “carefree 2017”.
It really triggered me. It was just a small sum of money in my case. But I could imagine someone living in poverty having to pay a larger sum and receiving such a snarling text while all he wanted to do was just be left alone for 2 weeks and spend some time together with his family because that was all he had, as he couldn’t afford any presents.
And worst of all? The company has no costs besides the call center. That’s it. So for poor people, their survival kinda depends on it, but whether they pay or not, the company doesn’t feel it.
Of course, you see what I was doing here, right?
I wasn't enough of a victim myself. So I created a victim story about someone else to justify the fact that I felt bad, other people are assholes and I don’t need to change.
Later that night someone I love very much confronted me about my role in the situation (Which by the way, is the only right way to treat your victim-minded friends. Comforting them will only cause them to recreate them situation and crave the rewards of comfort, pity and attention 😉 ).
It was a lose-lose deal for me:
Option 1: I stayed stubborn and didn’t pay, and they would continue to bother me with increased aggression. This way I would not reward them for behavior I consider unethical, but I’d continue to feel bad every time I became confronted with the fact that they exist.
Option 2: I would pay them and feel disgusted with myself for financially supporting a company like that.
It really made me cry. I realized that I probably needed to pay them so I would not be confronted with their existence again.
But for my entire life, I have not been able to accept that there are people who make others feel bad for their own personal gain.
Even though I never wrote about it this explicitly before, my core message is that underneath everything, I just want people to start loving each other again. To start loving unconditionally instead of constantly competing with each other or believing that there is anything in the world that is more important than love.
That is why the existence of such companies offends me. I find it the saddest thing in the world when people find money or power more important than love.
Now can you see where I am both victim and villain in this story?
Just like the people earlier in this article, because I feel into the trap of making myself a victim, I did the exact same thing I blamed the villains for.
I forgot to treat them with love.
Because if I loved others unconditionally, I would just pay the bill and forgive them, for they know not what they do. Then leave them alone and go on making a positive impact on the world so that slowly, the world becomes filled with more and more people who do the right thing.
Yes, part of me would still find it amusing to find every single person they ever did wrong, have them shit in a large container and then fly over the CEO’s house with a Helicopter blasting “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” while covering his house (and hopefully his face when he looks outside to see what’s happening) in victim-poo. But a much bigger part just realizes that they just don’t realize there’s anything wrong with what they do.
I’ll pay the bill some day when I have nothing better to pay, and until then I’ll look at the messages with a smile and wish for them to become a happier, more loving person. Because they’re probably much more of a victim than me.
You might say that in this sense I’m giving up. And that’s why I didn’t want to do this at first. I thought I’d feel disgusted with myself. But after I made this decision, it definitely feels like an immense weight has been lifted off me.
If someone did something bad to you in your opinion, you can say to yourself that you shouldn’t let them get away unpunished. But the problem is that refusing to forgive someone, doesn’t have the effect you think it has.
It is not the other person that’s “unforgiven”, it’s you. The other person doesn’t know how you feel about them. YOU carry the burden of unforgiveness with you.
Reluctance to forgive is a consequence not only of unwillingness to let go of the ego gratification of your perceived injustice, but also of the illusion that the others do not “deserve” it. Which once again, is the opposite of love. And the reason you are mad is because they treat you with so little love. In reality, it is the forgiver and not the forgiven who benefits most.
Just like you cannot be hurt by anyone but yourself, you cannot forgive anyone but yourself.
Better to create love where it is lacking than to continue spreading hurt.
Do You Want “Justice” or Do You Want Results
I used to idolize characters like Batman. I always thought that “If I didn’t have any other passions, I would’ve probably ended up beating rapists to pulp and saving their victims.”
We love characters like that, because we believe at least they finally “bring justice” when the law fails. But the reality is that they only continue the endless cycle of victims and villains. When I look at it from my point of view, Batman seems like a total psychopath. Yes, he’s found a way to engage in violence while the man on the street seems to find him a really likeable guy. But that’s exactly what successful psychopaths do.
There can’t be justice if we take it upon ourselves to carry it out. In that case we just allow ourselves to become infected with the same “villain/victim” mindset of the perpetrator and continue to spread the opposite of love.
The world is not filled exclusively with backstabbers and evil people. Most of the times someone “stabbed me in the back” in the past, looking back, I was largely responsible for attracting or allowing that situation myself.
When everyone else seems to be an asshole to you, there’s a pretty big chance you are the real asshole. So if you want results, start by letting go of your own victim mentality.
The truth is rarely black and white. People some do shady stuff and make it okay for themselves, including you and me.
But you gotta ask for yourself. If there is no clear truth about who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy, what would be the most effective way to view it for me to become HAPPIER?
Realizing your responsibility for creating that reality is the most empowering way to view it.
Because at least, if you were responsible for it, you can do your part to prevent it from happening again by taking a good hard look in the mirror.
But if you believe everyone else is always to blame, well… Good luck with that 😉
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