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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Victimization is a Choice

If you are in a bad situation, you will do whatever you can to escape it. Right?

Actually, that’s a common misconception. The truth is when you feel like you aren’t in control of your destiny, you are more likely to give up and accept whatever situation you are in.

I expect that you might argue this point by saying that you would fight to leave a bad situation in which you find yourself because that’s what most people believe. We don’t want to think of ourselves as weak or helpless and so we vehemently proclaim, “Not me”.

Think about the last time you declared that you weren’t going to vote in a local or national election. Did you say: “Why should I bother? Things never change” or “My vote out of millions doesn’t really matter anyway”.

A child who performs poorly on math tests and assignments will quickly begin to feel that nothing he does will have any effect on his math performance. When later faced with any type of math-related task, he may experience a sense of helplessness.

This concept, helplessness, occurs when people feel that they have no control over their situation and leads them to behave in a helpless manner. By that, they become paralyzed with inaction and it causes them to overlook opportunities for relief or change.

Humans are adaptive creatures and once we have resigned ourselves to the notion that there is nothing we can do about our situation, we simply accept our fate. In the book, “You Are Not So Smart”, author David McRaney talks about the effects of learned helplessness and explains that an extended period of negative emotions can lead to giving into despair, thus accepting your fate. He uses the example of loneliness. If you remain alone for a long time, you will decide loneliness is a fact of life and pass up opportunities to engage with other people.

I was a detective in the Domestic Violence Reduction Unit for five years and it was there that I became aware of learned helplessness. Some victims began to feel as though they could not escape their situation and those futilities led them to accept their plight. This concept is important in understanding why battered women don't attempt to free themselves from an abusive relationship.

The loss of control in any situation will lead to feeling helpless.

In policing, we see this phenomenon daily. So many people believe that external forces such as genetics or social class dictate their fate when in fact, conscious choice and relentless action proves otherwise.

The best part about learned helplessness is that there is a cure. We can combat the symptoms of feeling like a victim through conscious choice. When we make choices for ourselves – even small choices – we are revolting against helplessness and gaining control over our lives.


It all begins with the conversations we have with ourselves inside our own heads. The negative self-talk perpetuates a state of victimization when all we can hear ourselves say are things like, “Nothing is ever going to change”. Instead, we can make a conscious choice to declare that things will get better. Once we start to believe what we say, our actions will follow. The seemingly simple act of changing our mind-set is not actually that simple because we are hard-wired for victimization. It’s easier to blame the world around us for our problems rather than to embrace the notion that our inaction is the precise reason we are miserable.

If you were a victim of neglect or endured abuse as a child, you can blame everything bad in your life on your unfortunate circumstances and drown in the pond of self-pity or you can choose not to allow your circumstances to define you.

You have the power to rewrite your story and break through the walls of helplessness.

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