(Disclaimer for today: I am speaking to a “victim mindset,” not a true victim, as defined as “a person who has suffered from physical or emotional harm, property damage, or economic loss as a result of a crime.”)
My first half ironman was not my greatest moment in endurance sports. And I am not talking about my pace or overall placement. When I reflect on that race somewhere in Iowa in August of 2008, my memory immediately goes to my attitude on the run.
Some facts: It was a hot day. I was brand new, at the end of my first season competing in triathlon, and only my second year of racing at all. I had no idea how to properly fuel my body for an event of this distance. I was struggling, due to my lack of experience.
And, I was acting like a raging, pouty victim.
I didn’t like that it was hard, and I wanted to blame anything and anyone for my discomfort. It was the fault of the course organizers for sticking the run on an open highway, with no shade, on blazing hot pavement. It was God’s fault for making it so hot that day. And it was my coach’s fault that she didn’t know exactly how my body would react to nutrition and hydration. I was assured in my own mind that absolutely none of my struggles were my fault.
Yuck. The victim mentality. I don’t know about you, but when I see it written down, it makes me cringe a bit.
Now, I see the truth. It was my choice to take on something hard that day. I signed up for that race. And this did not change when it actually became hard. Sure, I can’t control the race course or the weather, but that is always true. And I can never control circumstances or other people either. I can actually control very little. But I do have the right to a sense of agency—the feeling of control over my actions and their consequences.
I can decide how I will react. And that day I reacted like a toddler having a temper tantrum.
Soon after that race, I started seeing a therapist. And she gave me one of the best gifts of all:
She started me on a path to let go of a victim mentality. And she reminded me that I have the option to have a sense of agency in my life. And this opened my eyes to a new way of seeing my athletic career, and my entire life.
Before that, I had been intent on being in charge when I wanted to be, taking “credit” for successes. But, when things didn’t go my way, I would blame circumstances or others. This mindset was not adopted through a true moment of victimization or trauma, as many are. I believe that immaturity, some modeled codependent relationships and victim mindsets in my family, and a driving need for control crafted this way of thinking.
And, playing a victim definitely has its perks. I didn’t have to take responsibility for anything. If Jamie and I had a fight then “he was making me mad.” I always had the “right” to complain. (Who was going to argue with me over the awful heat that day in Iowa?) And when bad things happened to me, I could use them as evidence for “my hard life.”
Other perks of living in a victim mindset might include: having people feel sorry for you; being more likely to get what you want; feeling interesting because you get to tell people all of your stories; not feeling bored because there’s so much drama surrounding you. Playing a victim actually gives you a lot of power— power to avoid personal responsibility, power to feel righteously sad and persecuted, power to avoid uncomfortable emotions, and power to manipulate other people.
When I started working with my therapist, I was blind to how this mindset was ruling my life. I thought that I, in fact, did have everything under control. I didn’t see that I was spending so much time managing and manipulating, rather than loving.
So, like I do, I sought out resources to help me see the world differently. Instead of using a victim mindset as a shield, I focused on experiencing all of the emotions that life has to offer. I tried to love others better, realizing that no one can make me feel anything. As a coach, I still teach my athletes on how to show up to their own, chosen goals. And I can see my life as my own, which has made me more capable of living in each moment—from the really great ones, to the times that are as hard as hell (and all in between)… and this is true for training and racing.
It has not been easy to overcome this way of looking at life, and sometimes the perks lure me back in. But thankfully, after years of practice, it doesn’t feel good for long anymore. It doesn’t feel like me.
If you find yourself blaming the world for the life you are living, I urge you to take a look at your mindset. (Unsure? Check out these 23 Signs of a Victim Mentality)
Like I said last week, I am an endurance sports coach, not a therapist. And I highly suggest you work with someone to overcome this mindset. But, as my gift to you, I can share a few tips that truly worked for me.
How to start to overcome a victim mindset:
Practice feeling without buffering (with drinking, eating, social media-ing, etc). Once I allowed myself to feel negative emotion, I realized I could still be okay. That helped me take ownership. It gave me freedom to just be.
Practice believing in your worthiness. You are not broken and you don’t have to fix anything. See this as an opportunity to connect with yourself on a deeper level. To feel more whole. More alive.
Practice gratitude. Allow yourself to see the good so that you can remember that it is everywhere, even in hard times.
Lean into the truth that life is good and bad— for everyone.
Instead of blaming others for how you feel, understand that your feelings come from within you. No one else can make you feel a certain way. Own how you feel— instead of “you are making me angry,” say, “I am angry.” People will still do things that trigger you, but you can get out of the “you are hurting my feelings” mindset.
Curiously seek out why you might have adopted this mentality in the first place. Explore whether or not you have a victim complex. I truly recommend working with a professional.
This topic is monumentally larger than my words, and my lack of training, can even begin to reach. But, it changed me and so I feel compelled to share the gift. Now, when I race I fight with my victim tendencies and stay grounded in gratitude. I try to acknowledge circumstances as they are, rather than seeing them as “out to get me.” I work to own my feelings as mine. I don’t try to manipulate anything, but instead lean into authenticity and transparency. And when I think or act as a victim, I have grace for myself— seeing that behavior and mentality as something that served me for a long time.
And then I move forward, knowing that I am showing up to my own effort within myself. In my own power. And to my own successes and failures.
And good or bad— I feel alive. And I hope you can too.