When we find ourselves in the throes of dissatisfaction, the root of the problem is generally not outside of ourselves. Yet, many of us are under a dangerous delusion that makes it appear like the problems are all out there.
If my boss would do it differently… if my customers would just… if my partner could only…
When we engage in this kind of thinking, it’s called Victim Consciousness. It is so easy to go there because it’s one of the chief paradigms that our culture teaches us.
The Victim Archetype
The Victim is an archetype, and according to Caroline Myss, all of us live out the qualities of the Victim in our lives. This archetype has a name that is strongly connected with its Shadow attributes. However, all archetypes have both Shadow and Light attributes. I like to think of the Light side of the Victim as being the Hero. The distinction between the Victim and the Hero is all about agency, or the ability to act.
Some of the common characteristics that come up when think of the shadow of the Victim include allowing oneself to be disempowered, giving up, feeling sorry for oneself, and being pathetic. The Victim archetype also encompasses our capacity to victimize others. This includes trying to make others feel guilty and giving others no choice.
Author Lynne Forrest describes Victim Consciousness as
a state where we believe that factors outside of us cause our happiness. Things happen to us. “Victim consciousness is a psychological prison, a mindset so prevalent as not to be recognized as a problem,” Forrest writes.
The Shadow Victim uses language like: The problem is out there. I can plainly see that it is wrong, but it is what is. I’m made to put up with. It always comes down to me to deal with the crap. If only others would…
We Give Away Our Power
There are a few problems with this frame of mind. First, Victim Consciousness places the point of leverage outside of ourselves. It gives us no vantage point from which we can change the situation. It defines ourselves as bit players who are victims to the situation, powerless.
The Victim displays no agency. She is not trying to take care of herself. She does this because she doubts her capacity to survive on her own. She doesn’t make the compelling center of a story because she does not pick up the sword; she refuses to go down the yellow brick road; she doesn’t stand up for herself.
Unfortunately, our culture teaches us to be victims. They teach us sob stories about how we’ve been let down or cheated upon. They teach us that we’ve been wronged and that we are powerless to change it.
Take advertising, for example. The premise behind advertising is to make you believe you have a problem. There’s something wrong with you. The solution lies outside of you. If you take this pill, eat this cereal, or buy this Abdomenizer, it will cure you.
The critically acclaimed film, The Accused, provides an excellent example of the Victim archetype. The main character, Sarah Tobias (played by Jodie Foster) is brutally gang-raped in a bar. Initially, Sarah adopts many of the classic traits of the Shadow victim.
At first, Sarah goes with the flow, letting the justice system take care of the situation. The prosecutor, played by Kelly McGillis, feels Sarah’s case is weak. Sarah lives in a trailer, wears revealing clothes, and has a license plate that reads “Sexy Sadie.” McGillis fears the jury will buy into the old trope that Sarah had it coming. So, the prosecutor cuts a sweet deal for the rapists. They are found guilty of reckless endangerment.
Fighting with Reality
The other issue with Victim Consciousness is that it is rooted in a failure to accept the world as it is. This refusal sets up a blame paradigm. Someone must be responsible. The blame then either falls at the foot of a perpetrator or upon the Victim herself.
Our culture propagates the Victim story because we misunderstand how reality works. We create our realities ourselves. Many of us can’t see that because Victim Consciousness has entranced us. The Victim story avoids taking responsibility for our immense power.
The Cure for Victimhood
Fortunately, there is a cure for the problem of Victim Consciousness, and like many universal truths, we can find the solution in fiction.
In storytelling, her agency, or ability to act, defines the Hero. In the beginning of the story, the Hero is often at the effect of some circumstances. She is living in what is for her the Ordinary World. At some point early in the story, the Hero receives a call to adventure. If she accepts it (and she always accepts it) she will go on a journey that will cause her to change. In most stories, she will find the thing that she most needs (though she begins the story unaware of this need). We know the Hero has begun her journey when she shows agency. She picks up the sword; she sets off down the yellow brick road; she stands up for herself.
After Sarah’s attackers receive a light sentence in The Accused, her Hero finally awakens. In anger, Sarah alters her appearance by cutting her long hair. Her deadbeat boyfriend laughs at her new hairstyle, inspiring Sarah’s next heroic act: she kicks him out. Next, Cliff, one of the men who witnessed her rape, verbally assaults her. Sarah strikes out at Cliff, ramming his truck with her car.
The incident draws the attention of the prosecutor. Sarah yells at McGillis and tells McGillis how she let her down. Sarah’s new strength inspires the prosecutor, and she vows to hold Cliff and the other witnesses responsible for their role in the attack. They had cheered on the attackers and committed criminal solicitation of a rape.
The Hero is the Light side of the Victim archetype. She inspires us to fight for ourselves. She calls on us to rewrite the story, with ourselves as the hero.
Taking responsibility for ourselves, embracing our agency, is one solution to Victim Consciousness. The other is to wake up to how reality works. We are not at the effect of it, we author it. I mean this in ways both practical and metaphysical. Let’s unpack it.
There are circumstances, and then there are thoughts. They are completely different and knowing the difference can save your life. Circumstances are the facts that everyone agrees on. When we move beyond circumstances to our judgments about them, we are creating stories (thoughts). When we refuse to accept reality, when we resist it, we enter Victim Consciousness.
The Victim: Guardian of Self-Esteem
According to Caroline Myss, we all have a Victim archetype (Victim here referring to the neutral archetype, not the shadow) that arrives to help us navigate the world as toddlers or even infants. Archetypes bring with them qualities, Light and Shadow, that will help us respond, cope, and evolve. If the archetype is not integrated, if we are struggling with our soul lessons, the negative manifestation will prevail. But the Victim/Hero also gives us the capacity for the heroic traits we’ve been discussing.
If the unhealthy Victim is dominating, and, for most of us, it is because our culture reinforces this; we end up projecting our negative beliefs out onto the world as a way of coping. However, our limiting beliefs will attract low-vibration thoughts and events. We get caught in Victim Consciousness.
Reality is a Mirror
The projecting itself is not necessarily unhealthy. This allows the external world to be our mirror. But when the world mirrors back the negative, we can realize that we have an internal issue.
As we experience our own negative projections, two tragic things happen. Our own sense of authenticity slips away. We lose a healthy relationship with the Victim archetype and the Shadow side dominates. Next, we resist the negative world of our experience. The trouble is that what we resist persists.
I mentioned these processes occur for both practical reasons and for metaphysical reasons.
We see the metaphysical in the energetic frequencies of thoughts attracting thoughts and circumstances of matching frequencies. Writers often compare this to a radio station.
When you want a particular radio station, you tune the dial to that station and you hear it. The energetic frequencies of thoughts and events operate in the same way. The universe responds to our internal tuning (our thought and feelings) and brings us situations that match that frequency.
But, even if you can’t wrap your brain around that, you can still see how this plays out. If I don’t trust others, I will act in a way that signals my belief. My language, behavior, body language, everything will give away my thoughts.
Would-be attackers know this. They can pick out an easy target by observing things like body language.
Reality as GPS for Your Soul
The prescription here is to accept reality. You created it! Rather than resisting reality, let reality be your GPS. It is giving you insight into what is happening inside of you. “Reality” is just a mirror of your internal state.
Accept reality. If you want to change what you experience in your outer life, turn inside. The fix is within you.
We either perceive ourselves as victims and feel at the mercy of life’s trials, or we move into observer consciousness and witness life as a reflection of our own mind.
Are you still trapped in Victim Consciousness? Most of us are until we consciously learn to break free of its shackles. I can help you break free. If you’d like to explore the process, set up a free appointment to discuss it with me. Marianne Williamson is famous for saying: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Find out about the power she’s talking about.
I’m Dr. Kira Swanson and I’m a Life Coach for people who dread Monday. I work with corporate misfits who feel unfulfilled in their work. Together, we tune into what they really want, find new perspectives, and summon the courage to take bold action. Whether it’s striking out on their own, landing in a new job, or thriving right where they are, I help my clients to Love Monday.
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