Monday, September 22, 2014

"I coulda been a contendah, but that damned gorilla kept throwing barrels at me!"

So, you may not know this, but I’m kind of a big deal.

Ok, not really. Or at all. Actually, that was just what my brain tossed up when I was looking for the words to say that: you probably don’t know this, but I’ve kind of lived through a lot. (Alhamdullilah)

Of course, that statement is relative, subjective, and various other qualifiers, but the general verdict of anyone who’s privy to the details, is that my life has kind of been an insane rollercoaster. At one point a few years ago, I had ticked off all of the Major Life Traumas on a stress checklist, save for the death of a loved one. And that was before my cancer or aneurysm. (Subhanallah.)

Why am I saying this? Because it sort of colors what I’m going to say next, which is: I don’t get the victim mentality.

I meet so many people and read so many blogs and tweets that seem to mainly moan, cry and fixate on all the ways they've been wronged, big and small. It’s like ‘The Universe’ (y’know, that faceless, hip, and secular entity that’s replaced ‘God’ to many) is out to get them, plaguing their lives with traffic that clogs their way, bosses who sabotage their careers, parents who willfully misunderstand them, etc. They seem to approach life from the perception that they are being victimized, lending everything around them the tinge of negativity. It’s as if they living their own real-life version of Donkey Kong, with some big mean gorilla deliberately and unceasingly throwing barrels at them just when they finally made it up a level.

And if it’s not the small daily injustices that they feel are getting them down, then it’s the big “I was not allowed to become as awesome and amazing as I could have been because the world did not give me a chance, denying me what I was owed.” That sounds pretty dramatic, but think about it. I bet you know someone who regularly blames someone – a parent who didn't support them, a teacher in college who brought them down, their lack of wealth/status – on being behind their sad state today. They could have had it alllllllll, rolling in the deeeeeep, except they were born under an ill-fated star that prevented them from getting all those things lesser deserving mortals obviously got.

I suspect there are two reasons why we fall into this self-victimization. One, is that this is just how some people get attention. “I am DYING from this cold! UGH. ” “I got four blisters walking to the Metro. Could this day GET any worse?” “My boss asked me to work late! CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?” I’m not saying I’m immune to such pity-me posts – I can gripe as well as anyone. But if you’re doing this every day and little else, it may be that you never grew out of that baby phase of crying when you wanted your mommy to pick you up.

Yep, these regular complaints/kvetches are the equivalent of a toddler crying and pointing at their booboos to get attention. We live in an era where attention – in the form of 'likes' and comments – is currency, so Twitter and Facebook become the platform where we showcase life’s outrageous misfortunes. Complaining is an easy way to get people to focus on you – it’s the opposite of showing-off, after all. So if you’re sad sort of person who needs external validation but lacks other means to gain it from your peers/society – like accomplishments, sense of humor, charm, beauty – then attention-seeking complaining can seem an obvious route to take. 

The other reason people may have such a negative narrative to their existence is their sense of entitlement. If you constantly feel put out, offended or enraged, it seems likely that you are comparing things to the easy ride you assume you were promised. Because everyone in this great big world signed a “We shall not inconvenience/impinge upon/annoy (Insert Your Name)” agreement, which they are now reneging on and you’re within rights to complain about it. Yeah, no. We didn't. Life isn't fair. We've been hearing that since we were 5, but it doesn't make it any less true.

Let me say it again: life isn't fair. That means you were never promised or guaranteed any of those easy rides and good days you keep mourning. You got some good things, and you didn't get some good things. And the thing is, that’s how it is for all of us. I've genuinely never met a person who had it all. Even those with seemingly all of life’s gifts and material comforts can have heads and hearts full of misery, fear and insecurity. So, instead of complaining about all the things you DIDN'T get, do yourself a favor and enjoy and appreciate the things you did get. Because if there was a fairy godmother who heard your 'that’s not fair' whinges, and with the wave of her magic wand equally distributed all the world’s wealth, privilege, health, and beauty, I bet you’d be far worse off.

Of course, there are some people who genuinely do have it tough. They've been dealt a particularly crappy hand, probably through no fault of their own. And for them, I have more sympathy than annoyance if I find them hosting a pity party of one. Life can be damned hard. If I didn't believe in a religion that teaches that God doesn't place a burden on a soul greater than it can bear, and that it all difficulty will be rewarded in the next life, I’d have cashed in my chips a long time ago. So I know how life can get you down and make you feel like you've been unfairly targeted.

But you haven’t been. Unless you survived Auschwitz or something. Really. And interestingly, folks who actually have been through the absolute worst tend to be the least self-victimizing. You know why? Because they’re facing a real life-or-death situation, and they know that the victim mentality may cost them their survival.

Yep, the cost of the victim mentality can be that severe. When you go around thinking that your life and all it contains is constantly being sabotaged by various others, then you give power and control to them. On a basic emotional level, that’s going to constantly cost you your happiness and sense of wellbeing. And if you are being physically wronged/victimized, then believing that you are doomed to be a victim of these relentless bullies will prevent you from recognizing how and where you can put your energies to improve your situation. Think about it like this: in classic horror movies, which type of character always dies and which type lives? The ones that give in to fear and stop fighting usually die and the ones who keep looking for a way out are the ones who make it.

In short, the victim mentality is bad whether you've been really victimized or not. If you really are facing a tremendous challenge with nearly insurmountable odds – life threatening illness, financial woes, abusive relationship, etc. – the only way you’re going to get through is by staying positive so you can keep working towards different solutions. And if you’re an Average Joe who’s allowed themselves to fall into the victim mentality, then even your surmountable odds will prove overwhelming and cost you your happiness/security/health. Your negativity and self-victimization will turn normal everyday life dramas into unending nightmares.

Rant Over.