Do you ever ask yourself the question, “Why is this happening to me?” Most of us do, especially when things aren’t going the way we want them to or we’re dealing with something that’s difficult or painful.
A few years ago I was talking to my friend Brian about this and he said, “If you change the word ‘to’ to the word ‘for’ in that question, it can change your life.” When Brian said this, it really resonated with me and I never forgot it.
Instead of asking ourselves, “Why is this happening TO me?” we could instead ask, “Why is this happening FOR me?” Wow – there’s a world of difference in those two questions. The first one leads us down a path of victimhood, martyrdom, or feeling as though there’s something wrong with us. The second one takes us in a direction of deeper growth, awareness, appreciation, responsibility, and healing.
Sadly, it often seems easier and is definitely more encouraged by the world around us to choose “Door #1” (victimhood), than it is to choose “Door #2” (growth and responsibility).
Why is this? We live in a culture that celebrates and reinforces victimhood. And while there are clearly people in our world who are victimized by the “wrongs” of society and others (and some of us have been victimized by people and situations in our own lives personally), the majority of the time you and I act, talk, and feel like “victims,” we’re not – it’s just a habitual way of thinking and being that we’re used to.
Most of us learned how to be victims at a very young age and had (and continue to have) lots of examples around us. In fact, victimhood is something we often used as a survival technique as children and adolescents. Although it doesn’t really feel good – feeling sorry for ourselves is actually a way to distance ourselves from deep and painful emotions, like sadness, hurt, loneliness, fear, anger, and despair. Because we don’t have the emotional capacity as kids or teens to fully experience and express our emotions in a healing and liberating way, we turn to victimhood and it helps us survive.
In our lives as adults, however, playing the victim not only acts as a “smokescreen” (keeping us from taking responsibility and feeling our real emotions), it also causes a great deal of harm in relationships, at work, with our health, and much more.
Asking ourselves why something is happening “for” us instead of “to” us, doesn’t mean we have to like what’s happening, necessarily. It also isn’t about blaming ourselves for “screwing things up.” This is about consciously choosing to look for the “gold,” see the lesson, and take advantage of the situations and circumstances that show up in our lives as the opportunities for growth that they truly are.
While feeling like a victim is normal, common, and even “natural” for us as human beings, it never leads us to greater power, joy, or happiness. The more willing we are to take responsibility for what shows up in our lives and to look for what we can learn from all that we experience, the more likely we are to heal, change, and transform in the positive way that we truly want.
Here are a few things you can think about and do to let go of victimhood and expand your capacity for growth and learning:
1) Notice when and where you feel like a victim. Pick a specific area of your life, or a specific situation or relationship, where you currently feel that “it’s not fair,” or “it shouldn’t be this way,” or you find yourself asking, “why is this happening to me?” While you may have more than one area or example of this in your life right now, it works best to focus on one area at a time. Notice what you think and say about this situation – to yourself and others. Most important, tap into how you’re truly feeling about it. Remember, victimhood is always a smokescreen – keeping us away from our authentic and vulnerable feelings. When you’re able to acknowledge and ultimately experience and express how you really feel, things can start to shift.
2) Ask yourself the question, “Why is this happening FOR me?” Related to this specific situation, asking yourself this question is something that can put you in a different and healthier inquiry about what’s really going on. Again, you don’t have to like what’s happening, but you can appreciate it (which means recognize the value of it). What are you learning? What is it forcing you to deal with, let go of, heal, or confront in your life? Another good question to ask yourself along these same lines is, “What good is here that I’m currently not seeing?” The more willing you are to look deeply at and learn from this situation, and less energy you put into being at the mercy of it, the more power you’ll have in dealing with it and growing in the process.
3) Talk to others authentically. While we often “commiserate” our victimhood with other people, it’s a better idea to share how we authentically feel (in a vulnerable way) and to engage in an inquiry with people we trust about why this situation may be happening FOR us. Other people are able to see and hear things we don’t. Leaning on the people in your life, talking to them in a real way, and asking for their support and feedback can help you move through the difficulty, find the gold, and deepen your learning – especially when you’re dealing with something challenging or painful like this. The less we share our issues with others looking for them to agree with our “story of woe,” and the more we share what we’re going through with a desire for support and empowerment; the more likely we are to heal, grow, and evolve.
Letting go of victimhood is not the easiest thing for us to do – most of us have years and years of experience. However, with compassion, consciousness, and a willingness to ask ourselves why things are happening for us (and not to us), we can liberate ourselves from victimhood in a beautiful and powerful way!