How often to you feel like a victim? If you’re anything like me, probably more often than you’d like to admit. Although I usually pretend to be too “evolved” to play the role of victim in my life, I do catch myself at times feeling, thinking, and talking in that old, familiar, “oh poor me” kind of way. Can you relate?
I remember one of my mentors telling me years ago, “Mike, you can’t simultaneously be grateful and victimized.”
The more I reflect on this piece of profound wisdom, the more I realize how true it is. Whenever I find myself feeling as though “It’s not fair,” or wondering “Why is this happening to me?” – I notice that I’m not at all in touch with anything I’m grateful for in those moments. On the flip side, when I take the time to focus on what I appreciate about myself, those around me, my life, and/or life in general – it’s almost impossible for me to experience victimhood at the same time.
I got a wonderful email recently which exemplified this power of gratitude over victimization. Here’s the note (with permission from the man who sent it to me):
I just finished reading your book Focus on the Good Stuff and I had a breakthrough that I wanted to share with you.
I’ve never been a good sleeper. For the past 17 years I’ve had to medicate myself to fall asleep. On a good night I wake up once; on an average night, two maybe, three times. I’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do to encourage better sleeping habits. Some nights when I wake up after 3 AM, that’s it, I’m done. I can’t will myself back to sleep – my day starts at 5 AM with a morning trip to the gym – which then makes for a very long day.
Now for the good stuff…One night several weeks ago I lay awake in the middle of the night. I tossed and turned and started to fret about not being able to get back to sleep. On my night table I saw your book which I had been reading earlier in the evening and I reflected on a couple of themes – appreciate myself and be grateful – and I started to think about what those meant to me. (new paragraph)
I lay there and made a mental list of all the things in my life that I was grateful for, and in no time at all I was fast asleep. No longer worried about what would happen if I woke up in the middle of the night, the next night when I awoke I made a mental list of all the things I appreciated about myself. It was easier than I thought and soon I was asleep with a smile on my face.
While I’m not quite ready to give up my sleeping pills yet, I’ve been able to shift my head space when I wake in the middle of the night. So my new approach is not to stress about why I’m not sleeping but to reflect on all the things that I’m grateful for or what I appreciate about myself.
Three weeks later, it’s been working like a charm – I’m sleeping better and I feel better in the morning.
I don’t know if I will be able to stop with the sleeping aid but waking up in the middle of the night is a whole lot more pleasant.
Sleeping easier…with gratitude,
What a great email, eh? Instead of feeling like a victim for his sleeping issue, Ian has chosen to use his wake-ups as an opportunity to practice being grateful. Not only is he deepening his capacity for gratitude and appreciation, but it sounds like he’s suffering and worrying a lot less, and ultimately sleeping better…how cool! Gratitude is powerful!
Here are a few things for you to think about and do, in order to expand your own capacity for gratitude in the face of situations, relationships, and circumstances which may have you currently feeling like a victim.
1) Notice where you feel victimized. Where do you feel like a victim in your life right now? Maybe you have a big issue or challenge related to your health, finances, work situation, love life, or family. Maybe there are some smaller “annoyances” in your life – sitting in traffic, waiting in line, dealing with difficult people, etc. – that leave you feeling a bit victimized. Take some honest inventory, without judgment, and notice where you go into victimhood yourself.
2) Ask yourself what you’re grateful for. Asking and answering the question, “What am I grateful for?” is one of the most powerful things we can do, especially when we’re dealing with a challenging situation. Remember, appreciating something or being grateful for it doesn’t necessarily mean you “like” or “agree” with it – it simply means you recognize the value of it. When we can acknowledge the value of something, even and especially when it’s painful or difficult, we take back our power from it and tap into some of its positive influence in our lives. Choosing to be grateful for the specific things we’re challenged by is one of the best ways we can transform these situations and our lives.
3) Think about, feel, and express what you’re grateful for. Gratitude is a wonderful concept and a transformative practice. Most of us know the importance of being grateful, but we can only benefit from it when we experience our gratitude. We can’t be grateful in theory (or in the past or the future), we can only be grateful NOW. Whether we choose to find the silver lining in difficult circumstances, use the situation (as Ian did) as a opportunity to focus on some of the things we appreciate about life, or simply remember to focus on what we’re grateful for at random times during the course of our day – gratitude is one of the most life-altering emotions we can tap into and experience as human beings. And, the great news is that we have access to gratitude any time we choose.