Last month, on a return flight from Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between two travelers discussing their current “circumstance,” and how one of them appeared to blame the other for not being more prepared to handle the situation in a timely manner. Based upon the other person’s response, this didn’t seem to be a “one-off” occurrence between the two.

I have to admit, it triggered some self-reflection on my part, thinking back to a particular time in life when I was guilty of such behavior. Not so much placing the blame on others, but rather taking little responsibility for the choices I’d made, which precipitated certain events.

Some people place an overemphasis upon matters that tend to be fixed, as opposed to those we can control. 

Examples of these might be one’s race, ethnicity, a physical impairment, or how we were raised — feeling that we’ve somehow been victimized by a particular circumstance, leaving us powerless. Others might be scarred from an event where we’ve felt “wronged” such as a divorce, being passed over for a promotion, or altogether let go from a long-held position. 

At times, we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to moving past those obstacles, which prohibit us from growing. We remain resolute, continuing to hold on to outdated experiences and emotions which were never addressed when they first surfaced. Over time, patterns begin to develop when we encounter similar circumstances, all too often eliciting the same ineffectual response. 

Similarly, how often do we find ourselves playing what I call the “Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda” game? This is whereby a certain mental construct or scenario is acted out inside our brain long after an actual event has taken place. We might spend years or even a lifetime complaining about our “situation” instead of finding the right tools and viable solutions to improve it. 

At what point in our lives do we no longer allow these reactions to dictate our future? Or as clinical social worker and motivational speaker Amy Morin affirms, “You’re a product of your choices, not a victim of your circumstances. When you experience problems and adversity, it’s up to you to decide how you want to respond. You can choose to allow it to define you, or you can choose to make it a defining moment.” 

Morin highlights this premise rather poignantly when sharing her personal life-story of overcoming unexpected tragedies in one of the most-watched TED-talks ever presented. 

Where I’ve found the greatest success in overcoming “victim mentality” is to become more self-aware; thereby accepting responsibility and regaining power over one’s life. Recognizing our personal contribution towards the situation, labeling it, and ultimately forgiving ourselves allows us the opportunity to move forward in a way that is much more conducive to fulfilling our desired goals.

Even once we’ve begun to make progress in this respect, will we sometimes revert back to our former ways? Most likely, yes. Yet once we’re committed to this new path of responsibility and have taken ownership of our choices, I’ve found the likelihood of repeating these old patterns to significantly diminish over time. 

Best-selling author and personal growth expert Mike Robbins offers the following advice in a piece titled, “It’s Not the Circumstances, It’s You” proposing: “What if we lived our lives with a deeper and more conscious awareness of the fact that we get to create our experience of life at any moment? Imagine what our lives, careers, and relationships would look like if we stopped blaming our experience on other people or on external circumstances. We would free up so much positive energy and take back so much of our personal power.”

Dave Davis
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to “Who Smarted?,” a popular educational podcast for elementary school children.

2 thoughts on “Dave’s Desk@Ditch: No Longer a Victim of Circumstance

  1. Been giving this month’s column a lot of thought. As a consequence of your musings during your flight from LA, as you offered them here, I summoned the courage to cancel an upcoming trip that I’ve been dreading and which had great potential negative consequences thanks to the current pandemic. So, perhaps you made someone’s life better this month.

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