This was first published on KSL.COM
SALT LAKE CITY — I had a reader write to me recently complaining about a friend who is always talking about the hard things going on in their life. Their question revolved around when it was justified to complain about your life and have a friend listen and show up for you, and when it becomes an issue of playing the victim card to get sympathy love and might not be a positive thing.
Talking about your struggles and woes is not necessarily a problem. For some people, it is the only way they learned to get love. They might subconsciously play the victim card without even realizing it; and when friends listen and show they care, it probably does make them feel cared about, important and loved.
The only problem is that there can be a cost to this behavior that you might not realize you are paying. While friends and family care about you and feel sorry for you, they may also be losing respect for you.
Before I get into how to check yourself and make sure you aren't in an unhealthy victim mentality, let me just say how important it is to have supportive friends and family around you — and to share your difficult experiences with them. Everyone needs that kind of support, and there is no shame whatsoever in talking about your struggles and getting support, help and love from the people in your life.
Your sharing or complaining only becomes a problem if you are sharing for one of the following reasons:
I have a dear friend who is battling cancer, and I love how she shares the challenges and hardships of the experience with me but never misses an opportunity to ask about my life and my challenges too. She never uses the hardship to manipulate others, and she always acknowledges that other people have it worse.
She shares her experience and lets her friends support her, but she has never had a victim mentality. I have to say, though, there are days she is very entitled to a good long pity-party cry — and occasionally she has one, as they are healthy and called for.
Here are some other ways to watch for victim behavior and change it:
Write it down
Write a description (on paper) of what your mindset and behavior would look like if you are playing the victim: How would you show up? How would others see you? What kind of energy would you be putting off?
Write about the payoffs you might get from rehearsing your struggles and stories. Are the payoffs so great they are worth possibly losing the respect of other people? Write about the ways you might be seen as weak, complaining or needy. Are there ways you share your experiences without coming across with these descriptions?
Examine your past
What stories about your past might you talk about too often? Do you have any beliefs about your life always going bad, or bad things always happening to you? Do you believe, "no one cares about me"; or "no matter how hard I try, things always go wrong"; or "people should let me off the hook for bad behavior because of how bad I have had it in the past"; or "I will never get anywhere no matter how hard I work."
Own any victim stories and beliefs you have and figure out why you might hold onto them. What do they give you when you believe they are true? What do they cost you? Is there something else (more healthy) that you could replace those beliefs with? Rewrite some better beliefs and post them somewhere you see them daily.
Explore letting go
Figure out who you could be if you let go of the victim identity. What would your mindset be? How could you respond to life if you saw yourself as strong, blessed, capable, fortunate and whole? What if you see yourself as a champion instead of a victim? This may take a while to clearly see yourself as a victor, but you can do it.
Write down the qualities and attributes you want to embody. How do you want people to see you? What qualities do you want to be known for? You cannot become something you can't even see. The first step is to get clarity on what you want.
Stop the blame game
Stop blaming others or circumstances for the way you are feeling. You are responsible for how you feel. Emotions do arise that you can't control; but once they arrive, you do have the power to process through them and choose your mindset. (Unless you are suffering from clinical depression or an anxiety disorder, which can make choosing your attitude difficult to impossible to do by yourself. Seek help from a medical professional.)
Most of us do have the power to choose our perspective, and our perspective determines how we feel. If you don't know how to use that power, you may need a counselor or coach to help you learn how. It is a skill and can be taught to most people.
Change your perspective
First, choose gratitude. In the very moment you are dwelling on what's wrong in your life, there are many things you could focus on that are blessings. Your blessings always outweigh the challenges. You may need to start a gratitude journal to help you focus on the good every day.
You can also work to change your perspective about how life and the universe work. Most of us have a subconscious belief that the universe is a dangerous place where we can lose, get hurt, or be cheated and unfairly treated. We see the universe as "against" us, messing with us, and even trying to trip us up. With this perspective, we are always a powerless victim who is blown about by chaos and bad luck.
Instead, you can choose to believe the universe is ultimately on your side. It is a wise teacher, constantly using what happens to create your perfect classroom journey. You could believe that everything that happens is used to grow you and make you stronger, wise and more loving. Things don't happen to you, they happen for you. At least, you could choose this mindset if you wanted to and you would find your outlook would be more positive.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.