At some point during a career, most people — managers and non-managers — have the misfortune of drawing the proverbial short straw. Perhaps you were passed over for an assignment or promotion you absolutely believe should have been yours. Or perhaps you were laid off through no fault of your own due to consolidation, a merger, downsizing, or the simple failure of the business you chose to join.
My own favorite short straw involves inheriting the “boss from hell”. This is one reality that often never stops causing pain. Every day comes some new manifestation of poor management that gradually wears us down physically and emotionally.
No wonder in any of the above situations we often feel like a victim: in reality we generally are, innocent of otherwise. The feelings that usually accompany this state of mind are quite natural and understandable: anger, frustration, defeatism, a sense of unfairness, depression, and perhaps worst of all, a feeling of impotence.
To deny these feelings is foolish; we are only human after all. But how long should we wallow in these negative emotions, entertain and encourage them, share them with others? NOT LONG if we know what is good for us. An unrelenting victim’s mentality is an emotional black hole. The longer it persists the deeper and darker our emotional state becomes and the more we are likely to feel paralyzed when it comes to doing something about it.
But how do you escape? Or, how do you survive when there is no immediate escape from the situation in which you find yourself? This question was recently put to me by a colleague and friend. While I am no expert on such matters, I have always found two important steps a great way to begin. Both are primarily mental, involve a different mind-set, and are absolutely within the realm of things we control.
Step one is to STOP any prolonged self-flagellation characterized by self-doubt, guilt, or sense of primary blame. If you contributed to your situation in some way, acknowledge your complicity, learn what you can from it, and dedicate yourself not to do that again. But folks who continue to believe that they are somehow a deserved victim — and there are many of them out there — may need professional help to escape the black hole.
The same STOP warning goes for anger. To feel angry for a while when life events turn against us is often justified and understandable but holding on to it — flaming it — indefinitely, is self-destructive and counter-productive. Moreover, being angry all the time makes you a very unpleasant co-worker, life-partner, parent, and friend. Anger is a stagnant state; there comes a time when you simply must let go of your anger, if you are to move on.
When it comes to managing complex emotions in difficult times, I have often found the ears and advice of trusted others most helpful. Emotions can cloud one’s judgment and rob one of perspective. So ask trusted others for their thoughts, listen carefully, and heed what you consider wise counsel.
Step two is to GET PROACTIVE. Being victimized does not require us to take it lying down. The point is to decide what we intend to do about the situation in which we find ourselves. Devising an action plan — our action plan — allows us to regain some sense of control over the situation.
There is a huge difference between the statements — “this is what I am doing” and “this is what is being done to me” — when it comes to how we feel about ourselves. The first statement is active, assertive, and has the potential to change an undesirable situation. The second statement is passive, submissive, and eventually emotionally self-destructive.
There is, of course, no one right proactive strategy. The question is which of your possible strategies do you believe is the one that suits you best? What matters is that you have and implement some proactive plan designed to help you cope with, survive, or ultimately change a situation or set of circumstances you find unacceptable or unsustainable. As with step one, the advice and counsel of trusted others often proves critical in helping us to maintain perspective and to think logically, sensibly, and wisely in our own best interest.