Friday, January 21, 2011

Victim Thinking

Every once in awhile I re-visit something I already know and am amazed at how powerful it is.  Usually it's something I read in one of my meditation books or something one of my sponsors reminds me of.  Just recently I read that "resentment marks the spot where I felt like a victim."  I wanted to have that tatooed somewhere on my body where I could see it all the time.  Just today one of my sponsors emailed me a reading from The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie on not being a victim, and yesterday another of my sponsors reminded me that I was dealing with someone who can only see herself as a victim which keeps her from ever taking action to solve her problems (if you take action and solve a problem, you're not a victim anymore).

I spent the first half of my life thinking like a victim.  I felt hopeless and helpless and enraged.  When I came into a recovery program and they began to teach me about not being a victim and taking responsibility for my life, I got really mad because I couldn't see that they weren't telling me that everything was my fault.  Little by little I saw that I could change how I thought and how I behaved, which would in turn change everything around me and that that didn't mean that my circumstances or other people would necessarily change.

There was a television program I watched a little bit of a couple of years ago.  I can't remember what it was called but it was about parents who had out of control, acting out children, and the show sent a nanny to their house to help.  I was amazed at the parents - they were angry when the nanny showed them how to improve their parenting skills so that the children could rely on their parents to teach good behavior.  The parents saw themselves as victims of their children - saw the children as "bad" and expected the nanny to straighten the children out.  Of course, that isn't how it works.  Parents are responsible for their parenting skills, and the reason the children were acting out was because the parents were not parenting properly. 

Usually there was a confrontation between the nanny and the parents where she had to explain that they either wanted to use her expertise to solve the problem or they didn't.  If they didn't, she was leaving.  If they did, they would have to do as she suggested.  Since it was a tv show, the parents agreed to at least try her suggestions.  They usually consisted of providing structure to the children's day so that they could anticipate what was expected of them.  Included in the structure were fun things to do as a family so that the bond between the parents and the children was nurtured.  The children were also given responsibilities as members of the family - like picking up their toys, taking their dirty plates to the sink, helping set the table, taking out the trash, - reponsibilities appropriate for their ages.  There was usually a chart hung up somewhere that showed whether the responsibilities were taken care of and there was some kind of positive thing that happened if they were.  That might be extra television time, extra time on the computer or something like that.

The parents were to teach the children what was expected of them regarding eating, sleeping, dressing, etc.  Fighting and other kinds of acting out were to be followed by time out, where the parents put the child in a "time out place."  The parent explained to the child why the child was going to time out and told them how long they would be staying there - one minute for every year of age.  Of course, the children who were used to running wild would not stay in the time out place.  The nanny taught the parents to say nothing but just pick the child up and put him or her back - no matter how many times it took.  Of course the parents hated this even more than the children and wanted to give in, but the nanny wouldn't let them.  In an amazingly short period of time, the children learned that if they wanted to stay out of the time out place, all they had to do was refrain from acting up.

One of the common problems was kids who wouldn't go to bed, which resulted in mornings fraught with stress because the kids were too tired to get up and go to school.  Usually the kids had trouble at school because they were so tired.  The nanny used the same technique for that problem:  the parents explained to the kids that bedtime was at whatever time would give them plenty of sleep and let them be able to get up in the morning in plenty of time for school.  A bedtime routine was instituted - a bath followed by story reading was common. Then the parents were to put the kids to bed at that time. 

Of course, the kids immediately got up and tried to talk the parents into letting them stay up.  The parents were to just say, "it's time to go to sleep" and put the child back in bed.  The nanny usually recommended that the parent sit by the bed for two or three nights to make the child feel more secure.  Also, that made it more convenient for the parent to put the child back in bed every time he or she got up.  The parent was not to talk to the child at all after saying one time that it was time to go to sleep.  After the third night, the parent was to sit by the door for three nights and then after that leave the room entirely.  The parent was to put the child back in bed how ever many times it took until the child fell asleep.  Some kids were really stubborn and the parent had to put them back to bed twenty, thirty, even fifty times.  It didn't matter, the parent just kept putting them back to bed.  Usually the kids were falling asleep right after they went to bed by the third or fourth night.  Amazing. 

When the parents stopped being victims of their children and became willing to learn some new ways to parent, the problems were solved.  This example applies to my life over and over.  I had to laugh at how convinced the parents were that the kids were the problem and not themselves.  I lived my life that way:  if I wasn't happy at work it was because of my boss or co-workers, if I wasn't happy in my relationships it was because the other people were not acting the way I wanted them to, and on and on.  I tried to solve my problems by making other people behave the way I wanted them to.  And I did that for years and years without ever noticing that it wasn't working.  Thank God and the people of the program for showing me other ways to live.  Now when I try to work with newcomers to help them see how they can change their perspective from victim to responsible adult, and they fight like tigers to convince me it's not their fault, I can share how it was for me when I was living the way they are and what it's like for me now that I'm not a victim.  It's a far better life, for sure.  There are enough troubles in the world that I don't have control over without creating a bunch more for myself by victim thinking.

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