Victims, Villains and Helpless – The Stories We Tell Ourselves

We generate stories from things that happen to us which in turn drive our emotions. We than act based on our emotions. This is one of the lessons learned in a training I attended on “crucial conversations” last week. The training is based on this book “Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High“. As I learned, there are three types of stories we tell ourselves that could lead us to negative results:

  • Victim – “It’s not my fault.”
  • Villain – “It’s their fault.”
  • Helpless – “There’s nothing else I can do.”

This lesson resonated with me as I am guilty of telling these stories to myself from time to time. In some ways, our actions become self-fulfilling prophecies. Years ago when I started my career, there was an incident I thought I was discriminated unfairly because of racism. For months after the incident, I was bitter and became very defensive. I went to meetings suspicious of any potential discrimination against me. What I realized years after was that I was projecting a very negative attitude and some of the people I dealt with reacted towards my attitude.

Several years ago, I left a job after feeling helpless. I was frustrated with the changes in my department and the ambiguity of my role. I felt as if I was not heard, I was a “victim” and I was “helpless”. I thought the management did not care about my feelings. I had made them “villains” in my story. The problem was I did not share how I felt with my supervisors. They were shocked when I announced I was leaving. Learning from that lesson, I vowed to become more assertive and get out of the “victim” mentality. In the end, I had to advocate for myself. Certainly, the conversations I’ve had when I expressed my displeasure were not easy, but positive results came out of them. Oftentimes, my supervisors were not fully aware of the issues I had.

It truly is amazing how much of a difference the types of stories we tell ourselves. There are times when I have had to consciously change the story I tell myself in heated conversations so as not to get myself into situations I might regret later. Even when I had to make up positive ones.

I am generally an optimist and so I tend to look at my life from a positive perspective, but life is not always rosy and it’s those times when I have to remind myself to think positive, that I am not a victim, I’m not helpless and other people are not so bad.