Psychology

Victimhood as a framework for unhappiness

I rode the bus today and spent 30 minutes listening to a young woman complain to her mother about her job and what sounded like a lot of passive aggressiveness and other work-related stressors and social dynamics. I was tempted to scorn this woman with my glares and thoughts of “Please shut up!!” when suddenly it hit me: some people can’t help it, they have simply been conditioned to be complainers.

Some people grew up learning that whining meant attention, that grumbling was a path to friendship (or at least camaraderie), and that ultimately they are a victim to life’s terrors & tumult – and nothing feels better than to commiserate with other victims. Some folks have complaining and playing-the-victim ingrained in the way that they process their environments and daily events – because why else would someone consciously CHOOSE to be unhappy. Not to say that being happy is a matter of thinking “and I’m going to start feeling happy…NOW!” – but the frameworks that you adopt to interpret your surroundings and interactions really do matter when it comes to long-term happiness. If you operate thinking that life is an unmapped roller coaster controlled by fate and sheer luck – perhaps you won’t get so down when you have the occasional bad day…But if you perceive the world as inherently against you, as full of terrible spiteful people that conspire to make your life a living hell even though you are a perfectly innocent individual…well, not-so-coincidentally you just may interpret every single situation that way. 

The first group of people – the “life is unpredictable and arbitrarily luck-based” folks have better chances of keeping their cool under duress – their serenity sits at the bottom of a big lake, and they let the difficult obstacles and tragedies in their life turn into small stones that hit the surface of the water and are absorbed into the continued stillness. The second group, the “victims,” take each and every stone – whether a boulder or a pebble – personally and bitterly, looking up at the skies and asking “WHY ME??” 

This realization helps me empathize with the “victims” who I often just perceive as negative whiners, because they probably have never been taught to use any other emotional/mental framework when processing difficult events. An array of diverse emotional and mental frameworks is like an arsenal against unhappiness – because you have the means to adapt to situations quickly and psychologically make the best of things. But how can this be learned once someone is already comfortable with the victimhood framework? The next time that someone around me is extremely negative and can’t stop complaining – what is the best way to disrupt this cycle without coming off as unsupportive, spiteful, or condescending? 

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