Extreme violence, chaos, and repeated sexual violation had been a way of life for me as a child, but I had never thought of myself as a victim. I just thought This is my life and I have to deal with it. This changed when, after being raped in college at the age of seventeen, the dean had forced me into silence with the threat of me losing my scholarship. That experience had solidified in me the belief that I would always be powerless when it came to people and events in my life.
I lived as a victim for decades. Every time someone supposedly hurt my feelings or did something to which I took offense, I would blame the other person. Nothing was ever my fault. I wouldn’t take responsibility for anything that happened in my life. It was always the other person who was doing things to me over which I believed I had no control. I would cry, and whine, and complain to anyone who would listen. Every time things didn’t go my way, I felt like the Universe had it in for me.
Fortunately, a few people came into my life who wouldn’t let me get away with my playing victim. People who told me to get off my pity-pot. People who would listen to me whine about something that was happening to me for only a few minutes.
“So, what are you going to do about it?” they’d ask.
“I can’t do anything about it!” I’d whine.
“There’s always some action you can take to change things, even if it’s just to accept that things are what they are,” they’d tell me. They’d point out to me that people will say and do as they please. “It’s not about them, it’s about you and how you choose to respond,” a good friend of mine would say to me.
Slowly, it sunk in. It is up to me. It is my responsibility to act when I don’t like something that’s happening in my life. Only I can change things, even if it’s simply my perspective. Thoughts dictate emotions. Change my thoughts, and I change the way I feel about things and people.
These friends taught me that only I am responsible for my feelings. No one can hurt my feelings or make me angry. People will say or do whatever they like, as I’ve mentioned. If I am angry or hurt it is because I am placing value on what they said or did based upon my personal belief system, past experiences, and what I am telling myself at that moment.
Whenever I find myself complaining about something or someone, I catch myself and take a step back to get a better perspective. I check in with how I am feeling. Am I angry? Am I frustrated? Am I annoyed? Am I scared? I try to ascertain what is causing me to feel this way. Usually, it has to do with my not feeling in control, which can trigger my victim tendencies. When I acknowledge this, I can then take the necessary steps which will enable me to respond from a place of personal power.
I have a medallion hanging from my car’s rear-view mirror. It reads, “I can’t control the wind, I can only adjust my sails”. I have come to understand that I might not be able to control events as they arise. I certainly can’t control what people will do or say. But I can choose how I respond.
I was a victim of childhood violence and sexual abuse, and sexual assault as a teenager and adult. I am not minimizing this. I was traumatized, and that trauma will most likely affect me on some level for the rest of my life. I am not minimizing the daily challenges I face as a survivor who must deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the scars left upon my psyche and soul. I know that I was powerless back when those things happened to me. But I am not powerless now.
I’ve learned that my life is made up of a series of choices, each choice with its own consequences or rewards. Every moment, I have a choice to make. That choice will determine the next moment, which will, in turn, require me to make another choice, and so on. I’ve never forgotten a quote I read, “The choices we make dictate the lives we lead.” I can choose to live in the shadows or live in the Light. I can choose to be angry or I can choose acceptance. I can choose to give into self-sabotaging impulses or I can choose to live my life with discipline and direction. I can choose to allow my past trauma to define me or I can choose to move beyond my pain and thrive.
Even when my PTSD gets triggered, I have a choice. I can choose to allow myself to be overcome by my symptoms, or I can choose to utilize the coping skills I have learned and move through those symptoms and work toward healing.
Knowing that I have a choice, no matter what the situation or circumstance, gives me a tremendous sense of personal power. I’m not implying that any of these things are easy, but today I know that it is up to me as to how I choose to live my life.
Photo by Erik Cid on Unsplash