Helpless Victim or Active Responder?

It’s easy to feel like a victim when someone bigger, more powerful or more opinionated than you tells you what to do or what to think. You may believe that your only option is to resentfully accede to their demands. Yet, I am here to tell you that you always have an option. 

You may not be able to change the situation but one option that nobody can take away from you is your power to interpret an event anyway you’d like. If you don’t know how to do this, turn to either the wisest adult you know for advice or the youngest child you know for inspiration. 

If you’re wondering how a little kid can teach you anything significant, let me tell you what my youngest son Daniel taught me when he was still in nursery school. Danny was a determined, self-assured little boy who seemed to be that way from the day he was born. He knew what he liked. He knew what he wanted. He knew how to avoid being a victim. 

One day, Danny’s older brothers and dad were glued to the TV, watching a playoff game. A bored Danny was doing everything he could to distract them. After a fair amount of warnings, everyone had had it with his antics. It was time to take action. Short-tempered myself, I dragged Danny down the hall, then shoved him into his room. (Not my finest moment, I admit.) As I slammed the door behind him, I hissed, “Now you stay there!”

Without missing a beat, Danny opened the door, slammed it in my face and shouted, “You can’t come in!” 

As I walked away, I could only admire his moxie. Though I was powerful enough to make him stay in his room, I had no control over his personal power. Danny refused to be the victim. He reframed the situation and made it a punishment for me! Coming from a background in which I felt easily intimidated by others, I was blown away that Danny could do this at such a young age. What a great role model for me! Since then, reflecting on this incident has been my confidence-booster in many a tough situation. 

Now I’d like to share another story with you about a kid who also refused to be a victim but unfortunately, her dad wasn’t savvy enough to be impressed by her smarts. Zach was exhausted the day he picked up 6-year-old Amelia from soccer practice. They were in the car for just 3 minutes, when he heard her bouncing around in the back seat. Zach barked, “Stop bouncing around. Sit still! What’s the matter with you?” Amelia complied.

At the next red light, he turned around and saw her sitting with arms folded and an impish look on her face. Zach demanded to know what was so funny. Amelia spit it out, “You can make me sit still, but I’m still bouncing around on the inside.”

Too bad Zach wasn’t impressed with the fact that Amelia could comply and defy at the same time, ending up with one sensational solution! Zach just couldn’t get beyond his belief that Amelia had been disrespectful. So when they arrived home, she was sent to her room for the transgression of “bouncing around on the inside.” 

Now, what about you? Is there a time when you think of yourself as the helpless victim? Maybe, just maybe, you can view it another way? Before you say “no way, this situation is different,” get in touch with the wisest person you know or the most inspirational child you know. Ask them what they think.

 “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me.”
– Victor Frankl, World War II concentration camp survivor

©2019 Linda Sapadin, Ph.D.

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