Over a decade ago, I stood at the funeral of my ex-husband and overheard someone say he had died from a broken heart. It felt like an unexpected blow. In reality, his alcoholism had advanced for years, causing the erosion of his identity, health, and our marriage. So, when I heard this person go on to explain that it was my fault he had died-that I had broken his heart as a result of our divorce, I was beyond hurt.
This was before I had any formal education in psychology. So, I did what any young woman does and went to the nearest counsel…my mom! She held my hands and looked directly into my tear-filed eyes and said, “Shanen, people who are hurting need someone to blame. They can’t face their role in this, so it’s easier to point to you.” There was such wisdom in that.
Now I know that villainizing others may feel better in the moment, but it never produces long-term peace. This is because we can’t make someone else a villain without victimizing ourselves. Why is this a problem? Because no one wants to be a victim.
You can't make someone a villain
without victimizing yourself.
In this three-part series, I’ll show you three ways we victimize ourselves, and how to fight the good fight and end the war. Today, we’ll look at one way we cause harm to ourselves:
We refuse to acknowledge our role in the current circumstances.
Whether addressing a simple misunderstanding, or something as complex as brokenness within a marriage, the same principle applies. Our thoughts create emotions which drive our actions. When we repeat these actions, they create results in our lives.
We’re all biased toward our current thinking. This means we assume that our thoughts are true, and that the way we “show up” in relationships is the “right” way. So to step back and consider that we may be partially responsible for negative emotions and circumstances initially feels awful! Because the human brain is intent on keeping us “safe” (both physically and emotionally), we often blame others in order to feel more comfortable with an “unacceptable” situation.
It takes two to Tango
“Collusion” is a term I often share with couples to help them see their role in the relationship, in order to find where change is possible. Collusion. It’s when two people work together to create an outcome that neither of them want! A woman sees herself as a loving mom who wants to protect her child. So, she nags her husband constantly to watch their daughter closely, discuss her every feeling, eat only specific foods, and avoid all scrapes and bruises. Her husband wants their child to be resilient and believes his wife is overprotective. To make up for her eagle-eye, he allows their daughter to explore without any boundaries or limitations, allowing her to do things that are unsafe. They both love their child and want what’s best for her. But they work together (without realizing it) to parent in a way that keeps their daughter vulnerable and exposed. The key here is that they both see their partner as the villain who needs to change! As long as they stay focused on their partner’s flaws instead of their own role in it, they will remain stuck and frustrated.
Collusion: Two people working together to create an outcome neither of them want!
So how do we unwind this tangled web that we had a part in creating? The process is rather simple, although not easy--because of the emotions and humility involved! By considering the role we’ve played in our current situation, we switch the focus from things we can’t control to the things we can. This is paramount. After all, it’s hard enough to change our OWN behavior let alone someone else’s! If you could change that person, wouldn’t the things you’ve tried have already worked?
Some people fear that by refocusing on the things within their control (their thoughts, feelings and actions/reactions instead of their partner’s), they’ll be come a doormat. The opposite is actually true. Taking responsibility for the things we can affect is the very thing that empowers us to create change!
Be curious about what you might not be seeing. Where are your blind spots? What would your partner and those closest to him/her see in the way you interact? Rather than searching your memory banks for the times you took the “high road”, look for the behaviors that contributed to the problem. The focus here needs to be on changing our SELF. However, it is likely that when you change, the other person (or people) in the relationship will also. (How long do you think you could continue dancing a flawless Tango if your dance partner switched to the Waltz?)
Change won’t occur over night. For sure you’ll step on each others toes and misstep. But eventually, you’ll start realizing that people aren’t all good or all bad, and neither is their behavior. You’ll see that we all play the roles of both victim and villain at times, and that taking ownership in our role can move us from victim to victor.
If you’re tired of feeling like a victim of your circumstances, it’s time to step into the life you were created for. After all, we weren’t made for a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control! Rising Soul is a monthly membership where we deep dive into the place where Scripture & neuroscience join. We’re a group of women who are intentional about living the abundant life we were created for.
Click here to learn more and join the wait list so you don’t miss out when doors reopen for just one week at the end of September! You won’t want to miss out when the work begins on October 1st.