Skip to main content

Victim

5 min read

self portrait of my head trying to escape my head.

I've lost confidence in my ability to recognize my harmful patterns of behaviour because my psychiatrist proposed that I may be taking on a victim role. This new label is uncomfortable and I want to crawl back into bed.

victim [vik-tim]: 1. a person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency. 2. a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency.

Ouch. Trying the definition on for size, does fit. There's a strong sense that by writing this right now, I'm engaging in the practice of victimizing myself. This is why I want to go back to bed. This is why I am frozen, frustrated, and floundering.

I was struggling with my familiar pattern of shame, and the anger I direct at myself. To my psychiatrist, I described a situation where I made a decision, and in that moment it felt good. It was free of strife. As the hours wore on, I started to get angry. "Hadn't I felt pressured into that decision by my spouse?"I thought. Through therapy, I've learned that anger is not a "negative" emotion. It's perfectly okay to be angry at someone. It's simply about responding, not reacting. "Perhaps my anger shouldn't be towards myself? I can be legitimately angry with my spouse."

I brought those thoughts up to the psychiatrist. I felt in control, calmly made a decision, and confidently moved forward. Hours later, my self-critic came in to challenge my resolve. Breaking this pattern is so hard. This is when the psychiatrist proposed that the anger was a result of me making myself the victim. I had taken the situation and made my spouse out to be my oppressor. I was projecting my frustration with myself onto her. Now, I was using the "it's okay to be angry" that I've learned, in this warped way. I was ignoring my responsibility and laying blame elsewhere.

My Own Parent

I've written before about my stoic father. He was genuine and a good person, but I don't ever remember hearing him say, "I love you." Beyond that, he was good cop 85% of the time. As bad cop, mom spent her time telling me how she "should" punish me. I should be grounded, this is the guilt I carried a lot. Thus, this may be part of how I learned to punish myself.

The guilt and shame goes back to the way my mother was raised. Like every parent, mom wanted to give me the childhood she didn't have. Her parents, my grandparents, were very judgemental and negative. After growing up in that, it makes sense that mom would want me to not experience such criticism. Therefore, I was left to punish myself for mistakes, and things I perceived as mistakes.

Now, my grandparents were not negative 100% of the time. Neither was my mother. To be fair, I am also not punishing myself all the time as well. I'm simply sharing my perspective into my patterns. I suppose I'm clarifying because I'm so turned around at the moment. "Is this description of my past, me playing the victim again?"

Regardless of the past, I am my own parent in this moment. Seeing myself as a child is probably not helpful. Yuck. I'm really in a dark space. I'm not trusting myself, right now. I'm afraid the progress I've made with my emotions is now my same old pattern masquerading as development. Again, "is this me playing the victim to my depression and shame?"

Agency Now

Both definitions for victim above deal with agency. I'm feeling a distinct lack of agency since hearing the psychiatrist's theory. Hi, I'm playing a victim to the theory! I was given this grenade to hold onto 3 days ago. I've been ruminating on it ever since. In other words, have I been present?

Right now, I'm writing this in order to find clues and sort through the thoughts that are making me feel like garbage. I'm not simply observing and analyzing the thoughts, though. I'm reliving events. I'm in the psychiatrist's office. I'm back at the discussion with my spouse. I'm worried about my mom and spouse reading this. I'm not here. I'm not present.

I have no agency in the past because it is done. I have no influence on the perceived futures where I've offended my spouse and mother. Agency is control. This is the value that I find in negativity. Assuming the worst, being judgemental is exerting control. If you always believe the worst, you won't be surprised. This is perhaps the power my grandparents used to make themselves feel good about the world around them. The criticism I remembered seeing in them, and the way they behaved around my mother, as she was growing up, was their way of controlling the environment. Here I am, following in their footsteps. Judging the past and the future is not being here, in the now.

Once again, I feel like I need more concentration on being in the now. It seems like an oversimplified solution to my issues. There's another problem, looking for solutions, rather than accepting where I am. Being present is a powerful tool, not a solution. I have agency at this very moment. I can break down and cry, getting lost in the sadness that I feel. I can also hit the publish button to send this out and stop beating myself up. It's just a bit tricky in this state of mind. My resolve and confidence are weakened. If I stop beating myself up right now, am I ignoring the issue? Am I bottling it up and not learning anything? I suppose those questions are dragging me into a future I have no control over. I can only make the decision with the information I have in this moment. Anything else could be flirting with victimization.

The War on Empathy

3 min read

An image of a handgun with the word Empathy engraved on it, painted in watercolor

I am sensitive to conflict. It's a topic that is on my mind a lot latey. Last September, I was affected by the anger on both sides of an online dispute. More recently, I felt the need to speak up in another community argument on Mastodon. The printing press was the beginning of a revolution, but the internet has brought humanity to an arms race. All the voices are shouting and no one is listening. Of course, that's my perspective of current events. I think I feel this way because I'm a microcosm of humanity.

Planet

Brexit, Trump, Bolsonaro in Brazil, the tragedy in Syria, and the continued hate in Isreal are all complex issues. In general, it looks like xenophobia is taking over the world. Many hope this is the last gasp of conservative times and brighter days are ahead. People think events like this will galvanize others to fight against the unjust people in the world. This is what frustrated me in the blogs linked above. Fighting begets more fighting.

The willingness to be empathetic with a white supremacist may feel like a waste of time. People believe what they want to believe, right? It's true, some may not be open to empathetic communication, or offer you compassion in return. In fact, this is the play book of US conservatives these days, "Thanks for crossing the isle to try to negotiate, but no thanks." Look, I don't have a solution to bring world peace. I'm just saying searching for a solution has to be better than name-calling and threatening an eye for an eye.

Chris

I realized today the reason I'm so sensitive to all the conflict. Looking at the surface level, my mind tells me that I'm getting old. Sure, that's it. I've seen these things happen a few times in my lifetime. Still at the surface level, the world says I'm a white male and that means I'm threatened because I might lose power. Below the surface is something much more accurate. I am conflict.

I don't like myself. I write about mental health, in part, as therapy. I'm over here trying to convince myself that there's a better way. Yet, inside I loath who I am. When I am in a safe space like a therapist's or psychiatrist's office and I share something emotional, I often get the question, "How do you feel right now, after sharing that?" My first reaction is always, I said something stupid didn't I? This doctor thinks I am hopeless. Pathetic. It's the same when I share something here on the web. I judge myself and project it onto others if necessary.

I am the human writing these words about the value of compassion and empathy. I am also the human who hates that I am here writing this. I should not be so weak. I shouldn't have to keep writing the same thing over and over again. Why can't I learn? People must be so sick of my crap. Those are not empathetic thoughts. I am conflict.

I cannot unfriend myself. I cannot protest myself. I don't think it would be healthy to speak out against myself. After all, that's sort of what that critical voice is doing to me already. My options are limited. Like so many of the conflicts around us, the solution is not an easy one. Conflict resolution takes time. Compassion takes time. Wish me luck and maybe test drive empathy yourself. Hint, it has nothing to do with guns or weapons.

Smile: Fake It Until You Make It

5 min read

I’ve received this ol’ chestnut of advice from many people, complete strangers to therapists. Personally, I’ve found it not all that useful, but we really need to break the popular phrase down to understand if it can work for us.

Making It

So let’s look at the end goal first. What does “make it” mean to us? This will be different for everyone, but we rarely take the time to examine our feelings. When a therapist used the phrase she was specifically talking about my mental state. When depression and anxiety are running the Chris Show, my goal is to take over as director. My personal goal is to be “normal.” What is “normal?” This is not a specific goal. Well, after a number of groups, psychiatry appointments, and self-help books I understand that I am normal. Humans are imperfect.

Okay, what if my goal is to not be carried away by depression and anxiety?Again, this isn’t really specific. Perhaps “make it” is finding balance? Do you see my issue here? “Fake it until you make it” didn’t work for me because I have too many unanswered questions. I cannot clearly define what making it would be when it comes to my mental health.

Faking It With A Smile

The first part of the phrase, “fake it,” was useless as well. I knew I was a sham. The language is poorly chosen in my case, my negative core beliefs attach to it which makes the exercise have the opposite effect. There’s a number of studies that have scientifically proven that a smile can alter our brain chemistry and moods. I also find smiles from other people can be contagious as well. Yet, I wasn’t receiving these benefits because I wasn’t smiling.

I spent a day smiling every time I felt insecure, I felt anxiety, or had negative thoughts. By the end of the day, I was in physical pain. I had a headache too. After trying this out in the morning, I think my forgiving, positive smile turned into a grimace. The smile wasn’t genuine and I paid for that.

Smiles do work when you mean them. If not, well you look scarier than a purple blob trying to sell your kids burgers.

Amok

Why do folks run amok with this gem of a phrase if it doesn’t work? It seems like bad advice from my personal perspective, at least when it comes to mental health. Can you fake a new job until you figure it out? Perhaps, yes. (Of course, as someone with anxiety, I feel certain that faking it would backfire on me.) Certainly, there must be some traction for this phrase to have made it this far into our language.

William James was a Victorian philosopher and American psychologist who believed that actions guide our emotions, not the other way around. In other words, if you want to be happy, laugh. This “act as if” principle, as it is sometimes called, has been popular for many years. Psychologists and motivational speakers are all about this idea. However, as I shared my personal experiment above, we must clearly define what it is that we are trying to achieve. I’d argue that if you can figure out your specific goal, you won’t be faking it at all. For example, the theory of acting as if says if an introvert wants to be more social they should imagine the behavior of a friend who is extroverted and mimic them. If the introvert does this a few times successfully, they’re no longer faking it. Fear prevents us from trying things we are uncomfortable with, but when we succeed the fear quickly loses power over us.

The challenge isn’t in faking it, or making it. Sitting down to examine yourself, to feel and sit with those thoughts and emotions about what you believe you are lacking is the hard part. To observe those difficult emotions as they run amok in my body without getting caught up in the story of why I feel insecure or the narrative of what “could” happen seems to be a better skill than faking it.

By the way, the word amok, or amuck, was used in the days of opium dens. It comes from the the Malay word “amoq,” meaning “a state of murderous frenzy.” Europeans who got high on opium and ran into the street killing people with a squiggly looking dagger were said to have run amok. That dagger is called a kris. There you go, I’ve killed my dreams, and yours, of “faking it until you make it.” What a coincidence, my name is Chris. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some soul searching to do.

 

Learning About Yourself Through Others

4 min read

Who dis?

He calls himself Jeena. He’s a software developer. Have you got an idea of what type of person he is? Another fact, Jeena plays in a metal band. Now, how do you see him? Jeena loves photography as well. You’ve probably got a perception of who Jeena is, at this moment. Of course, you’d be wrong. Even as someone who has got to know him a bit more, I would be also be mistaken. That’s the one thing that brings us all together, we’re individual, imperfect humans.

Jeena is a fellow human I met online. He started a podcast and credited Paul and I as inspiration. While that’s one reason I like Jeena, I also enjoy the fact that he’s a world away in Sweden. A Polish man who lives and works in Sweden, dries meat, brews beer, plays in a metal band, and does a podcast. There is some crossover, but so much else that makes he and I different. Jeena’s most recent podcast is about FOSDEM (Free and Open Source Software Developers’ European Meeting) and much of the topic might go over my head. Yet, I still listen with absolute joy.

Before you, or he, thinks that I’m going single white female on Jeena, let me say I enjoy his podcast, social feeds and website because it is a chance for me to see the world in a new way. In the first paragraph you may have started to make assumptions based on the tidbits of Jeena that I gave you. Those assumptions are based on your lived experience. My lens is one of North America. Another example, to someone who listens to rap or classical, Jeena’s love of metal may be confusing. Our lenses, our views of the world around us are so very limited.

A shallow perspective can be dangerous. When you learn Jeena lives in Sweden, what do you think about that country? High taxes? A cool temperature? After listening to all of Jeena’s podcasts so far, I start thinking it must be a pretty amazing place because his interviews are in English. Really? Do all Swedish people know 2 languages? That’s amazing! Of course, that’s an assumption that I just made, and it's likely not true. However, that’s why I like widening my world view, to keep teaching myself how little I know. I want to stop making poor assumptions. I want to embrace our differences, not use them to divide myself from others.

Learning more about Jeena and others in the world helps me on the bad days. I am reminded that 6800 km away something else is happening. The world isn’t as dark as I might see it, at that moment. This planet is full of other humans, some struggling and others prospering. On the good days, I can see similarities as Jeena has talked to people about filmmaking, ADHD, and video games. People in Sweden are different, and yet we have similar interests.

The other day someone asked, “What is the one thing that makes us human?” Her answer surprised me, “We’re imperfect.” We use the differences to divide us. By believing that my taste in music is better than Jeena’s joy of heavy metal, I am trying to boost myself. Like politicians trying to sway the votes in their direction, I am trying to make up for my feelings of insecurity. In truth, Jeena can play a musical instrument and I cannot. Thanks to my father, I know my way around a bicycle and could probably build one from the ground up. Perhaps Jeena is not as comfortable with that subject? The point is, we need each other. Perhaps, Jeena doesn’t need me to literally fly to Sweden to fix his bicycle, but we humans need each other. We’re pack animals. We’re social creatures. Those things that make us different are what make us amazing. We need to stop looking through our tiny lenses and have a much bigger world view.

sketch of Jeena

Thanks Jeena. Thanks to Mastodon, Dimitra, Spikey, Pierre, Jacob, Joe, Arturo, Jonathan, Jonas, Quoc, Al, Colette, and all my friends and family for helping to shape my view of the world. Thanks for being imperfect and trying your best. Make generous assumptions about the people around you. We’re all in this together, each and every one of us.