When telling your divorce story, seeing yourself as the victim is very seductive, especially if your Ex cheated, lied and/or left. A victim isn’t responsible and that’s the problem because it undermines your life authority. Yes, this person has done something that has hurt you. No question. But, stay with me here, rather than seeing yourself as a victim—passive, stuck, powerless—it’s much more empowering to see yourself as a choice maker. As in you made (or are making) the choice to let this person go, even if they are the one leaving, because they are no longer good for you.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no way negates the pain, sadness and anger that come with divorce, which you need to acknowledge and give yourself the time to process. It’s simply deciding not to cast yourself as a powerless victim because although you may not like, or immediately accept, the choices in front of you, you do have choices.
Victims Wallow, Choice Makers Rebuild
Playing the victim focuses your energy on the other person and not on rebuilding your own life—this is where many people get stuck. I had an acquaintance whose Ex left her to marry the woman with whom he’d been cheating. During her marriage, she’d chosen to be a stay-at-home mom who’d left her accounting career behind years before to raise the couple’s two children, now in their teens.
Two years post-divorce, she was still very bitter. She hadn’t moved on emotionally because she saw that as condoning his choices. This also spilled over into her career. She hadn’t brushed up her skills or become current with the latest accounting programs because she didn’t think she should have to, because she didn’t think he should have left. True or not, by holding on to her victim status and playing the martyr she was holding her own life hostage.
Victims Blame, Choice Makers Own
There is another danger in playing the victim—neglecting to look at your own role in your marriage and divorce. Examining your marriage and divorce for clues to how you participated in what went down can help you avoid repeating the pattern with your next partner.
I once had a conversation with a friend who shared example after example of how his Ex had let him down. She would agree to spend within their means, but items such as pricey exercise equipment, home accessories and kitchen gadgets would show up without any discussion. He would ask, she would promise it was the last time. He would let it go. What he didn’t know until they applied for a mortgage loan was that she’d run up $75,000 in credit card debt.
When the marriage tanked, he was stuck on the question, “Why did she do that to me?” The better and more powerful question is why did he allow it? She could not have kept it up without his pattern of silently stewing while putting up with things that weren’t OK with him. Unless and until he recognizes this about himself, he will go on to be someone else’s “victim.”
How to Know if You’re Trapped in the Victim Loop
I call it the victim loop because, like a hamster wheel, it goes around and around and never moves you forward. How do you know if you’re circling? You may be in this trap if:
- You completely blame your Ex for any part of your past or current circumstances.
- You can’t identify any ways that you may have contributed to or participated in the unwanted results.
- You believe everything that was wrong was out of your control.
- You are invested in being “wronged” to the point that you think moving on and creating a better life will make what your Ex did “not so bad because everything turned out OK.”
- On some level, it’s working for you to stay powerless because of the sympathy and commiseration you are getting or it’s too scary to move on for some other reason.
The first step to recovering and thriving is to stop using victim-like language when describing your situation. In fact, stop talking about your Ex altogether. What happened in the past, including choices made by your Ex, does not define you. Instead, talk about your dreams and goals and the first steps you’re taking to move forward.
If you’re having a hard time letting go, get the support of a therapist or coach to help you process your anger and grief.
This post is a follow up to:
Deb Purdy, is a transformation coach, speaker, workshop leader and author of
Something Gained: 7 Shifts to Be Stronger, Smarter and Happier After Divorce.
Visit www.DebPurdy.com for more information.
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