It's easy to feel like a victim when divorcing.
But you don't have to…
I asked certified Divorce Coach, Karen McMahon, to help me with this month's blog post in order to help many of my clients who have been the victim of emotional or verbal abuse during their marriage. How can someone stop being the victim? Karen summed it up for me, that being victimized is a mind set. You can't change the abuser, but you can change yourself and your own actions. This made me thing of Aretha Franklin's song, "Respect," which teaches us to demand respect from others. "All I'm askin' is for a little respect when you come home….R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me…..I get tired, Keep on tryin', You're runnin' out of foolin', And I aint lyin'…When you come home….respect, or you might walk in and find out I'm gone….." Sometimes the answer, as the song goes, is that it is up to you to walk away from someone who does not respect you, and only allow non-toxic people into your life who are kind, compassionate and respectful. Read on to learn how to shift out of the victim mentality.
A victim is an injured party, casualty; fatality or loser. When we see ourselves as a victim, we seem to be the target or focus of another's hurtful actions. We are having something done to us. As such, the only way out seems to involve stopping the other party from their malicious behavior. This can be discouraging as it takes great pains to try to control others; especially those we feel are victimizing us. It also, ironically, requires us to be controlling and manipulative ourselves.
When I was going through my divorce, I knew my husband was controlling. He was also emotionally and verbally abusive. My only option was to fight back either through my angry reactions or through carefully planning my every action to avoid his hostile temper. I got quite good at twisting myself into a pretzel, but in the process, I lost myself. I no longer knew what I thought or felt; my first thought in every circumstance was "how is he going to react and what can I do to soothe his reaction?"
It is an exhausting, convoluted way to navigate life. You find yourself bending and twisting in the hopes of avoiding your spouse's emotional explosion. Sometimes after doing all that, you still have the angry emotions of the other to deal with, and at times, feeling like the victim. 'How come he/she keeps doing this to me?'
I am only using abuse as an example because it was my reality. Yours may be betrayal, abandonment, narcissism, addictions or many other troubles. If you are a victim, the process is the same.
What if there was a better way? What if it required you to take personal responsibility for your part in the dance? My first reaction was, 'how can this be my fault???!!" He is the abusive one, not me! It wasn't until I began to see my part in our dynamic and to focus on changing my behavior that I was able to shift my energy and take control of the uncontrollable situation I had been living in.
As a victim, we see everyone as doing something to us. We are at the epicenter; in other words, everyone's action must be about us. When we shift to a higher level of energy, we begin to see other possibilities. The first shift up is to "full out conflict." It actually feels worse sometimes, but it is a step in the right direction. Conflict energy can be internal as in worry, fear, guilt, or shame; or external, as in fighting, acting out, or inappropriate behavior, etc.
The next shift up involves looking at your circumstances differently, 'reframing' the way you see things. This level isthe gateway out of the negative emotions and energy of being a victim or always feeling angry. When we can "reframe," and see our circumstances from another point of view, we begin to free ourselves from the pain that we have been living in. It is a three-step process.
First, we look at our perspective. In the case of verbal abuse, instead of focusing on his/her behavior, which isunacceptable, I focus on my behavior, which is equally unacceptable. Why do I allow him/her to speak to me that way? My first thought is, 'I can't do anything about what he/she says!" This is true. However, what do you have control over? In this situation, the word is Boundaries. How have I set and stood firmly in my boundaries?
Funny how my first thought goes to…"If I did that, he would get REALLY furious…that's why I don't!" And so the catch 22 continues. YOU must be bold enough to set and stand by your boundaries, regardless of the other's reaction. In doing this you begin to FREE yourself from the prison that you have created.
When I first stood up to my ex, I was shaking in my shoes. Stating that I was going to open my own bank account was scary. Then I told him I was separating the auto insurance. Then I began to walk out while he was berating me instead of standing there and taking it. Each time I felt the sky was going to fall in on me. Each time I survived and felt stronger than ever. Yes, he did get really angry. But it became a situation of all bark and no bite…not much of a bite anyway. As I created boundaries and stood my ground, he became smaller and less scary.
The other amazing thing that happens over time is you begin to find your thoughts, voice and ultimately authenticity. That newfound self-appreciation leads to self-confidence and self-esteem that strengthens your ability to stand in your own power.
The second part is your anger toward your soon to be ex. Here is the challenging part. It is called forgiveness andit IS A PROCESS! A good place to start is with detachment. If you are not ready to forgive your significant other, then begin to detach. What he or she does is based on their own history and the way they navigate the world. It is not personal to you (I know this is hard!). In fact you will find that they act the same with others as well. You may even begin noticing that they can only act that way to those that allow them to do so. They may have other relationships with strong boundaries that don't allow for such behavior OR they may 'lose' others who set boundaries and choose to walk away from them.
The cornerstone of this type of inner work is this…
What you Think affects, what you Feel and what you Feel affects how you Act.
Think differently, ie. change your perspective and you will feel differently, less the victim (better). Feel better and you will act in a way that benefits you. You will begin to act from a higher energy level, more empowered, with more self-esteem.
As you change the steps that you have danced with your spouse, he/she will have no choice but to change theirs as well. The trick is to keep the focus on you. You are not changing your steps to control him/her. You are changing your steps to control your actions in a way that serves you better.
The concept is simple, but the practice is not easy. I had a therapist and life coach that helped me through. When everything was murky, they helped me gain clarity. When I was afraid or ashamed of being afraid, they helped me to understand where my fear was coming from and how to overcome it. When I was stuck and didn't know what to do, they helped me create baby action steps to move forward. Having someone who doesn't tell you what you should do, but rather helps you figure out what is best for you and how to get there is priceless during divorce.
My ex never changed, not at all. But I got off the roller coaster and could watch him do his thing, with both of my feet firmly planted on the ground. I then was able to teach my children the same thing. As long as my focus was on myself, or teaching them to keep it on themselves, the lessons were learned and things changed because we changed.
Today I am a healthier, happier more self-confident person and my children are learning emotional maturity, setting boundaries and speaking their truth (Say what you mean, but don't say it mean). The self-esteem and self-confidence that comes from being honest and authentic to yourself is life-altering.
I have taken my greatest struggle and pain and turned it into my purpose as I help men and women like yourself overcome their fears and navigate their divorce in a way that forever transforms them and their lives in a positive, fulfilling way.
To learn more about shifting out of victim mentality, listen to my interview interview on Divorce Source Radio with Steve Peck
To read more about the Think / Feel / Act strategy,
Karen McMahon, CPC, ACC, ELI-MP,
Certified Divorce Coach & Master Energy Practitione is the founder of KM Life Coaching and co-author of Navigating Your Divorce: A Guide to the Legal, Financial and Emotional Basics, a free e-book. Karen's passion is to help men and women going through the divorce process navigate the difficulties while focusing on personal growth and embracing the positive opportunities of the future.