Framing Your Perspective
We all know people who go around and say, “It isn’t fair! The world is against me. Everyone else gets breaks and I never get anything!” Certainly, that’s a victim mindset, and through my teens and 20s, I was sure I never saw myself as one. In fact, I lamented anyone who displayed even the slightest bit of a victim mentality. As soon as I heard it, I thought, “Pathetic! Take responsibility for yourself already.” My victim radar was amazingly sensitive and possessed cunning accuracy. Every time the alarm sounded, I judged the offender, their actions, and then patted myself on my back for being the complete antithesis of a victim.
As I progressed through life with the assistance of a good therapist, I had it pointed out to me that my amazingly accurate radar had one fault—it never scanned me. Time and again, much to my amazement, I did in fact frame my circumstances in a way that made myself the victim. Yet for some reason, I never noticed I was doing this. I was sincerely astonished.
Now, I wasn’t exhibiting the typical behavior of a victim by blaming the world for my problems. Instead, I’m talking here about evaluating a situation of mine, and only focusing on, then blaming, the circumstances over which I had no control. I wasn’t considering my role or the choices I had made (and was continuing to make).
In most situations, there are certain things which are beyond our control— the economy, someone’s feelings about us, the weather, the traffic, the cancelled flight, etc. Then there are the things we can control about the same situation. Take our PARTICIPATION as an example. We don’t always have to participate or continue to participate in an event we know will cause problems. Have you ever left to run errands, seen the traffic is horrible and decided to go home and try another time? Ever just stopped a project because absolutely everything that could go wrong did, only to return to it another day and everything came together quickly and easily?
We also have control over our AGREEMENT. We can choose to agree with what someone thinks or has said about us. If someone says we are lazy, worthless, or stupid, we have a choice whether or not to agree. We can even agree with beliefs we have acquired and not even know it. For years my father believed it was proper to mow the lawn on Sunday morning. If I wasn’t mowing the lawn by 10am on a Sunday he was angry and doing it himself. Somehow, I unknowingly agreed with his belief and mowed my own lawn on Sundays for years. That’s just the way it was and I agreed with this belief. There were fun experiences I passed on because I had to make sure the lawn was mowed. There were times I was angrily mowing the lawn Sunday night trying to get it done before bed, all the while beating myself up for not having it done earlier. One day I finally realized I can mow the lawn whenever I want to mow it. I no longer agree with my father’s belief. It was very freeing.
At first glimpse, what we can control usually feels smaller and seems less significant than what we cannot control. But actually, we have more power than we know. For instance, most of us would rather be able to control the weather rather than our judgment regarding if it’s pleasing to us. Have you ever been mad it was raining because you had plans, but then stepped outside to look and suddenly were moved by the beauty and smell of the rain? Have you ever let go of the agreement that the rain ruined your event, rescheduled it, and just enjoyed the experience of rain? I have. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.
I live in Florida. For two consecutive years I have had to evacuate because of a threatening hurricane. Each time, there were two ways of looking at my situation, and believe me, I spent time doing both. My mindset which came out in a speech to anyone that would listen was, “This is some bullshit. This isn’t fair. We just had to leave last year. I’m tired of this crap. It’s so much work to get everything ready and now I’m going to have to fight all this traffic getting out of here. Plus, I have my dog and it’s almost impossible to find a place that will accommodate such a big pet. I’m so angry!”
I have no say over the trajectory or strength of a hurricane, the number of times a hurricane is going to threaten or hit the place I call home, the volume of traffic getting out of here, or different hotel policies on pet accommodation. So what’s my part in all of this? I chose to live in Florida knowing there was an annual threat of hurricanes. It’s a tradeoff for the beautiful weather we receive most of the year. Florida isn’t the only place that has to deal with potential disasters. Many places deal with earthquakes, wildfires, or large and frequent tornadoes. At any time, I could certainly choose to move out of Florida to a place that didn’t have hurricanes as a threat, but I choose to stay.
I could also choose to follow the mandatory evacuation orders or not. I wouldn’t have to leave if I chose not to. I could have chosen to not have adopted a dog or even to give him away now so when situations like this arise, I don’t have to worry about him. Obviously, I am choosing to obey the evacuation orders and I wouldn’t trade my dog for anything! But, those were things I really could have done if I so chose. I can be mad about the traffic or I can look at it like an adventure with my partner and my dog. It turns out we all spent some amazing quality time together, trapped in different towns and motel rooms running from those storms. We saw some new towns, new restaurants, had some impromptu vacations, and made the best out of it.
Another type of victim mentality that plagued me was giving away my happiness and contentment unless and until certain things were achieved or acquired. “I’ll be happy as soon as I get my transfer.” I got my transfer and was happy for a brief period. Then it was, “I’ll be happy if I can make detective.” So I made detective and thought, “I’ll be happy if I can just get promoted to sergeant.” So I made sergeant. “If only I were a lieutenant, then I’ll finally be happy,” was my next thought.
The test for lieutenant occurs every two years. The first time I was eligible to take the test, I did. I did pretty well, but they promoted only one person off of the entire list of candidates. Astonishing! Each of the two previous lists saw 14 promotions each. I would have easily been promoted either of those two times. And in two more years, when the next test finished, again only one more lieutenant was promoted. So they made a total of 2 lieutenants in 4 years. The budgetary constraints and lack of attrition, both beyond my control, were now in charge of whether I was going to be happy or not.
I found this was going to be a never-ending cycle. There was always going to be something I wanted “next.” I wanted to stop giving away my happiness to what was beyond control. I wanted to learn how to be happy now, in whatever moment.
Instead of going around and blaming the economy, the government, how unfair it was with the lack of promotions that occurred, I decided to answer some questions that were more empowering to me. “Do I want to work here, at this police department, in the position I currently fill?” The answer at that time was, “Yes.” I told myself, “Because if the answer is ‘no’, you can literally walk into the HR department, retire, and leave here to do something else. Nothing is stopping you. You know you’re smart enough that you won’t starve to death and you’ll figure something out.” But I was sure the answer was, “Yes. I want to work here.” That’s empowering. I was finally learning how to take back the reins to my own joy and contentment.
It was new framing—I’m choosing to come to work here today. I’m in charge. If I choose not to be here at some point, then I won’t be, but for now, I’m here. Then I asked myself, “Am I willing to do the best I can when I come to work?” I answered, “Yes. I’m going to do my best every day even if this isn’t the assignment, boss, or position I want to have right now.” This shift changed my mopey, victim attitude from dreading work to enjoying it. It was a totally transformational, incredible change. The other phenomenon that happened was I stopped being so harsh and critical toward others. My sense of compassion was tremendously enhanced after realizing we are all in the same boat here, dealing with and trying to manage our lives.
I didn’t learn to do this until the end of my police career, nor did I have a 100% success rate. Some days were better than others, but I did do my best to frame my situations in the most empowering way for me, and the results changed my life. I was finally in control over my own happiness. I started looking at my life and my attitude and discovered that there were many more places I could apply my newfound knowledge. Life gives every one of us never-ending opportunities to practice trying to re-frame our circumstances in a way that’s positive and empowering.
When my partner of 7 years came home one Monday and told me he was moving back to Denver to return to his old job without even extending an invitation for me to come along, I thought, “Unbelievable! My father dies, I left my safe, well-paying career to take a chance on a dream, moved clear across the country, and now that dream isn’t working out. I left my family, friends, and the place I’ve called home for 38 years and now the man I want to spend the rest of my life with comes home and announces he’s leaving me, refusing to even work on or talk about it! What else could happen to me? He was all I had left. Now everything’s been taken away from me.”
That was the narrative running through my head—over and over again. Translate this narrative and the underlying theme is, “Nothing is going my way. Everything has been taken from me. I was doing my best and everyone and everything is going against me. I had a plan, and now it’s ruined. It’s not fair!” That narrative is based in victim-laden thinking. Even after all those years in therapy, my radar still had difficulty identifying my own victim framing. I laid around all day, repeatedly giving away my happiness to my circumstances and those that had wronged me. Depressed, sad, lost, and hopeless. That was the house of cards I built for myself to live in everyday and I reminded myself of it at every opportunity.
When I finally found the inspiration to get back up off the ground, I realized that I was looking at it all wrong. I can’t control the doors that were closed. They were closed for a reason. Frankly, many of my closed doors weren’t even about me—they were about the other people and their journeys. I can’t control who died, who walked out on me, or real estate prices in Florida. I can’t even control the choices I’ve already made. What I can control is where I’m going and what I’m going to do from this point forward.
“I have good health, resources, creativity, passion, desire, motivation, a love to give, books to write, and things to say.” So I started doing that. When you are used to waking up and building the same house of cards out of all the shit in your life, it’s surprisingly difficult to build a new house with all the hope, love, opportunity, that’s actually available to you—at first. But just like building your shit-house becomes habitual, so does building your dream house after you do it enough times. Keep focused on the good. Keep reminding yourself of it. Put up lists of good things everywhere, make vision boards, listen to motivational television and radio, rather than depressing, dysfunctional material while you are making this transition. Surround yourself with people that are positive, uplifting and encouraging.
There may be people in your life who function as your commiseration companions. That is going to hold you back. You have to forge new dynamics with those people, more positive ones. Some of these negative Nancy’s won’t want to come with you on this journey. I had a couple of them decide it was time to stop talking to me. Turns out they were content where they were and had no interest in joining me. And while I was sad those relationships ended, I knew I could move faster down the path of my journey without dragging their dead weight behind me. So, I accepted it because deep down inside my heart, I knew it was for the better.
The next thing to evaluate is if there are any toxic relationships in your life holding you back, and if so, what are you going to do about them?
**Steve Warneke is an award-winning author, writer, contributor, and speaker. Steve’s book and more are available at www.SteveWarneke.com.