Are You A Victim, Or A Victor?

The Purple Journal

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my kindergarten classroom. Each evening, we were to write in our “purple journal,” a bracketed purple folder filled with handwriting practice paper. Then, the next morning, Mrs. Lucas would call us up one-by-one to turn it in.

On one particular day, I looked into my bag when my name was called, but my purple journal wasn’t there. I responded: “My mom forgot to put it in my backpack.” I wasn’t the first nor the last to give that response.

One classmate, however, responded differently: “I forgot my purple journal.” At age five, Nicole had taken responsibility for her homework and for that she was rewarded with three blue tickets. On Friday, she could trade them for a rubber frog, cupcake-shaped eraser, or the Lisa Frank cheetah sticker I had been eyeing.

I never again forgot my homework.

“You can either be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure. It all depends on how you view your life.”

Paulo Coelho

An Internal Locus of Control

What does a kindergarten homework assignment have to do with crafting a meaningful life, anyway? Though that was the only time that Mrs. Lucas brought up personal accountability, that event was a turning point in my life. It was the day that I realized that I alone am responsible for my actions.

As a child, my obligations were limited, but I began to take pride in feeding the dog, cleaning my room, and turning in my homework. I didn’t earn an allowance or collect any blue tickets for these behaviors but, long before my first course in Psychology, I discovered self-efficacy.

With age, my responsibilities grew and, with them, my commitment to follow through on my duties and promises. With chronic illness, my ability to follow through faltered. And with that ineptitude, I learned to redefine my capabilities and reconsider my commitments.

“As long as you think that the cause of your problem is “out there”—as long as you think that anyone or anything is responsible for your suffering—the situation is hopeless. It means that you are forever in the role of victim, that you’re suffering in paradise.”

Byron Katie

The Slow and Steady Shuffle

At some point in your life, you will be offered the title of “victim.” It may be based on your skin color, socioeconomic status, age, gender, marital status, physical capabilities, or beliefs. Whatever the circumstances, reject the offer. It’s a trap.

Many people find comfort and validation in the victim mentality. It’s an acknowledgement of suffering. Yet, it’s also a convenient excuse. If the harm originated from circumstances beyond our control, than it’s easy to deflect blame and assign reparations to that external entity. But any expectation will be met with disappointment.

I was offered the the label of victim when facing chronic illness, and I promptly declined. In fact, I rarely spoke about my health outside of doctor’s appointments and journal entries until it had significantly improved. I couldn’t afford to be sucked into a whirlpool of self-pity.

My mantra for the last several years has been: “It’s not my fault, but it is my responsibility.” The root cause of my illness was an environmental toxin. It wasn’t due to some error on my part, but I knew that I was the only one who cared enough to discover the cause and then fix it.

Rather than “suffering in paradise,” as Katie puts it, I directed my energy toward investigating the cause and identifying solutions. I chose to focus on my trajectory, rather than my position. As my sage dietician once reassured me, “You are on the right path, heading in the right direction, moving at the right pace.” After all, the slow and steady shuffler gets further than the irritable victim waiting for a lift that never arrives.

“The victim mindset dilutes the human potential. By not accepting personal responsibility for our circumstances, we greatly reduce our power to change them.”

Steve Maraboli

Take Ownership Of Your Destiny

Each of us will be faced with seemingly insurmountable mountains in life. The death of a parent, financial troubles, an abusive relationship, health challenges, a child getting involved with the wrong crowd, or the loss of a home due to natural disaster. These are times in which we may be tempted to give up.

Just because you’ve hit rock bottom, it doesn’t mean you need to stay there. Whether you are five or ninety-five, your actions, however small they may be, have the power to change everything. Taking complete ownership over your life is the most empowering move you can make. Intentionality allows us to look at ourselves in the mirror and believe, wholeheartedly, that we have done everything we can to promote positive change in our lives.

Even when everything is going wrong, you can’t help but feel slightly better in your efforts. You called your sister rather than wallowing in misery, you chose an apple over potato chips, put money into savings instead of a new gizmo, and practiced empathy instead of anger. Each is a small, momentum-building win, capable of enhancing the potency of your human potential.

Everything we consume filters through our mind. Thus, the greatest battle is against your own mindset and the popular narratives that demand you see yourself as a perpetual victim. Those who take the time to strengthen their mind will live a life of significance, even if their bank account is empty and their body is slowly shutting down.

Will you chose to be a victim, or a victor?

The Rainbow Cheetah Sticker

Thirty years later, I think often about that kindergarten lesson in personal accountability. It has been my aim to take ownership over my destiny, acknowledging my strengths, weaknesses, limitation, and potential. I am the artist, the chisel, and the block of marble.

In which areas of life am I still blaming others for my mistakes? Where am I expecting other to check my work and pack my bags for me? How often do I fixate on the unfairness of life, rather than the path to achieving my goals?

That Friday afternoon, Nicole took her jar of tickets to the parent-run shop in the corner of the classroom. My good friend glanced over the yellow-green frogs, food-shaped erasers, and glittery Crayolas, and then excitedly pointed at the Lisa Frank rainbow cheetah sticker. For the rest of the year, every time I saw her purple folder with the envied sticker, I was reminded that I alone am responsible for my actions. I, alone, have the power to change my life.

You can find more from me on my personal blog:

34 thoughts on “Are You A Victim, Or A Victor?

  1. Erin! This: “I chose to focus on my trajectory, rather than my position.” Thank you for that…and for the story of the purple journal and bringing locus of control and self-efficacy forward. And…of course…. your story of motivation courtesy of rainbow cheetah stickers? Love that…and I can almost picture them in my mind. Lisa Frank designs…so VIVID. xo and big smiles to you! 😊😊😊

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Oh…great way to put it…”tiny childhood moments”. Good to look back…even better to see how those moments contributed to the wonderful you that you are! 😉😘😉


  2. In all honesty I have taken both roles at some point in my life Erin. I look at it this way- sometimes, especially if the thing that happens to us knocks us flat on our butt in physical or emotional pain we may have to sit with that for a time. Allow ourselves to be the victim and embrace all that means. Staying there then is a choice, and yes I too believe the right choice personally is to work to let the pain go and take control back by letting the victimization label be in the past while using those painful moments in a positive way.

    I bet I had many purple journal moments that I never recognized, but I’m glad you did!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That is such a great observation, Deb. I’m sure we all have spent some time in the victim role, sitting with and trying to work through difficult emotions. And I think it is healthy but, to your point, staying there is a choice and I agree that the more empowering choice is to acknowledge that we were wronged by another person or a stroke of bad luck, let it go, and then move on with out lives. The mind can be a prison.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You make a strong and profound point, but I couldn’t help thinking it is best understood within limits. We can choose our response to external conditions, we must heal ourselves and take action, but recognizing we do not always cause them or control them or can remedy them even a small amount is also self sustaining, lest we blame our circumstances on ourselves.

    This is a delicate point and not everyone is capable of the remarkable resilience and tenacity you describe. One of the greatest ancient Greek plays, Euripides’s Hecuba, shows what can happen to a person’s humanity when every effort is frustrated by forces outside of her. I am not dismissing your message, but one’s agency can take some only so far.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I do agree Dr. Stein- and while I cannot give specific examples I believe that for some, no matter how hard they want or try to pursue and conquer events in their life they come up against brick walls, if you will, and seem to be consistently defeated. In that situation you have to ask, just how much can one person handle, and what will be the final aspect that forces them to say “I’m done” not having reached a place that they might consider better or having a brighter future?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well said, Deb. The play I mentioned also adds the possibility they will turn in a dark direction in dealing with their sense of loss and frustration.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I agree with both your points, and I believe I can give a simpler, physical example. Michael Phelps has a very specific physique that made him able to swim better than, well, most 🙂 Yes, he clearly practiced a lot and then some to get to the accomplishments he had, but trying to tell people that if only they try hard enough they can accomplish the same may result in frustration. Few share a similar physique, and that does play into his achievements. Does that mean I’m destined to be a bad swimmer? No, but I know my physical limitations as a swimmer, regardless of how my I try and I shouldn’t be frustrated by never being able to achieve the same number of Olympic gold medals 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

      3. What a perfect analogy, EW! That’s so true. We all have certain inborn capabilities and we can work to expand those somewhat, but there may always be limitations. Each of us has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses, and certain endeavors will be easier for some. than others.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you for this, Dr. Stein and Deb. What an important point, and I known people so beat down by life that it seems impossible to lift their eyes toward the sun, and I’ve admittedly been in that position at times in my life. There are limits and we may sometimes find ourselves butting up against the impassable by no fault of our own. I really appreciate you bringing that up, and I don’t want anyone to walk away thinking there is always a surefire path forward and that they are somehow failing for wallowing a bit before getting back up.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. To have such insight at such a young age is amazing. I think I had my own equivalent when I was about 12, but I also became aware of learned behaviours, and as I reflect now – perhaps learned helplessness. My mum is … was a victim and I was headed that way until I overheard my Housemistress at school describe me as “that sickly kid”. I rebelled against that, it wasn’t a label I wanted so I fought against my mum after that every time she tried to keep me off school for the slightest sniffle. It’s probably also why I don’t give in to my chronic illness either. I refuse to be defined by it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh, such an interesting thought at the end there Brenda- and using the term “to be defined” hits home for me- definitely in those stubborn, vulnerable I need help moments. I recognize also not wanting to be cast into the more recent *suffering through divorce* image that one can take on. I let myself do that for awhile but I played my part as well in the marriage/divorce process and was in no way an innocent bystander. Once I got out of my own head that poor me image didn’t apply anymore. Now I’m moving on to past family issues- but with a much clearer starting point.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Divorce was always the right decision in my case Brenda, as yes there is definitely a level of control that I had lost from my life prior to the decision. As Erin said, my focus is on being responsible for myself while owning up to the past. Thank you!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I love that summation, Deb: “being responsible for myself while owning up to the past.” That’s just what it is… what’s been has been, but what can I do for current and future selves to keep marching forward?

        Liked by 1 person

    2. What an incredible experience, Brenda! Like Deb, I love the idea of refusing to be defined by a particular trait, and I love that you we willing and able to push back against your mum and carry that resilience and feistiness through chronic illness. I was always “shy” and “quiet” and went along with it until my early-twenties when I began to defy expectations and try the “fake it ’til you make it” method until I was more comfortable socially.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Can I give you a purple cheetah sticker for this post, Erin? How amazing that you observed that lesson at such a young age! Finding our way to agency is such an empowering mindframe. I was listening to a podcast last night that reminded me how lucky we are as women to have the right to work, own property, to vote in a way that was not open to our not-so-distant ancestors.

    But within whatever the hard limitations we find in our lives, I agree that eschewing the victim mentality helps us face our realities with the most positive and actionable way possible – and enjoy life. Beautifully written and an inspiring point!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I love it, Wynne! Yes, for the purple cheetah sticker haha! 😂 As you and Dr. Stein bring up, there certainly are some hard limitations. However, it really makes such a difference to determine what we have control over within the smallest confines and begin there. I love the framework of self-agency in the context of women’s rights–I have to imagine, that involved a lengthy set of baby steps to being seeing progress.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You are so fortunate to learn personal responsibility at age five! What a lovely post. You reminded e of one of my kids’ swim coaches who would talk to swimmers after each race and ask them how they felt about it. My daughter was rewarded for honesty and to say “I should have warmed up more” when she added time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, E.A! And what a lovely story about your daughter and her coach. I love both the coach’s post-race check in, and that your daughter recognized not only that she perhaps could have done better, but what she might change next time. She sounds wonderfully self-reflective. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a very interesting thought provoking post and how wonderful you learned such a wise lesson at a young age.

    I do agree that we must take accountability and choosing to do so is a positive step.

    I do want to add though that I think part of taking charge of our destiny is to also speak up against genuine barriers and injustices that potentially cause those situations in our lives – as it helps pave a way forward not just for ourselves but for others in similar situations.

    Thanks again for sharing this lovely post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, Ab. I completely agree regarding speaking up against genuine barriers, and I love the visual of helping pave a path forward for other. There are so many groups and individuals struggling and in such a dark place that they don’t know whether the first step is. I’ve had so many people unknowingly give me hope and guidance when I most needed it, so I think it would behoove us all to reach out and speak up when we can.


  8. When I was younger I definitely felt I was the victim of certain situations outside my control. I now view them through the lens of adulthood and while I was treated unfairly I see the situations more as learning experiences than defeats. So maybe I am the victor now?

    Liked by 1 person

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