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This blog captures the musings and anecdotes of the daily life of a Malaysian who is now living in Melbourne, Australia.


Excerpt from Mitch Messer’s Managing Anger

As children, we were vulnerable to perceiving the bad things that happened to us as if they were personal victimizations. We took our deprivations and grievances personally, as a loss of our self-worth.

Now, as adults, we have the same predisposition to play the Victim role when there is no victimization. For instance, when we do not get a promotion, we feel unfairly deprived, victimized, and out of control. This unfairness makes us angry, but our definition of unfair is not objective, it is subjective: “Fairness means getting my way. Life is unfair to me when I don’t get my way. How can they do this to me?”

The managers feel they have promoted the better employee on the basis of objective considerations, but we, as victims waiting for a place to happen, are not interested in objectivity or real fairness. We have our own private considerations, grievances and anger. The victimization has just happened. This negative situation has confirmed us in our unhappy role. This is not living. This is merely existing from one painful victimization to another.

The tip-off to The Victim Syndrome lies in the words: “To me.” That is the victim in us talking. Our antidote to playing this childish role from kindergarten (“The teacher held up everyone’s picture but mine. Why did she do that to me?”) is our self-respect.

We can replace our unhappy role as the victim with an identity as a worthwhile human being whether we get our way or not. We can say to ourselves, “Could it be that I am perceiving victimization where no victimization is intended? Even if it is intended, I am still not a victim. It is regrettable, and I wish it hadn’t happened, but I am a worthwhile human being in spite of it, no more and no less than anyone else.”

Coping With The Victim
When people are angry at us for causing them a grievance, being late, divorcing them or firing them from their job because the plant is closing, we can assume there is an element of victimhood in their rage. If there is not, there is no harm done, but there usually is. This perception of personal victimization makes their pain worse than it needs

to be and more difficult to deal with.

We can relieve their painful overreaction to the reality situation by identifying the victim component for them. They are not aware that they are playing this role. They have been doing it for years. It comes naturally to them now. We can say, “I am sorry you are feeling victimized by all this,” and that is true. We regret that it is happening. This does not mean we caused the victimization.

Or, we can say, “Could it be that you are perceiving this as a victimization? Well, it really isn’t. It’s regrettable. I wish it weren’t happening, but you are not a victim. You are a worthwhile human being in spite of it. On that basis, you can get on with your life and do even better than you have done before.” That is emotional first aid. We haven’t cured them of their predisposition to feel victimized, but we have treated them with respect in spite of their imperfections. We didn’t take their unpleasant imperfections personally. We did not allow them to victimize us.

Vignette: Victim Of Waste
Penny knew her husband Dick had been victimized as a child. She knew he was still predisposed to perceive things as victimization when they were not.

She was twenty minutes late for a rare lunch date with him downtown. He was furious when she got there. Wasting Time makes him angry, feeling out of control makes him angry, and perceiving himself as the victim of her tardiness makes him the angriest of all. She didn’t defend herself because she knew she was not the issue and time wasn’t the issue. His anger was the issue. She had learned to say, “I’m sorry you are feeling victimized by my lateness, but that was not my intention. I don’t blame you for being angry.” She did not say it in a patronizing, pseudo-clinical way, as if she were talking to a problem child. She had the right words and the right music. She had disengaged from Dick’s mischief, but not from him. She spoke to him as one imperfect human being to another.

Dick was able to let go of his anger and fear of being hurt by someone he loved, as he had been hurt so many times when he was growing up. His anger subsided and he felt understood and validated. With Penny’s help, his role as his wife’s victim was being replaced with an identity of his own as a worthwhile human being. They went on with their lunch.

Vignette: Victim Of A Victim
Gina met Woodie at a single’s dance. He was charming. They seemed to hit it off from the very start. He had moved from out of town and had no family here, just a few friends. For the first few months, everything was fine. Then they started to argue, as couples do. After a few more months, he began beating her. Gina didn’t think too much of it because she had seen her father hit her mother plenty of times. “That’s what involved people do. They hit each other.”

The beatings got worse. She lost her feelings for him and wanted to break up. He stalked her on her way home from work. She became afraid of him. She was not his lover anymore. She was his victim.

In counseling, Gina learned to see Woodie as someone who perceived himself as Life’s Victim. In his eyes, everyone was against him and for no good reason. He was perceiving her ending the relationship as a deprivation. He wasn’t getting what he wanted when he wanted it, which was instantly. This loss of her availability was a grievance. He did not appreciate grievances. They made him angry. His anger was not accessible to him. He could not identify it as such or relieve it. He could never see how he contributed to the negative things that happened to him. It was never his fault.

That weekend, he called her on the phone for a date, as charming as he was the night they met. Gina had learned to identify this tactic as The Old Charmeroo and she knew how dangerously deceptive it was.She arranged to see him so she could tell him in person that it was over. That was her first mistake. She should have told him right then on the phone. He insisted on changing their rendezvous from a neighborhood café to a fancier restaurant out in the country. She went along with it to avoid displeasing him. That was her second mistake. She should have stayed with her original agenda instead of surrendering control to him. Her pleasingness set her up to be victimized by this self-preoccupied “victim turned victimizer.” He was in control and he was going to use his control destructively. This is the only way he knew how to use it. It was consistent with his self-contempt.

Woodie got her out in the country, away from everyone. He was angry at her for not giving him his way, for depriving him of her company, and for inconveniencing him. In his eyes, these offenses constituted victimization and he felt entitled to punish her for her crimes against him.

He hit her harder than he ever had before. She was truly frightened and she knew she was in big trouble. Fortunately for her, she had learned to disengage from such mischief and to do the unexpected. Instead of yelling and screaming, which he would see as another rejection, another victimization, she asked herself, “What is the last thing he expects me to do?”

He expected her to accuse him of hurting her, to order him to stop, or to threaten him with the law, which she knew was a joke. She did not do any of these useless things. She talked about herself, not in a self-pitying way, which could only invite more abuse and scorn, but in a new way, as a person in her own right. She was making it happen, “I’m all right. It’s OK. I’m fine.” She was reassuring him that she was not going to get revenge on him and that he wasn’t going to succeed in provoking her into doing anything that would give him an excuse for escalating the madness.

He pushed her out of the car and drove off. She walked to a gas station and called a cab. She never saw him again. She knows he is still out there, working on his next victim, but there is nothing she can do to prevent it. Some problems cannot be solved. That is regrettable. But she is alive and out of harm’s way. She is not a pleaser anymore. She is no longer a victim looking for a place to happen. These roles have been replaced with a well-earned identity as a worthwhile human being in her own right. She is not compatible with victimizers anymore. She went through the fire and came out stronger than she went in. She is compatible with self-respecting human beings.
This is an Excerpt from Mitch Messer’s Managing Anger

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