Victimhood is the greatest threat to your personal and professional agency

As you build personal resilience, you’re in a better position to inspire collective team and organizational resilience. 

However, along the path to resilience there are challenges that all of us must overcome. And these challenges are often out of our control. This can make us feel powerless and alone. 

Many years ago when I was laid off at GE, my initial response was denial. I felt like a victim. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I was fully committed to doing what was needed to help make the company successful… I took on difficult assignments, worked late, missed dance rehearsals and little league games.

Having been promoted to the executive level, I was moving up in the company and in my career. Why me? There was nothing I could do to reverse the decision.

Just like that – my career at GE was over. 

If you’ve ever been let go unexpectedly, you know the feeling.

Before acceptance we go through the Victim stage refusing to accept the reality of the situation. The Victim stage is when you feel the greatest loss of control. You feel like a leaf in a river. Pushed along by the current without any ability to choose your own direction. 

In many instances it’s a situation you didn’t cause, didn’t ask for, and weren’t able to avoid. 

Perhaps you’re in denial that this crisis is actually happening to you in the first place and don’t see a path forward. 

Your personal and professional agency are suddenly shattered by circumstance. 

When I interviewed Tonya Jackson, Senior Vice President, Chief Supply Chain Officer of Lexmark International, she warned of teams getting stuck in the Victim Stage.

 “As you begin to face a crisis, there’s a risk of the chaos and noise consuming you. People may talk about the crisis instead of focusing on understanding the crisis and developing actions to improve the situation. 

You may hear, ‘How did this happen or who let this happen.’ ‘If we had invested in that project, this wouldn’t have happened.’ But it has ‘happened’ and here we are. And to move forward, you have to refocus your team on making decisions and taking actions to get out of the crisis.” 

Behavioral Characteristics of Being a Victim

Victim behavior can manifest as blaming others, not taking responsibility for your role in the situation, or not taking the steps to move out of it. You’re angry at the people you feel are responsible for the situation. You may feel like others are purposely against you or don’t care about you; the system did you wrong. 

This anger infects other parts of your life. It adds additional strain to relationships. 

You feel sorry for yourself, preferring to stay isolated and seeking pity from others (often subconsciously) as you sink into despair. You see yourself as not good enough. You don’t deserve better. Your avoidance in making decisions allows others to call the shots, and you tend to go along further diminishing your own control. 

The glass isn’t half full – it’s completely empty. You lose hope as your emotional, spiritual, physical, and social well-being drop to their lowest points. 

Consequences of “Victimhood”

When you see yourself as the Victim, the sense of hopelessness often turns into negativity toward yourself and others. You function from a place of fear. And the level of vulnerability you feel drives you inward, often isolating yourself from others. 

As a consequence, people don’t want to be around you – further limiting the help you desperately need. 

And without that help you fall further into the hole. Your work quality suffers, and you create a more stressful work environment for those around you. 

Resilience in This Stage 

Resilience is at its lowest point when you are in the Victim Stage. There is no space for resilience to form if you are not aware that you are in this stage nor open to accountability. 

The good news is that victimhood is not an endpoint – if you don’t let it be. It is simply a stage that you can recognize and work through. There is no getting stuck if you can identify where you are and resolve to move forward.