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How to Make Peace with the Past and Stop Being a Victim

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“Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.” ~Harvey Fienstein

Do you usually feel as if everything bad that can happen will happen, and it will happen to you?

You must be the unluckiest person on the face of the planet. Opportunities never work out. Doors that should open close in your face. Friends let you down. Bosses don’t see your value. There seems to be a universal conspiracy to keep you stuck right where you are now.

You feel like your life is always going to be like this.

You feel like a failure as a person.

You worry that you’re never going to be happy.

You stress that you have no control to change any of it.

And it’s all so unfair, right? Why does this bad stuff always happen to you? How come other people get all the breaks, and you never do?

If this sounds familiar, you’re probably still affected by past events that left you feeling helpless, scared, or inadequate—and you’re going to keep re-experiencing these feelings until you do something to change them.

My Experience with Self-Sabotage

Why do I get how this works? It’s no big mystery. I’ve been there myself. In fact, at one time, I was the queen of self-sabotage.

I went from being a straight-A student to dropping out of school a year before my finals. From being a loved and spoiled child to losing touch with my family. From being confident and self-assured to needy and codependent.

What happened? I stopped thinking of myself in a positive way in response to events outside of my control. I’d always taken pride in myself, and I felt someone had taken that pride away from me.

All of these dramatic changes came from something very small—a change in my home circumstances that stopped me feeling like part of the family. Because someone in my life constantly criticized me, I lost confidence in my ability. Because I lost my security, I became chronically insecure.

Instead of feeling that I was a person of worth, with good prospects, I started thinking of myself as rejected, unwanted, and somehow less-than.

As a teenager, I was in no way equipped to deal with that. So I rebelled. And from there, my life went very rapidly downhill.

I sabotaged my jobs; I couldn’t stick anything beyond a few months. I sabotaged my first degree by dropping out. And as for relationships, I attracted every narcissistic guy around, all with the agenda of keeping myself a victim.

So What Changed—and How Do You Change It?

I hit rock bottom. My last bad relationship had come to a nasty end, I’d dropped out of University, and I had absolutely nothing in my life to keep me going.

When you hit rock bottom, you have two choices: You give up, or you say, enough is enough. And you start changing the way you’re thinking about things and do something to radically improve your life.

I took the second option, and my life turned around. From nothing, I went to a happy marriage, motherhood, a lovely home, and a fantastic career. And I promise you, if I can do it, from where I was at that time, so can you.

The following are some of the things that helped me overcome my negative programming and self-confidence issues. If you feel you were born to be a victim, and to live a life filled with anger and frustration, these steps could work for you too.

Why “Just Let Go” Is Not the Best Advice

I hear this advice all the time. People come to me saying they’ve been told to put the past behind them and start over, but they have real problems doing that. If only everything in life were that simple.

This stuff happened, and it happened to you. You’d need to be some sort of superhuman, or a machine, to think that it’s had no effect on who you are. And letting go, like it never happened, is denying its influence.

People who try to deny the effect of past experience use a strategy called repressive coping, and these things have a nasty habit of coming back to bite you when you least expect it.

Accept what happened, understand how it’s affected you, but make sure you place it where it belongs—in the past. The fact that it’s there doesn’t mean you have to keep playing the same situations over in your life. You can make different choices, think in different ways, and keep moving forward.

Being Peaceful or Being Strong?

Of course we’d all like to be peaceful and calm, but sometimes that’s just not possible, especially when you’ve been through traumatic events. Lacking a magic wand, we can’t just make it all vanish. So following on from acknowledging it, we then move to what it gave us—and although it may be hard to see sometimes, it gave us strength.

There are people in the world who’ve never had to deal with the stuff that you’ve been through. You’ve dealt with things they can’t even imagine. That gives you reason to be proud of yourself, and a whole different perspective on what “tough” really is.

Losing my family and my identity may have been the cause of my initial problems, but it also provided me with the strength to overcome challenges I encountered in my life, and played a great part in giving me the confidence and ability to achieve my management career goals.

Accept Who You Are—But Who Are You?

So following on from the point above, who are you now, and how do you see yourself?

You may have been a victim in the past, but you’re still here, in spite of everything that the world’s thrown as you. In my opinion, that makes you a survivor. You may not feel it, but you’re strong.

You can take the strength, and be proud of the person who survived the challenges. You can choose how you see yourself. Do you want to see yourself as a helpless victim of circumstance, or as someone who is still standing, still fighting, still growing, still on a journey to make your life better and not give in?

Sure, the insecure stepdaughter is still somewhere inside me. And she’s now also the person who has achieved a really good life and has the security and success she always wanted.

As We Forgive Those…

Another piece of common advice that people are given: forgive what was done to you. Unfortunately, some things are harder to forgive than others, so the brain will fight that.

If someone has maliciously caused you harm, and you have to live with the consequences, forgiving what’s unacceptable may seem to keep you in victim mode—as if, once again, you’ve just had to take it.

Of course, the truth is, by staying angry and bitter, you’re still hurting yourself. It’s irrelevant that they may deserve your bitterness. They aren’t suffering from it; you are.

So, I don’t advise you to force forgiveness. Instead, accept what happened, acknowledge how you feel about it, then put it behind you. You can’t change the past, but you can change the future, and dwelling and brooding on these feelings will not help you move forward.

Count Your (Amended) Blessings

However positively you can spin the past, your life has still been negatively affected. You may have a worse life than you would have done if this thing had never happened, and it’s hard to feel gratitude for something awful! So how can you be grateful for what you do have now?

Be glad for the person who has come through this—the survivor, even though you may not feel like one!

Be glad for what you’ve managed to achieve, in spite of everything that’s been done to stop you. You may feel like you haven’t achieved much, but as a person who is reading this and trying to change your life, you’ve achieved the power to make decisions and refuse to give up, which some people never do.

Be glad for the extra lessons you learned: the ones that made you tough, make new problems minimal compared to past challenges, and put you in a position to be able to help others who’ve been through the same things.

These are the things that are going to empower you to go out and change your world.

Playing with the cards stacked against you is just plain unfair. It’s time for you to even the odds.

Your past is always going to be something that happened to you; that doesn’t mean it needs to define you, restrict you, and dictate your future life.

How would your life change if you were only taking what was positive from the past? If you could see yourself as someone who overcame it, who chose to reject the negative self-concepts that were forced on you, who was a survivor, and not a victim?

You can do this. You, and only you, have the power. And that’s why you’re not a victim. The only person who can control this is you.

Work through all of the points above. Find out where your blocks are. Deal with them. Move on. You’ve been through enough already. It’s time for things to get better.

You’ve got this.

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About Lindsey Sharratt

Lindsey Sharratt is a corporate project manager whose own success inspired her psychology degree and her desire to help others. Her mission is to prove that anyone can overcome destructive experiences and achieve their life goals. Connect on her website or get her book on Amazon and start making your own breakthroughs.

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  • Bullyinglte

    A wonderful article, Lindsey. As a long time sufferer from youth bullying, I had to work very hard to make peace with my past. Not forget it, as I had tried to do, but accept it as part of my multiple journeys. I wrote about this very concept in my book “A Ladder In The Dark” (http://amzn.to/1pl8fI1). It is such an important concept to understand to bring inner peace. Thank you for sharing.

  • Lindsey Sharratt

    You’re very welcome. I’m so glad that you could relate this back to your own experience, and I think it’s fantastic that you wrote a book based on what that experience taught you. I believe so passionately that people have the ability to overcome past suffering that’s affected how they see themselves, and every one of us sharing that message will help others to find their own way through.

  • Jennifer Dawn Williams

    Thank you. I needed this article. Especially today!

  • One of the most useful pieces of advice I received was learning to perceive your past transgressions in a different light. In fact, find 3 or more different lights. These are positive reason why what’s bad is good. Then, pick the one(s) that resonate the most. For example, most people would attribute shyness negatively. One way to turn this around is to say that shyness was an asset for me because it helped me to appreciate learning how to be more sociable. Shyness also helps me to better understand other people who are incredibly shy, as most are perceived as as anti-social or strange. Knowing this helps you to better relate when interacting with them.

  • Clarity

    Tears. This piece is just awesome and hits right home. Than you.

  • Tom

    @Lindsey, I love the two interesting takes on ‘letting go’ and forgiveness. Unlike the majority that swear by it, you shed some insight on how they are part of you no matter how much you try to ignore or deny the pain of the past but they are only meant to guide us not hinder our growth. I always think of my life as a book that has awful chapters but I don’t erase them out of the story instead, I empower myself to keep writing the way I want the story to unfold even if it deviates from my original plan. Great post, an absolute joy to read.

    –Tom

  • Aliyyah @RichAndHappyBlog

    It is so important to see yourself as a survivor rather than a victim. After all that has happened to me in my life, I am still here and that makes me a survivor. Thank you for pointing that out.

  • Lindsey Sharratt

    Thank you Clarity, I’m really glad it helped.

  • Lindsey Sharratt

    Absolutely, it’s not the thing itself that gives us the reaction, it’s the meaning we give it. Change the meaning and you change your perception.

  • Lindsey Sharratt

    You’re welcome Aliyyah. We’re not taught to think of that aspect of our experiences, so we don’t respect ourselves as we could for the things managed to get through.

  • Lindsey Sharratt

    Thank you, Tom. I think that’s a great way to look at it, your past as the pages behind and the future as pages yet to be written, with you holding the pen. The past pages are still there, but they are reference material, they don’t have to control what comes after.

  • Lindsey Sharratt

    You’re welcome, Jennifer, I’m glad it arrived at a good time for you.

  • Philippe Isler

    As you say, there are ideas about forgiveness that have taken hold that are not useful. They often make people feel that to forgive would be saying “it’s ok that that happened…it’s ok that you did that to me.” Or they can make people feel as though they are somehow bad or deficient for not “letting go”. I like to think of “forgiveness” as letting go of the energy that is bound up in the feelings, the meanings that I have attached to what happened. If I can see forgiveness in this way, I am freeing up my own energy and I am liberating myself from the suffering I cause myself if I hold on. That leads to what you talk about: “acceptance that it happened”. It also leads to more acceptance of others being exactly as they are, rather than holding onto wanting them to be different.

  • Lindsey Sharratt

    Absolutely, Philippe, and that’s very freeing. Realising that we don’t have to understand everything that people do and attribute meaning to it – we can choose to remove that focus of energy and the compulsion to understand why things were done to us – facilitates moving forward without that constant focus on the past.