We all have good days and bad days. Sometimes, though, the bad days seem to stretch into bad weeks, months, or even years. Even the most positive of people can be brought down by their circumstances. Whether we like it or not, bad things happen to us. Sometimes they are the consequences of our own actions, but sometimes they are a direct result of someone else’s actions. The former I get (karma, baby!), but the latter is a bit more difficult to swallow.
I love the definition of Karma as “an echo of the past [that] creates the future” (Dadabhagwan, 2000-2019). Regardless of your spiritual belief system, I think most people agree that eventually we all get what’s coming to us. What goes around, comes around. Your actions will catch up to you. You get a taste of your own medicine. And whatever other sayings come to mind. I don’t necessarily believe in a past life influencing a future existence, but rather see a pattern in actions and consequences. Sometimes the consequences are immediate and sometimes they happen years down the road. The point I’m getting at is that if we behave badly, hurt someone else, or make incredibly unwise decisions, it will come back to bite us eventually. Even if no one finds out about our actions or behavior, we spend the rest of our life ruminating over what we did that one time to that one person.
When our own actions cause us pain or unfortunate circumstances, I think the best thing we can do is acknowledge that we messed up, appeal for forgiveness from whoever was negatively impacted by our actions, and try to forgive ourselves so we don’t spend the rest of our life in misery.
What are we supposed to do when our life is turned upside down, or even just minorly inconvenienced, by another person’s actions? Can we play the victim? Yes. But not so fast. Should we play the victim? That’s a different story. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a victim as “one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment” (Victim1, 2019). Sure, that sounds like what a few of us have been through. I continued reading, though, and was decidedly put off by the fact that a victim is also “a living being sacrificed to a deity or in the performance of a religious rite” (Victim2, 2019). Scratch that…no victim here.
Gary John Bishop explains perfectly why we should not play the victim, regardless of who has hurt or wronged us. He says, “While there are things that have happened in your life that you had no say in, you are 100 percent responsible for what you do with your life in the aftermath of those events” (2016, p. 31). Even if hardships come into our life at no fault of our own, we are still responsible for our own reaction. I used to know someone who would routinely say, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” Granted, this is the same man who cheated on me for four years and had a secret family with another woman. I would argue that karma was at work there, not just good or bad luck. But the point is, regardless of what or who we want to blame, the amount of grace with which we face adversity rests solely on our own two shoulders.
That can be bitter medicine to take, especially when one thing keeps happening after another. I, for one, have felt like life has been out to get me for the last three years. On top of all my relationship trials and tribulations, little things seem to just keep stacking one on top of the other. A neighbor has been making my life incredibly unenjoyable with illegal activity in his unit. I’m faced yet again with uprooting my life because one person won’t follow simple rules and the people in charge won’t do anything about it. Just today the actions of an unknown and unseen stranger left me feeling violated, exposed, and borderline unsafe. Sometimes all these things leave me wondering what I did to deserve them. But in the end, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is my ability to stand strong and move forward in spite of what other people are doing around me to tear me down.
I’m not saying this to sound all high and mighty…like I’m some strong person who isn’t fazed by anything. Clearly my depression and anxiety are evidence of how far that is from the truth. My hope is that by acknowledging my own reactions to events, I can make a conscious decision to not play the victim. The more I can learn to monitor and control my reactions, the less power other people (and their actions!) will have over me.
The other difficult lesson I am faced with at the moment is not letting all the minor things snowball together and overwhelm me. It’s so incredibly easy for the bad to overshadow any good that is happening simultaneously. Whether each major or minor event is self-inflicted or caused by another’s thoughtless actions, they are still individual events. This seems so much less overwhelming than looking at the all contributing factors at once. Dealing with individual situations changes my perspective of my pain, grief, or loneliness. The world is not ending.
“Face your problems as they come, one by one; give them the attention they need and move on. Bundling them all together into a morass of confusion and letting them overwhelm you just won’t help. It takes precision, patience, and discipline of thought. Work through each item pragmatically and with a solution in mind. Remember, everything is solvable, and if you can’t see a solution, it only means you haven’t worked it out yet” (Bishop, 2016, p. 89).
A few months ago, my mom sent me one of the more brilliant Hallmark cards I’ve seen. See below. What I love about this is it drops the sickeningly optimistic verbiage that makes it seem like life is made of butterflies and unicorns. It simply is not. It’s hard. It’s dirty. It’s messy. Yet we can still acknowledge that all our struggles, despite their source, are an opportunity to become a better person. If we play the victim card all the time, we rob ourselves of a valuable opportunity to change for the better.
While venting to my aunt a few days ago about my crazy neighbor, I confessed to her that I am discouraged by the fact that so many big life changes (moving, career changes, financial status) have come as a result of someone else’s actions. Sometimes I do get stuck in the victim rut and feel like I am the one dealing with their consequences. I’m over here trying to be a good person and minding my own business, and then out of nowhere…BAM! I get hit with some other struggle while the offending party continues living and behaving like nothing happened.
I quickly realized how pathetic I sounded. I added, “But I suppose that’s just life, right?” And she said something so profound that it will probably stick with me for the rest of my life. She said, “Yup. Doesn’t mean you have to like it.” Stop and read that again. It made me realize that taking responsibility for my own reactions does not mean I have to roll over and accept everything. I can react in a way that will help me grow, but I can also acknowledge that life just plain sucks sometime. It was such an epiphany. When life gives you lemons, it’s okay to not have the energy to make lemonade. It’s okay to want to cry. It’s okay to shake your fist at whatever higher power you believe in. Give yourself permission to feel disappointed. Give yourself permission to feel defeated. Give yourself permission to cry over spilled milk. If we don’t, that’s when all the bad stuff starts to build and build and build until the weight is too much to bear. Just don’t stay disappointed. Don’t stay defeated. Dry your tears.
I feel like I’ve been rambling, so I will leave you with the following quote. Even when we’re slogging through the gunk and muck that is life, remind yourself that your reaction to that gunk and muck will determine your future. Just because someone hurts you doesn’t mean you should wallow in the muck until you drown. Pick yourself back up, learn something new about yourself, and face the next batch of lemons with coping skills you would never have learned otherwise.
“Trust me when I say – when it is right, everything that you love ruthlessly, will love you back with the same conviction. Trust me when I say – when it is right, the things you reach for in life, the things you deeply hope for, they will reach back. And I promise you, when that happens you will understand, that all of the things you ached for that did not work out, all of the hearts that failed to appreciate the home you made for them inside of yourself, they were not the things that broke you, or ruined you, or made you less worthy. No, instead, you will see that they built you. They taught you about yourself. They led you to the person you were born to be, and they guided you to the person you were meant to be with. They shaped you. They challenged you. They grew you.” – Bianca Sparacino
Bishop, Gary. (2016). Un#@%! Yourself. New York, NY: HarperOne.
Dadabhagwan. (200-2019). The True Definition of Karma. Retrieved from https://www.dadabhagwan.org/books-media/spiritual-articles/definition-and-theory-of-karma/
Victim1. (2019). In online Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/victim
Victim2. (2019). In online Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/victim