the secret to happiness

My whole life I have tried to prove that I am not a victim, but I have ended up carrying more of a victim mentality than I ever knew. It is common for people to view themselves as victims of negative experiences, but I have more consistently been a victim of success. I guess I was something of a child piano prodigy, but only because I'm Asian. I was valedictorian, but only because my peers were not very smart. I went to one of the best colleges in the country, but only because it was the only school to which I was accepted. I received a Fulbright fellowship, but only because the country I applied to had favorable statistics. I was convinced I had never done and could never do "hard things." I used to travel a lot, but only because it was fun and flying was free (my father is a flight attendant), and it does not take much effort or courage to live in a different country. You aren't achieving anything; you are just living. There is nothing impressive about taking advantage of free opportunities.

When I got married, my victim spirit rose to the surface. I was depressed for the first few months and hated my life, and blamed Noah for much of it. This past winter, I was quite sad. I struggled with thinking I didn't have any dreams, any hobbies, any prospects in life. I didn't think I had any skills, any talent, anything to offer. During spring break, without a car and not able to spend money, I felt especially stuck. I realized that since my childhood, I had developed a victim mindset that was intertwined with low self-esteem and a sense of hopelessness.

A week later, I started teaching. Though many factors were at play, a significant element in my newly acquired aversion to the classroom was that there were not enough hours in the day to do my job sufficiently. It was impossible for me to meet my own standard, and it was too hard to revise my philosophy on teaching in that environment without sacrificing my own ethics on education, so I concluded that I was not a good teacher, and I might as well just give up.

Then I read Brian Klemmer's teaching* on responsibility, in which he introduces the idea that we are "at cause" for everything we experience, and it changed everything. Klemmer writes:

The victim and responsible viewpoints have nothing to do with the truth, but everything to do with what we experience. Hold yourself responsible for everything, not because it is true, but because of the exciting possibilities that the viewpoint creates. When looking at [something] from the responsible viewpoint, where you are 'at cause' for your experiences out of the choices you have made, solutions become possible. (64-66)

Being responsible does not mean I am at fault -- it has nothing to do with it. Every time I want to put the blame on someone or something else, and claim to be the victim of my schedule, my job, the government, or any other circumstance, I end up feeling annoyed or sad. Every time I am tempted to say, "I have to," I take away my options. When I say, "I choose to," I gain power and freedom.

For example, this morning we were late for work. I blamed Noah for making us late because he decided to make coffee at 7:55 when we have a staff meeting at 8:00. When we finally left, I was obviously frustrated, which caused him to feel hurt and walk slower than usual. We did not have time to talk before class started, but after the students were dismissed at the end of the day, he apologized. I forgave him, but I did not see any reason to apologize for anything until long after Noah went to Friday night church service without me and I sat in my usual corner of my red sofa, pondering the events of the day.

I can easily remain a victim of Noah's decisions to make coffee and walk slowly, or, with a little effort, I can see how I made choices that contributed to this situation:

  • I chose to value punctuality over loving my husband
  • I chose to walk to work with him, instead of walking on my own
  • I chose to be impatient, which created a stressful environment in our home and caused Noah to feel disrespected and dishonored
  • I chose to make Noah breakfast and make our lunches
  • I chose to not wake us up as early as I usually do
  • I chose to not go to bed earlier
  • I chose to go to work today
  • I chose to have a job
  • I chose to marry Noah, which was one of the best decisions in my life

Sometimes it takes a while. Today it took all day, but I am learning to be responsible. With each choice, I am less angry and more happy. Life is choosing to live.


Note: This is not to ignore facts and deny that people are hurt and mistreated and made victims all the time. However, being victimized does not have to remain someone's identity; there are still choices, e.g., forgive or hold onto bitterness and resentment. Although taking the responsible viewpoint is about perspective and not about finding truth, the purpose is to see solutions and find freedom from feeling trapped in a situation. For example, sometimes responsibility is choosing to be at cause in the healing process and not fearing the past.

*Brian Klemmer, If How-To's Were Enough We Would All Be Skinny, Rich & Happy, Oklahoma: Insight Publishing Group, 2005.