Have you ever been to a tourist trap? The kind of mini-museum that promises oddities or a comprehensive look at medieval torture devices that you won’t believe? You know, at some level, that you’re not going to be entering a life-changing experience. It’s something that’s amusing enough to kill an hour or so and separate you from a moderate amount of money. These places are fine places to visit occasionally, but it’s not like you would want to spend your whole life there.
Victimhood – the very real and palpable sense that we’re a victim – is similarly a fine place to visit when it’s appropriate but an awful place to take up permanent residence.
What’s Wrong with Being a Victim?
Nothing’s wrong with being a victim per se – if you really are one. When someone pulls the rug out from under you, it’s appropriate to feel victimized. However, being a victim doesn’t help you grow. Being a victim can teach you to be more vigilant in the future for similar kinds of situations where you might be taken advantage of. But, by and large, being a victim doesn’t motivate you to action.
As humans, we learn from our mistakes – or at least we should – so considering and reviewing the situation that led us to being victimized can help us to prevent it from happening again. This is a natural, healthy, normal response. The problem isn’t that we take the time to reflect, the problem is when we get stuck in our reflection – or, rather, we transition into rumination.
If remembering and reflecting are good, then why can’t rumination be OK? The problem is that rumination doesn’t teach us anything or free us from burdens but instead layers more and more onto the situation, making it harder for us to free ourselves.
Have you ever seen a candle being made? Traditional tapered candles are made by repeatedly dipping string into hot wax and lifting it enough to cool and harden it. Each time the wick – eventually, the candle – is dipped, more wax sticks to it and it gets larger, making even more wax stick the next time. The process of rumination is like this: the situation gets larger and larger until it’s difficult to break free.
The difference between reflection and rumination is that, in reflection, you seek to prevent future hurts. In rumination, you relive the event. You play it in your mind like an endless loop.
Burnout is about feeling you’re ineffective. You can’t feel effective if you’re caught in an endless loop of victimization by ruminating over when you’ve been victimized. Escaping burnout is as simple – and difficult – as breaking the cycle of rumination. Instead of focusing on what happened, you can focus on what you’re going to do to prevent it from happening again – or, perhaps more importantly, preventing it from hurting you like it did.
This isn’t an invitation to close down emotionally or to never speak with anyone again. It’s an invitation to explore how your choices to make yourself vulnerable need to be considered for their value and not just assumed that you must always – or never – be vulnerable. Evaluate what you can do so that someone victimizing you again won’t be so impactful. The truth is that we need to trust others, which means sometimes our trust will be betrayed. The key is understanding how to live with this reality. Understanding this can break the rumination loop and keep us out of burnout.