As we grow and develop in life we learn beliefs from the people and places which surround us. Some of these beliefs are helpful; having them allows us to be active creators of our lives. Others are decidedly unhelpful, they put us in the role of passive victims to our life circumstances, unable to initiate the change we want to experience.
This article explores the victim vs creator mindset. It does this by relying on personal experience and scientific findings. In a nutshell, the more of a victim we believe ourselves to be, the less power we have over the course of our lives. By becoming aware of when we are playing the victim role we have the opportunity to step out of our conditioned victimization.
So read on if you feel this is something for you!
The Mexican (or Latino) Victim
The previous article briefly discussed my upbringing in Mexico City. Mexico City is where my roots are set; my immediate and extended family all live in and around Mexico City, as well as many of my friends. I lived most of my developmental milestones while living there. Mexico City is in my blood.
Mexicans (and most Latinos, whether they be in Latin America or not) are a traumatized people. The brutal conquests of the invading Europeans five centuries ago, and the following centuries of domination, left a gruesome wound in the collective psyche of the peoples who inhabited the land. This wound has since mostly scarred over, but the scar tissue remains sore to the touch; much healing remains to be done.
I write from a place of personal experience. As a Mexican-American growing up in Mexico City, I was utterly unaware that I had inherited the collective trauma of the people of Mexico. That’s how culture works, we unconsciously pick it up, wherever we may be, regardless if it’s a culture of victimhood or one of active creatorship.
I never realized I had absorbed the unresolved trauma of Latin America until a few years ago, when I began reading about the mechanisms by which the body/brain/mind store trauma. When a person experiences a traumatic experience, the body/brain/mind become inscribed with the trauma, not only within the neural pathways of the brain, but also in the person’s physiology.
Here is a short video of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, an expert in the study of trauma, discussing trauma:
Why The Body/Brain Remember Trauma
The body/brain/mind remember the trauma so that whenever the traumatic event may present itself again (or be perceived to present itself), the person can react appropriately to it and ensure their survival.
This “trauma storing” mechanism is an evolutionary inheritance. If an ancient human was mauled by a lion while walking in the African Savannah and survived, that human’s body/brain/mind would remember the event; what led up to it, where it happened, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings characterized by it. The whole event, along with its context, becomes stored in the body’s/brain’s biochemistry, so that if the event, or an event perceived in the same way, ever repeated itself, the person would be able to rely on his/her stored experience and have a higher chance of survival.
The word “perceived” is key here.
Our Perception Is The Result Of Our Past Conditioning
This remains true until we choose otherwise). If that person who survived a lion mauling finds himself/herself walking through the same area he/she was mauled, her brain/body could react as though the attack might happen again. This could happen even if there were no lion present anywhere in the vicinity (whether it happened or not would depend on whether the person had healed their trauma or not). To the person’s unconscious mechanisms, a lion is present, and so the organism goes into high alert. “High alert” here meaning fight-or-flight.
This person’s tendency to react as though there were a lion in the vicinity, even though there isn’t one, is an evolutionary adaptation. Our brains/bodies have evolved to unconsciously learn the patterns of our environment. If a life-threatening danger was present in our environment in the past, odds are good it will show up again. An organism which is fearful and cautious will be more likely to survive in a dangerous environment than one which is loving, open and adventurous.
So when we experience a traumatic event we become conditioned to perceive that event again, even though our life circumstances are such that the event will never happen again. Think about war veterans who survived harrowing encounters with death on the battlefield who suddenly, through no fault of their own, find themselves reliving the experience in the middle of a crowded supermarket or government office.
The Veteran’s Body/Brain Make It Real
To an onlooker it would appear that the veteran is reacting to nothing. But to the veteran the experience is real because his body/brain makes it real. The chemistry ocurring in a veteran having a flashback is the same as the one in the actual situation. In medical terms, the veteran is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
The veteran’s reaction is meant to increase his odds of survival. But in a safe environment the veteran’s reaction is completely out of place. It doesn’t match the environment. People who haven’t experienced what the veteran has experienced will look at him and fail to understand what he is experiencing, this can lead to social shunning, which is hurtful for any human. The reaction which helped the veteran survive in the past is now hindering his survival. The veteran’s reaction is out of harmony with the environment.
A disharmonious relationship with the environment is always less conducive to survival than a harmonious one. But a traumatized brain/body doesn’t know that. It only knows what we perceive.
This entire subject of trauma and how our perception of the world directly determines the chemistry in our bodies is a fascinating one. I recommend reading the mind-blowing books, “The Body Keeps The Score” by Bessel van der Kolk, and “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” by Robert Sapolsky, a professor of neurological sciences at Stanford University. There are, of course, other books, but these are the ones I’ve read.
Why This Matters Today
Humans are a traumatized species. We forget that the 20th century was one filled with horrible quantities of human-on-human violence. One hundred and sixty million humans suffered and died at the hands of other humans in the 20th century alone. This is without mentioning all the war, torture, rape and pillage which happened before then.
This matters. Because we pass on our trauma to those around us. We do so especially to our children.
I am the child of a mother who experienced tremendous trauma as a young girl. I will write about my mother in a future article, for now it’s enough that I write that she was born into extreme poverty and lived through intense neglect and physical, psychological and emotional abuse.
To My Mother, Life Was A Struggle
From the time she was a girl she had to fight to make her way in life. She had no other options; hunger, cold and violence were daily events in her life. This was traumatic. So her brain/body remembered the trauma, so she could handle its daily appearance in her life.
But, like the veteran experiencing PTSD, once my mother escaped her traumatizing environment, the belief that life was a struggle remained. And she was completely unaware of it. Her belief that life was a struggled narrowed her perception of the options she had available to her.
And I inherited that belief full on, with no idea it was happening. When it came to my work, instead of acting through love, I learned to act through fear; fear that I wasn’t good enough to achieve what I wanted.
And this inheriting of trauma happens to all of us. We all inherit our parent’s unhealed traumas. It’s our responsibility as children (because we are all someone’s children) to heal our inherited traumas so we can make our own way in life, not repeat the same patterns inscribed in the brains/bodies of our parents/extended families/countries.
Trauma Can Make Us Into Victims
A victim is a person who’s choices are determined by their environment. This might seem like an odd definition, most of us have learned that a victim has to experience some kind of crime in order to be considered one. That’s not the case.
As an example, road rage is a common form taken by the victim mentality. When a person experiences road rage, after being cut off by another driver for example, that person becomes angry, bitter, resentful, or whatever else. The road rager has allowed the environment to dictate his/her internal state, which then will determine the choices that he/she makes. Whether those choices are in harmony or disharmony with the environment doesn’t matter, our unconscious mechanisms know only what we perceive.
See how it works? Being a victim means surrendering our agency to the world outside of us. To a victim, the outside world is what is in control, not himself/herself.
This sounds an awful lot like the mechanism by which trauma gets us to react to our environment, doesn’t it? That’s because it’s the exact same thing.
Trauma Is Triggered By Our Perceptions Of Events
When our trauma is triggered we become victims, we surrender our agency, the environment controls us, we become passive consumers rather than active creators of our life circumstances.
Any perceived event that causes us to react in hatred, anger, jealousy, envy, bitterness, is actually triggering trauma we are carrying somewhere within ourselves. And I mean anything. Anything in other people, in any situation, in any place or time.
Anything that triggers us provides a window into our trauma. In this way our triggers are our teachers, they tell us where we need to heal.
They are the best teachers for this.
How To Heal Our Traumas
Modern western medicine is utterly lost when it comes to healing our traumas. I won’t get into why that is in this article. But things are changing! Western medicine is starting to recognize that there is a lot it doesn’t know. The scientific method is now being wielded to study the healing power of ancient practices, which are being rigorously analyzed in controlled experiments. The results show that these ancient practices have profound healing effects on our brains/bodies/minds.
The array of practices is as astounding as it is broad. It includes:
- Music therapy
- Dance therapy
- Hypnosis therapy
- Art therapy
- Limbic imprint reprogramming
And more, those are just the ones I can come up with at the top of my head.
But, it is not necessary to practice any of these methods in order to heal our traumas. Amazingly, there is an even simpler, readily accessible and free way of identifying our traumas and releasing them. The aforementioned methods are powerful aides, but they are not necessary to heal.
The way of identifying and releasing our traumas is through Presence. Being aware of life as it is. When we are Present, we can become aware of how it is not the traumatic event itself (getting cut off while we’re driving) but our perception of the event that triggers our traumas. The stories we tell ourselves about the events in our lives. It’s these stories that determine how our inner world unfolds. Our stories can unfold like a venomous serpent or like a fragrant flower, the choice of how it happens is ours (I don’t have anything against venomous serpents, it’s just a useful metaphor).
Through Presence We Can Step Out Of Our Conditioned Stories
And write our own.
Through Presence we become the active creators of our life circumstances. When we identify our triggers they begin to lose their hold on us. The first time we notice a trigger, it will probably still pull us down into victim mode. We might still react like a victim, but the trigger’s pull on our attention will be weakened. If we continue being Present as we experience our triggers they gradually lose their power over us, until they vanish completely. That is the power of Presence, it allows our brains/bodies/minds to undergo the natural healing process they’re fully capable of.
If you’re interested in learning about how Presence is our ultimate path to healing our traumas I highly recommend reading “The Power Of Now” by Eckhart Tolle.
I would like to finish by writing that some triggers are deeply ingrained in our perceptions. For people who find it impossible to remain Present when such a trigger disempowers them, the methods mentioned above are a great way of getting the ball rolling, of getting unstuck, so to speak.
In Conclusion, We Can All Be Active Creators
I hope you have found this article informative. Don’t hesitate to put into practice what you have learned here! Only applied knowledge is power, the smallest action is greater than the grandest of intentions. The sooner we start embracing our nature of active creators of our lives, the sooner we are able to transcend the limitations of the victim mentality.
I invite you to become an active creator. There’s nothing else quite like it.
To our wealth and success.