The coach Steve Chandler got to the heart of things when he wrote, "As you look back over your life so far, you will see that you always have had two basic ways of being. At any given time, you were either one way, or you were the other; you were either an owner of the human spirit, or you were a victim of circumstances."
This distinction is at the core of my work. Both are choices. When I speak of a victim I am speaking of choosing to be a victim. Of taking on a victim identity. As the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius pointed out, many people who have suffered a blow from people or events refuse a victim identity: “Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed, and you haven’t been.” Such people take ownership of who they are and where their life will go. Things have happened to them and maybe they will never be the same, maybe they will carry a wound or impediment, but they don't let themselves be determined by what has happened. They own their inward self and their life and refuse to put these in the power of others or externals.
Ownership is powerful. It is creative. It enables you to constantly grow or invent. When an owner encounters an obstacle they use it, as Aurelius said: "The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." Whatever comes to you, you can choose to handle it. "I am afraid, but I will work through my fear and I refuse to be reduced by what they do. In fact I will use it to become better." Even if something shatters you, you can choose to come back stronger in the broken places.
A victim sees things as outside their control. They take an attitude of radical passivity. So instead of possessing the power which ought to be theirs, they become full of resentment and pessimism. A person can be this way their whole life, but it is a choice. It is the most powerful choice you can make. If you find yourself being a victim - and you always are in some respects - you can choose to step into your powerful self instead. You can choose to own who you are.
Something I have learned through my decades of helping people grow is that things are much less in our control than we imagine. And so we suffer unreasonable guilt. And also anxiety - which is the emotional attempt to control the presently uncontrollable. Something else I have learned through these decades is that things are much more in our control than we realise. Much, much more. As Aurelius wrote, “You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” You have far, far more power to shape your mind and heart than you realise. Radically more capability than you currently exercise. Most of us are like unfit slobs when it comes to our minds. We are slaves to our emotions, when we could be masters. Victims imagine that all power lies in others and circumstances. Owners experience the thrill of realising that real power lies within themselves, and they can fundamentally change themselves, both inwardly and outwardly.
Once you make a choice to be a victim, you start to tell stories to justify your choice and entrench the habit. You practice being pessimistic. You become resentful. You focus on the wrongs of others or the government or the system (the news, whatever it's political persuasion, is the perfect place to train in this). You can talk about the limits and tragedies of the human condition, and even feel some pride and receive some praise for your insightful compassion for our wounds. Of course you will also become wearied by all of this; you will lose your energy, your motivation, your hope. In your self-created weakness you will fall into depression and anxiety. The only way you'll then feel energised is through resentment or righteous anger, or the hurried pursuit of distraction, comfort, or pleasure.
I sometimes ban people from using the word "They" in our sessions. "They are doing this, they have caused that." Who are they? What is this metaphysical "They" which is the source of your problems? Society? Society is made up of individuals. If individuals take responsibility for their actions then our collective life vastly improves. Owners pay no attention to They. Owners take responsibility for their own lives. Owners take responsibility for their energy and inspiration. Owners do what it takes to connect with the best in themselves. Owners reinvent themselves. Owners don't look outside themselves (even if they are not afraid to ask and receive where they can). Owners don't fantasise about how things could be different, wishing upon a star. Owners make themselves different. And they make their lives better. If what they want doesn't come knocking, they build a door.
When I worked with men who had survived suicide and who had decided that what led them to it - a betrayal, a loss, a collapse - was not going to own them anymore, that instead they would own themselves, I witnessed amazing growth. What I saw changed me. But why does it take dramatic crises for so many of us to change? Why don't we step into change now? Because you don't know how to do that? Why aren't you willing to find out? After all the know-how is out there, it just requires the desire to go in search of it. All of these things cluster together. Realise that you have radical power when it comes to your mind - to your thoughts, your will - and by consequence great power over your emotions, your actions, and how your life comes to look. When this knowledge goes deep it liberates you. Ownership is freedom.