Ever felt like the world is out to get you? Do you take responsibility for others’ feelings or blame yourself when something goes wrong – even if it really has nothing to do with you? If so, it’s likely you’re prone to Victim ANT infestations.
“It’s not fair!”
Fairness is subjective. When the Victim ANT is at work, your sense of fair (no matter what that sense is) is all that matters and when others disagree – or things don’t work out “fairly” – it’s upsetting and a prime time for a meltdown to occur.
For example, if you’re next in line for an ice cream bar and the person in front of you takes the last one of your favorite flavor, is that fair? It doesn’t matter. There are no more of that flavor either way.
What happens next depends on how you manage those feelings. There are a couple of options:
- You could pitch a fit and storm off with a brain full of, “it’s not fair”
- You can try to head the infestation off by recognizing and naming what you’re feeling (frustrated, annoyed, sad, etc.). When we describe what we’re feeling (to ourselves), we keep the communication between feelings and logic open. This means that before you lose all ability to think, you can start asking yourself questions and problem-solving “Is there anything I can do to change the situation?” No. “OK, do I have a second choice?” Or, “Do I really want ice cream?” One of the best questions in this type of situation is, “What would I say to my friend, if she was in this situation?”
“Always” and “never” can be very dangerous words – especially when we base them on very limited evidence – and Victim ANTs are experts at this. Yes, a rock will always fall if you let go of it and there is nothing else to support it. And you can never again weigh what you weighed at birth. However, thinking “no one likes me,” when your best friend isn’t available to hang out or “I’ll never have enough money,” simply because you didn’t win this week’s lottery is not realistic. (If the lottery is the only way you plan to make money, I suspect there is a different problem that needs addressing. But that is not today’s topic.)
For kids, who have even less experience to contradict “always” and “never,” avoiding an ANT infestation can be even more difficult. The best way for parents to help their kids is to patiently encourage them to continue facing the situation that caused the “always” or “never” in the first place.
Example: Joe is new at school and doesn’t like recess because the other kids will never like him.
Option 1: Let Joe stay inside during recess.
Option 2: Tell Joe he’s being silly and to get outside.
Option 3: Pay Joe $1 every recess to go outside.
Option 4: Empathize and brainstorm (problem-solve) with Joe on what he can do to take care of himself and make friends.
Avoiding a scary situation is the brain’s form of survival. So letting Joe stay inside validates his anxiety and makes it harder for him to think about going outside. (As will reassuring him that everything will “be all right.”) Criticizing him is likely to result in a power struggle that leaves him feeling frustrated, angry, and even more determined to stay inside. Bribes are just going to cause different problems.
However, what Joe needs is a little empathy (“Making friends at a new school can be hard,”) backed up with the fact that he has to go out during recess. Sometimes a challenge helps, “Have you talked with EVERY kid (even the girls)?” Challenges can also be assignments, “Find out the favorite sport of five of your classmates.” This will make Joe engage with others without the burden of, “Go out, and make friends!”
Personalization & Blame
Another aspect of the Victim ANT is when other people’s thoughts and actions are either because of you or are your responsibility. While our behavior can influence others, ultimately each of us is responsible for how we feel and behave – we all choose how we feel and behave (either passively or actively) and that choice belongs solely to the individual making it. So when Victim ANTs strike, instead of assuming another person’s behavior is all about you, think about all the possible explanations for the other person’s feelings or behavior. For example:
- “Rachel didn’t say ‘Hi,’ she doesn’t like me.”
If Rachel normally says greets you, then this might be unusual however, she might have a good reason for not saying hello. Perhaps she didn’t see you. Perhaps she was involved in another conversation and didn’t want to interrupt the other person. Perhaps she was lost in thought. There are many reasons why she might not have said hi, but none of them are indicators of how she feels about
- “Mom’s in a bad mood because I didn’t go to the store with her.”
Yes, your mother might have liked both your company and your help but again, there can be many reasons why she’s grumpy that have little or nothing to do with you. Perhaps your cat threw up (again!) on the carpet, your dad is going to be late, or she had a difficult day at work.
Fighting Off Victim ANTs
Because any ANT infestation bypasses the rational mind, bringing logic back into the situation is the surest way to gain control. This is especially true of the Victim ANT because we are the least logical with everything becomes about us.
Because the human ego can stand strong against the best logic, brining logic into a Victim ANT infestation requires a great deal of patience. Keep asking questions. If you are trying to head off your own attack, BREATH and let the questions work their way into your brain. If you’re working with your child, ASK curious questions (what, when, how rather than why) and let THEM answer them. What you’re doing is problem-solving (or teaching your child to problem-solve) which ultimately will help them learn to look for solutions rather than being overwhelmed by perceived barriers.