The Victim Perspective - Unenforceable Rules

How can I be happy when my rules have been violated!

How can I be happy when my rules have been violated!

Perspective and Belief

1. Perspective: A 2-step mental process for gathering information about, and assigning meanings to the people, situations, events and circumstances we encounter.  

2. The Belief Behind the Victim Perspective: My feelings are the emotional consequences of the hands I'm dealt, the people, situations, events and circumstances in my life.

The Choices We Make Based On Belief

Preferring positive to negative feelings, most of us have established criteria that must be met in order for us to be happy. This is an example of the power of our beliefs; they lead us to take action. Our beliefs form the bases for our perspectives. We use our beliefs when assigning meanings to the people and situations we encounter.

People operating from the victim belief are convinced that the outside factors in their lives cause their feelings. It seems that most of us hold that belief. When we encounter factors that don’t meet our criteria for happiness, we think and act as if the ensuing unhappiness something that those factors did to us.  Maybe we should take a closer look at those criteria, our unenforceable rules.


The criteria we’ve established for our happiness or other positive feelings are what I refer to as our rules. These are the things we have decided must or must not happen in order for us to be happy. People or situations that don't meet our criteria for happiness have violated our rules. I want you to think about this. We have established demands and expectations that must be met in order for us to be happy. 

Most of us also have rules about how other people must or must not behave. Have you ever caught yourself thinking that you have every right to expect certain behavior? Are there certain types of behavior you believe you don’t have to put up with? If so, you can be pretty sure you’re talking about one of the rules you’re using to determine how you feel about, and respond to people and their behavior.


The Problems with Our Rules

As I see it there are two major problems associated with our rules: 

1. The first problem is the emotional attachments we have to them. Based on the belief that outside factors cause our feelings, we abdicate our roles in creating those feelings.

2. The second problem is that most of our rules apply to factors over which we have absolutely no control. 


Here’s something you can do to grasp the scope of this problem: 

Make a list of some of your favorite pet peeves, ones that you encounter often. You may have to think about this to get the process going, but when you hit your stride, you’ll be able to develop a rather lengthy list. And that’s my point. Most of us have long lists of rules, most of which are unenforceable.

I’m not suggesting that the hands we’re dealt don’t matter. What I am suggesting is that by clinging to our rules we sustain our emotional attachment to things over which we have no control. And that is a choice that compounds the negative impact of the inevitable setbacks we’ll encounter.


The alternatives to rules are preferences. And upgrading rules to preferences is how we transform emotional victimhood into emotional accountability.


More about Preferences in the next article.




Previous articles in the series can be found HERE

The Belief That Fuels The Hero Perspective

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Three Truths About Beliefs

1. They are powerful. Even though we may not even be consciously aware of our actual beliefs, they are the basis of the choices we make, the meanings we assign and our behavioral responses to the people, situations and circumstances we encounter.

2. Their power is not dependent on their being valid. We might keep this in mind during heated election seasons. The belief that “all Democrats or Republicans are (FILL IN THE BLANK) “ is invalid. But that doesn’t change its impact on the things we think and say about, and behaviors toward those “others”. The victim belief contributes to the breakdown in civil political discourse and meaningful legislative decision-making.

3. Professed vs. actual beliefs – Professed beliefs are expressed in words and usually sound good. Actual beliefs may never be written or uttered, and they are expressed in behavior. There are often significant gaps between the things we profess to believe and our actual beliefs that manifest in our behavior.

The Belief that Fuels the Hero Perspective

My feelings are the emotional consequences of the mental choices I make about the hands I’m dealt.

Compare this to the belief that fuels the victim perspective. My feelings are the emotional consequences of the hands I’m dealt.

The victim perspective is based on the belief that our feelings are caused by factors over which we have no control. That belief, while invalid, leads us to make limiting choices. We ignore our roles in creating the drama and suffering we endure while blaming it on the people, situations and circumstances in our lives. Hey, it’s easier to be a victim!

Cause and Effect

The victim belief holds that events cause our feelings. According to that belief, our feelings are the spontaneous, involuntary results of events. While the outside factors do play a role in the emotional quality of our lives, they are not the cause.

The hero belief says that events trigger thoughts, and thoughts create feelings. Events are the stimuli about which we make mental choices (thoughts), and those mental choices cause our feelings. The people, and situations we encounter do not cause our feelings. Our feelings are the emotional consequences of the mental choices we make about those factors.

Other People's Behavior and My Feelings

I often ask audience members to raise their hands if they can think of anyone in their lives who upsets them. Lots of hands go up. I then encourage them to make appointments for all those people to see psychologists or behavioral therapists. Such interventions are obviously necessary since other people’s behavior must change before audience members can be happy or reduce the drama and suffering they believe that behavior is causing. Ha!

Other people’s behavior does matter, but the choices we make about that behavior matters more. The choices we make are based on our beliefs, and a belief I encourage you to consider goes like this: 

My feelings are the emotional consequences of the mental choices I make about other people’s behavior.


Previous articles in the series can be found HERE

Heroes or Victims: A Tale of Two Perspectives


Three Points To Consider

1. The hands we’re dealt aren’t always good ones. The people, behaviors, situations, circumstances, conditions and events we encounter don’t always measure up to what we expect. I thought I’d begin with an understatement!

2. We always make choices about the bad hands we're dealt. Yes, we also make choices about the good ones, but the choices we make about the bad hands are especially important.

3. The choices we make are determined more by our perspectives than by the bad hands themselvesI want you to think about that one, because those choices determine if, when and how effectively we deal with those bad hands we’re dealt. If perspective is so important, maybe we should try to get a better sense of what it is and how it works. We will benefit by understanding how we use it.


As I see it, perspective is a two-phase mental process by which we perceive and process. Our perceptions include the information we gather about the people, behaviors, situations, circumstances, conditions and events in our lives.

Most of the drama we experience is the result of that second phase, where we process by assigning meanings to the information we’ve gathered. The fact that we assign those meanings unconsciously makes it easier for us to completely overlook the roles we play in creating much of the drama in our lives and limiting our effectiveness at dealing with the bad hands we’re dealt.

To illustrate this connection between our perceptions, the meanings we assign and the power of our perspectives, let’s consider this question: What does in mean to be 60? I’m sure you’ll agree that it pretty much depends on where we’re looking at 60 from, right?


If we asked either of my daughters (ages 25 and 27) what do you think they’d say? I’m guessing it would be things like, “Old”, “Really old”, “Don’t set any long-term goals” or “There are more things you can’t do than you can”.  And if we asked my 88-year-old mother-in-law, we probably hear things like, “Sweet bird of youth”, or “What I’d give to be 60 again”.

So we’ve got the same number (60), used in the same context (depicting chronological age), viewed at the same time by two people who, when asked to declare what it means, assign totally different meanings. I’m not saying that the number is irrelevant. What I am saying is that the meanings those people assign are not based so much on the number as they are on their perspectives on the number.

Perspective is a mental process that all use countless times each day. Our perspectives produce both emotional and behavioral consequences. What that means is that if we are committed to improving the quality of our feelings and behavior, a good place to start is with the perspectives we use.

Two Perspectives in Play

While no two people’s perspectives are identical, there are what I’ll call “group perspectives”. Some common examples are perspectives based on gender, race, nationality and political affiliation. In this series of pieces I’ll be focusing on two perspectives most of us use to process the bad hands we’re dealt.

1. The victim perspective, characterized by emotional victimhood, and

2. The hero perspective, characterized by emotional accountability

We’ll begin with the one that is by far the more popular. Which do you think that is?

NEXT ARTICLE: A Word or Two About Beliefs


Mental Choices and Emotional Consequences: Are You on Autopilot?

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Our Feelings: The Emotional Consequences of the Mental Choices We Make.

That’s the premise on which I base my thoughts about what I refer to as Emotional Accountability.

Whether it's in your office, your school district, out in the field with clients or in your home, the implications of the statement above are broad and profound. Our feelings are not the emotional consequences of the people and situations we encounter. Yes, those factors do have impacts on us, but  people and situations do not create or cause our feelings.

Emotional Victimhood – The Status Quo      Here's the more common belief: “Our feelings are the emotional consequences of the hands we’re dealt”. Sound familiar? Probably not, since few of us have given it much conscious thought. But as a belief, it exerts tremendous influence over the quality of both our professional and personal lives.

Much of the suffering we associate with the “bad hands” we’re dealt is not so much caused by the hands, as it is by the mental choices we make about them. I’m not saying that there are no negative consequences of the setbacks we encounter. What I am saying is that the mental choices we make about those setbacks have at least as much impact on us as the setbacks themselves.

And that is great news, considering the uncertainty we face in every facet of our lives. In the changing world of people and situations that comprise our life experiences, setbacks are inevitable. People do not always behave in the ways we would like, our life situations do not always work out positively and  some of our goals remain unachieved. The hands we’re dealt are not always good ones.

Mental Choices and Emotional Consequences.

Here’s the way I see it playing out. The minute we become aware of negative situations, we begin making mental choices about them. And those mental choices do one of two things: They either compound or mitigate the negative impacts those situations have on us and on others.

Pay close attention to what I’m saying here. The mental choices we make don’t have any direct impact on the situations themselves, but they do have impacts on us. They produce emotional consequences, our feelings.  And our feelings either contribute to or detract from our effectiveness at dealing with the situations. Feelings like anger, frustration and resentment cloud our judgment, often leading us to say and do things that prolong and intensify the bad situations.

Disengage Your "Autopilot"                          

I would compare most of our mental processes to an airplane’s autopilot. When functioning correctly, the autopilot maintains altitude, airspeed and track. But what if it malfunctions? After engaging the autopilot, what if the plane went into a steep dive? The conscientious pilot would disengage the autopilot and take manual control of the plane.

Our minds function like autopilots. We do not consciously make or even acknowledge the mental choices we make, even the ones that create negative, limiting feelings. The question is: what can we do? First, let's disengage our mental autopilots. And then, we can acknowledge the mental choices we're making and the emotional consequences those choices are producing. 


The hands we’re dealt do matter. The choices we make about the hands we’re dealt matter more.

Characteristics of Effective Leaders: Authentic Accountability


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People in leadership positions rely on many things to function effectively. One of the things leaders must have is credibility; they must be believable. So when I offer characteristics of effective leaders, I’m not talking about the traits that they would like for people to think they possess. I’m talking about the characteristics they exhibit, the ones that they express, not so much with their words as with their behavior. This tip is about one of those characteristics, Authentic Accountability.


FIVE BENEFITS of more accountability and less victimhood:

  1. More timely & effective responses to life’s inevitable setbacks
  2. More cooperation between individuals & departments
  3. Less of your time and effort devoted to “babysitting” and “refereeing”
  4. Greater commitment to continuous process improvement
  5. Better morale & lower turnover

As a person in a leadership position you must also understand that accountability won’t “just happen”. Accountability won’t “break out all over” as a result of the things you say. People may listen to what you say, but they always watch what you do. If you want more accountability and less victimhood, you must be willing to show people what accountability looks like. 

THEORY TO PRACTICE: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : 

FIVE SUGGESTIONS for acknowledging the mental choices you make about the troubling people, situations & circumstances you encounter (we’ll call them setbacks):

1. Pay attention to:

  • The mental & behavioral choices you and others make after encountering setbacks
  • People whose behavior is contrary to what you expect
  • Situations that don’t turn out the way they’d hoped
  • Unexpected changes that create challenges or problems for them

2. Catch yourself making victim choices about those setbacks

  • Blame, wallow, quit
  • Wait, wish, hope

3. Replace the victim choices with accountable choices

  • Get over it
  • Get on with it

4. Get over it

  • Acknowledge the setback
  • Do some appropriate, rational “grieving”

5. Get on with it

  • Decide what you can do
  • Then do it

Use the opportunities you encounter (setbacks) to model accountability as a compelling alternative to victimhood. By doing so you’ll also be instilling accountability as a cultural characteristic.

Accountability in Action: Taking Ownership of the Situations You Encounter

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A company I’ve done work for provides a great example of this principle. This company’s employees are the people who close real estate transactions, the people who compile the mile-high stacks of documents that have to be signed by buyers and sellers at the closing table.

Several years ago, when interest rates went into a free for all, their business took off. That increase came from the thousands of homeowners who wanted to refinance their homes. During that “boom” the closers “didn’t have time” to maintain contact with their traditional sources of business, realtors.

And then the refinance craze was over. The pool of homeowners who were able and willing to refinance their homes dried up, and interest rates began climbing. I guess you could call this a situation the closers encountered. Some of them took ownership of that situation, and some didn’t.

Realizing that they could no longer rely on business coming to them, some closers began renewing their relationships with realtors. The ones who didn’t take ownership simply waited, wished and hoped for the real estate community to “come to their rescue”. The closers who took ownership of this situation still experienced dips in their business. But because of their timely, aggressive actions, those dips were relatively shallow and short-lived.

Here’s another way of describing this ownership principle:

Negative situations like setbacks and/or unexpected, unpleasant changes, provide excellent but difficult opportunities for leaders to model accountability and take ownership.

THEORY TO PRACTICE: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : 

Here are some suggestions for taking ownership of situations that you and your associates have encountered:

1. A situation does not have to be a crisis to justify your taking ownership. Remember, leaders don’t limit their attention to things that are “broke” and need to be “fixed”; they facilitate a Relentless Search for Better Ways

2. Identify 3-5 situations that you and your associates have encountered, ones that are either having some impact on your company or department’s requirements for success or could do so. Remember, they don’t have to be crises!

3. For each of those situations, complete the following steps:

  • Specifically define the situation
  • Describe the ways that the situation is impacting you, your associates and the requirements for your success, or the impacts it could have
  • Identify the people who are most impacted by this situation—or the ones who are contributing to that situation
  • List and define the benefits you would expect to derive from addressing the situation

4. Pick the situation you want to address and complete the following steps:

  • The things that must be done in order to effectively address the situation
  • The people whose efforts will be needed to do so

5. Invite those people to collaborate with you to create a plan for addressing that situation 

Next Article: Characteristics of Effective Leaders - Authentic Accountability

Happily Ever Afters Don't Just Happen


And another myth bites the dust, gone the way of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny & Tooth Fairy. While those last 3 were relatively harmless for us as children, that first one—Happily Ever After—has left its mark on us as adults.

After repeated exposure to the same story line: hero gets into trouble and not only gets out of trouble, but lives how?, why Happily Ever After, many people develop and retain a deep-seated expectation that somewhere, somehow they’ll find their Happily Ever After job, spouse, or whatever. And armed with that delusion, they react to life’s inevitable setbacks as evidence that they should abandon the job (or spouse) that’s not “making them happy” and continue their frantic, but futile, search for the one that surely will.

As I mentioned during my presentation, this Happily Ever After phenomenon plays out as a multi-step cycle that looks like this: 

We looked at how this cycle plays out in the workplace by following a new employee from day one to a point 45 minutes to 6 weeks later.

People show up excited that first day, and that excitement is based in part on positive expectations. For some people (maybe most) the expectation is that this is their “Happily Ever After Job”. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Forty-five minutes to six weeks after showing up, the new begins to wear off, and as it does, so does that initial excitement. After some attempts at denial, they then move into the next step in the cycle, fear.

Fearing that once again they’ve failed to find a Happily Ever After Job, these people realize that their job situations aren’t changing, so the best they can do is create more comfortable feelings, and that’s what they do. They shift from fear to their old “friend”, anger.

Anger is a compelling alternative to fear because it offers them an opportunity to find the people and circumstances to blame for their unhappiness. Having determined that they are victims, they conclude that there’s nothing they can do about the job that’s “making them so unhappy”, so they just give up. Some of them spend their careers in that step, but some go looking for that ever elusive Happily Ever After Job.

And where do they look? Why, out there of course, And what do they look for? A job that will make them Happily Ever After. And when they find it they’re mighty excited—for 45 minutes to 6 Weeks—until the new wears off and the cycle plays out again.