Thursday, 22 September 2016

Counteracting a victim mindset

Do you have a victim mindset? Does someone you know suffer from this malady? Awareness that a problem exists is, of course, the first step to remedying a negative situation, and only the person who is affected can do this for him- or herself. But once awareness is in place, the process of counteracting a sense of victimhood is fairly straightforward.

Jane is married to Colin, a restaurant owner who works late into the night six days a week. They never get to go on holiday and always seem to be battling to pay their bills, even though the restaurant has an excellent name and is always full. Both Jane and Colin suffer from a victim mindset, although only Jane is conscious of it.

The problem with feeling like a victim is that it leaves the person feeling helpless and hopeless. In the above example, Colin spends his life teetering on the edge of breakdown. He knows he is overworked, but believes he cannot do anything about it. Blind to the fact that he is responsible for managing his own stress levels, he blames everything from his staff to the government for the predicament he is in.

Jane, on the other hand, knows that Colin could take time off if he wanted to. He is the owner of the business, after all. By appointing a manager to run the restaurant when he is absent and delegating authority to that person to keep things running smoothly, he could alter his schedule, tag blocks of time for himself and his family, and ensure that he takes leave to go on a proper, restorative holiday each year. Her problem is that she too feels helpless and hopeless because Colin refuses point blank to follow any sort of strategy for taking control of his life. She has to put up with his bad moods and what feels like neglect, and although she can see the problem, feels powerless to change it.

Both Jane and Colin need to implement major restructuring in their lives. If they don’t, they will remain victims of circumstance. They need to identify the areas in which they have power to change things and then do so.

The key is knowing what you would prefer in place of feeling like a victim. Jane finds it hard to define an alternative reality. She can tell what is wrong, but is hard-pressd to say what she would like her life to look like instead. Her imagination has almost stopped working for her, so the first step is to revive it by dreaming, writing lists, and practising acting as if she and Colin are masters of their own destiny.

I’ve heard it said that the opposite of behaving like a victim is being a volunteer. A volunteer takes voluntary action and enjoys the feeling of making a difference in the world. Think about it, and let me know if you have any thoughts on the matter.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Psychological stress and breakdown associated with gaining independence

The following is an extract from one of the later chapters of my book What Every Blind Person Needs YOU To Know, and it deals with the psychological crisis that can occur when the wish to become independent clashes with the fear of freedom. This may not happen for your blind companion, but it is worth being aware of anyway.

The Greek philosopher Plato offered an allegory about a charioteer to illustrate the challenges facing a human soul. He described a chariot pulled by two winged horses, one white and one black. The charioteer stands for the rational part of the soul, also called the intellect, while the white and black horses represent the soul’s positive and negative urges respectively. The intellect must continually struggle to keep both sets of impulses running in the same direction, or the soul’s whole enterprise will be overturned.

The story gives useful insight into the inner conflict which may trouble your blind companion in the late stages of her progress towards independence. On the one hand, she wants freedom and power; this has been her stated desire all along, and it is obviously the one which will yield the most fulfilment for her over time. On the other hand, she wants to be sheltered and cared for because of her sense of being inadequate in the sighted world; this desire is much like the one she started out with, except that it has now developed into a much more complex argument comprising distorted wisdom and clever manipulation of the facts.

Understand that this battle between light and darkness is going on within her, not just in the outside world. You see the evidence of her inconsistency—the actions which appear bizarre and the speeches which defy comprehension. Yet, make no mistake, everything you witness is magnified tenfold in her mind. It creates unbearable stress and anxiety. Signs that this is the case are insomnia, indecisiveness, talking in circles, worry over seemingly small issues and feelings of guilt. Your visually-impaired family member, friend or colleague may become neurotic, taking responsibility for situations far beyond her control, or paranoid, believing that circumstances are conspiring to destroy her. These are all symptoms of approaching breakdown and should be addressed by a medical doctor or counsellor.

Whether she is able to manage the conflict on her own or requires intervention, this is essentially the end of the journey for you. Your blind companion will, by this time, be under no illusion about the real struggle she is undertaking. Once upon a time, she was able to blame others for keeping her from fulfilling her potential. Now, forced to take responsibility for her own choices, she realises that what is truly holding her back is her own negative impulses. Perhaps she can trace them back to a basic fear of danger, or failure, or pain, or the unknown. But regardless of whether she analyses them or not, she knows the conflict lies within, not without.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Avoiding emotional blackmail in times of excessive stress

As thrilling as it is for your visually-impaired family member, friend or colleague to gain independence, it is nevertheless extremely tough at times to cope in the sighted world. There may come moments when she wishes she could run away and seek refuge in a safe place, a place where she won’t have to be responsible and can simply let others make decisions for her.

To be looked after, served meals, expected simply to get through the day—these become her vision of perfection, replacing her previous vision of empowerment and freedom.

Of course, you cannot hold yourself responsible for ensuring she stays integrated and active in her community. As previously mentioned, you must maintain a certain distance and avoid shouldering a burden which isn’t yours to bear. It is important that your blind family member, friend or colleague knows she is in control of her future, and that choices she makes now will result in consequences she alone will be accountable for. This will, hopefully, prevent her from acting rashly. Moreover, if she does act rashly, it will prevent you from feeling as if you are to blame.

Imagine that your blind companion is supposed to go for a job interview. You are highly invested in her securing a regular job. You know it will boost her self-esteem even more than it has been boosted already, and the thought of her earning an income—or improving the income she is already earning—would make all the difference to her quality of life. Yet she is reluctant to go. Recent experiences have caused her confidence to waver and she feels ill-equipped to find the venue for the job interview by herself.

Now imagine that you happen to be available on the day of her interview and could accompany her. Be careful of doing so for your own sake, because it will put you at risk of being emotionally blackmailed. If you sense that her neediness has more to do with her wanting to shift responsibility to you than simple logistics, take a firm stand and insist that she attend the job interview on her own. Of course, you can participate in the planning by locating the building on a map or looking up which bus she needs to catch, for example, but do not, under any circumstances, treat her like a child who needs to be taken by the hand and ushered through the door. You would be undoing all the hard work of the preceding months, not to mention setting a dangerous precedent for the future.

Emotional blackmail happens when you care more about a particular outcome than the person herself. She is thus able to use the imbalance as leverage to get her way. If you simply refuse to participate in the game, it will be impossible for her to shift responsibility onto you. Moreover, if things turn out badly on account of her playing the victim, she won’t have anyone to blame except herself.