How To Help Stop Your Teen Feeling Like a Victim
None of us like to admit that we play the victim card - but all of us do it. Which is why it’s so important we learn how to recognise it in ourselves - and in our teens. They might not running around yelling ‘poor me’, but it takes only a few moments of chatting with a teen to hear them complain about things like ‘it’s not fair how I have 2 exams on the same day’, ‘I’d be doing better at English if my teacher didn’t always pick on me’, or ‘It’s his fault I’m so anxious all the time - he’s the one who cheated on me.’ All of these statements are crying out the definition of what a victim is (according to ‘Uncle Google’ of course!) - a person who has come to feel helpless and passive in the face of misfortune or ill-treatment.
I know it sometimes feels useful to feel ‘sorry’ for teens and all the struggle they face in their final years at school. But allowing them to sit back and play victim to it all - to feel helpless and passive in the face of it - is the worst thing we can do to them. Because if we allow them to keep blaming things beyond their control for why they lives are they way they are, we render them powerless. And it is powerlessness that leads to hopelessness, and hopelessness is increasingly leading to… A pain no family should ever had to endure.
I’m not saying the world can’t be a harsh place for our teens, but I am saying we can teach them not to be victim to it. In fact, I believe it’s our responsibility to do so. Transitioning them over to realise that they are the only ones responsible for the outcomes of their lives is no easy pill to swallow - hey there’s even as adults we still have growing to do with this - but it is the most important transition we can ever help them make. Because that is how they get their power back.
We need to teach them that victimhood is a choice - founded upon blaming things outside of you. But the truth is nothing outside of you is to blame for why your life is the way it is, or why you feel the way you feel. This can be a tough wakeup call for all of us - because owning this fact comes with huge responsibility. But also, unlimited freedom and empowerment.
And trust me, if there’s anyone who feels justified in playing the victim, it’s me. Waking up to the phone call your sister is dead through to seeing video footage of the accident and initially not having the driver who caused it being charged for his actions - it really felt like I had every good reason to blame, argue and surrender myself helpless to the horror I could not change. But I didn’t. I didn’t because I learned the most valuable lesson. In the moment I thought I had no choice, I actually learned that I always have a choice.
In my previous post I outlined how we can teach our teens this by firstly helping them recognise that:
Factual circumstances (things outside of us beyond our control) are neutral - they have no inherent meaning until we have a thought about them.
It is the thoughts that we have, and the perspective we take on the circumstance, that causes how we feel.
This is VERY good news, because our thoughts are optional - they things that we can learn how to change and control.
This means we can change how we feel by changing our view on things - without anything outside of us changing.
Therefore, how we feel is our choice - dependent upon how we choose to think about and interpret the circumstances in our lives.
Now up until I discovered this, I believed what I’m sure many of your teens do ‘Don’t tell me to think positively! That’s all just fluffed - how can thinking differently make any difference?’
But I soon realised it makes all the difference.
Because do you know what drives your behaviour, your actions and how you show up in the world?
Think about how differently you speak to your teen if you’re feeling frustrated or upset at them, versus feeling curious or compassionate towards them - from your body language, tone of voice, eye contact - that conversation is likely to go in 2 very different directions based on the feelings that’s creating how you’re showing up for it, right?
You’re the one in control of which approach you take.
Let’s play this through to recognise how we play victim to what’s happening in our lives every day, without even really realising it -
Your teen’s behaviour is not to blame if you’re feeling frustrated - that’s being caused by thoughts like ‘He never listens to me! He doesn’t respect me!’ - and it’s those thoughts that cause you to feel and act in a way that brings more of that reality to life (e.g. short tempered, snappy, closed off from listening to them properly - leading to more tension in the relationship!).
Or you can to a moment to pause and redirect to a more curious perspective, ‘I know he can do better than to act out like that - I wonder what’s going on..?’ - inspiring you to approach him more openly with softer tone of voice, meaning you’re far more likely to have a calm conversation that doesn’t escalate into world war 3 and creates a space for your teen to open up to you if there is something troubling them. Same scenario - very different thoughts, feelings, actions and of course, very different results.
Other people are not responsible for our actions or how we show up in the world.
Because what drives our actions are our feelings.
What creates our feelings are our thoughts.
So yes, while circumstances trigger thoughts - we can change them. We can catch them and redirect them before we let them hijack our emotions and behaviour - if we choose to.
We can bring these truths all together using the most powerful cognitive behavioural tool I’ve found, The Model, which I’ve become qualified in after being certified at The Life Coach School by Brooke Castillo.
Help your students apply this Model in their lives, and they will understand why they can choose at any moment to never be victim to their circumstances again.
This is not to say that other people aren’t responsible for their actions - they are.
But they are not responsible for the impact their actions have on our lives and how we feel about them.
It’s the difference between ‘You just swore at me and now I’m yelling at you because you don’t respect me’
‘You just swore at me and as a consequence I’m not dropping you to your friends tonight’.
Or in my case, the difference is ‘You caused my sister’s accident and now I can never be happy again’
‘You caused my sister’s accident and now you’re facing the consequences of being charged for it’.
I was already suffering enough with grieving the loss of my sister, I could see there was no upside to emotionally compounding my pain by sitting there blaming the other drive and getting all angry at him for what happened. With only so much mental energy available to us in a day, it just didn’t make sense to me wasting it on him and what I could not change.
I could not make him take back his actions.
But I could take back the impact his actions have on my life.
By taking responsibility for my perspective, I was able to do just that.
I was able to transform the greatest tragedy of my life into my greatest teacher, and use all the lessons my experience taught me to help the lives of thousands.
That never would have happened if I stayed stuck in blame - unaware of the power I have over my own response to things and why our circumstances are not the reason for the outcomes of our lives.
Our thoughts are.
This is why I am so passionate about teaching your students this.
Because once you realise victimhood is a choice,
You can learn to choose better.
Worried that your students won’t listen to these lessons coming from you? Yep, let’s face it - teens are naturally at an age where they resist hearing advice from authority figures. So how about inviting me to deliver these messages personally in a way that they’ll both respect and connect with? If there’s one thing I have a knack for, it’s leaving a lasting impact in their hearts of teens - because they can feel I’m speaking directly from mine. To enquire about a presentation with your Year 10 - 12 students, please CLICK HERE