Note: "Stop the Self-Pity" was first written in January 2017, but has been updated to better reflect our experiences of the world in 2020.
Life is tough for most of us right now. Many people around the world could legitimately call 2020 the worst year on record. So it's more important than ever that we're kind - to others, and to ourselves.
But there are some people who don't need anything like a pandemic to convince them that the universe is out to get them. They take even the smallest setback as a sign that they're being victimized - again and again.
But, own up, I bet that at one time or another we've all wallowed in self-pity, luxuriated in it, and taken refuge in its guilty permission to abdicate ourselves from responsibility or blame for some misfortune or uncomfortable situation.
Who hasn't enjoyed the attention and concern of friends, family or colleagues who've rallied round when life has given us a kicking?
Girlfriend left you (after your forgot her birthday for the third year in a row)? Lost your job (after accidentally copying your boss into that email in which you told your friends what a jerk he was)? "It's so unfair! It’s not my fault!" you wail to a sympathetic audience, which doesn't have all the gory details of your own shortcomings or behaviors.
You can forgive and indulge an occasional lapse into self-pity. After all, chances are you'll be looking for the same support at some point.
The problems start when an occasional lapse becomes a habit. And it might not be a habit that you are conscious of. But how might that habit develop?
Subconsciously, you enjoy being the center of attention and being fussed over, and you begin to crave it. You enjoy the freedom and relief of not having to accept responsibility for problems, and genuinely believe that your woes and unhappiness are the fault of other people's actions, or fate, or anything but your own behavior.
People try to help, offer solutions or advice – but you don’t see their good intentions. Instead you twist it in your mind to become another form of oppression. Why are they trying to take away your "victim's high?"
You might not realize it at first, but your manager and colleagues are starting to get a bit fed up. Your self-pity party is wearing thin. It's damaging their morale and productivity too. When you fail to complete a task, or don't deliver your part of a project, you point the finger elsewhere.
Seemingly out of the blue to you, but after possibly weeks or months of aggravation for your fellow team members, you find yourself in an office with your manager and someone from HR, and you hear a litany of complaints about your work and attitude. The gist of the meeting is, "Shape up or ship out!"
If you're lucky, a friend or colleague – or even your boss – might take you to one side early on and wake you up to yourself before things reach such a level.
As a manager, you need to identify and deal with a team member's victim mentality as soon as possible. You can find out how to do this with our article, How to Manage a Person With a Victim Mentality.
Have you ever had to manage someone who was always the victim, and never to blame? Join the discussion in the comment box, below.
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