Do You Have To Accept Being A Victim?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Mar 19, 2015

What if I'm the one to blame for my own difficult circumstances?

That could be pretty hard to accept if you are one who was hit by the drunken driver, harder still if you look at the circumstances of someone who was abused at the hands of a stronger person, one who clearly lacked the ability to defend themselves at the time.

So, let's shift the question from blaming someone else for my circumstances, to:

Who's to blame for how I experience my circumstances?

Now, this one could be really interesting, especially for those of you who like to keep raising the red herring of "blaming the victim."

Anyone who has ever worked with victims of various tragedies will know that there is a great deal of difference between what happened and how the person responds to what happened. You may not have chosen the circumstances, but sooner or later you are going to have to accept responsibility for your responses and choices that come after the fact.

(An important caveat here: I am definitely not addressing those who may have been truly incapable of choosing or responding differently. For example, I am not addressing those who have become brain injured. However, I am addressing those who continue to bemoan their fate rather than get on with what's left.)

There are thousands of examples around us every day of people who have gone through hell and chosen to rise above what has happened to them. Some will say these are superheroes, and, I suppose they are in a way. What makes them super, however, has precious little to do with gifted abilities; it does have to do with the mindful awareness and courage to accept that if anyone is going to do anything about my problems, it's probably going to start with me.

My favorite example is Mitchell, as he prefers to be called. Mitchell was horribly disfigured in a fiery motorcycle crash many years ago; after many surgeries and a lengthy recovery, he then found himself paralyzed as a result of a small airplane crash. As he is fond of saying,

Read his book, It's Not What Happens To You, It's What You Do About It, and see for yourself what could happen if you truly do choose to accept responsibility for your next steps.

Can Acceptance Be The Key To Lasting Change?

This opens an important question in terms of creating life in a more fulfilling and uplifting way - the role of acceptance.

Acceptance may be one of those mandatory preconditions not only improving your life experience, but also for discovering your source of Inspiration and Aspiration.

(If you want to follow the larger context, here's a link to my free archive of Huff Post articles. You can either start with the July 20, 2009 post which started this series on inspiration and aspiration, or you may prefer to go all the way back to my first post on July 15, 2008. There's no way I know of to impart a complete answer in a single post, so if some of this seems to be hanging out there a bit, you may find it useful to read some of the earlier posts and connect the dots.)

If someone chooses to live in a state of denial, it's pretty hard to help them make any improvement. Talk to anyone counsels people in difficult circumstances, ranging from addiction and cancer to divorce and bankruptcy, and most will tell you that a critical step on the path to recovery is acceptance.

Acceptance does not mean "liking it." You don't have to like your circumstance, you just have to acknowledge the reality and accept that the circumstance is what it is. Mitchell couldn't do anything to change the disfigurement or paralysis yet neither did he have to dwell on some kind of self-pity or bemoan his fate. While it might be understandable that one would indulge in a few rounds of self-pity, sooner or later acceptance has to show up if you are going to move forward.

Shortly after my father died, the insurance company denied both health and death benefits, and our family was forced into a third bankruptcy, I wound up living in my beater of a car. Sure, not the same level as Mitchell, but tough enough for an 18 year old.

I received some great counsel from an early mentor, Ernie Gourdine. Ernie turned me on to Fritz Perls (considered the "father of Gestalt therapy"). Fritz was big on awareness with a constant suggestion that simple awareness can often be curative. Awareness is a precursor to acceptance - hard to accept what you don't notice.

I found myself blaming my family, blaming the hospital, blaming the insurance company, and just about anything or anyone around. Then I noticed that no matter how much I blamed something or someone, I still had my circumstances to deal with. Once I accepted the reality - a beater car, a few clothes, $6.35 in the bank, and not much else - I was then able to start making choices about how to improve my situation.

To be sure, there were numerous challenges, but the only choice I had was to choose or to collapse and decry my fate.

So, take a look at your circumstances. Can you accept that they just are what they are? Even if it seems you have been dealt a raw hand, it's still the hand you are left to play. If you are going to improve upon the current reality, the very first thing you have to do is accept what you have. You don't have to like it, want it or anything close; you just have to accept that what's present, is what's so. From there, you can begin to make choices about how to make things a bit better.

You can blame the banks, the politicians, the greedy powers that be, and just about anyone else. I know from my own experience, that after you get done blaming, you are still going to be left with your life, your circumstances, and your next choices.

So, consider carefully how you choose. Each choice leads you somewhere. Are you choosing a direction your truly prefer?

More on this notion to come, including some thoughts about progress vs. perfection, and what to do if the next choice you make doesn't work out quite the way you hoped.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)