“I don’t know if our marriage can make it,” Jocey* told her pastor. “Rex often loses his cool with our daughter. He’s constantly disrepectful to me.”
“I’m so sorry,” Pastor Ammons replied. “This is so painful.” After taking some time to listen to Jocey, he tried to shift the conversation to what actions Jocey might take. They had tried marriage counseling twice, but Jocey had quit when she felt like the counselors “always beat up on her.”
Pastor Ammons knew that Rex freely confessed that he lost his temper with their daughter and was sometimes rude to Jocey. He also knew that Rex and their daughter lived in constant terror of Jocey’s critical, controlling tongue.
Over the next few weeks Pastor Ammons would remind Jocey, “Rex is not in the room. You’re the only one here, so the only one we can work on is you. What can you do to be healthier?”
While Jocey never argued that point, 90% of her conversation continued to be about how Rex needed to change. She never became willing to consider how her actions were damaging her family. Faced with a choice between blaming and getting healthy, she chose blame.
We’re all mistreated, but we each have the power to choose how to respond to mistreatment. Paul experienced more trauma than most of us—beatings, stoning, shipwreck—yet he says, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 1:8-9 KJV).
We can choose to live as capital-V Victims—responding to hurts with self-pity, blame, and helplessness. Or we can choose to be Victors by choosing faith instead of self-pity, choosing forgiveness over bitterness, choosing to own our power to make healthy choices over helplessness.
Wise words from my youth pastor have guided me for 50 years: “If the other person is 90% wrong and I’m just 10% in the wrong, I’m responsible to make my 10% right. I’m not responsible for the other person’s 90%.”
Recently Branson came to talk to Pastor Ammons about his marriage. Branson’s marriage was a lot like Jocey’s with toxic patterns on both sides. But Branson didn’t come to complain about his wife. “Pastor,” he said, “I have not been loving my wife as Christ loves the church. Can you help me learn how to do that?” Instead of choosing blame, he is choosing to take responsibility for what he can control—his own actions.
Branson, you won’t be surprised to learn, is getting healthier. He’s leaving Victimhood behind. He’s learning to be a Victor.
If you start to slide into Victim mode, who or what can help you refocus:
- from self-pity to faith?
- from blaming to taking responsibility for your part?
- from bitterness to forgiveness?
- from helplessness to owning your power to make healthy choices?
* Names and identifying details in stories have been changed.