The Most Damning Belief of All Time

The frozen in Dante's Inferno

The frozen in Dante’s Inferno

There is a popular belief among all of us that I think is pure evil—and I don’t use that word lightly. It is a contemptible, destructive philosophy that crushes hope and it freezes its followers in a lake of stagnation. Instead of ennobling and strengthening those who embrace it, this belief drags men and women down. It encourages isolation, fosters fear, and perpetuates resentment. It robs men and women of their strength and will to fight; it makes them give in and fall down instead of hold true and stand up. In short, this philosophy is anything but liberating—it is damning. Like a pernicious plague, this belief—if embraced—can stunt our growth and limit our life.

The belief?

I can’t change. I am a victim of my circumstances.

Yet despite all of its side effects, we nevertheless cling to this belief to one degree or another. In order to make it go down easier we sugarcoat it with pleasing justifications and reassure ourselves that this belief will actually soothe our pains. And for a time, it does. Like the addict who self-medicates with drugs, or the alcoholic who escapes life through drink, we run to victimhood to make ourselves feel better. The belief that we’re not responsible for our actions gives us a buzz, or a temporary relief, before dropping us down lower than before. This belief is like a chocolate-covered razor blade—it tastes sweet, but after you swallow it, the chocolate will wear off and the razor will be exposed. You see, victimhood is vicious; it takes and tortures its prisoners. Unaware that the belief is the thing that is hurting us and halting us, we will continue to blame anything and everything around us—even our own bodies—but certainly not ourselves.

Busy with blame, we will invariably overlook this important truth:

We may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can always control how we react.

We are not victims of our circumstances. We are always free to choose—to act and not be acted upon. The sooner we embrace this belief and accept our responsibility, the sooner we will triumph over our circumstances and become a victor instead of a victim.

Please point me to anyone in history—anyone who has changed the world for the better—who embraced the belief that they were a victim. The men and women we revere are the individuals who refuse to be a victim of their circumstances; they take responsibility for how they react to the things that are given to them. By taking responsibility for life, these individuals are able to transcend their circumstances in a most beautiful (and oftentimes ironic) way.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill, the venerable Prime Minister who led Great Britain to victory in World War II, has become an icon of oration. His words inspired millions in the fight against Nazi Germany. In his first speech to the House of Commons he said: “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.” 

Yet for all of his success in speaking, as a boy Churchill struggled with a speech impediment. Had he believed himself a victim of his circumstance, we may never have seen “victory in spite of all terror.”

Helen Keller was both deaf and blind, yet went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, become a political activist, a lecturer, and a prolific author. After accomplishing what many would deem ‘impossible’ Helen Keller would later write this: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope.”

Nelson Mandela was an anti-apartheid revolutionary who was imprisoned for 27 years. While in prison, he memorized the poem “Invictus,” which reads, in part: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Instead of blaming his circumstances, Nelson Mandela accepted responsibility for his fate and emerged from prison a different kind of revolutionary—one whose attitude of forgiveness would change the world.

Indeed, the world is filled to bursting with individuals who have refused to be the victim of their circumstances and have chosen instead to be the victor of their own story. I know women who were abused as children but refuse to remain the victims of their abusers. Instead, they offer hope, help and guidance to others in similar situations, and actively work to prevent the abuse of other children. I know a man who, when he was a child, was beaten by his father and eventually placed in foster care. He has refused to remain a victim of his father’s negligence and abuse and has chosen instead to become a loving husband and a caring father. I know a girl who was born with cerebral palsy, but has gone on to chase her dreams and earn a degree.

On a personal level, I suffer from chronic depression which can be very debilitating and very heart-wrenching. Depression is something that runs in my family and it would be easy (and acceptable) for me to use that factor as an excuse. And for many years, I did use that as an excuse. Those were the hardest and most difficult times of my life.

And of course they were. Because I was allowing myself to be a victim of my depression. I had voluntarily surrendered all of my power to this idea that I was a victim. I believed I was trapped. Why wouldn’t I be miserable?

But I can attest to a marvelous, inexplicable power that has come to me whenever I accept the full responsibility for my depression. Whenever I truly believe that “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul,” then I’m given the strength to face my demons.  Author Robert Louis Stevenson once said: “You cannot run away from a weakness; you must some time fight it out or perish; and if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?”

It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been a one-time event, but taking ownership of my life has been worth the fight.

Satan in Ice

Satan in Ice

I called the philosophy of victimhood the most damning philosophy of all time—I called it evil. I stand by that. In Dante’s Inferno, the Devil is found at the lowest level of Hell surrounded, not by fire, but by a lake of ice. This lake is kept frozen by the beating of Satan’s wings.

For Dante, Satan’s punishment symbolizes several things: 1) the isolation of Hell, 2) the fact that there is no progression in Hell, and 3) that the isolation and stagnation of Hell is of our own making. By blaming everyone else (and most especially by blaming God), Satan has sunk to the lowest levels of isolation. There, by the beating of his own wings, the Fallen Angel remains, crushed by the weight of his own victims, and mired in a frozen lake of victimhood.

Now, we are not like the Fallen Angel of Dante’s Inferno. But let me appeal to the “better angels” of your nature. If you feel like life is Hell, stop beating your wings (or fists) at the world. We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can always control how we react. Abandon the idea that you will forever be the victim of the things that have happened to you. Choose to be a victor.

Embrace that belief and I promise you that you will feel the weight of Hell drop from your shoulders. Because we are always free to choose.

And that is the most liberating belief of all time.

54 thoughts on “The Most Damning Belief of All Time

  1. That is a very strong and powerful message, one that I have come to accept over the time I have healed. But that is just it, when we reach the place of having found ourselves closer to a sense of healing than to the darkness that held us, we can’t forget that it was a process. At the beginning it felt like baby steps, like just holding on to the proverbial end of the rope when the ground seemed to have fallen out beneath us. For me it took at least 25 years of experience to reach the point where the darkness almost won.

    At that time, a fellow traveler on the road toward healing told me I reminded her of “an eagle locked in a cage”. That image did not create hopelessness to me. What she told me was that saw strength within me. That hope gave me the incentive I needed to start finding my own keys to opening the door. It has not been a bit over 25 years since that turning point and I have found a peace in my life. It is not without winks of the dark coming to visit. It has been a journey of growth and an opening to dreams I had lost. Facing down the dark is a journey for the brave. When you realize you have made it through that one more day or moment, celebrate. You are showing a strength that you have discounted in yourself.

    • Over the years I have battled depression and severe pain from a car accident. 13 yrs later, hope and God’s help have taught me to simply GO ON. Every day I give thanks for the beauty of my life and gratitude for discovering strenghts I never knew I had. I am forever grateful to be alive. So what if I can’t physically do what I used to do! I am not a victim and have discovered many things that are possible. Don’t give in! GO ON.

  2. There is even a “religious movement” dedicated to this idea called liberation theology. It says there is always an oppressor and the oppressed. Most people find it easy to see themselves in the oppressed role. If that isn’t evil, I don’t know what is. Who would want people to feel like helpless victims?

  3. Ask God for help with anything and I guarantee you will get an interesting response. All you have to do is open yourself sufficiently to patiently and persistently ask for what you really need. He understands your needs and will not let you down. It has to be genuine however.

  4. I know and understand what you say about depression, I’ve never been so low and stuck in my life and am sure if I don’t change im Done, I cant live like this anymore, You don’t write HOW!! Go help someone else is all I understood that I need to do, but,,, Im going through bankruptcy, My job isn’t going well, my grown children don’t come around any more. The only reason Im here is to feed and love my dog and cat. How do you pull yourself up enough to even find the energy? I work as much overtime as I can just to survive. I used to be a tough person, I keep telling myself the world is coming to an end anyway so if I hang in there a little bit longer it will be over soon. Please explain what your very first step was!

    • Katherine, you hang in there! Do you have a pastor? Visit with him and if nothing else, he can be a support and provide you with perspective. Be honest with your friends–you don’t have to fake being strong. Tell them you are hurting and you could use their support, even if it’s just through conversations. Do you have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) offered through your employer benefits? It is a free program for employees that allows you to see a counselor for several sessions. They can help. Tell your family. They can be the best supporters you have.

      Sometimes we need to open up to those we love and ask for help. It’s hard to do, but it can bring us closer together.

    • I think that was what I was also saying in my comment. Though I am where I am now…. It was a process. The first step for me was simply hanging on and hanging in there. The second was the recognition that I don’t know what tomorrow might bring and taking the risk to make a difference in my world from just the place I was at. I love the term “wounded healers” because it acknowledges the wounds and yet is an active term of redeeming our pain by making a difference in our world. For me, finding out how to balance self care with caring for others was an important step for me. Too often the “victim” feelings also go with “martyr” feelings…. In both the emphasis is on others making the difference. Through learning self care as well, I learned that I could make a difference for my own life. And by making a difference in my own life, what I have to share with others is stronger.

    • I do think so, yes, but when HE steps in, we may have already done somerhing or hoped for as minuscule as of a size of the notorious “mustard seed” (Matth. 17:20; Alma 32:27)

      • And that something may be as small as acknowledging we need help which sounds like a victim. The difference is how we listen. Then instead of waiting for the one small step that culture tells us we should take, we take whatever step is in front of us and then we take the next and the next. I think those phrases like “God helps those who help themselves is something that is guilt inducing because often those outside are deciding what helping yourself is and using that kind of attitude to step aside, When God is brought into the equation than the honest way of dealing with that would be to look at the body image where it says where one hurts all hurt and where one rejoices all rejoice. If you want to bring God into it then there is no vim because no one is left to deal with it all by themselves in that body of believers.

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