Victim Mode: How A Victim Mentality Shapes The Stories of Our Lives.


From the moment I woke up, the day felt off. It was hard to describe. Maybe it was the quality of my dreams, or where my mind went during my middle-of-the-night wakeups, or the state of my inbox in the morning. Nothing was concretely wrong, but nothing was right either.

The first email I looked at alerted me to a mistake I made in the terms of an outstanding contract, resulting in the ever-so-slightly panicked feeling of racing against the clock to correct the error before my recipient inked their name on the dotted line. In and of itself, that mistake was easy enough to overcome. But as I said, the day already felt off.

The Beginning Stages of Victim Mode

For one thing, I was supposed to be on vacation. While my bosses had encouraged me to unplug from work, I had no redundancy or backup to rely on. It felt easier to check and reply to high priority emails in the mornings and evenings, or else risk losing out on sales and/or coming back to a monster inbox. The fact that I was so critical to our operations had me feeling pressured, and this pressure had been more or less permanent for months. 

On top of that, I was now several days into my vacation. I could feel my mental rhythm adapt out of my workday haze and into the slower pace of a life that isn’t rushing to fulfill other peoples’ expectations at all hours of the day. In the adjustment, I could feel things start to crystalize. The parts of my work life that were confusing and inefficient started to become more clear to me, as if I were watching footage of a vase breaking into a million pieces in reverse.

By the time I had assembled my winter-weather gear and locked the condo door behind me, I was already primed to be in Victim Mode.

What Is Victim Mode?

Victim Mode is the sense that life is doomed. In this mode, I feel helpless to move things forward, and my motivation plummets.

This was not something I was aware of at the time, but looking back on it now, I can say confidently that I was in Victim Mode before we got out of the car at the ski lodge. Something about the off nature of the morning had primed me, and I had taken the bait without realizing it.

By the time we parked the car, the forecasted storm had already started. In the three minutes it took me to pull my snowboard and other gear out of the trunk, a layer of flaky snow had already blown into the car. As I looked around at the cars parked around us, I saw snow mounds building up behind the wheels of the early morning riders. Pretty soon they would be too large to drive over and would require a bit of shoveling. As I turned away from the car towards the lodge, I could sense it was going to be a long day. 

A Victim Feels Isolated

But maybe all hope was not lost. Maybe I could snap myself out of it. 

I walked into the lodge’s main entrance to get myself organized. Inside were riders who were clearly excited for the day ahead. Groups of teenagers in Burton snowboard bib pants were laughing and taking group selfies as they waited for the rest of their crew to get their lift tickets. Old-timey ski couples walked the hallways arm-in-arm, with a clunkiness characteristic of boots made for strapping into long slender planks of wood. Talks of fresh powder echoed through the lodge, where the general feeling was that the storm’s less desirable qualities were forgiven for the chance to ride on fluffy virgin terrain.

Caught in the crosscurrent of other peoples’ anticipation, I felt totally and utterly alone, another sign that I was operating in Victim Mode. Perhaps it was the hangover of my morning funk, or maybe it was the fact that I was a beginner learning to ride at 33, and I would have to allow myself to be embarrassed and confused in front of people half my age on the hill. In any case, my victim mentality was solidifying.

A Victim Feels Stuck

Boards, jackets, gloves, helmets, goggles. They were all accounted for. 

I slung my board under my armpit, and Oli and I made our way out of the lodge towards the beginner lift. My grip on the board buckled as my feet sunk into snow piles up to my knees. I struggled to catch my breath, both because of the chill and the elevation, and found myself panting by the time we reached the line for the lift. 

I strapped my non-dominant foot into its binding, and began the awkward crab walk towards the front of the line. I used my free foot to push off the ground, sliding six inches at a time closer to my destination, watching 12-year-olds cruise by me as if this were the easiest thing in the world. Having hundreds of hours of more boardtime than me, Oli patiently waited as I struggled to move forward and catch my breath, all at the same time.

Finally, I made my way to the front of the line and onto the lift. As the chair floated skywards and my board left the ground beneath me, I felt a release of tension. It dawned on me that riding the lift was my favorite part of my snowboarding experience thus far. In my roughly six hours of board time I had had thus far, I felt a few ah-ha moments, but nothing as sweet as giving my weight over completely to the chair lift and watching the snow sparkle below me.

As soon as the trip began, it was over. With the terminal quickly approaching, I oriented my body sideways in the chair and positioned my feet and board to get off the lift. The chair slowed down and my board made contact with the ground once again. It was time to stand up. 

Stand up I did, but move forward I did not. My board was stuck to the ground completely. As the chair started to move around the bullwheel to head back to the bottom tower, it scooped me back into it. Time was of the essence. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the lift operator move erratically, as if he were deciding whether he should stop the lift or quickly help me off the chair. I decided it was now or never, and proceeded to fall forward off the chair, flat on my belly. Like an infant experimenting during tummy time, I mustered onto my hands and knees and proceeded to crawl my way forward towards the bench area where the other boarders were strapping into their gear. 

It was nine in the morning and I was already exhausted. But I didn’t want to give into my victim mentality completely. Not yet. After all, here I was at the top of the beginner hill, a hill I knew well from my previous day of riding. It was a beautiful opportunity for me to learn something new, perhaps even to start getting the hang of transitioning from heel to toe and back again. 

I strapped myself into my board and looked to Oli, who had already claimed a spot for us at the top of the hill, his arm outstretched for me to join him. I stood up and pointed the nose of my board towards him. But it wouldn’t budge. I wiggled and wagged, trying to give it some momentum to get going, but it stayed glued to the ground. This wasn’t good.

After watching me for a few moments, Oli understood my dilemma. My board needed wax. Although it was riding fine yesterday, today’s fresh snow was no match for my unwaxed board. This was just great. Not only did I feel isolated and stuck psychologically, but physically as well. 

I decided to stay put at the top of the hill while Oli rode down to get me some wax. As I watched the other riders cruise easily off the lift and down the hill, the storm started to pick up. I could feel the snow accumulate in the valleys in my clothes – my hood, the nape of my neck, the elastic of my pants. My body heat quickly melted it, and within minutes, my entire backside was cold and wet.

Soon enough, Oli was back with the prize. He helped me clean off the bottom of my board and applied a generous layer of wax, so as to ensure I would never get stuck again. 

A Victim Feels Helpless

Although I was tired and grumpy, I decided to give it a shot. 

For the second time, I pointed the nose of my board downhill, and this time, I was off like a bullet. It was the fastest I had ever gone, and I quickly felt out of control. The board felt stable enough underneath me, but I was not confident in my ability to maneuver, and a crash at this speed would not be good. I could feel panic start to rise from the base of my belly, and a feeling of helplessness quickly came into the mix.

As I made my way down the hill, my goggles started to fog up badly. Oli was already at the bottom waiting for me, so I wasn’t able to lean on his knowledge and experience. Maybe there was a goggle defogging tip, but I wouldn’t be able to learn about it now.

Instead, I hoped that I knew the hill well enough to get down without clear visibility, and that my legs had enough muscle memory to control my descent down to the lift. 

When it felt entirely too overwhelming, I decided to fall on purpose in order to give me the opportunity to clear off my goggles and hopefully to start over at a more manageable speed. As I plopped down, my butt fell through a foot or more of snow, and a sense of hopelessness came over me. With the snow being this fluffy, how was I going to push off the ground to stand back up? I tried once, twice, three times.

Finally, I got back on my feet. The bottom of the hill was close enough. I managed to make my way towards Oli, but I was no longer in the mood to ride.

Victim Mode Turns to Villain Mode

I decided to spend the rest of the day in the lodge. It was bad enough that my morning felt off, but the combination of the storm and the wax and the beginner skill level combined to make me feel real sorry for myself.

I was deep in Victim Mode and I just wanted to be alone.

I staked out a table and sat down with a frown. I must have looked wildly out of place amongst the family vacationers teaching their kiddos how to ski, and the groups of friends who were enjoying beers between runs. 

As I watched others enjoying their day, I started to feel ashamed of myself for playing a victim. Tears welled up in my eyes, and to avoid crying in the middle of the lodge, I made my way to the bathroom and locked myself in a stall to let out the rage. 

The villain inside me started to talk. How come I let myself ruin this day? I thought. How come I couldn’t just be resilient and bounce back and get over it? Didn’t I understand how lucky I was to have the opportunity to take off work and learn how to ride? How come I was such an ungrateful brat? The more I berated myself, the worse I felt. Quietly, I unspooled a wad of toilet paper and sobbed hot tears into my cold hands.

My inner villain had awakened to make my inner victim feel small.

The Ending Stages of Victim Mode

Oli arrived at the lodge to meet me for lunch. I was still in the throws of Victim Mode, with an added dose of Villain Mode mixed in. Although he had tired himself out on a bunch of runs, he had a hard time enjoying himself knowing that I was having such a hard day.

Over the next several days, we spent many hours connecting and talking through what had happened to me that day on the hill–how the combination of ingredients had turned into a hot and heavy temper tantrum. 

Ultimately, the answer was to simply move on. Turn my attention towards the future and get the Victim Mode taste out of my mouth by taking on new challenges and doing more hard things. Move out of the Wasteland of victimhood and forward onto my hero’s journey.

I might always live a hybrid life: toggling back and forth between hero energy and victim energy. When I’m in Victim Mode, I feel burdened by my pain. In Hero Mode, I learn to transform pain, and with a combination of talent, effort and luck, I’m able to move things forward, slay my dragons, and prosper in a life full of meaning.

That’s the hope, anyway. I guess I’ll have to wait until my snowboard trip to find out how the story ends.

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