Thirty-five years ago neuroscientists thought that the brain was structurally unchangeable by early childhood; its functions and abilities determined by genes. Today we understand quite differently, that this is absolutely not true. Jeffrey M. Shwartz and Sharon Begley, in their book, The Mind and the Brain, eloquently tell us “the real estate the brain devotes to certain mental habits rather than others, to these thoughts as opposed to those, is as mutable as a map of congressional districts in the hands of gerrymanderers”!
Here’s a quiz to help you see if you’ve been carrying around thoughts that may be robbing you of your sense of personal power by holding your brain in a victim mentality.
Answer true or false to the following statements:
T /F My first response to a setback is to blame someone else for what’s happened.
T /F No matter what I do, things are not really going to change for me.
T /F I often find myself beginning thoughts with phrases like “I can’t...” “I’m never good enough…” or “I’ve never been able to....” “I always mess up…”
Our internal dialogue, although we may not be aware of it, designs how we relate to others and determines our success in relationships as well as our ability and agility to accomplish goals. The thoughts we apply to our choices and decision-making will shape our brain circuitry and propel our actions.
When we think like a victim we tend to lock into a relational quality where one person is “one-up” and the other is “one-down”. In other words, one person is right and the other wrong, or one is better and the other is worse, or smarter or dumber, and so on. This comparative mind keeps us on an endless see-saw while the victim scores, of course, on the low end.
When we bring another approach such as compassionate observer to the table and realize the difficult conditions the victim inside our head is living with, another part of us may come forward to forgive the internal bully for her/his aggression toward the internal victim. Another way of saying this is, consider the brain is going on its merry way running on automatic, relegating you to “victim summations” unless we become conscious. If the brain is accustomed to relegating your experience to the victim stance, or not good enough, not smart enough stance, then it will continue to do so unless you consciously interfere with this thinking.
As clinical data and PET scans show us today, we can willfully change the amount and quality of attention that we focus on cerebrally generated feelings of anxiety and stress, changing in turn, the way the brain works i.e. our mind/our mindfulness can change the underlying chemistry of our brain! The power of attention, and thus the power of mind, reshapes neural circuitry and cortical maps by mental force or what is called conscious awareness.
In summary, if we think like a victim we feel like one. How we feel commands a lot of energy and time. How we feel generates our willingness to try things that are new, it feeds our desire to change, and gives rise to our life force for adventure, for problem-solving, and for healthy relationships.