My son, a retired major in the Air Force, often talks about not falling into a victim mentality.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is an essential element when you want to be successful and you have a disability.  One thing that deeply impressed me about Frank Howard when I first met him was that even though he had an extremely awkward gait, there was nothing pitiful about this young man.  I was so impressed that I later married him. 

After 46 years of marriage, I find he maintains a determined spirit that he won’t pity himself because of his disability.  While his health is failing by inches each day, he resists the temptation to feel sorry for himself.

The victim mentality manifests itself in many different ways.  First, there is self-pity.  Of course, everyone falls into the pit of pity in occasion but this is different.  It is a permanent odor that screams, “Look at me!  I’m different.  My life is worse than everyone else!”

Second, there is a sense of entitlement.  Perhaps it manifests itself in expecting favors without feeling that you need to return them.  Helen was a helper at one of the churches where I held a position.  She was a volunteer and I gladly picked her up and took her home on the days she worked.  We went out to lunch and I usually paid for her meal. 

Helen had never driven a car.  One day as I drove her home, we got into a conversation about how hard it was for her to get rides now that her husband was dead.  “You could ride the bus,” I offered to her. 

“Are you kidding me?  They charge 50 cents every time you ride.  It would be a dollar for me to get anywhere I wanted to go.”

“Well,” I said innocently, “you have to pay your friends more than that when they pick you up to take you places.”

She lifted her head and raised her hand in a rather emphatic gesture, “I don’t pay anyone anything to give me a ride,” she said.  “It’s bad enough that I don’t have a car.  I would never pay for a ride.  I need my money.”

“But your friends are elderly and retired the same as you,” I ignorantly pursued the subject jumping carelessly into the lion’s den.

With great fierceness, she raised her voice and spoke slowly as though I had suddenly become hard of understanding, “They are rich enough to afford a car.  They can carry me when I need a ride.” 

For the rest of the ride, this small elderly lady worked over my clock with a hard bristled brush.  I don’t remember her arguments.  I do remember the blistering hurt I felt when she slammed the door as she exited the car.

Her argument in short was “I’m a victim.  I’m entitled.”  And she didn’t have a disability.  She had simply never learned to drive an automobile.

Third, is a growing resentment when people don’t perform to my expectations. One day I called the Space Coast Area Transit main office for some information.  Because we work closely with the transportation system, I’ve come to know the people in the office pretty well.  Today, one of the leads was frustrated.  “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I’m just not able to cope today with the anger of some of the people who call making demands that public transportation can’t provide,” she said on the verge of tears.  While SCAT isn’t perfect, it is public transportation and they can’t fulfill all the desires of people needing a ride. 

More than rides, there may be a dissatisfaction with group homes, job placements, companions, paid state workers and professional staff.  Of course, there is plenty to become disgruntled about.  Yet, festering resentment only feeds the victim mentality.

Self-pity, a sense of entitlement and festering resentment will turn any person into a hateful shrew.  Of course, persons with disabilities aren’t the only people who can become entrapped in this vicious cycle of unhappiness.  Parents, caregivers, professionals, and, yes, ministers must guard our hearts against the unrelenting horror of a victim mentality. 

Guarding our hearts from the poisonous trickles of seeping self-pity may the main and most effective way to keep ahead of the pain victimhood generates.  Prayer, meditation on God’s word and fellowship with people who will be honest seem to be the ways that I’ve seen others escape.

What about you?  What are some of the ways you’ve seen this cycle hurt people you know?  Do you find that people with disabilities are more prone to this cycle? Or have you found them less like to fall prey to the victim mentality?