How to Stop Being a Victim in Conversations

Jesse is talking to Mary about religion. Mary knows a lot about Darwinism, and Jesse is a born-again Christian. Jesse is talking about God and the Bible, and Mary is doing what she normally does: she draws him out, allowing him to express himself, without giving any indication that she might disagree. After years of avoiding conflict, she has learned to see things from other peoples' points of view. She has learned to understand how they could see things that way. She is tolerant and nonjudgmental. It is in some ways an admirable trait.

But in this case, it is causing her some stress. Jesse is pretty aggressive, and he is actively trying to convert her and Jesse interprets Mary's politeness as "amenable to conversion." Unfortunately for Jesse, Mary just realized that very morning that her passivity is sometimes bad for her stress level. She realized she needs to speak up more and be a little more persuasive in some circumstances, and she realizes this is one of those circumstances.

After the third time Jesse asked Mary to go to church with him next Sunday, and after Mary had already tried politely getting out of it, she finally decided to stop being the victim and start doing some persuading herself.

To stop being the victim, choose a goal. If you don't have something you are trying to accomplish, you become a supportive actor in someone else's play. Choose a goal. Mary decided her goal for this conversation was to try to convert Jesse to Darwinism. "I'm not going to go to church with you, Jesse," she said, "I don't believe in the Bible and I'm not interested. I think the Bible is an interesting and maybe even valuable collection of stories, but I think it's kind of silly to say it is the verbatim transcription of the Creator of the universe."

Jesse looked shocked. He didn't say anything. So Mary continued, "Look, I don't even know if there is a Creator. I'm more scientific than you, Jesse. I'm not saying you're wrong, because, who knows, really? But I'm saying that if I don't know, then I don't see what's wrong with just admitting I don't know. Why would I want to try to believe something I think is silly?"

Jesse saw his opportunity and jumped on it. "Faith is how you find God, Mary. That's how you do it. By believing." Jesse is very aggressive in his communication. He has no problem pushing his point of view on other people. Mary is right to challenge him. People like that are a kind of mental bully. They spread their points of view to far more people than their points of view usually deserve.

Mary didn't stop there. Now being released from her prison of avoiding confrontations, she was actually finding this more invigorating and relaxing than politely listening to what she considers to be rubbish. "I don't buy it," she said. "It sounds like bunk to me, like hucksterism. What's the difference between what you're saying and a con-man saying to me if I only believe in him enough, I can make a lot of money?"

Mary stopped being a victim in this conversation by choosing a goal, not by willing herself to stop being a victim, not by feeling bad she was a victim, not by thinking bad thoughts about Jesse, but by choosing a goal. Rather than allowing Jesse's agenda to dominate, she chose a goal and got busy actively working toward it. This is a good idea to do sometimes because some people are very aggressive in their communication; they don't try to be fair, they try to take advantage, and you need to treat them differently than you would treat a fair person. Otherwise, you will be controlled; you will become a victim. Becoming a victim is stress-producing. The way out is to switch from being an effect to being a cause and how you do that is by choosing a goal and putting yourself full-bore into reaching that goal.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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