Victimhood has a bad name. People who feel like victims often have to endure people telling them they are weak. Psychologists even have a name for it; learned helplessness. But in my experience dealing with victimization is often a reality. It's not true that you are responsible for all your own troubles. Many people have judged you and have prevented you from getting opportunities or rewards that you deserve because of your gender, your age, your color, your weight, your education, your personality and dozens of other irrelevant personal attributes. It is also true that there are mean people who feel stronger by making you weaker. You're not making this up. It's real. And the sooner you face that fact, the faster you can transcend the depressing effects of being unfairly disadvantaged.
For the past several years, I have been working in large corporations who are trying to untangle the knots of invisible bias that systematically disadvantage women. What I've learned doesn't just apply to gender bias, which is indeed rampant in the workplace and the wider society; bias affects anyone who is being treated unfairly because society has categorized them as part of a class of people who don't deserve what the privileged class automatically gets.
It's called discrimination.
When people experience discrimination, they don't receive the same opportunities, resources, support, training, education, mentoring, sponsorship, or access to power and leadership. I have learned that there are many, many subtle but deadly effects of discrimination.
For instance, in my work I document how much more slowly qualified women receive promotions than males with the same education and experience. This slow promotion effect is a driving force behind women consistently not being listened to or even acknowledged when they make suggestions or for volunteer for assignments. Being unheard, overlooked, interrupted, and having others take credit for your work has a depressing effect on initiative.
It's logical. If no one in the established authority structure is interested in what you think, or what you know, it is only reasonable to quit offering your ideas. If hard work doesn't result in recognition or rewards for you, but mediocre work or even failure results in promotions and raises for the privileged class, it is only reasonable to quit speaking up and just do what you're told. This phenomenon is called the "psychology of discrimination."
The psychology of discrimination has a powerful effect on both confidence and motivation.
Psychologists have determined that our confidence grows when we believe that making our best efforts will result in achieving our goals. When the link between our effort and our results breaks, we begin to lose our confidence and our motivation to keep trying. Demotivation grows exponentially when we see other people achieving their goals without making the same efforts that we are. It feels unfair, because it is.
This phenomenon creates a vicious cycle because others notice that you are not motivated. They label you as an unmotivated person and withhold opportunities or support that would trigger your motivations. Thus, you become the stereotype that fits their bias. But it's not true that you're an unmotivated individual or not a hard worker or that you're not smart or have good ideas. What is true is that systematic unfairness has depressed your initiative, your creativity, and your grit. The danger of staying in a job or life situations in which you were systematically marginalized, is that your depressed behavior becomes your new normal. It becomes the story of you.
Just look at this graphic to understand the cycle.
Don't let this happen. You must defend your true identity. Fortunately, studies show that most people can identify a deep, intrinsic, inner self. This is the part of you that you recognize as your core identity. Many people call it your soul. This essential part of you enables you to be true to your self-chosen values in spite of your circumstances. This is what prisoner of war survivors rely on to maintain hope and sanity when all power and dignity is taken from them. This part of you is also your energy source to overcome being a prisoner of bias.
We are learning more about our powerful core identity through the work of child psychologists who are studying
the path that high functioning children take to become high functioning adults. Here is what we are learning.
leads to clarity about your intrinsic values and goals, which become the framework for personal rules that you will not violate. Here are some common standards that individual clients have developed that reflect healthy values and goals.
I will not work for a jerk because it will make me "smaller" than I am.
I will build a career that contributes to a better world and a better future.
I will be trustworthy by making and keeping important commitments.
I will live my life in balance and optimize my health and energy.
I will invest my most positive feelings in the people I love everyday.
is the art of creating an inner story based on the narrative that everything happens for a reason. Psychologists have found that this belief (independent of its actual truth which is unknowable), gives people the greatest amount of inner power to overcome difficult or tragic events. It makes us psychologically strong it enables us to maintain our commitment to our values and goals when we experience setbacks.
is the proven personal habit most associated with success. It simply means that you will persist in pursuing your vision of your best future self and your ideal future work and lifestyle in spite of any obstacles. Creative grit does not mean you'll do the same thing over and over again, but rather you will consistently be learning, adapting and finding better ways of fulfilling your core identity. The key to creative grit is managing your emotions and actions. This requires that you focus on endless hope, optimism, problem-solving, meeting new people, seeking new experiences, and telling others your hopes and dreams. Studies show these emotions and activities are the most accurate predictors of success.
The bottom line.
Dammit, the world is unfair. And the world is unfair to certain classes, races, and genders in ways that are completely outrageous. What's encouraging is that more people in privileged classes understand this and want to change it.
In the meantime, I encourage you to transcend whatever bias you are facing by going deep within yourself and affirming and supporting your highest self and highest potential.
I can assure you that I have personally discovered many heroes who have transcended past and present traumas and disadvantages to achieve a state of persistent fulfillment.
The greatest gift you can give to the people you love and to the wider world is the gift of your true identity. Look straight into the eye of bias and spit!