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The Victim/Villian Paradox

Construction Nation,

When my father died my mom came to live with us. She was an identical twin. All her childhood she had been bullied by her twin sister, and her mother to some extent. This did two things: it made my mom very strong and it made her slip into a victim mindset. This was a role that played out in her marriage with my dad; he was the “ruler,” and she was his victim.

When she came to live with me I found that she began to try to make me her “villain.” She was starting the same pattern she was used to. But I was not going to be her villain. So, each time I just walked away. Eventually she did learn that I was not her villain and that she was not a victim. She eventually told me that this was the most fulfilling time of her life.

During this time I realized that being a victim is a paradox. It is IMPOSSIBLE to be a victim unless you have a villain! Many people today are looking for a villain so they can be a victim. It is how their neural pathway is wired. And I realized that if you never want to be a victim, then don’t make someone your villain. Yes, there are truly victimized people, but for most things in our lives that is not the case.

Who Are You Against?

The other day my 18-year-old grandson, who is very excited by the political arena, asked me why can’t we get a candidate that people vote for? Why are we always choosing who we are against? I explained to him that today candidates, parties, and constituencies watch what the polls say. They found that unless you vilify your opponent, you can’t win. So, all the ads, philosophies, and propaganda are created to make you feel like you could never vote “for” the opponent. They want you to vote against them, meaning that you will vote for the person giving you the information. And this has also made most people feel they are being victimized by the “other” side. This results in a polarization that generates FEAR! The greater the polarization, the greater the FEAR. And we know that TRUST and FEAR cannot coexist. But how can you stop slipping into a victim mindset when it is the prevalent way of thinking today? 

We Have All Been Victims and Villains

We can also find ourselves taking on a “villain mindset.” Donald Miller, CEO of Business Made Simple, says that we all have a victim and a villain inside of us, and both are based in fear. They both prevent you from having to face something you don’t want to face. 

Typically, a villain feels that, “the world has been unfair to me, so I am going to be unfair to the world.” Any of us can slip into a “villain mindset” when we feel like our cause is so righteous that it justifies doing wrong.

The reason this matters is that both victim and villain mindsets will ruin your ability to succeed with your business, projects, family, and friends. Really, everywhere in your life. And all of us – yes, all of us – have slipped into either a victim or a villain mindset at some point.

A villain makes other people feel small so they can feel more powerful. They believe that they are so good, they are God-like. Because of this they believe they are above the law, or ethics, or requirements. They tend to be isolated but have people, like pilot fish, who get their security from being around the villain. 

But here is a cautionary note, labeling someone as a villain can be a villainous statement by itself. Yes, there are actual villains. When we try to make ourselves look good at the expense of another, that is a villain mindset. 

How Does a Victim-Villain Response Play Out?

On a construction project it can be easy to slip into a victim-villain relationship. First, because there is a power imbalance built in. The owner, and owner representatives, have more power than the construction team. This sets the stage for a victim-villian response, until the contractor feels righteous because they have been treated unfairly, and then they too start to act like the villain.

I see so many projects where you have villain vs villain. You might say that seems like a reasonable reaction. But when you are on a project where everyone needs everyone else to succeed, it is the worst possible response. What we want is a team of equals who trust each other enough to share their brilliance. Not a group at war where anything goes, and everyone feels justified for their horrible behavior. 

When you begin to feel yourself (or your team) slipping into either a victim or a villain response just remember that you can’t be a victim without a villain. And you can make the choice to NOT create a villain! 

Have a Happy Week,

P.S.  Curious how you can improve your project’s chance at success?



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