Stoicism: Day 28 and Week 4 Recap – Don’t be a Victim

I wrapped up my final, full week of ice baths yesterday. The ice baths have a strong calming effect. I was in a bit of a rush yesterday because I had a bunch of things to do and not much time to do it (including my ice bath). Once I got in, I didn’t worry about my to-do list anymore, or rather, that rushed feeling went away. There must be some chemical response by the body that accounts for this effect.


I wrote about the War of Art in a previous post, but I want to return to a topic that the author discusses in the book: victimhood.

The acquisition of a condition lends significance to one’s existence. An illness, a cross to bear. Some people go from condition to condition; they cure one, and another pops up to take its place. The condition becomes a work of art in itself, a shadow version of the real creative act the victim is avoiding by expending so much care cultivating his condition. 

 A victim act is a form of passive aggression. It seeks to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution made out of one’s experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat. The victim compels others to come to his rescue or to behave as he wishes by holding them hostage to the prospect of his own further illness/meltdown/mental dissolution, or simply by threatening to make their lives so miserable that they do what he wants.   

I’ve been guilty of embracing victimhood. It’s especially bad if you can come up with some smart sounding reasons for your victimhood. When I was looking for a job, I thought that companies weren’t being rational or they weren’t creative or were being shortsighted for not hiring me. It wasn’t my fault that I wasn’t getting job offers therefore there was no reason for me to change.

Playing the victim is a way of voluntarily giving up self-control. It’s an excuse to avoid being responsible for your own mental state and actions.

There are certainly real victims and real tragedy in the world. However, we should not encourage the mindset of victimhood in others or ourselves.

Seneca wrote a letter to Lucilius about the burning of Lyons, a city in present-day France, in which he discusses how his friend Liberalis reacted and how we should handle such an event.

All this has affected our friend Liberalis, bending his will, which is usually so steadfast and erect in the face of his own trials. And not without reason has he been shaken; for it is the unexpected that puts the heaviest load upon us. Strangeness adds to the weight of calamities, and every mortal feels the greater pain as a result of that which also brings surprise. 

Misfortune, especially unexpected misfortune, can wreak havoc on your tranquility. The burning of Lyon was particularly unexpected because it happened overnight and burned the entire city down. Nothing was left. There was no warning.

As a remedy, Seneca advises that we prepare ourselves mentally for all the terrible things that could possible happen (negative visualization).

Therefore, nothing ought to be unexpected by us. Our minds should be sent forward in advance to meet all problems, and we should consider, not what is wont to happen, but what can happen. For what is there in existence that Fortune, when she has so willed, does not drag down from the very height of its prosperity? And what is there that she does not the more violently assail the more brilliantly it shines? What is laborious or difficult for her?

If we expect misfortune and tragedy, we  take away its power over us.

You must suffer pain, and thirst, and hunger, and old age too, if a longer stay among men shall be granted you; you must be sick, and you must suffer loss and death.  Nevertheless, you should not believe those whose noisy clamour surrounds you; none of these things is an evil, none is beyond your power to bear, or is burdensome. It is only by common opinion that there is anything formidable in them. 

The current debate about victimhood is centered on whether people are at fault for their misfortunes. Liberal politicians like to take the position that their constituents have been victims of some bad social policy or rich people or racism. Conservatives imply that the same people suffer misfortune because of moral failings or laziness.

That debate is irrelevant, at least to the Stoics. We should learn to reject the mindset of a victim in order to maintain our tranquility.

Week 4 Recap