If you’re like most people, your life has changed in some way during the past few months. Your retirement savings may have dwindled; your job may be in jeopardy; you may have been forced to cut back on movies, restaurant dining and other leisure activities; you may have had to postpone buying a new house or a new car or going on a long-awaited vacation. It seems unfair that the financial health of a majority of Americans is currently at risk due to the actions of others. Most of us are feeling stressed because it seems there is nothing we can do to “fix it.” In times of stress, people rely on behaviors and ways of thinking that are old and familiar to them. They tend to respond like victims or survivors, or some combination of the two.

How are you reacting to the current state of affairs? Are you thinking of yourself as a victim of circumstances who is being tossed around by the banks, the Wall Street executives and the government, or as a survivor who will weather the storm and move on to face other life challenges in the future? The victim and the survivor can experience the same set of circumstances, but each perceives the experience through a different lens.

The victim views a crisis situation as a threat. As a result, he becomes entrenched in feelings of fearfulness, helplessness, and hopelessness: fearfulness, because he doesn’t know what lies ahead but he is convinced it isn’t good; helplessness, because he has lost control over the situation and doesn’t see any way of regaining control; and hopelessness, because to him the future looks pretty bleak, and there’s no light on the horizon. It’s difficult for a person who feels victimized to look forward to any source of pleasure or joy. He is paralyzed by his victim’s stance.

On the other hand, the survivor views the same situation as a crisis, to be sure, but is able to move through his initial alarm to a state of mind that enables him to consider his options. He engages in a process that unfolds throughout the days, weeks and months following the critical event. While fearfulness and helplessness may be elements of his process, they aren’t al of what he feels. The survivor’s stance is colored by hope. As he considers his options, his fearfulness diminishes because he realizes that all is not lost. He may even develop a sense of gratitude for the intrinsic things in his life that he values and continues to enjoy, and that nothing can take away -- the love of his family and friends, for example. He also realizes that he hasn’t completely lost control over his situation, because if he puts his mind to it he can begin to articulate a Plan A and a Plan B. This goes to the core of what it means to be a survivor, and is the main difference between the survivor and the victim. The survivor may even feel a twinge of excitement as he gives himself permission to “think outside the box” and develop alternatives that he never before recognized as viable options. With each crisis the survivor grows in the confidence that, no matter what happens, he will land on his feet, because if Plan A or Plan B don’t work, he will go back to the drawing board and create Plan C, Plan D, and however many other plans he will need to get himself safely back on track.

This article opened with mention of the current economic crisis that has befallen the United States as well as other parts of the world. Are you reacting to this crisis as a victim or as a survivor? The victims are wringing their hands and crying, “Woe is me!” The survivors are discovering that they have choices, both individually, and as part of a nation and a world. These choices can improve their situation. Victims are attempting to hold on to life as they knew it before the crisis. Survivors are seeking to use their creativity to re-create their lives in very basic ways.

It’s not always easy to create new goals, to develop strategies for meeting those goals, and to stay focused enough to achieve desired changes. Sometimes we need someone to hold us accountable for the progress we say we want to make. Whether you’re feeling like a victim or a survivor, you may find that you need some coaching to help you forge a new path in your life. Again, you have choices. You can hire a professional life coach to support you through a life-altering change, or you can ask a friend or family member to assume that role. However you choose to approach the changes you may need to make in your life, allow yourself time to feel saddened by the loss of what you may have had, but let it be a survivor’s sadness. Let it not paralyze you and prevent you from seeking new opportunities.

Author's Bio: 

Mary Ellen Halloran is a Life Coach at Transitions Life Coaching in Willimantic, CT. She is a former California marriage and family therapist, and author of Anger: Let the Tiger Out, But Keep It on a Leash. She holds a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.