pen & notebook

Back in my twenties, I spent a lot of time writing in my journal, usually about boys. Then I had an epiphany. I realized that the quality of my relationships with men were inversely related to the amount of time I spent writing in my journal. If the relationship was healthy, I was off happily living my life, not sitting on my window seat, writing about how happy I was. But if the relationship was dysfunctional, I wrote . . . and wrote . . . and wrote. And when I look back now at those journals, I have to laugh at myself because every whining, complaining story I told had me as the heroine of my “Poor me” story. The guy was always a liar/cheater/loser/wimp/alcoholic/abuser/narcissist/jerk. They were all WRONG WRONG WRONG. But me, I was always right.

Do you hear the ring of “victim story” here? Bingo. That would be me in my twenties. A hot mess who blamed everyone else for the messes she was creating.

Now I don’t write in a journal anymore. I blog instead. But I notice the internal journal I write to myself sometimes. And even after all these years, sometimes the story flips into “Poor me,” and that’s always my signal to shine a light on my victim story, because every time (I mean EVERY time, with no exceptions), I can be guaranteed to find some juicy morsel of soul growth buried, often unconsciously, in the muck of my victim story.

Can Others Really Hurt You?

I was talking about this with spiritual teacher Byron Katie a few weeks ago when we were at Esalen. In front of 140 other people, I asked Katie a question. “Katie, I’ve done a lot of work on myself, and I’m made enough progress in my spiritual growth to be able to witness the part of me that still gets hurt and feels victimized. But what do I DO about this hurt little girl that sits in the backseat of the car of Lissa and cries when she doesn’t get her way?”

Katie said, “Lissa, you can do all the spiritual growth work you want, but if you’re still feeling hurt and blaming other people for that hurt, you’re not really doing The Work on the beliefs that are causing you to feel hurt. If you think anyone has the power to hurt you, you’re confused.”

Oh . . .

Katie went on to ask me what the hurt little girl in the backseat of the car of Lissa was saying. What belief was making her feel hurt? What stories was she telling herself? That was where the real gold could be unearthed.

Doing “The Work”

So I found the belief. It was something like “It’s never enough. I try and try and try, and no matter how much I try, it’s never enough. But then wait! I tried so hard that I went too far! Now I’m too much. Not enough. Too much. Not enough. Too much. I’ll never get it right, and if I don’t, I’ll lose those I love.”


Katie invited me to question that belief. “It’s never enough. It’s too much.” Is it true?

We all did The Work together, inquiring about our beliefs using the 4 questions Katie teaches in her book Loving What Is.

Step One: Identify your belief and ask yourself “Is it true?”

Your Small Self will tend to say “Yes, it’s true. That belief is rock solid true.” For example, Katie asked one guy what his name was. He said, “Shane.” She said, “Is it true?” He said “Yes, it’s on my birth certificate.” Katie cocked her head and moved onto the next question.

Step Two: Can you be absolutely sure this belief is rock solid true?

Shane said, “Yes, I’m absolutely sure my name is Shane.” Katie said, “Is it possible that someone once told you your name was Shane and you said, “Goo goo ga ga?” Maybe your parents had a belief that your name was Shane, and after a few years, you picked up that belief and started thinking your name was Shane. But maybe that’s not your name. Is that possible?

Shane laughed and looked at Katie like she had two heads. But we all got her point. Many of our beliefs were inherited from childhood. We took them on just like we took on the belief that our names are who we are, even though our names are just a mental construct given to us by our parents, just like . . . so it seems . . . are many of our core beliefs.

So is it true that I’m never enough? Is it true that I’m too much? Can I be absolutely sure this is true? Well . . . no.

Step Three: How do you feel when you believe this belief to be true?

Katie had us all close our eyes and really feel into the feeling. Most of us cried. I certainly did when I felt the feeling of “It’s never enough. I try and try, and then I’m too much, and people leave.” If you get weepy when you feel what it feels like to believe this belief, chances are good that this belief is not serving you, and you’d feel more free if you could let it go. Which takes us to Step Four.

Step Four: Who would you be without this belief?

(Or as Martha Beck puts it, what if you had a little mini stroke and the only thing you lost was your ability to believe this belief?)

Most of us felt liberation, a profound sense of calm. It would feel like a million pounds off your shoulders to let go of the belief.

Step Five: Turn the belief around.

The turnaround can come in a variety of forms. It may be the direct opposite of whatever belief leaves you feeling like a victim. Often, the turnaround can be turned around to the self, to the other, or to the opposite. For example, if your belief is “Mom didn’t love me enough,” turnarounds might be “I didn’t love me enough” or “I didn’t love Mom enough” or “Mom loved me just the right amount.”

Oh . . .

I once did this process with Martha around my belief “I have to be in control in the hospital.” After two hours of Martha battling my ego, the turnaround became, “God is in control in the hospital.”

Oh . . .

When you find the right turnaround, it has that kind of effect on you. You feel busted. And liberated. Pissed and giddy—all at the same time. Your ego is annoyed. Your soul is singing!

Judge Your Neighbor

If you want to try this process for yourself, work your way through Byron Katie’s “Judge Your Neighbor” worksheet. (Download it for free here.) At my house, we keep stacks of this lying around my house, and anytime someone in the house starts spouting off their victim story, we pull out this worksheet. An epiphany—and LOADS of compassion, not just for those you judge, but for yourself—always lies on the other side of this process.

Try it for yourself, if you’re tired of feeling hurt or angry or judgmental or helpless, and you’re ready to let go of your victim story. On the other side of victimhood lies true empowerment, where you realize that you are co-creating your life, always participating in what happens to you, if not on a human level, at least on a soul level. I know this can feel confronting. How can you suggest a child isn’t a victim of abuse? What about victims of genocide or sexual slavery? Aren’t they helpless and powerless?

I’m not suggesting that these tragedies aren’t atrocious and worthy of our compassion. But if you feel that way about your own life, try doing Byron Katie’s The Work on the belief “I am helpless and powerless.” Check out whether that belief is really true and whether it is serving you. I invite you to report back if you feel like sharing your story in the comments. Most of all, be compassionate with yourself. Tend your hurt Small Self gently. Be sure to let your bigger self give that tender part of you a big squeeze—because you’re that brave, and you are so very, very, very loved.

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  1. Kasey

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I just (as in 20 minutes ago) had a full-on, tear-and-snot-streaming meltdown about hurt feelings wherein I told my husband I could see the story I was crafting and that I KNEW better, but still, it raged. These questions are such excellent tools, as is the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet. I look forward to digging a little deeper. Thanks again!

  2. Chris Crubaugh

    It took me 40-50 years to figure out that so much that happened to me was NOT MY FAULT. YES, other people CAN and DO hurt you- not confused in the least. Blanket statements like that are damaging for those that have real trauma. Having said that, I get your meaning and intent on stating things the way you did. That doesn’t give me permission to marinate in tragedy or whine incessantly about how unfair life is, or how “they done me wrong”. But sometimes Lissa, it’s REAL, not IMAGINED and needs to be acknowledged. I “got” the article, but it really p*ssed me off on behalf of those that live frozen lives of self-doubt and self-hatred from believing THEY were the cause of their own pain, when they weren’t. Oh well. The minority gets screwed again- normal.

    • Cat

      I hear where you’re coming from, but I’m not sure that “turning the story around” necessarily means denying the reality of things that happened to us or the pain that it caused. I grew up in a family full of addiction, abuse, depression, suicide and life-threatening illness. My “victim narrative” has always been something like: “It’s not fair – everybody else got a better deal than I did.”

      But the thing is, while it is true that other people may have enjoyed “easier” childhoods, and the benefit of growing up in a situation where they felt safe and loved, wrapped up in the pain of my childhood were also a lot of gifts that other people didn’t receive. I learned to be incredibly independent at a very early age. I also learned how to spot emotional manipulation & game playing from a mile away. And probably most importantly, I learned how to reject that which was not real .

      So when I look around me now at the people I grew up with – people that I was SOOOO jealous of as a child – what I see is a lot of people stuck in jobs and relationships that they hate, up to their ears in debt from years of trying to buy happiness, and unable to process or deal with emotions that they can’t really even accept having.

      That’s not to say that I don’t still have “issues” leftover from my childhood, and that I don’t still have work to do. I still tend to go a little bit crazy when my “it’s not fair” buttons get pushed, and I periodically have to spend a few hours sobbing my eyes out, hitting pillows and dealing with stuff leftover from my childhood. But taken as a whole, I have to say that I am actually grateful for the hand that life dealt me.

      I’m wishing you much love and sending a big virtual hug for all of the pain you’ve obviously been through.


  3. kd12

    i LOVE the Work with Byron Katie! I spent many years blaming my husband for everything (and deeply blaming myself just for being with him). I wouldn’t speak to him except in brief bursts of either giving him orders or shouting angrily about some new offense he’d committed. I’d told him I wanted a divorce.

    After reading some of Byron Katie’s books, I felt it was time for me to do a Judge Your Neighbor worksheet. My emotions were VERY hard to face, but I had to write it all down on worksheets. For each judgement I had made against him, there was a mirrored judgement i had been making against myself, such as being so angry with myself, not communicating with myself, or even telling myself the truth.

    Working with the four questions, I wept in relief when I realized I’d been believing in so many thoughts that were not true and did not serve me or my marriage. I was not a victim, and this was big news to me! So one night, I sat down with him and did something I never thought I could — I apologized for all of my angry, reactionary behavior. And here’s the kicker: I didn’t do this to make myself feel good as much as I did it because I had to tell the truth.

    I also spoke the truth that I did still want a divorce, but now I understand why because I have emotional clarity. I was no longer reaching that decision through blind anger and victim thinking. Our relationship has improved a great deal as co-parents and friends. We are both easier to get along with, which is so important for the sake of our child. As Katie points out, when our false beliefs let go of us thru the Work, we find those around us often make changes in their own behavior in response. Win win. I recommend the Work to anyone and everyone — it is truly a miraculous process…

  4. ABELL

    I was in a head-on collision 7.5 months ago, in which a truck crossed the center lane, & crashed into me, leaving me trapped in the car for almost two hours while first responders worked to cut me out of the wreckage. I was life-flighted to the hospital in a shattered heap of broken bones, glass, blood. Yet… I’m truly lucky/blessed to be alive. I’ve worked hard on recognizing that I’m not a victim, that a ‘damaged’ internal part of me energetically created external damage so I’d focus my attention where I needed to be healed. No way to fully explain that statement in a few sentences, so I won’t even try. It may seem heartless or cruel to some to be expected to take responsibility for what we’re creating/attracting in our lives; but to me, it feels like a powerful FREEDOM, & your blog reflected that to me today. Thank you, Lissa!

  5. Judy Merrill-Smith

    I am so glad to read about your experience with The Work. I learned about it a few years ago, and it was like speaking a foreign language at first – very difficult to wrap my mind around. But as I tried it out I started to get one insight after another. It is very freeing! I was fortunate to attend a weekend workshop on this method, and it helped me understand it more deeply than I would have otherwise. I highly recommend finding a teacher for the folks who feel drawn to explore this in depth.

  6. Reyes Jimenez

    I think this is the most thoughtful and insightful blog you have written in some time. I am glad to see that you did not hit people up for money or suggest that they buy some kind of self-help text. This is a good thing Lissa and I give you a big BRAVO for doing so. If you have read any of my replies to some of your earlier blogs? You will know that I do not sugar coat or mince words when I write them to you either. I am now hoping that someday soon you will reply to my messages sent to you? Thanks Reyes

  7. Rmw

    Your personal struggle is one I have uncovered as well… And the message touches on the core belief that Brene Brown also has hit upon in her research:
    I am imperfect (as you say ‘not enough/too much) and I am Loved.
    It’s that “I am loved. I am love.” That is the final belief to let go of all that other pain/ painful stories. Enjoying the journey! Thanks for sharing. Lots of gratitude going your way.

  8. pianoismyname

    I use The Work by byron Katie and I love how it helps me think through things. One victim story I recognized in myself and Worked on was “People should be nice to me because my motives are pure.” And “People should not be mean to me because I am giving of myself in the work I perform.” Oh another good one “I feel small and vulnerable and furious when people point out I don’t ‘use’ my degree in the job I have now.”


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