How to Own Your Shit and Never Be a Victim Again

Comments 27


Eilene asks:

“Have you ever thought (even if briefly or secretly) that your divorce was more her fault than yours? I ask because I know we’re supposed to accept our part in things but I REALLY think it is more on him. I’m struggling with that.”


I am a lot of things—including occasionally hypocritical—but I am pretty skilled at evaluating a situation and understanding who is responsible for what.

People are horrible at accepting responsibility for their life circumstances. HORRIBLE. And it makes us all feel like victims. And when we feel like victims we can’t make our lives better because everything in life is just happening to us against our will.

It makes us powerless to change anything.

When we accept responsibility for where we are in life and own our choices, THEN, and only then, do we have the power to make things better.

I don’t know Eilene. But on faith, I believe her. In my experience, wives get marriage right INFINITELY more often than husbands do. I’m sure her husband or ex-husband sucks at marriage every bit as much as I did. People often don’t get this: Good people can be awful at marriage. You don’t have to be a bad person to suck at marriage. It’s a skill. I can’t fix a car. That doesn’t make me shitty at life. I just don’t know how to fix cars. But I can learn. I didn’t know the really important information about marriage until it was too late. I think a lot of men might be like that. Objectively, it probably is more on him than Eilene. Just like in my marriage.

But never again can I allow myself to start pointing fingers at others.


Let me walk you through my bouts with victimization since turning 30:

My father offered me a job at his small company 500 miles away. Assuming I’d done a good job (and I would have), I would be making top 1% money in my 40s and 50s and have every opportunity to retire a multimillionaire and live the kind of life most of us dream about. My wife didn’t want to go. It was our first major fight.

Victim Matt: I can’t believe how unfair this is that I can’t secure our financial future simply because she doesn’t want to move eight hours away. How could she be so selfish? This will solve EVERY money problem—forever. And now I’m stuck. Because of her.

Smart Matt: I will lose my family if I do this. Money isn’t, and will never be, more important than family. I chose to marry this woman. We make decisions together. She feels like she can’t do this. Okay. We’ll find a way to make more money here in Ohio.

It wasn’t my wife’s fault that I chose a profession (journalism) where making money is such a challenge. It wasn’t my wife’s fault that she didn’t want to live in Illinois far away from everyone she knew. And once I stopped being angry, I saw it as a good thing I had married someone who valued family more than how much money her husband earned.

I was laid off from my job on Jan. 1, 2010. Only people who have lost a job unexpectedly can appreciate what an enormous loss and psychological impact it can have.

Victim Matt: I can’t believe how unfair it is that I lost my job even though I always did it well. How am I supposed to find work now that I’m 30 and have no experience except in newspapers? Now what am I going to do?

Smart Matt: The company was losing money. Without layoffs, EVERYONE would have lost their jobs. Had I been the best, most-valuable employee at the paper, I would probably still be there. So, work harder next time and don’t take employment for granted, asshole. I accepted that job. I wanted it. No one made me take it. I am responsible for choosing to work there, and I am responsible for not ultimately proving myself indispensable regardless of circumstances.

My marriage ended. On April 1, 2013, technically, but not legally until August a few months later. I thought it was unfair because I didn’t want to get divorced.

Victim Matt: When I was standing on that alter and said: “I do,” I meant it. ‘Til death do us part. Sure, it had gotten bad. Really bad. But I wanted to fight for it. I was in marital limbo. A situation in which I didn’t want to get divorced, but was mentally and emotionally incapable of sleeping in the guest room much longer. It was a brutal time. The hardest thing I’d ever been through. Sometimes I’d cry in the guest room. I could hear her footsteps in our room upstairs. And I’d just cry because: This is so un-fucking-fair. After she left, I learned about a new relationship. All I could think about was how happy she must be with this new guy. And I’m sitting in our empty living room and I can’t even breathe. How could she do this to me?

Smart Matt: I caused this. Not because I’m a bad guy. And not because she doesn’t bear any responsibility also. But because I COULD HAVE and SHOULD HAVE been a good husband. A really good one. I used to not know how to cook or drive a car or read or play poker. But then I took an interest, I learned, and I excelled at those things. What if I’d invested more of my time in the most-important thing in my life? What if I’d EXCELLED at marriage? At being the best man, husband and father possible? Had I spent each day being exceptional at those things—would she have left? She’d have never wanted to. This isn’t something that happened to me. This is something I allowed to happen. Through negligence, irresponsibility and a lack of discipline. Sure, it may not all be my fault. But you can bet your ass I’m responsible.

Own Your Shit, Please

If you ask yourself the right questions, an adult can always come to this conclusion: You are ALWAYS responsible for what happens to you. Somewhere along the way, you made the choices that led you right here, right now. Other people didn’t make the choice. You made the choice.

I am responsible for me. No one else is.

I am not responsible for anyone else. These are the strong personal boundaries we need to establish if we want to have healthy relationships with potential mates, friends, family, business associates, etc.

I’m tired of everyone’s reasons for why they “can’t” do something or why it’s always some outside force or lack of opportunity that prevents everyone from doing whatever it is they say or feel they want to do.

The first step to achieving whatever it is we desire is to accept that the No. 1 factor in whether we will achieve or not achieve that thing is the choices we make.

Good choices yield positive results.

Bad choices yield negative results.

This has always been true and will always be true until the end of time.

And once we come to grips with this—once we shake off the gravity of realizing just how large of a role we play in the vast majority of bad things that happen to us, we can take a deep breath and smile.

This is good news, you think. Because now I can do something about it.

27 thoughts on “How to Own Your Shit and Never Be a Victim Again”

  1. my husband left to be gay…everyone told me it wasn’t my fault. You best be believing….I STILL owned my part.You are 100% right Matt. but I never thought about it enough to realize that it helped me not victimize myself…that’s a big ol’ juicy win!!! thank you.

    1. The point is to not have the mindset that life is a series of things HAPPENING to you. The point is to understand that if you’re always doing the right things, you get to control most of the action.

      If that’s the first time you ever typed that publicly, I applaud enthusiastically your bravery. There are other people out there who have dealt with that. Many, probably. And I’m sure it has it’s own unique psychological challenges. Worth banding together to discuss.

    1. I really liked hearing from you, Dorothy. It’s been a long time, and that’s mostly my fault. Made me smile. I hope all is well.

      1. Yes, it has been a long time, and it’s really only my fault, but aren’t we’re both neurotic soul siblings, always trying to discover what more we could have done. I’ve been reading your posts off and on, lost my blog, started a new one, went through some more personal growth stuff, etc., and all is well, not always easy, but always worth the effort. Thank you for smiling upon my return, what a wonderful welcome back.

  2. This is great! If we can do something better, own it and figure out how to do it. Now, I do believe if it’s an abusive relationship one individual is considered to be the victim, BUT they can still get out and get help. That is that person’s choice. That person’s responsibility. Saying you’re the victim doesn’t do you any good. Figuring out what part of the situation is in your control and taking that responsibility is.

    1. I was in an abusive relationship for four and a half years. My ex was entirely at fault for his behaviour and for the relationship failing but staying as long as I did was definitely my responsibility. Taking control and leaving was the best thing I ever did.

      1. Thank you for summing up my point. Exactly.

        None of that was your FAULT. But you took RESPONSIBILITY. Critical distinction. And a courageous act that hopefully benefited you moving forward.

    2. Thank you. I’m not saying unfair things don’t happen. I’m not saying we are not literally victimized.

      I’m saying we don’t have to be people who are constantly victimized. You’ll spend your entire life miserable if you are.

  3. This all works up to a point but there are some things too heinous to NOT wipe the slate clean for the victim. No one has the right to criticise a victim of abuse (including infidelity) who stays, and no it does not make it the victim’s responsibility to leave since leaving need not be the better option. There’s such a thing as out of the frying pan and into the fire, truly.

    I don’t share your eschewing of victimhood Matt. Being the innocent victim is honourable. Being the perpetrator isn’t. Did your wife have the opportunity to drag your arse to a decent counsellor? Or announce she was going to replace you? Sure she did. And ahe is the one who left without doing that.

    I think we victims should have a pride mpvement. Too many people are ashamed of being the victim.

    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
    And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”

    We should all be proud of our scars. They show us the attacks we have survived.

    1. @Nephila, I agree with you 100%. While I was laid up sick in 2010, my husband at the time (now he’s my Ex-husband) was joining dating websites, creating profiles (total of 10). He also created a profile on (a site for married people looking to have an affair). And lastly, he was also carrying on an emotional affair with a woman from his childhood (he claims he never consummated that relationship until after our divorce). While I was sick, he was building a life raft, an exit strategy, if you will.

      Now tell me, what did I do to deserve any of that? I do not believe I am a victim, but l was duped by someone who I believed loved me. I had no idea my marriage was over but that’s exactly what my husband at the time was telling women he was chatting on line with. It would have been nice if he had told me.

      So what exactly should I be “owning”. I believed in marriage. I believed in my vows. I was in it for the long haul, for good and bad, sickness and health… I would have done whatever it took to save my marriage but my Ex-husband never gave me the chance. He decided he would rather be married to that woman from his childhood. They are married now. I often wonder if he’ll get this marriage right, or if he’ll bail on her when the going gets tough.

    2. I’m not suggesting there are no innocent people or victims.

      God knows no one deserves to have armed pscyhos invade their home and rape and murder them. Peaceful civilians are innocent victims when killed in a terrorist attack. Women are innocent victims when sexually assaulted. Children are innocent victims when exposed to sexual or domestic abuse.

      There’s a really critical distinction between the word “Fault” and the word “Responsibility.”

      It’s not my fault I was laid off from my job. It’s my responsibility that I took the job. Acting as if I didn’t have a choice makes me a weak victim and holds me back.

      People whose spouses have affairs are not at fault. Never. But are they responsible for marrying someone capable of and willing to have an affair? I have a hard time arguing the other way.

      This is not about blame assignment. This is about empowerment.

      People often feel like they’ve been or are being walked on. The first step to never letting it happen again is taking control of one’s life and taking responsibility for all of the choices that were made.

      1. If there is one thing I need to “own” it is that I should have heeded the red flags that I ignored from the very beginning. How my Ex-husband treated the woman he was seeing before me was a huge red flag. I found out, after the fact, that he never actually broke it off with her, he just moved on and started dating me. He fed me a whole pile of bullsh*t about how she cheated, he was done, he moved out while she was in Egypt, etc… but come to find out, that wasn’t the truth. I bought his bullshit hook, line and sinker because I wanted so much to believe he wasn’t a bad person. I wanted so much to believe this relationship was going to work and I was willing to do whatever it took to make it work.

        It should have come as no surprise when I found out about those dating websites, I mean, he did the very same the woman before me.

        I married a liar and his tendency to lie was shown to me very early on. So yeah, if there is anything I need to own, it is that I knew going in I was marrying a dishonest person.

        With all that said, I’m not sure how I feel about this statement: “People whose spouses have affairs are not at fault. Never. But are they responsible for marrying someone capable of and willing to have an affair? I have a hard time arguing the other way.”

  4. Great, I agree, so as only women have commented, and we seem to readily take on our portion of the blame and Matt more than readily takes on his, how do we get the other husbands on board?

    1. Ha. It does seem I have a disproportionate female-to-male readership sometimes. I think there are more guys than I think and that they just don’t comment.

      I have a few favorite writers. Guys I read every single thing they write. And I have never commented on any of their posts. Maybe that’s a guy thing?

      1. I hope you’re right because what you say is very direct and your approach is “how am I going to fix this?” (which is more of a male way of doing things) and I think men really need to her what you’re saying and they need to hear it from a man. So hopefully instead of commenting (which is probably more of a female response in many ways) they are out there doing something instead. So keep it up!

  5. Matt, you know I enjoy your blog, but we almost always disagree on this “personal responsibility” issue. I think you’re making something that complicated and gray overly black and white. To pull from your concluding section, sometimes good choices don’t always yield good results. Your choice to work in journalism was a good one because you are good at it and you loved it. It’s not your fault that changes in technology and the broader American economy have restructured the industry, leading to massive layoffs. What’s tricky is owning OUR part AND ALSO correctly attributing fault when it lies elsewhere–including in large impersonal forces that we can do nothing to change. In academic theories of power this is a question of “individual agency” versus “structural cause.” It’s a terrible mistake to think that shit happens because of one thing or the other; it’s always both, and the hard thing is sorting it out accurately, rather than just lumping it all into one pile because that’s quicker and easier. “I lost my job b/c I didn’t try hard enough” is just as silly as “I lost my job b/c the bosses are out to get me.”

    So in my marriage, sure, I guess it’s my fault that when my husband said “I’m unhappy and I don’t want to talk about it– I just need some space to figure things out,” I said “okay, I’m happy to talk when you want to” instead of trying to engage him in constructive dialogue. It is not my fault that he used that “space” to create an exit strategy that involved having an affair with my good friend. I’ll own my shit, but part of doing so is knowing when shit actually belongs to someone else.

    1. @ttravis — I agree. Well said. I especially loved, ” I’ll own my shit, but part of doing so is knowing when shit actually belongs to someone else.”

      Last year, at one point, I fell into the same trap Matt has fallen into: “Owning what’s mine” but after a while and many hours of therapy I realized, the only thing I need to own is making the decision to marry someone who early on showed me what a deceitful person he is.

      My Ex withdrew from our marriage while I was sick. He was joining dating websites and reconnected with a woman from his past — a woman he went to high school with. While I was laid up, he was, as you said, “creating an exit strategy”.

      As far as I’m concerned, everything that happened resulting in the ending of my marriage belongs to my Ex.

  6. Thanks,Susan (or @Susan!). I think this is a complicated issue. Nobody in today’s America wants to “be a victim” or– worse– “play the victim card.” Personal freedom and personal responsibility have always been important aspects of American culture, and the personal responsibility part has become very intense since the 1980s. Furthermore, we all know people who, because they’re immature, narcissistic, or just idiots, are unwilling to take responsibility for their actions–and they are really annoying.

    So if we’re good people, like many of the folks who read this blog, we want to be sure not to be like that. Our culture, and our personal experience of that asshole in our office who can never get his work assignment finished on time, thus bogging down the whole team, tell us to eschew the victim role and own our shit. We get points for doing so, because that’s “mature.” Naming other people’s shit is “the blame game,” and that’s not cool.

    The blame game is not cool, but creating cognitive and cultural barriers to accurately assigning blame makes it very hard to frame accurate criticisms. And when we can’t critique a situation accurately, we are not in a good position to argue for or instantiate change. And then we’re really screwed.

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