The path beyond victimhood

Joan Westenberg
Published in
3 min readApr 27, 2024


Photo by Serey Kim on Unsplash

It would be easy to see myself as helpless. Powerless.

To define myself by my grievances and limitations.

To point fingers and cast blame when things don’t go my way.

I’m a transgender woman, in a world where that is increasingly becoming a controversial existence. There are folks out there who would like to see me dead — I know this because a fair few of them have kindly reached out to tell me that.

It might be reasonable to retreat into myself, in the face of hatred and rejection.

But time and again, I have asked the same question:

What if I chose a different story? What if I decided to write my own script instead of taking on the victim role that my would-be enemies want to force me into?

It starts with seeing.

Really seeing, with eyes wide open.

I am not focusing solely on data and anecdotes to reinforce my misery but on perceiving the world as it is. The obstacles, yes, but also the opportunities. The setbacks, but also the lessons. My opponents, but also my friends, family and community.

When I can see clearly, I can realize that I have far more agency than any victim mindset would have me believe.

But seeing isn’t enough.

Victims have had their agency taken from them.

Non-victims take action.

We make a plan and get to work, even if the steps are small and progress is slow. Forward motion, however incremental, shatters the illusion of powerlessness. It reveals the influence we can exert over our circumstances and ourselves.

I haven’t waited for the world to catch up to me. I haven’t raged against it. I have worked. To become a better writer. A better thinker. A better creator.

That effort, that emphasis, energy — all of it is within my control.

I can control the words I write, the time I put into them, and the thoughts and ideas I explore and dedicate myself to. They’re on me. They're up to me. Only me.

And when factors remain stubbornly outside my control?

That’s where acceptance comes in—not resignation or learned helplessness, but the serenity to acknowledge what I cannot change, the wisdom to focus my energy where it can make an actual difference.

Acceptance isn’t weak — it frees me from the suffering of fighting unwinnable battles.

See. Act. Accept. Three choices that, practiced daily, make victimhood unsustainable.

Is it easy? Of course not. Simple, but far from easy. It requires letting go of stories we may have clung to for years.

But it is enough—more than enough, in fact, to turn even the most dismal situations into something meaningful, empowered, and alive.

I am not a victim. I never was.

And that truth, once accepted, changes everything.

In the words of Epictetus:

“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.”

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