Alston: Don't Be a Victim

by Will Alston | 10/8/15 9:13pm

It goes without saying that mental health at the College is an extremely important and multifaceted issue. Simply put, it seems safe to assume that almost everyone on campus has a mental health issue to some degree or another. This is, of course, natural — the College is an environment of high-octane academic performance where almost everyone is a high achiever, so it is extremely easy to feel burnt out, inadequate or unappreciated in the mix of all of this. Only within the past year have I thought that I’ve grasped any sort of truly effective solution to my own mental health issues, let alone those of other people. It is not a panacea by any means, but it has been immeasurably helpful in bringing me a sense of confidence and well-being.

My problem was feeling like I was a victim. For the longest time, I felt and even sometimes acted like I was owed something for what I had been through in my life, which, although admittedly privileged in a number of ways, has felt extremely personally difficult for as long as I can remember. I realized, though, that this is not just a self-defeating attitude that will never get me anywhere, but that it is harmful socially as well — not just to an individual, since it is a confidence-draining outlook to have, but also to groups, since it brings out the worst in people rather than the best.

At a place like Dartmouth, it is important to realize and respect that almost everyone on campus has struggles of their own as well as very possibly mental health issues. You are never alone in having struggles getting through the day — it is just that most people bury signs of their struggles beneath a façade of some kind, be it a cheerful smile or a stoic look as they plow through their class readings. Your struggles may be great, but more likely than not, your friends are dealing with something, too.

Trying to gain sympathy from others by presenting yourself as a victim of sad circumstances and injustices brings these struggles out into the open — which, yes, can be a good thing. But instead of fostering a productive discussion about the difficulties of various aspects of the human existence, all too often claims of victimhood instead encourage a race to the bottom by which people define themselves by how many wrongs they have suffered. Like sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning explored in their recent paper, “Where Microaggressions Really Come From,” this species of victimhood leads to a general atmosphere of hostility and suspicion as well as a decline in self-reliance.

For similar reasons, playing the part of victim doesn’t help you much, either. Even if you can get somewhere by relying on the sympathy of others, it is an attitude that does not lend itself well to pushing yourself toward accomplishment — rather, it lends itself to a chronic inability to move on from past difficulties and disappointments and push past perceived personal inadequacies, as it did in my case. If you define yourself — including to others — by what keeps you down, then it is only natural that you will feel and act kept down forever, since at that point it is a matter of preserving your own identity.

Now after three years of trials, troubles, tribulations and triumphs at Dartmouth, this is what I have to say: don’t let yourself be defined by resentment of the circumstances the world has dealt you. Instead, define yourself by how you overcome them, and resent what prevents you from doing so. You have struggles, but so does everyone else. Remember that you are not alone and that you have blessings which you should count every day.

For starters, you are a student at one of the world’s finest institutions of education. Out there — on the Green, in Kemeny Hall, in the Hopkins Center and in the Life Sciences Center — is an exhilarating world of friendship and discovery to experience. Think about this and define yourself by how you seize upon these things and stride past your struggles, and many problems will seem to fade away easily. True, attitude adjustments cannot cure everything — there are some heartbreaks and horrors that even the most rigorous positive thinking simply cannot erase — but it’s a good start to breaking past the barriers of self-defeat and being the winner you were always meant to be.