When you listen closely to people in a counseling office, you begin to hear common themes. Unless you are totally insensitive, the presenting problems sound very familiar. Whether they said it out loud or not, too many married people began by thinking, “Fix my spouse,” and our problems will be over. If the problem is an individual struggle, the thought expressed was often “If only my circumstances were different.” The common theme in many of our problems is that we believe we are the “victims.”

The Bible illustrates that in many of its stories. Do you know Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, who often hosted Jesus when He was in Bethany? On one occasion Martha complained to Jesus to tell Mary to help her with preparations for the visit. She could have said, “Help — I’m the victim of a lazy sister.” Another challenge to Jesus was a man who wanted his brother to share an inheritance with him in a more equitable way. He felt he was the victim of his brother’s taking advantage of him.

These illustrations show us why we remain trapped in circumstances. Can you see it? We focus our attention on the other person or the circumstances. Sometimes we can’t make any difference in either of these.

Here are some basic laws of bringing about change in relationships. They usually work to change circumstances too.

The first is this: I can only change myself.

The second is that I cannot change anyone else!

The third principle is: if I change myself, my relationships will change.

You will no longer be a victim when you liberate yourself from the prisons of your own thinking. In the Holocaust of World War II, a German pastor was taken prisoner. He was being humiliated by the guards and stripped naked. Finally one of the guards demanded his wedding ring, the last possession on his body. He later wrote, “They could take everything from me, except my sense of personhood.” That insight allowed him to survive a horrible imprisonment. Few of us will suffer like that. He learned that no one could change him but he could overcome brutality by holding on to the power of self-liberation. If that perspective worked in the most horrible of circumstances, it can be a game-changer where you and I live, too.

Today you can be free of the shackles of your self-imposed prison by starting with your own thinking. Begin by acknowledging that you can only be responsible for who you are! The beauty of that insight is that it frees you from being responsible for any other person’s attitudes or actions. When that truth changes you, everything around you will begin to change.

The Bible describes that change in these words, “If any is in Christ, he becomes a new creature. Old things are gone and new things have come.”

Genuine believers shed the old “victim” garments and start wearing the clothes of victory. Have you put yours on yet?

Dr. James E. Kilgore retired as president of the International Family Foundation Inc. and is a resident of Canton.

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