In life, and in stories, there are often perceived villains: things or people that cause conflict and pain. In regards to stories, I find the most interesting ones to be when there is no villain. No one that we can see, anyway.
Today, I wanted to discuss villains in regards to our own lives and what it can mean for us…
When the villain is your parents or upbringing
This is a big one. A common one. For many people, in their lives, their parents (or parental figure) and/or their upbringing is a cause of pain and suffering.
Maybe your mother didn’t love you enough. Maybe your father was critical and judgemental. Maybe they didn’t support you. Maybe they gave you nothing but misery. Maybe they beat you. Maybe they left you.
It is common for parents to be villains because these people are typically meant to nurture and guide us. When they, of all people, fail to do so, it hurts us perhaps worse than anything else ever could.
And it sticks. This pain lasts throughout our lives. The scars left in us from childhood become feelings, thoughts, and behaviours in adulthood affecting everything else.
When the villain is the past
Just like with our upbringing, past events have a way of lingering. The events echo throughout the rest of our lives, making moving forwards difficult or impossible.
This is what PTSD is. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The events of one’s past can be traumatic, leaving ghosts within us that manifest and eat at us for the rest of our lives.
This villain is big and black but invisible to the rest of the world. And that’s perhaps the worst kind of villain to face.
When the villain is your circumstance
For many of us, we just don’t have enough money to be happy. We were robbed of our chance to get a good education or a good job. We are living an unhappy life with shoddy circumstances and every day is a battle with that villain. The villain of environment and circumstance.
When all around you, every day, you are reminded of your pain, life can be tough. Looking out the window is a struggle. Looking at your family is a struggle. And thinking about the future is just too daunting; besides, it’s hopeless anyway. Because you’re stuck in the mud, or perhaps stranded out at sea, with no sight of solid land.
When the villain is your peers
This one seems the simplest. If someone is bad, you get rid of them. You leave them, right? If you are someone who has a person who you perceive to be your villain, you may know that it’s often not that simple.
Because what if they’re a family member? The mother of your child? Your boss? It suddenly becomes a little more complicated. Why? Because how you deal with that villain could affect other people or your place in a system that you need (your family or workplace). It could lead to further suffering and unknown challenges.
When the villain is you
This one makes me think of Bojack Horseman. Bojack is the villain of his own show and his own story. He creates all his problems, pain, and suffering.
So what happens when you look all around, but the truth is you are the only villain in your life? You are what is wrong with you. You are what’s bad.
For some, this is liberating. It means at least you are in control of making the change. But as we see with Bojack, it’s hardly ever that simple. Because surely there’s an underlying reason as to why you are your villain in the first place.
Then what do you do when you don’t know that reason or how to confront it?
What if there was no villain?
Sometimes, we can image villains where there aren’t any. Sometimes, we look for someone or something to blame in life, thus making a villain out of nothing. The truth is, it’s easier to have a known villain. Something to pin blame to; something obvious to conquer (no matter how difficult).
“Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” they say
So what happens when there is no real villain? Well, we are forced to take responsibility and make choices to move forward by ourselves. Which is, I think you’d agree, rather difficult to do at times.
Troubles can come when we go looking for villains. It was my mother’s fault for not loving me, it was my teacher’s fault for failing me, it was my anxiety’s fault for making me afraid, and so on. The sad thing is, we’re all very good at doing this. We’re good at finding villains and some of us, even fool ourselves into believing our own personal, self-made narrative of events.
At the end of the day, whether someone or something did harm you in any way, doesn’t matter. The blame does not matter. The only two things that matter are: how you perceive the situation, and how you react to it.
What do you choose to see when you look at your pain, circumstance, or villain?
How do you choose to react to this situation and move forwards?
There is a difference between pain and suffering. One is inevitable, the other is a choice.
It is a fact of life that we will all experience pain. Abuse or bullying, rejection, failure, loss, fear, heartbreak, and so on; these are all inevitable. But whether these things consume us or not is our choice.
We can choose to suffer or not.
For example, both Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou (two women I admire) were sexually abused as children. This, I think you’ll agree, is a horrific, painful thing to experience, nevermind as a child.
But both of these women made a choice in the end. They chose not to let it define them, and not to let it break them. They rose from the ashes, took charge of their lives, and not only survived but thrived.
They had villains, but they defeated them with their attitude towards it.
So, whether you are thinking about your own life and your own perceived villains, or whether you are writing a story and you’re thinking about who or what the villain should be, I hope you take this post’s ideas into account.
Villains can manifest in all sorts of ways, but at the end of the day, story or real life, the only way to defeat a villain it to confront how it is perceived and how you choose to react to it.
Because the fact is, many of us will go through the same things or confront the same villains; so, why do some of us defeat them while others don’t?
Perceptions and choices, that’s what it boils down to.
I would never aim to take away from your pain. I’d never aim to say that you have no right to be suffering. And of course, as someone who has dealt with mental illness, I know that suffering does come and take our choices away from us at times.
But we do have control. We do. Even in the depression, even in the anxiety, even in the darkest places of our lives. We do have a choice. We can choose to want to get better. We can choose to want to be happy. We can choose to try.
Does that mean that the depression or anxiety or bad times will just go away? No. But in choosing to try to fix it, we are taking the necessary first steps on the road to something brighter. And we are throwing the first punch at a villain that can be defeated in the end.
I used to look at my anxiety and see a lifelong hindrance that would mean I’d never find love, experience anything good, or be happy. Now, I see a struggle that I have to face almost daily, but also the strength and resilience that it gives me, too.
And despite my anxiety, I have done many things that 5 years ago, I never would have imagined for myself. I chose not to let the anxiety stop me. I let it come with its whispers (sometimes shouts), but then I tell the anxiety that it was not allowed to take the wheel. It is not allowed to win in the end.
It may win battles, but I’ll win the war.
This is how our perceptions can lead to a different result. This is how our choices produce a different result. Even when the villain remains the same.
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