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The Victim Mentality – What It Is and Why You Use It

What is a ‘Victim Mentality’?

Having a a ‘victim mentality’ means you blame your challenges in life on others around you, even if you can’t prove their negative actions.

You might also blame many things on circumstances, which you see as always unfair.

Being a Victim vs Self Pity vs Victim Mentality

Bad things can happen in life. You might be the victim of a crime, such as fraud or even sexual assault. In such a case you have every right to feel that things were out of your control, because they were, and any thought that it’s somehow your fault and you are responsible is erroneous thinking.

It’s also perfectly normal to feel sorry for yourself every once in a while, or feel powerless in the face of a challenge like a bereavement or divorce.

But if you have a victim mentality, you will see your entire life through a perspective that things constantly happen ‘to’ you. Victimisation is thus a combination of seeing most things in life as negative, beyond your control, and as something you should be given sympathy for experiencing as you ‘deserve’ better. At its heart, a victim mentality is actually a way to avoid taking any responsibility for yourself or your life. By believing you have no power then you don’t have to take action.

A healthy person, on the other hand, recognises that beyond random bad occurrences, many things in life happen because of choices they themselves made, and that they have power to choose differently. And they understand that when misfortune does happen, it is nothing to do with personal value or ‘deserving’ or ‘not deserving’.

[Not sure you do or don’t have a victim mentality? Sign up for alerts so you don’t miss our upcoming connected piece, ‘How to Tell if You Have a Victim Mentality’].

Why would I choose to always be a victim?

Constantly acting a victim can actually have a lot of perks. These can look like the following:

  • you don’t have take responsibility for things
  • you have the ‘right’ to complain and receive attention
  • others feel sorry for you and give you attention
  • people are less likely to criticise or upset you
  • others feel compelled to help you and do what you ask for
  • you can tell stories about the things that happened to you and seem interesting
  • there is no time to be bored because there is so much drama in your life
  • you can avoid ever feeling anger as you are too busy being sad and upset.

If you look at the above statements, you might already see the pattern of what the true benefits of being a victim can be. They are:

  1. attention,
  2. feeling valued,
  3. power.

The Secret Power Behind Being a Victim

Surprised that playing the victim gives you power, because you’ve convinced yourself that your life is so awful you have no power at all? This is what a victim tells his or herself.

But having others feel sorry for you can easily be a way to manipulate them into meeting your needs and wants. This can be something small, like someone always going to the shops for you, or can be deeper and more insidious, such as meaning your ‘poor me’ act leaves another forced to treat you nicely and never yell at you, or to not leave you even if they feel they should.

An example of victimhood as a form of power is a codependent relationship, such as the one between an alcoholic and their partner. The ‘caregiver’ can play a victim, putting up with the alcoholic’s terrible behaviour and sacrificing their own needs to care for them, only to one day use guilt, complaints, and ‘poor me’ tirades to then attempt to control the alcoholic.

On a darker note, the role of victim can also be a common way for abusers to take power, called ‘playing the victim’ in psychology. A less unconscious form of victimhood, this can look like an abuser who constantly puts their partner down then fixates on the one time the abused party snapped back and called them a monster, making out that they are in fact the ‘attacked’ one. Or an abuser will say that it’s not their fault they hit the other person when that person is so annoying and stupid and they have to ‘put up with them’. In this way an abuser uses the ‘poor me’ mentality to defend their sociopathic behaviour.

Why am I the sort of person who plays the victim?

What makes you more likely to be the sort that lives your life from a victim mentality?

Like most behavioural patterns, a victim mentality is a learned behaviour that can be traced back to childhood.

You could have learned to play victim because you watched the adults around you doing so. It your mother or father, for example, always felt the world was out to get them and complained daily about all the people who wronged them, you would take on board this was the way to gain personal power and attention.

It’s possible you had a codependent relationship with one of your parents. You would have felt responsible for their wellbeing, either taking care of a sick (mentally or physically) parent, or being led to believe you are in charge of their happiness. The message a child can take on here is that not only do you have to ‘earn’ love, but that if you are sick or weak others take care of you. Both can lead to patterns of victimisation as an adult.

Or, you might have learned to be a victim because it was a way to survive your childhood. As a child, we all require attention and love, and if it’s not offered freely by our caregivers, we are left to find ways to receive it. Perhaps, in your family home, the only way to receive attention and care was to be sick, or to act weak, or to allow bad things to happen to you.

Many people who live life from a victim mentality were sufferers of abuse as a childhood. This is often sexual abuse. The helplessness a child feels, combined with the deep shame abuse causes, can mean you grow into an adult who has no self-esteem and who sees the world as a dangerous place they are lost in.

What should I do if I recognise that I suffer from victimisation?

On a good note, because a victim mentality is a learned behaviour, you can indeed ‘unlearn’ it.

It is, however, a process which takes time and can be quite intense, especially if it is connected to childhood trauma like abuse or neglect.

And dealing with victimisation means you must then face the anger, sadness, shame and fear that playing the victim protects and hides you from.

It is therefore recommended to seek support when dealing with facing your victim mentality. A trained and experienced counsellor or psychotherapist can create a safe, non-judgemental space for you to explore why you act a victim, and what childhood events led to such behaviour as an adult. They will then help you learn new ways of thinking and seeing the world that are more helpful to you.

Do you have a question about victim mentality? Ask below, we love hearing from you.

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    Dr. Sheri Jacobson


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