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

victim mentality

By: Walter Watzpatzkowski

by Andrea Blundell

Had a tough life? And sometimes feel like you can’t get ahead, no matter how hard you try? Because the world is just too terrible and dangerous? You might be trapped in the victim mentality.

What is a ‘Victim Mentality’?

When we have a victim mentality, we see the world through a lens of good versus bad. We are the innocent person, and the bad things are outside of ourselves.

And, most importantly, we believe we are powerless to do anything in the face of all this ‘badness’. That life happens TO us, rather than the idea that we are choosing and creating it in any way. 

This 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 certainly happen in life. You might experience a crime, such as fraud, or even sexual assault. Or live through childhood trauma. You are a victim. 

In such a case you have every right to feel that things were out of your control, because they were. Any thought that it’s somehow your fault and you are responsible is obviously 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. This is self-pity. 

A victim mentality, on the other hand, means you identify with your status of a victim and become reliant on pity. The trauma didn’t just happen to you, it becomes who you are.

You don’t move on from the trauma but you hold onto it, making it part of your story that you tell again and again. And you become stuck in this mindset.

A victim versus a healthy person

At its heart, victim mentality is a misunderstood coping mechanism. Often it is from childhood trauma.

And as a child we really were helpless. Feeling sorry for ourselves was our only way to self soothe. But here we are, powerful adults. We can make different choices, we can walk away from things, and we are deciding, in many cases, the life and relationships we are living out. 

A healthy person sees that they are choosing what is happening to them and sees their power to take charge. They chose to be in a relationship with someone critical. They chose a bad job. And they can choose to quit the relationship or the job.

But the victim mentality blinds us to this. We still play that helpless child. We are paralysed, unable to take responsibility and make decisions that would move us forward. Deep down we might even believe we deserve to suffer, or that the only way to get attention and love is if others feel sorry for us.

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.

The Secret Power Behind Being a Victim

Despite the learned helplessness, victimhood does mean a certain type of power. And that is through attention and sympathy.

Having others feel sorry for you is an unconscious 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. Your ‘poor me’ act can be used so another is forced to treat you nicely and never yell at you, even if you aren’t being fair. Or keep them so guilty they are unable to walk away from you even if they want to. 

Codependency and victimhood

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. But then they can also use guilt, complaints, and ‘poor me’ tirades to then attempt to control the alcoholic.

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

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 and felt responsible for their wellbeing. This could have been taking care of a sick (mentally or physically) parent. Or being led to believe you are in charge of their happiness.

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.  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.

But again, 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. CBT therapy, for example, can help you challenge your perspective on yourself, others, and the world, and find new ways of seeing and behaving.

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

Andrea BlundellAndrea Blundell is the lead writer of this site. With training in coaching and person centred therapy, she worked through the victim mentality herself, and knows it’s a game changer. 

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