A victim mentality is when someone claims that bad things keep happening to them more than others and differs from feeling sorry for themselves right after bad things happen. A person under the influence of a victim mentality blames someone or something else for their circumstances and refuses to take control of their life. If you suspect that you or someone you know is stuck playing the victim, you’ll benefit from knowing the signs, causes, and solutions to a victim mentality and shift to an empowered way of being.
“I am not a victim. No matter what I have been through, I’m still here. I have a history of victory.”— Steve Maraboli
For most of human history, life for the average person was hard. If someone from Medieval Europe was to travel into the future and witness our lives today, they would think we live in the lap of luxury.
To understand why they would think this way, let’s look at what life was like for the average person. Life for most medieval folks could be described in three words: short, nasty, and brutish. If they survived the high infant mortality rate, they had to deal with a profusion of circulated diseases.
85% of medieval citizens were peasants, legally bound to the land owned by a lord. They had no freedom to move freely and endured the repetitive slog of farming the land. They paid high taxes and had little to no entertainment except attending church. A slight transgression in their decorum could result in severe punishment.
Why bring medieval peasants into a discussion about victim mentality? Because it gives us an immense perspective on how privileged we are to live in this time.
As recently as the 20th century, past generations had to rise above the seemingly hopeless situations of World Wars and the Great Depression. They endured it because they came from a generation where people could stay calm and steady in the face of upheaval.
In his book, “The Second Mountain,” journalist David Brooks writes that these people display a host of qualities: humility, restraint, reticence, temperance, respect, and soft self-discipline. “They don’t crumble in adversity. Their minds are consistent, and their hearts are dependable,” he notes.
Sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning would say that people from those generations belonged to a “dignity culture,” where moral values and behavioral norms promoted the value of human life and encouraged strength, achievement, and resilience in children.
According to Campbell and Manning, dignity culture has been crumbling and is being replaced by a victimhood culture, where complainants are seen as vulnerable, weak, and fragile.
Those who dramatize their narrative of suffering are rewarded for it. It incentivizes people to air their dirty laundry to gain higher moral status and more likes on social media. Even those who are privileged, like celebrities and the affluent, feel the need to participate in competitive victimhood.
This shift toward a victim mentality has permeated every facet of life. It’s become the lens through which most of us, especially younger generations, view the world. It promotes extreme sensitivity to the slightest offense and can cause the most unknowing offender to be canceled.
This not only disempowers us but takes away from the stories and dignity of actual victims, like those living in war-torn countries, trauma survivors, or marginalized communities facing grave injustice. When victimhood becomes part of people’s identities, it prevents us from empathizing with others.
To figure out how we got here as a society, let’s understand what victim mentality is, why this dysfunctional mindset can wreak havoc individually and collectively, and what we can do to instill grit and self-responsibility within ourselves and others.
Understanding Victim Mentality
Life is often tough — the Buddha famously said that life is suffering. This means that people will experience difficulties and challenges that are often out of their control. Accepting this truth with grace and humility is part of the human journey.
Those who resist this reality get trapped in a victim mentality that blocks their growth and evolution. Let’s take a closer look at this mindset and how it impacts our lives.
What is a Victim Mentality?
A victim mentality is when someone claims that bad things keep happening to them more than to others. At the root of this mentality is that none of these situations or events is their fault and that someone or something else is to blame for their circumstances. They have no control over what happens to them.
The core beliefs of someone with a victim mentality are:
- Bad things happen to me and will continue to happen no matter what I do.
- The circumstances and events in my life are the fault of others, not mine.
- Nothing will change no matter what I do, so there’s no point in trying.
Victim mentality is different from self-pity. Feeling sorry for ourselves is normal when bad things happen, like abuse, crime, childhood trauma, or divorce. We have every right to feel sad and seek emotional support when we experience loss or trauma. If someone blames it on you, however, they are being unfair and unkind.
A victim mentality differs from temporary self-pity in that victimhood becomes an integral part of your identity, and you become dependent on pity. Being a victim is who you are, and you make it such a fundamental part of your story that you repeat to others again and again. You use it to gain validation and significance.
How does a victim mentality develop?
Just as no one is born with anxiety and low self-esteem, people who struggle with a victim mentality are not born with it. It is an acquired coping mechanism, often picked up through childhood trauma. If you were a child who felt unseen and helpless, feeling sorry for yourself was the only way to self-soothe.
As adults, those who adopt a victim mentality choose to remain that vulnerable child and continue to draw in people and circumstances to repeat and validate their victimhood, keeping them stuck in this destructive mental loop.
Below are some specific causes of victim mentality:
- Several negative experiences where you had no sense of control.
- Past trauma from emotional, physical, or psychological abuse.
- Having someone you believed in betray your trust.
- The need for attention and validation from others.
If you have been through any of the above, know that as an adult, you can heal and move beyond the wounds of the past. Instead of being held captive by them, you can step into your power and reclaim your joy.
Why do people play the victim?
Most people who play the victim don’t realize they’re doing it. Even if it is unintentional, manipulation and control feature prominently in their attitudes and behavior toward their targets. Through stealth, they can make others believe they are innocent and genuine in their pleas.
When people give them attention and offer sympathy, they feel validated. The attention affirms their victim identity and satisfies an unconscious craving for control and to feel special. This perpetuates the cycle of using weakness and ill fate as social currency.
The “poor me” attitude is also a form of abuse used by toxic individuals who use it to keep others under their thumb. You may have experienced this with a friend or family member who likes to fixate on your wrongdoings whenever you try to raise a concern. In this way, they gaslight you and try to position themselves as the one who is being hurt and abused.
A victim identity also offers an excuse for people not to take responsibility for their lives. If people around them continue to support and coddle them, they will keep playing the role. An example might be an adult who continues to live in their parent’s house and refuses to find a job, blaming it on the economy or employers failing to see their potential.
Living in a bubble of delusion shields you from facing underlying emotions like apathy and low self-esteem.
16 common signs of victim mentality
The first step to shifting from a victim mentality is identifying and acknowledging it. Victimhood manifests in multiple ways through our words, behavior, and actions. These are the most noticeable ones to look out for:
- You’re convinced the world is against you and out to get you.
- You find excuses to not take responsibility for your life and avoid seeing how you contributed to a situation.
- The blame game is your specialty.
- You are pessimistic and cynical.
- You believe that everyone is better off than you are.
- You get offended and feel attacked when someone tries to offer you constructive feedback.
- Feeling bad for yourself gives you a sense of pleasure and relief.
- When things are going well and opportunities present themselves, you tend to self-sabotage.
- Your mind is plagued with negative self-talk, and you’re overly critical of yourself.
- You have difficulty being honest with yourself even though you know deep down things need to change.
- Self-reflection does not happen easily for you, and it prevents you from making positive changes.
- You tend to surround yourself with people who validate your victimhood.
- You tend to attract people who complain about their lives and blame others – with whom you can have “pity parties.”
- Nothing seems to be moving in your life, and you feel stuck.
- You feel emotionally overwhelmed and have trouble coping with the problems in your life.
- You regularly post content on the internet and social media to showcase your victimhood.
Victim mentality from a spiritual perspective
All of us have a victim consciousness embedded in our psyche. When we feel overwhelmed and out of balance, it’s natural to complain, blame, or feel bad.
In her book “Sacred Contracts,” intuitive-energy healer Caroline Myss states that the victim’s journey is about self-esteem. It’s about moving away from feeling victimized by forces in the outside world and realizing that you’re not powerless, because power comes from within.
Michael Beckwith has a similar take on victimhood. In his book “Life Visioning,” he writes that the limiting beliefs that arise from a victim consciousness prevent a person from growing, moving forward, and establishing a sense of inner peace. A victim is operating from a place of ego.
Beckwith’s framework, called the “Four stages of consciousness,” describes each phase we go through in our spiritual development. The first stage, which has the lowest vibration, is called the ‘To Me’ Consciousness.
A person operating from this level believes that life is happening to them rather than for them. A sense of hopelessness invades their thoughts because they think things can only change if something allows it. The emotional byproducts of this perspective are unhappiness, and feeling drained, inadequate, stuck, unsupported, and alone.
All of us live in the “To Me” consciousness from time to time. We’ve blamed others like our parents, partners, boss, a friend, or the economy and the government. We embody victim consciousness if we stay at this level and it becomes central to our identity.
You’ll know that victimhood is part of your identity if you catch your mind being filled with disempowering self-talk like:
“I never get what I want!”
“I’m alone because …”
“I can’t do this because…”
“I can only be happy if this happens…”
“Nothing will ever change for me.”
“Things would have been fine in my life if not for this unfortunate event.”
The good news is that you can pull yourself out of “me-consciousness” by taking responsibility for your life and giving up the blame. When you do, you’ll have more energy to attract more abundance and opportunities. You’ll be “pulled by the vision,” as Beckwith puts it, seeking to evolve through you.
Why playing the victim holds us back?
Playing the victim serves no one. A “woe is me attitude” will significantly undermine your happiness and success and make the people around you miserable.
Like a child trying to get the attention of grown-ups, an adult victim demonstrates that they are incapable of handling the responsibilities of adulthood and facing the challenges that strengthen us.
If you, or someone you know, constantly plays the victim, know that the benefits are shallow and short-term and that there’s a high price to pay in the long run. Here are a few of the disadvantages of playing the victim:
- Feeling inadequate, hopeless, and ashamed.
- Feeling stuck and like your life is going nowhere.
- Not being able to celebrate success and accept praise from others.
- The constant worry that people are out to get you and take advantage of you.
- Difficulty feeling a sense of inner peace and satisfaction.
- An inability to maintain healthy and long-lasting relationships.
How to release yourself from a victim mentality
Victim mentality is a learned pattern we adopt to cope with stress. If you suspect that you harbor a victim mentality, there are several things you can do to transform your mindset. Here are some steps you can take to release it:
1. Be kind to yourself.
Remember that you are the way you are because you went through things that hurt you deeply. Let go of any shame, guilt, low self-esteem, and anxiety. Replace it with positive self-talk and engage in self-care and self-love practices that nurture you, such as journaling, affirmation, and seeking the support you need. Applaud yourself for accepting your condition and wanting to get better.
2. Take responsibility and be proactive about creating change.
While you can’t control other people and what happens in the world, you have control over how you perceive events and react to them. This puts you in the driver’s seat. One way to do this is by building healthy boundaries and prioritizing your needs.
Educate yourself about victim mentality by reading books and articles that can increase your knowledge and empower you to make changes.
3. Change your victim identity.
If you’ve identified with being the victim for so long, ask yourself why you’ve been doing it. Many people who play the victim get some payoff, like attention or financial benefits.
Remember that the energetic price tag for playing the victim is never worth it, even if you gain something on the material plane. Instead of calling yourself a victim, call yourself a survivor or changemaker – whatever resonates with you and empowers you to be your best.
4. Examine your beliefs and stories.
Look at the core beliefs that support your victim’s outlook on life. You may need to dig deep, as these limiting beliefs are often found in the shadowy corners of your subconscious. If it’s difficult to explore them on your own, do it with the assistance of a qualified therapist.
You’ll also want to tell yourself a different story. We all have a self-created narrative, and victims often adopt their story without giving much thought to the other aspects of their life that say otherwise.
As the author of your life, you can rewrite your story in a way that puts you in a position of power.
5. Develop confidence in yourself.
Learned helplessness can paralyze you, and the only way to find release is by convincing yourself that you can do things successfully once you put your mind to it. Search your past experiences, seek out role models, and ask others who know you well about past accomplishments where you proved that you could succeed.
As you take on more in your life, you’ll see that you can do great things by being proactive and believing in yourself.
6. Seek therapy if you need it.
You don’t have to go through the process of healing alone. Therapy can help you process the pain or past trauma underlying your victim mentality.
Getting to the bottom of your feelings with a qualified and experienced therapist can give you a healthy perspective on your past, offer a healthy container where you can process emotions, and offer support as you take steps to transform into a healthier version of yourself.
How to help someone with a victim mentality
If you’re dealing with someone with a victim mentality, you may wonder how to interact without hurting them. At the same time, you want to take care of yourself and preserve your sanity. Depending on how close you are to them, you decide how much support you feel comfortable showing.
Below are some ways that you can help without compromising your well-being:
- Validate their feelings, especially if they talk about past hurts and trauma.
- Offer help and provide solutions to change their life.
- Remind them of their past achievements and cheer them on.
- Encourage them to get professional support.
- If you feel overwhelmed by your interactions, set boundaries that prevent them from invading your personal space.
- Don’t give into the temptation to “rescue” them (especially if you tend to do it).
- Identify and gently point out unhelpful behaviors like blaming and complaining that are not serving them.
- Maintain your self-care routine. Supporting someone with emotional issues can be demanding and draining. Be sure to take the time to fill your cup with activities and people that boost your energy.
Life isn’t always fair. It never was, never is, and never will be. But that’s irrelevant. What matters is figuring out who you want to be, holding your head high, and moving forward. Life has its own rhythms and rules, and we must learn to flow with it while caring for ourselves. This attitude is one of power and strength.
All my best on your journey,
Questions for you: Do you identify any victim mentality traits in yourself or someone you know? How does it impact your life, and what changes would you like to make?
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