“We all have a story. The difference is: do you use the story to empower yourself? Or do you use your story to keep yourself a victim? The question itself empowers you to change your life.” ― Sunny Dawn Johnston
Let me start by saying, it is understandable that many people develop a victim mentality given the range of influences in their background, some of which may need exploration. Some have been raised by families who have blamed computer games, school, teachers, society, friends, and a whole host of other external sources for issues that a child faces and reacts to one way or another. Some of the blame may well be appropriate, some may be unhealthy. Excessive blame is cited as a cognitive distortion or a thinking error in some psychotherapiy approaches.
Those who have been surrounded by blame may well then take those mental habits and develop them as an adult – blaming the system, governments, employers, human nature, the community, country and even the world for a range of issues or problems. Heck, some children who learned well how to blame others become so good at it that they start blaming their parents for all of their failures. The irony is plain but the problem very real and limiting.
Then later in life when one seeks to develop meaningful relationships and feels misunderstood often and struggles to take responsibility or reflect objectively about who and how they are and the relationship often equally struggles as a result.
Positive psychology has coined these characteristics as contributing to and being labelled as “Victim Mentality.”
“There is a fine line between compassion and a victim mentality. Compassion though is a healing force and comes from a place of kindness towards yourself. Playing the victim is a toxic waste of time that not only repels other people, but also robs the victim of ever knowing true happiness.” ― Bronnie Ware
What is A Victim Mentality?
According to Medium Webster dictionary, victim mentality is the belief that one is always a victim, the idea that bad things will always happen to one.
In clinical psychology, a “victim complex” or “victim mentality” describes a personality trait of people who often feel that the world is out to get them. They feel that anything that goes wrong is the result of everyone else singling them out, outside forces stacking the odds against them and all manner of other external factors trying to ruin their day or their lives. And sometimes, nothing even needs to go wrong, it can just be a gesture or action that can be construed as an attack on them.
The victim mentality has become increasingly common in our present society, to the point whereby it is accepted as a regular thought process. This automatic thinking habit has become widespread. Many people are completely unaware that they are sabotaged by a victim mentality on some level. Whether we are aware of it or not, we all feel victimised in one way or another on occasions by a range of everyday circumstances and in a variety of scenarios. We all typically tend to feel aggrieved or that we have been treated unfairly in one way or another on occasion.
People with a victim mentality hold a poor-me attitude and have an apparent allergy to taking responsibility for their actions and sometimes for their life in general. It may well be a major contributing factor for their unhappiness. They often portray themselves as unfortunates who need to be rescued. Research by Rahav Gabay and colleagues suggests that victim mentality leads to lack of empathy for the pain and suffering for both the person and others.
Here are some negative habits of people with a victim mindset:
1. Feel powerless and helpless. They feel they don’t have control over their situation. So they may not even try to affect the outcome.
2. Dwell on negativity. They complain about their tough life or about matters they feel are unfair upon them frequently.
3. Inflict self-abuse. They continually put themselves down.
4. Remain stuck in the past. They refuse to let go of disappointments.
5. Blame the world. They blame scapegoats for their setbacks and difficulties. (Many setbacks or influences may be completely valid by the way, I don’t want to take away from the fact that some may have had experiences which have led to a victim mentality. The victim mentality still creates additional problems for them though)
6. Become consumed by problems. They wear their problems as a badge of honour.
7. Feel cheated. They are envious and resentful. They believe that “the world isn’t fair.”
Successful people or those who feel happier and more content tend to blame others far less; they rarely descend into the role of victim. Their personality usually stays above the muddy grounds of blame game. They recognise that it’s their life, usually take ownership of that and they are in control and tend not to irrationally blame others for whatever happen to them. (Again, I want to make the point that some people may need to be blamed for creating unhappiness among others. This article is referring more to those who blame irrationally or without necessary cause, or who have adopted a thinking habit of excessively blaming to the point of it causing problems for that person)
So what can you do to manage victim mentality within yourself?
Your focus needs to be on the present on occasions. You are not helpless. You have power and control as an adult that you did not have as a child. You don’t have to go on tearing off the scabs and opening up the wounds over and over again. What are your goals? What do you enjoy? Where do you want to take your life? What can you do today that you could not do yesterday? What can you do today to alleviate the suffering of others?
“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” – Don Miguel Ruiz
Taking action on things that matter to you today and are future-oriented, this will go a long way to refocus your mind on the present and the future. Meditation and mindfulness are great ways for developing a focus on here and now where life happens. When those thoughts of the past come into your mind, you have to recognise them for what they are, acknowledge them, and let them go. The more you can do this, the more you will heal, and the better you will feel.
“We can reframe and recast our lives — not with lies, not with deceptions, but with the truth of who we are and of who we are choosing to become.” ― Sandra Marinella
Look for ways to reinterpret the event you feel a victim of, such that you can see what your role in it is. This is very often confused with victim blaming, but there is a subtle distinction. Take a step away from the situation. Look at how the way you relate to it now fits into your broader narrative. For example, we are all so used to saying ‘he hurt my feelings!’ or ‘she’s mean for saying that, she knows I don’t like it!’ But the truth is that no one else can MAKE someone else ‘feel’ the way they feel. It’s up to us as individuals to decide how we choose to react or respond. I know that can be tough for many of us.
If applicable, remove yourself from situations in which you feel victimised. If you choose not to, examine the reasoning behind why you are choosing not to— as in, now look at how you are a victim of your inability to choose, for example. If you choose to remain in the situation, you must accept that you like, love or are enduring the situation. This is the most-difficult part for people with a victim mentality— they are often in love with their victimhood (as perverse as they may sound).
Reframing not only changes the way you see, think, and respond to situations, it can also keep your thoughts from sliding down a slippery slope of impending doom. The next time you start to feel like a victim, try to reframe the situation and look at it from a slightly different angle. If you do, you’ll likely end up in a better psychological place.
Forgiveness shows that you are not a victim, but a strong human being. Forgiving people who have done horrible things is hard but necessary. Forgiveness does not mean gratitude for what has happened, only that you completely give up the right to punish someone over something. Bear in mind that forgiving does not condone the things someone else has done, it just stops you from continuing to be so hurt by what they did.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Louis B. Smedes
It seems paradoxical, but it is only you harbouring the resentment. It can be really tough to find peace if you don’t forgive. Anger, hate are feelings that will drag you into a dark place. You can even forgive people without their knowing. When you have truly forgiven, there will be a recognisable lightness about the topic— and no emotional charge around it afterward.
Gratitude is an antidote for a “victim mentality” and a “sense of entitlement.” According to research by Dr. Robert Emmons, gratitude is more than a positive emotion; it also improves your health and overall happiness over time.
“The problem that we have with a victim mentality is that we forget to see the blessings of the day. Because of this, our spirit is poisoned instead of nourished.” ― Steve Maraboli
Consider keeping a gratitude journal where you regularly list what you are grateful for. Moreover, always consider the fact that there are people who have it harder. Do not have self-pity because that equals taking yourself down. More on this subject with this excellent article:
The Science of Gratitude, It’s Benefits and Ways to Express It.
How to overcome a victim mentality? Stop treating yourself like a victim. Accept and move on wherever possible. Maybe you can’t change it, and you can’t delete it. The best thing to do may be to accept your past and everything that has happened to you and move on. This is hard for many of us, but not impossible. You used to be the victim in the past. Back then, there was no power for you. But things change. You have the power to change, the power to be great.
“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” — Marcus Aurelius
Enjoy life, do what makes you happy. Find peace within yourself. Don’t forget that life is not about the bad things, there are plenty of good things in life.
Most importantly, take responsivity. Being responsible means you claim your power in your life.
Taking responsibility allows you to transition from victim to powerful person who steps up and shows up.
Taking responsibility means you drive the action and events in your life instead of having actions done to you.
So the next time you’re tempted to whine, complain, blame, make others wrong while maintaining your own self-righteousness, pause for a moment. Reflect upon it and seek to understand if it is well-founded and if it is serving you well to think that way.
Ask yourself, is pointing the finger at someone else, making someone else wrong, and blaming someone else for my problems productive? Does it solve anything? Does it allow me to improve and grow or feel truly happy and powerful?
The answer will usually be “no.”
So, take responsibility. Focus on what you can control. Do what is in your power to create the life you want — and be proud that you can be responsible for yourself, your actions, and what happens to you each and every day.
The secret behind why taking greater responsibility is so successful lies within the psychological framework that it develops. By avoiding the victim mentality, you automatically engage in trying to find ways to resolve issues or to improve the negative situations you often find yourself in. Over time, as you practice taking greater responsibility, you develop a psychological framework whereby the brain is seeking solutions. A healthier style of thinking. Therefore, the default mentality becomes one where the mind is more often in a problem-solving mode.
Taking responsibility where possible in your life not only builds a more capable and can-do attitude but leads to a more rewarding and fulfilling existence. When faced with adversity or problems, do not succumb to feelings of victimisation or helplessness, but take active control of the situation in any way you can. By taking more control in your life and rejecting any notion of entitlement, you develop a psychological framework that will not only elevate your feelings of self-worth, life satisfaction, and ultimately, happiness but also benefit people around you.
“Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” — Golda Meir
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