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Victim Mentality: Signs, Causes, & How to Escape It

Taking responsibility for one's actions and learning to deal openly and authentically with one's emotions are recurring themes in psychotherapeutic processes. We also live in a society where responsibility is quickly rejected, like the hot potato that no one wants to hold. However, since this can contribute to stagnation in the flow of life, rigid behaviour and the development of diseases, it is essential to first recognize a victim mentality and work on it.



Victim mentality is the belief that the world is against an individual and that they have no control over what happens to them. People with this mindset tend to blame others for every thing that happens to them instead of accepting responsibility. This mindset is acquired and can have severely negative impacts on mental health. It can be caused by numerous issues, such as betrayal, past trauma, and manipulation. Recognizing the signs of a victim mentality can help one navigate relationships with people who behave this way. Overcoming a victim mentality involves taking responsibility for one's actions, identifying actionable ways to improve, and learning to say no. By doing so, individuals can break the cycle and move towards a protagonist mindset, where they take full accountability for their actions and are empowered to address and solve the situations that are happening by making choices.


"Victim Mentality" Defined

Victim mentality is a personality trait where individuals deflect responsibility for their behaviour and view themselves as the victim of someone else's actions. They blame others for their problems and tend to avoid taking accountability.

According to Dr. Judith Orloff book, Emotional Freedom, a victim mindset can negatively impact one's mental health and those around them. Dealing with someone who has a victim mentality can be challenging in a relationship. Signs include consistent feelings of oppression or depression, excessive neediness, blaming others for their problems, constant complaints, and an overall negative attitude. Three or more yeses may indicate a victim mentality.


Victim mentality rarely develops out of nowhere and is often caused by one or more issues an individual has dealt with.


  • Betrayal: Betrayals, especially if they happen repeatedly or are caused by a parent or primary caretaker can be challenging to recover from. The long-lasting effects and consequences of betrayal can make it difficult to trust others in the future, leading to a victim mentality.

  • Survival: Children neglected or not given the love they need during their formative years may learn to try anything to make others care about them. If they learned that the only way to get attention was by acting weak or sick or expressing all the bad things that happened to them, those lessons might persist into adulthood through a victim mentality.

  • Past Trauma: The victim mentality can develop as a coping mechanism in response to traumatic experiences, which can leave an individual feeling trapped in the emotional pain of their trauma.

  • Past abuse: Victim mentality is common in cases of past abuse, particularly sexual abuse, where feelings of extreme shame and helplessness can lead to low self-esteem in the future.

  • Codependency: Codependency, which is feeling responsible for someone else's well-being, can lead to a victim mentality. Feeling solely responsible for another person's happiness can be extremely taxing.

  • Learned behaviour: People can learn victim mentality from emulating adults who act like victims. For example, if a parent constantly complains about how the world is against them or how people make things hard for them, their child may also learn to adopt a victim mentality.

  • Manipulation: Victims of manipulation and abuse are likelier to adopt a victim mentality. Some individuals may even appear to enjoy blaming others and try to make those around them feel guilty. However, it should be noted that while manipulation can be linked to a victim mentality, it is more commonly associated with a mental health condition known as a narcissistic personality disorder.


Signs of a Victim Mentality

People who exhibit a victim mentality often feel vulnerable and believe that others, even those they should be able to trust, are responsible for their pain and suffering. This can lead to several reactive behaviours, including blame-shifting and avoidance of responsibility.


  • Refusing to look for solutions: They often show little interest in making positive changes in their life. Instead, they reject offers of help, wallow in misery longer than necessary, and seem interested in feeling sorry for themselves. However, most problems have solutions, and even minor improvements can be made with effort. It's essential to be open to finding solutions and making positive changes to overcome a victim mentality.

  • Avoiding responsibility: Individuals with a victim mentality often blame others, make excuses, blame situations for their problems, refuse to take responsibility and have a knee-jerk reaction to most problems with an "it's not my fault" attitude.

  • Engaging in negative self-talk or self-sabotage: Individuals with a victim mentality often engage in negative self-talk and self-sabotage. They may easily absorb difficult or negative messages that result from their challenges, leading to a habitual response pattern that becomes deeply embedded in their internal dialogue. The result can be a constant attempt to self-sabotage relationships or anything positive in their life. Typical victim mentality thinking patterns include feeling like they can't do anything right, that bad things always happen to them, that nobody cares about them, that they deserve every bad thing that happens to them, or that they don't deserve anything good in life.

  • Having a sense of powerlessness: People with a victim mentality often believe they lack the power to change difficult situations in their life. This sense of powerlessness can make them feel trapped and unable to escape even mildly challenging situations.

  • Lack of self-confidence: They may feel unworthy of good things, which can cause circular thought patterns that reinforce the idea that bad things will always happen to them. Even if they try something and fail, it can strengthen the belief that they don't deserve happiness, exacerbating negative thinking.

  • Being angry, frustrated, or resentful: Those with a victim mentality often feel frustrated, angry, isolated, and lonely. They perceive the entire world and everyone in their life as against them. They may also feel hurt about the idea that everyone is against them, upset because they believe nobody cares about them, hopeless like nothing will ever change for them, and resentful towards those they perceive have found success and happiness in life.


The following tips can help address a victim mindset positively and healthily, whether trying to overcome it yourself or dealing with someone with a victim mentality.


Addressing someone else's victim mentality

  • If you know someone is likely to blame you for something, you might hesitate to confront them on any issue. Setting firm boundaries can help. If you can find a way to detach from the negativity, you might be able to forge a relationship despite their victim mentality. Having compassion is essential, but you don't need to be hurt by them.

  • One way to help someone with a victim mentality is to offer solutions. Still, it may be more effective to help them understand and identify the tools they have to solve problems independently rather than giving specific advice and suggestions.

  • The term "victim mentality" may be emotionally charged and have negative connotations. Instead, other ways to describe this behaviour can be used, such as discussing a person's tendency to complain, difficulty accepting responsibility, or habit of shifting blame to others. Another approach is to ask the person if they feel powerless or trapped.

  • Encouragement and validation can be effective strategies for dealing with a victim mentality. While expecting an immediate change is not realistic, pointing out things someone is successful at and reminding them that you care about them can be helpful in the long term. It's important to find ways to validate how they're feeling.

  • When dealing with someone with a victim mentality, understanding their perspective and where they are coming from can be helpful. Reminding yourself of their feelings, such as a lack of support or low self-confidence, can help you feel more compassionate towards them.


Addressing your own tendency for victim mentality

  • Seek therapy: You don't have to struggle with a victim mentality alone. Finding a therapist to help you overcome your feelings can be hugely beneficial. It can allow you to figure out why you feel like a victim so you can work on changing your behaviour. A therapist can help you become more self-compassionate, so you can set and achieve goals in your life.

  • Identify actionable ways to make improvements: The first step to taking real ownership of your life is identifying actionable ways to improve your circumstances. List ways you can make measurable, positive changes. Action leads to progress.

  • Take responsibility for your actions: Remember that acknowledging your culpability is a sign of strength, not weakness. Blaming your friends or coworkers for your challenges will ultimately get you nowhere. It may even cause you to lose important people and sources of support along the way. Be mindful of how you talk about your problems to the people in your life and yourself.

  • Change your narrative: You have the power to change your own story. Every time you feel compelled to place blame on someone else for your challenges, take a moment to flip the script and focus on what you can change.

  • Help others in need: Sometimes, it takes a bit of perspective to appreciate your life's positive aspects. Rather than dwelling on your personal hardships, get out into the community and volunteer to help people in need.

  • Learn how to say no: The key to getting over victim mentality is recognizing you have the power to run your own life. Then determine ways to improve any situation you face. Sometimes simply saying "no" goes a long way to improving your mindset. Instead of simmering with resentment because you keep taking on thankless tasks or dealing with toxic coworkers, sit down with your boss and explain why the requests are complex.

  • Treat yourself with kindness: Take time to recognize your role in your challenges. Seek forgiveness in yourself and treat yourself with something that makes you feel good. Try taking a long run or a bubble bath, or cook your favourite dinner — find something you enjoy.


Sources:

1. Orloff M.D. J. How to Deal with a Victim Mentality. Judith Orloff MD. https://drjudithorloff.com/how-to-deal-with-a-victim-mentality/. Published 2019. Accessed October 1, 2021.

2. Gabay R, Hameiri B, Lifschitz T, Nadler A. The Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood: The Personality Construct and its Consequences. Pers Individ Dif. 2020. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886920303238

3. Granger K. How To Deal with the "Victim Mentality" in Others. Medium. https://medium.com/personal-growth/dealing-with-the-victim-mentality-in-others-a9d6f2270f72. Published 2016. Accessed October 1, 2021.

4. Kaufman S. Unraveling the Mindset of Victimhood. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/unraveling-the-mindset-of-victimhood/. Published 2020. Accessed October 1, 2021.

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