We all know someone — that friend who always seems to be suffering the wrongdoings of someone else, or that aunt who complains nobody in the family has any consideration toward her needs ever despite all her sacrifices, or that coworker who is “resigned” to the abuse of their boss but who never quits their job. Victim mentality — pretty common, isn’t it?
Victim mentality prevents people from making objective decisions and evaluations of everyday life. People who have a victim mentality have not necessarily been victimized through a crime, but they are individuals who have adopted this behavior and attitude from years—usually during childhood—where core emotional or physical needs were not met.
Become Self-Aware explains that victim mentality is a form of negative thinking where an individual looks to others for experiences and life fulfillment instead of to themselves. This often manifests in adulthood as character traits of entitlement and neediness.
“…the adult who is still playing the child victim role responds like the deer that sees a mountain lion approaching and instead of fleeing the danger becomes paralyzed,” explains Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D., psychologist and author. ”This person just keeps noticing over and over that the situation is unreasonable, unfair or threatening but doesn’t make the appropriate adaptive responses.”
What leads to a victim mentality?
Victim mentality is considered a natural extension of dependency felt during childhood. Because children must rely on adults for all of the comforts in life, parents who are overly negative, critical and hard on children can foster a sense of being “not good enough.”
This feeling of inadequacy teaches children to rely on others for happiness and reaffirmation– a habit which, for those with victim mentality, follows into adulthood.
Victim mentality is often a sign of emotional immaturity.
Victim mentality in everyday life
Victim mentality affects people from all walks of life and we have all at some point used the victim role to our advantage. However, the victim mentality is a chronic issue that becomes a person’s main way to see and interact with the world. They really do believe they are victims of something or someone.
Characteristics of individuals with this issue include:
- Negative self-image
- Underlying feelings of being powerless
- Frequent use of the phrase, “Yes, but…”
In many situations, people are unaware they are displaying a victim mentality; it is simply a way to shift the blame from themselves to another person.
People who chronically suffer from victim mentality, however, are stuck in a pattern of blaming and negativity, even over inconsequential events.
According to Dr. Nicola Davies, people who are stuck in the victim mentality role, tend to verbally and physically abuse others and then blame it on being provoked, constantly try to control other people’s sympathy by “needing” support or compassion, try to prove they are indeed the victim of others by staying in conflicted relationships (personal or business), and also complain of other people taking advantage of their kindness.
Recognizing when someone is suffering from victim mentality versus just being manipulative can be difficult. The main difference is chronic presence of negativity rather than just a fleeting moment of manipulation.
“‘Victims’ deal in judgments and ‘shoulds’ in interactions with others. They operate on the basic assumption that the world should be fair: ‘I should have been loved by my parents.’ ‘My children should call me or write to me.’ ‘After all that I’ve done for her, the least she could do …’,” explain Dr. Firestone. ” This type of preoccupation with ‘rights’ and ‘shoulds’ is irrelevant to the real problems that we are all faced with; it leads to inward brooding, righteous indignation and vengeful feelings. Worse yet, angry, victimized feelings are bottled up inside, contributing to depression and psychosomatic disorders.”
But not all “victims” are created equal.
According to Dr. Kim Shirin, a psychotherapist, there are different victim mentality profiles. They include:
- Passive victim: Always beating themselves up in a self-defeat attitude.
- Sickness tyrant: Use their health to manipulate other people’s attentions. They willingly dwell on their pains and aches and expect to be taken care of.
- Martyr: People pleasers but they always expect something in return. They are givers but they play the “you owe me” card all the time.
- Angry victim: Always mad about something, they feel that whatever they do it is never enough for others. They fear being abandoned but express it in anger.
- Bullies: They are emotionally inmature and express frustration and hurt by attacking those who they feel did not supply their needs.
Victim mentality among criminals
Victim mentality can be seen on many different levels, among many different people. Someone with a victim mentality is not necessarily docile; violent criminals can conduct crimes under the perception what they are doing is not their fault or that they are entitled to a retribution by the world.
“In simple terms, someone with victim mentality blames other people for the bad things that happen to them,” a retired NYS police investigator told Saludify. “Victim mentality is commonly seen in court cases, where criminals who are guilty deliberately or subconsciously try to make themselves out to be a victim.”
A common example of this is for a criminal to say they were set up or framed for their crime, or someone who sets the scene to demonstrate someone else’s actions caused them to behave as they did.
Most individuals who are innocent, however, rarely place blame on others but simply maintain their innocence without making someone else appear guilty.
“Victim mentality is seen all the time, every day,” said Saludify’s retired police contact. “I recognize it easily now because we were trained to identify it under investigative circumstances. Now, whenever my kid tells me he was sitting innocently in his room when his brother suddenly set him off, I know he’s playing the victim.”
How to deal with someone who has victim mentality
People with victim mentality can be frustrating to deal with.
Judith Orloff, M.D. (watch video above), explains there are ways to deal with these individuals without feeling irritated or emotionally drained.
For friends and relatives:
Kindly tell your friend or relative that it isn’t healthy for them to feel sorry for themselves all the time, and that you’re only willing to listen for 5 minutes unless the individual is willing to discuss solutions for their problems. Friends and family, because they often have close relationships, may become combative, but by telling them you love them and care for them you can usually defuse the situation. Focus on solutions when dealing with them.
You must be careful not to offend coworkers as they do not have the close relationship family and friends do where blunt tactics can be appreciated. For these individuals, the key is to limit the conversation by not encouraging the topic at hand; tell them you hope things will turn around for them but you have to get back to work.
Victim mentality in yourself:
Perhaps the most difficult places to spot and handle victim mentality is within your own personality.
During those moments where you feel down and looking for a scape goat, Orloff recommends taking a second to remind yourself of all the blessings you have in life. People around the globe are suffering from hunger, disease, oppression, and human trafficking. A reality check is the best way to snap yourself out of a victim mentality.