Victim Mentality: 8 Signs & How to Overcome It
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“What’s the point in trying when I never win?”
“This society will never let me get ahead.”
“Everyone is always out to get me.”
People with a victim mentality are prone to thoughts like these. Victim mentality, which is an adopted mindset where you believe you have no control over your life and are being targeted unfairly, is often a result of trauma. People who get stuck in this mindset are prone to feelings of helplessness, frustration, resentment and anger.
Below, we’ll go over a more detailed definition of victim mentality, its causes and how you can free yourself from its confining grip.
What is victim mentality?
First things first: No one chooses to be a victim, and victims are never to be blamed. The events that happened to them were truly outside of their control, and the blame lies with the perpetrators who chose to do wrong.
Victim mentality is the choice to remain stuck in a mindset where you have no power, no control and no responsibility for life’s outcomes. It creates a tendency to distort your perspective into one where the cards are stacked against you, and the world is trying to ensure you never win at anything. This mindset is bad for your mental health and blocks you from getting what you want in life.
Dr. Marcuetta Sims, a trauma-trained licensed psychologist, further explains the difference between being a victim of something versus having victim mentality:
“The difference is being able to assign responsibility appropriately. In a situation where someone has a victim mentality, they are often unable to take any responsibility for their part in the problem. Everything is someone else’s fault, and they have no sense of how they could have contributed in any way. When someone is actually a victim of something, there is likely a clear boundary violation. I want to make sure we’re differentiating here between situations like sexual assault and any kind of abuse, which is clearly not the fault of the victim.
I think the line is drawn when there is a consistent pattern of a person being unable to take accountability for their own actions. … If a person can focus on specific events that are contributing to the resentment/hurt, then this is more likely an appropriate response, but when it is a global perception of the world, it’s likely more a victim mentality.”
External locus of control vs. internal locus of control
People with a victim mentality have what’s known as an external locus of control: They believe that they have no control over their life and that outside factors are in charge. They are bound by circumstance.
Developing an internal locus of control, a belief that they do have control over their lives, can lend agency and hope to someone stuck in a victim mentality. They’ll start to believe they can change their situation.
What is an example of a victim mindset?
An example of a victim mindset would be a son who, from a young age, had to be the caregiver for his siblings because his parents were neglectful.
When he grows up, he neglects himself and pours all his energy into people who never reciprocate. He still pays the bills for his siblings, rescues them when they get into any trouble and never says no to their requests for help. He even chooses romantic relationships with women who are excessively needy and expect him to take care of them, putting himself last.
Meanwhile, he is constantly frustrated and feels like life is unfair. He often tells his friends, “No one ever puts me first. No one ever cares about me the way I care about them. I always have to do everything.” He feels comforted when his friends offer their sympathy for his sad situation. All the while, he never reflects on how he creates these codependent relationships by seeking people who rely too heavily on him and by never asserting his own boundaries.
His victim mentality was sparked by a real trauma, but the problem is, he got stuck in it and never was able to move beyond this unhealthy coping mechanism.
What creates a victim mentality?
In short, trauma creates a victim mentality.
“When someone has a victim mentality, this is because they were in a past experience where they had to play small and push their emotional experience aside to survive,” explains licensed marriage and family therapist Katie Ziskind. “There may be a past experience of sexual abuse, emotional neglect or trauma of some kind that causes someone to develop a victim mentality. In the past experience, they had to play the role of the victim to get through and get to where they are now.”
As with any unhealthy coping mechanism, a victim mindset is useful at times. People adopt a victim mentality because, despite its harmful effects, it helps them survive hardship.
But as with any unhealthy coping mechanism, a victim mindset is detrimental in the long run. It saps you of your power, rendering you incapable of creating the life you want.
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8 tell-tale signs of victim mentality
1. Expecting others to hurt you
Someone with a victim mentality has trouble trusting people because they expect that everyone is out to get them. This may cause them to take on a cynical view of people, even the ones they love.
2. Assuming malicious intent
People with a victim mentality often believe that others do things for the sake of harming them. They’re not able to entertain other possible reasons for people’s actions.
For example, if a person walks by someone and bumps into them, most people would probably assume it was an accident. But for someone with a victim mindset, something as small as this can be seen as an attack. They might think, “Ugh, they did that on purpose because they don’t like me.” They may not even consider that it might have been unintentional.
3. Feeling like you have no power to change anything
One of the worst parts of having a victim mentality is that it makes you believe you have no power to change your situation; no matter what you do, misfortune will find you because you’re always the victim. This mindset is exhausting and doesn’t leave room for much growth.
4. Feeling like nothing is ever your fault
While it’s true that sometimes a bad thing happens because of other people’s actions, real life is not so black and white. Events often happen that have a mixture of responsible parties.
For example, if you and your best friend start growing apart due to a lack of communication, you might frame it as, “Well, it’s his fault because he never reaches out to me. He must not care.” That’s coming from a victim mindset, where nothing is your fault and others are out to get you.
In reality, friendship requires effort from both parties, so a more balanced way of thinking would be, “I wish he would text me or call me. But, to be fair, I can’t even remember the last time I reached out to him. I’ll text him today and see what he’s up to.” That shifts your perspective out of a victim mentality and helps you realize that you do have the power to change things.
5. Nursing grudges
Even when you receive an apology, if you have a victim mentality, that may not be good enough. You may not see the apology as genuine, or you might still stew over what that person did because you’re unable to forgive them.
6. Getting defensive easily
Someone with a victim mentality will bristle at the slightest insinuation that they might be responsible for how something turned out-even if it is legitimate and necessary feedback.
For example, during a performance review, a manager might point out that an employee has a pattern of showing up late to work. If this employee has a victim mindset, they might go on and on about how it wasn’t their fault, the traffic in the city is really bad and so-and-so shows up late sometimes too. This defensiveness stems from an inability to accept personal responsibility.
7. Frequently venting about how others have wronged you
Venting, or talking about your frustrations as a way to relieve the stress, is normal, and in moderation, is fine. But for someone with victim mentality, venting is the only kind of talking they might do. You might notice that every story they tell gets twisted into how they were wronged by someone else. Their stories never mention how they themselves might be at least partially responsible for an event.