There are times when labelling yourself as a victim can be appropriate. If you have been harmed or taken advantage of through abuse, crime, bullying, prejudice or even an accident, the label of “victim” puts the blame where it belongs. It makes it clear to the public that you were powerless to stop what happened to you. Mentally and emotionally processing the trauma of victimisation is a healthy part of your journey to healing. Feeling angry, sad, or fearful about your experience is normal — as are moments of self-pity. It’s important to note that processing one’s victimisation is not the same thing as having a “victim mentality.”
People with a victim mentality feel like victims all the time, no matter what is happening in their life. Being a victim is who they are. A victim mentality can evolve when someone holds on to negative life events and makes it a part of their identity and story in a way that doesn’t serve their healing. A victim mentality can also evolve in the absence of any real victimisation.
Someone with a victim mentality blames the world for their struggles and may complain that bad things are always happening to them. However, they are not as powerless as they seem. In fact, they often contribute to their own misfortune by upholding a pattern of unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.
If you feel like life is always working against you, or find yourself retelling your hard-luck stories over and over, you may want to assess whether you have a victim mentality. Do you have more control over your circumstances than you are willing to admit? What temporary gain do you get by creating or refusing to resolve your own problems?
Symptoms of a victim mentality
You feel like the world is against you. You feel like nothing ever goes your way. Things have a way of working out for other people, but never for you.
You blame others for how your life is. Maybe you struggle to keep a job but you blame it on always having terrible bosses. Or you struggle with dating because there “just aren’t any good options out there.” Maybe you can’t stick to a healthy diet because your partner keeps junk food in the house. Instead of looking for ways you can improve yourself to better your situation, you look for someone to blame.
You feel powerless. When you face obstacles and challenges you give up quickly.
You get defensive. When someone gives you helpful feedback you feel judged and attacked.
Frequent pity-parties. Feeling sorry for yourself brings you comfort and relief. You seek attention (in person or on social media) for your hardships and take pleasure in receiving sympathy from others.
You fight change. You struggle with self-reflection and making changes to your thoughts and behaviours.
Why have a victim mentality?
If you want to live a happy, successful life it may seem counterproductive to hold on to a victim mentality. Why choose to stay stuck when you can take control, make changes and start living a better life today? Some possibilities:
Secondary gain. You may receive attention, validation, sympathy, help, gifts, money, or something else. Being “helpless” triggers acts of generosity from others — at least until they get burnt out.
Prevents vulnerability. You can’t fail if you never take risks, or if bad outcomes are never your fault. Unfortunately, you won’t be successful without taking some risks and owning their outcomes.
Avoids accountability. By refusing to take ownership of your circumstances, you protect yourself from embarrassment. You also save yourself the effort of learning and growing from your mistakes.
Letting go of the victim mindset
Making the shift will require you to do some uncomfortable things. You’ll have to take full responsibility for your life, put time and energy into changing, and be more vulnerable. Those things aren’t easy. But they will empower you and put you back in the driver’s seat of your own life. These seven steps will help you with that transformation:
1. Challenge negative self-talk
Are things really as catastrophic and hopeless as you’re making them out to be? Are you so focused on the negatives of a situation that you’re filtering out the positives? Is your perspective based on evidence, or is it shaped by your self-doubts and fears? Challenge your negative thinking by practicing positive self-talk.
2. Stop blaming
Blaming alleviates you from taking responsibility for your circumstances. But it also robs you of your power over them. Even if someone or something else is partially to blame for your circumstances, you can’t control their behaviour — but you can control yours. How will you do things differently next time?
3. Avoid self-sabotage
If you have been clinging to a narrative where you are always the victim, succeeding doesn’t fit in with that. Consider why you may be getting in the way of your own success. Do you not feel worthy? Are you worried that other people might treat you differently? Do you feel like failure is imminent, and you want to be in control of when it happens? Instead of blaming others for your failure, get to the root of why and how you are avoiding success.
4. Practice gratitude
One of the best antidotes for self-pity and negative thinking is gratitude. Gratitude has been shown to promote resilience, improve relationships, and provide mental and physical health benefits. It’s a simple, proven way to promote long-term happiness.
5. Work on forgiveness
Forgiveness goes hand-in-hand with not blaming others. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you have to approve of how they treated you, or that what they did was okay. Instead, look at forgiveness as a form of letting go; a release of pain. Holding on to pain, resentment, or a need for justice makes your life harder, not theirs. Your suffering won’t change the past or make things right. As tempting as it may be to continue blaming that person for your struggles, they don’t control your thoughts and actions — you do. Forgive, let go, and allow yourself to move on to a better and brighter future.
6. Help others
A victim mentality might also be described as a kind of negative self-centeredness. One of the best ways to get out of your head and away from your troubles is by helping others. When you volunteer or lend a helping hand to someone in need, it can open your eyes to just how fortunate you really are.
7. Empower yourself
Part of your victim mentality may stem from having low self-confidence. Luckily, self-confidence is a skill that can be learned and improved upon. One way to build it is to walk the walk: dress for success, make eye contact, hold your head high, and speak up. You might also participate in activities you enjoy and know that you’re good at. Use the momentum from excelling at things you know to approach new activities with confidence.
Today’s action steps:
Think about the last time you blamed someone else for something negative that happened to you. In what ways did blame benefit you? Did you gain sympathy from friends and family? Did people show you attention and kindness? Did you avoid embarrassment or a sense of failure? Did blame help you feel “justified” for reacting in an inappropriate or unkind way? Write down your answer.
Think of alternative ways to get those benefits while taking ownership of your circumstances. For example, is there a healthier way you can seek attention and kindness from people? Can you combat embarrassment with humour? Write down your ideas.
Take a few minutes to reflect and write: How might taking more ownership improve your life? How might it empower you?
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