When things go wrong, it’s easy to feel like the odds are stacked against you. Suddenly, it’s you against the world, and you’re on a never-ending losing streak.
I’ve certainly had my fair share of moments like this, where I couldn’t help but wonder why me? What did I do to deserve this? It felt like everything and everyone was out to get me, and it was easier to place the blame for my unfortunate circumstances on others, rather than own up to my own faults.
A “Victim Mentality” Defined
This type of mindset — deflecting responsibility for your actions and viewing yourself as a victim of the actions of others — is known as “victim mentality.” Victim mentality is an acquired personality trait that can have severely negative impacts.
“No one really consciously chooses to be a victim. It is more a way we fall into, and we fall into it because, it works,” wrote Kari Granger, CEO of The Granger Network, on Medium. “It becomes a strategy to deal with life — whether it is staying safe in one’s comfort zone, numbing oneself, finding company, getting attention, avoiding being responsible for something in one’s life, etc.”
It can be especially difficult to be in a romantic relationship with someone battling a victim mentality. In her book Emotional Freedom, Judith Orloff, M.D. writes that it can help to run through a mental checklist to determine if you’re dealing with a partner with victim mentality. These are some of the signs mentioned in the book:
- Is there anyone in your life who often appears inconsolably oppressed or depressed?
- Are you burned out by their neediness?
- Do these people always blame “bad luck” or the unfairness of others for their problems?
- Do you screen your calls or say you’re busy in order to dodge their litany of complaints?
- Does their unrelenting negativity compromise your positive attitude?
Orloff writes that three yeses or more signifies a victim mentality. So whether you or a loved one is struggling with a victim mentality, here are ways to overcome it.
1. Identify actionable ways to make improvements
The first step to taking real ownership of your life is identifying actionable methods to improve your circumstances. Have you or a friend been wallowing about how you’ll never find love? Instead of complaining to anyone who will listen and mocking wedding announcements on Facebook, make a list of ways you can make measurable, positive changes. Try a new dating app, or commit to 1-2 dates a month. Action leads to progress.
2. Take responsibility for your actions
This can be as simple as owning up to mistakes or incidents that put you in a bad situation. It’s important to know that acknowledging your culpability is a sign of strength, and not weakness. Blaming your friends or coworkers for your challenges will ultimately get you nowhere, and may cause you to lose important allies and sources of support along the way. Be mindful with how you talk about your problems, both to the people in your life and to yourself. Which leads to our next recommendation…
3. Change your narrative
As the author Joan Didion once wrote “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” But what happens when those stories are predicated on false narratives? You have the power to change your own personal 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 things you can change. Are you struggling financially and frustrated with friends that keep inviting you to expensive dinners? What can you do to appreciate your friends while making lifestyle changes to help improve your circumstances?
4. Help others in need
Rather than dwelling on your personal hardships, get out into the community and volunteer to people in need. Sometimes it takes a bit of perspective to appreciate all the positive aspects of your life. “As counterintuitive as it may be, the more you feel deprived, you more you need to give. Offering kindness is the surest antidote to ‘Poor me,’” Nancy Colier, LCSW, wrote in Psychology Today.
5. Learn how to say no
The key to getting over victim mentality is recognizing you have the power to run your own life. Rather than simmering with resentment because you keep taking on thankless tasks at work, sit down with your boss and explain why the requests are difficult and determine ways to improve the situation. Sometimes simply saying no goes a long way to improving your mindset. “We need to take responsibility for choosing to play the victim as an excuse not to claim our full power,” wrote Kelly McNelis for Mindbodygreen.
6. Treat yourself with kindness
Take time to recognize the role you play in your own challenges, seek forgiveness in yourself, and treat yourself to something that makes you feel good like a long run, a bubble bath or cooking your favorite dinner. “When you’re blaming the universe and life for your suffering, you’re not actually attending to your suffering or helping yourself feel better. By claiming the victim role, you are intensifying your pain,” Colier wrote in her Psychology Today piece.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember struggling with victim mentality is not a permanent situation or a life sentence. With diligence and help from a mental health professional, it’s possible for you or a loved one to break free from these negative thought patterns.