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

Published on: 03 May 2019
woman pointing finger at man

Updated 10/22/2021

You can’t go through life without having a bad day every now and then. Most of the time, it’s easy for us to tell ourselves that things happen, and not every day can be a great day. We trust that life will get better. Even though sometimes we have people or things to blame for our disappointments, we understand that often, nobody is really at fault. At times, we even need to acknowledge that we’re bringing some of our struggles upon ourselves. 

Then there are the people in the world who refuse to accept responsibility — who instead blame anyone and everyone else in their life for every little thing that happens to them. 

This is a classic example of victim mentality. When someone feels that the world is out to get them, that they’re totally helpless and have no control over what happens to them, they’re in what’s known as a victim mentality mindset. 

What exactly is victim mentality? What causes this mindset? What are the signs and symptoms? Most importantly, how do you address it? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about victim mentalities.

“Victim Mentality” Defined

Victim mentality is when somebody can’t accept responsibility or admit their part in contributing to the bad things that happen to them. Instead, they constantly blame others for their problems in life. 

Victim mentality thinking — deflecting responsibility for your own behavior, or viewing yourself as the victim of someone else’s actions — 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,” writes 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.”

A victim mindset can impact one’s own mental health as well as the people around them. It can be especially difficult to be in a relationship with someone who has 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 a victim mentality. Some of the signs mentioned in her book include: 

  • 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 notes that three yeses or more signifies you may be dealing with a victim mentality.

Causes of Victim Mentality

It’s actually quite rare for people to develop a victim mentality out of nowhere. Most often, it stems from one or more of the following issues someone has dealt with in his or her life.

Betrayal

Betrayals can be extremely hard to get over. This can be particularly true when they happen often or repeatedly. Or if they’re the result of a parent or primary caretaker not living up to expectations. The long-term impact and repercussions of betrayal can make it very difficult for someone to trust others in the future, thus creating a victim mentality.  

Survival

Children who are neglected or not offered the love they need during formative years can become willing to try anything to make others care about them. If the only way they knew how to get attention was by acting weak or sick, or by expressing all the bad things that happened to them, those lessons can carry into adulthood through a victim mentality.

Past trauma

A victim mentality mindset can form as a response to very traumatic past experiences. Victimization can cause coping mechanisms to develop when the emotional pain of trauma makes someone feel trapped. 

Past abuse

While not everybody who’s abused ends up with a victim mentality, it is common. It’s more typical in cases of sexual abuse when feelings of extreme shame and helplessness can translate into low self-esteem in the future.

Codependency

It can be extremely taxing to feel solely responsible for another person’s happiness. Codependency, where we feel responsible for someone else’s well-being, can sometimes lead to victim mentality.

Learned behavior

It’s not uncommon for people to emulate the behavior of adults who act like victims. If a parent continuously behaved as if the world was against them, or regularly complained about people who made things hard for them, it can be easy for some people to develop a victim mentality.

Manipulation

Those who are victims of manipulation and abuse can more easily begin to have a victim mentality themselves. Occasionally, someone might appear to actually enjoy the blame they put on others. They might seem to try making those around them feel guilty. The manipulation can be for the attention they get in response; however, it’s important to note that while manipulation can be related to victim mentality, it’s more commonly associated with a mental health condition known as a narcissistic personality disorder.

Signs of a Victim Mentality

Recognizing the signs of victim mentality can help you learn how to navigate relationships with people who behave this way. Those who fall into the victim role often feel vulnerable. They believe that people in their lives — even people they should be able to inherently trust — are responsible for their pain and anguish. As a result, they tend to react in a number of ways.

Refusing to look for solutions

If someone you know refuses to look for possible (and often simple) solutions to the problems they face, it might be because they have a victim mentality. 

Most problems have solutions. If we look hard enough, we can usually find even small ways to improve situations. But those with a victim mentality typically show very little interest in trying to make positive changes in their life. Instead, they often:

  • Reject offers of help.
  • Wallow in misery longer than what might seem acceptable given the problem.
  • Seem interested in feeling sorry for themselves.

Avoiding responsibility

Lack of responsibility or accountability is a big sign of victim mentality. Those who react with a victim mentality commonly:

  • Place blame on others
  • Make excuses
  • Blame situations for their problems
  • Refuse to take responsibility
  • Have a knee-jerk reaction to most problems with an it’s not my fault attitude

Engaging in negative self-talk or self-sabotage

Someone with a victim mentality might find it easy to absorb difficult or negative messages that result from their challenges. With every problem, there tends to be the same type of response. This can become more deeply embedded in an internal dialogue and eventually, the reaction just becomes a habit. The result can be an attempt to constantly self sabotage relationships or anything good happening in life. Some of the repeated reactions to any type of conflict might include feelings of:

  • Why bother?
  • I can’t do anything right
  • Bad things always happen to me
  • Nobody cares about me
  • I deserve every bad thing that happens to me in my in life
  • I don’t deserve anything good in life

These are common examples of victim mentality thinking.

Having a sense of powerlessness

It’s not uncommon for people with a victim mentality to fundamentally believe they don’t have the power they need to change difficult situations in their life. This sense of powerlessness can make them feel like they can’t escape even mildly challenging things they experience.

Lack of self-confidence

Feeling like a victim can stem from a lack of self-confidence that becomes a vicious circle. Because they feel like they’re not worthy of good things in life, they may engage in circular thought patterns that “prove” bad things will always happen to them. Low self esteem can exacerbate negative thinking. Even if they go out on a limb and try something, if they then fail, it can reinforce the idea that they don’t deserve to be happy. 

Being angry, frustrated, or resentful

Constantly feeling like a victim can have emotional repercussions, too. Those who live with a victim mentality often feel frustrated, angry, isolated, and lonely. They have a perception that the entire world, and everyone in their life, is against them. They can also feel very:

  • 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
  • Resentful towards people who they believe have found success and happiness in life — note this may just be a perceived idea

How to Overcome a Victim Mentality

Addressing a victim mindset can feel overwhelming and exhausting, but the following tips can help you find a positive, healthy way to deal with it whether you’re trying to overcome it yourself, or you’re dealing with someone in your life who has a victim mentality. 

Addressing someone else’s victim mentality

You can deal with someone else’s victim mentality by using the following tips:

  • Set firm boundaries
    One of the toughest parts of dealing with victim mentality can be the fear of blame. If you know someone is likely to blame you for something, you might be more hesitant to confront them on any issue. Another part is it’s just hard to deal with someone whose reality seems to differ so much from yours.
    Setting 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. Of course you can still have compassion, but you don’t need to be hurt by them. 
  • Offer solutions
    Though they might not seem open to it, you can find ways to try and offer help. It might work better to avoid giving specific advice and suggestions. Rather, try helping them understand and identify what tools they have to solve problems on their own.
  • Don’t label
    Even just the name victim mentality can be emotionally charged. The connotation associated with a victim can be particularly challenging. There are other ways to reference behavior without using the word victim. For example, you can discuss their inclination to complain, have a difficult time accepting responsibility, or shift blame to others. Additionally, you can ask them if they feel powerless or trapped.
  • Encourage and validate
    We all want to feel validated. Offering encouragement can be a good long-term strategy for dealing with a victim mentality. While you shouldn’t expect an immediate change, making a conscious effort to point out things someone is successful at can be helpful. Remind them how much you care about them and above all, try to find ways you can validate how they’re feeling.
  • Think about their perspective
    Trying to understand where somebody with a victim mentality is coming from might help you be able to feel more compassionate towards them. Try reminding yourself what they may be feeling — for example, they might not think they have a support system, which can result in feeling very helpless. Low self-confidence can also be a contributing factor to what they have going on. 

Addressing your own tendency for victim mentality

You can change your own behaviors to overcome your victim mentality by following the strategies here:

  • Seek online therapy: You don’t have to struggle with victim mentality on your own. Finding a therapist to help you overcome your feelings can be hugely beneficial. It can allow you to figure out the root of why you feel like a victim so you can work on changing your behavior. A good 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 you can improve your circumstances. Have you been wallowing about how you’ll never find love? Instead of complaining to anyone who’ll listen or mocking wedding announcements on Facebook, make a list of ways you can make measurable, positive changes. Try a new dating app or commit to going on 1-2 dates a month. Action leads to progress.
  • Take responsibility for your actions: This can be as simple as owning up to mistakes or incidents that put you in a bad situation. 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 about how you talk about your problems, both to the people in your life and to yourself. 
  • Change your narrative: As the author, Joan Didion once wrote “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” But what happens when those stories come from false narratives? You have the power to change your own story. Are you struggling financially and frustrated with friends who keep inviting you to expensive dinners? What can you do to appreciate your friends while making lifestyle changes to help improve your circumstances? 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 all the positive aspects of your life. 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 deal with toxic coworkers, sit down with your boss and explain why the requests are difficult.
  • 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. Claiming the victim role means you’re intensifying pain. Try taking a long run or a bubble bath, or cook your favorite dinner — find something you enjoy to occupy your time and headspace.  

Whether you are stuck in a victim mindset or know someone who has a victim mentality, these tips can help break the cycle.

Sources:
1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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

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