By Adam Sinicki | Psychology | Unrated
When people are going through a difficult period in their lives, it can be very hard for outsiders to offer critical advice. When someone has lost someone they love, when they’ve been diagnosed with an illness, or when they’re struggling financially; the last thing that a friend feels they should say is ‘get a grip’.
But this is potentially a problem. In some cases, our desire to tip-toe around our friends during their time of need can actually do a lot more harm than good and be the last thing that they need.
Just because someone is going through a tough time, that does not mean that they are infallible and it does not mean they couldn’t benefit from a talking-to. In fact, this is sometimes the best thing you can do for them.
Such is the case for those with ‘victim mentality’.
What Is Victim Mentality
Victim mentality is a learned personality trait that is often reinforced by our social groups. This trait causes the individual in question to view themselves as a victim of their circumstances, as being someone who should be pitied and as someone who is up against exceptional odds.
While some of this might be luck, it can lead to habitual thought patterns and actions that ultimately extend their suffering and push others away.
Someone with victim mentality has an ‘external locus of control’, meaning they believe that they have little control over their lives or little responsibility. Thus they feel that there is no point in them trying to fix their circumstances and often giving them a certain sense of entitlement: their situation is worse than everyone else’s and it wasn’t their fault, therefore they deserve extra help and sympathy.
What Causes Victim Mentality
All of us have a tendency to feel sorry for ourselves when things don’t go our way and it is only natural that we should become more withdrawn and more negative after something bad has happened in our lives – especially if it was genuinely under our control.
The problem occurs though when we start to enjoy the feeling of being a victim (which may be an unconscious process). Being a victim means that you absolve yourself of blame and this will make you instantly feel better about the problems in your life – that’s much easier than admitting that you might have provoked your boss into firing you.
Unfortunately, it also means that you’re now less likely to do anything about trying to get rehired…
Likewise, many people will find they enjoy the attention, sympathy and validation they get from being victims. When something bad happens to us, our social support group will often tend to gather around and offer their condolences, to express their sympathies and offer to help. They will tell us how brave we are, how inspirational and they might offer to cook us dinner, take us out to see a movie…
In short, they are reinforcing the behavior and teaching us – again unconsciously – that being a victim is a great way to be treated differently.
But this can then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. While some things truly are outside of our control, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take responsibility in changing our reality or facing our circumstances. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put on a brave face for our loved ones. And we owe it to ourselves to not give up and to keep trying to do our best regardless of our new handicap.
This is the best chance we have of getting ourselves out of that situation but if we keep allowing ourselves to play the victim role, we stand little chance of being proactive and seeing change.
How to Let Go of Victim Mentality
The first step to combating victim mentality is to recognize it in yourself. Have you been taking some amount of pleasure in telling people about the latest thing that has gone wrong for you? Have you made your weaknesses or your bad luck into part of your identity? Does this dominate most of your conversation?
Have you given up on trying to fix your situation? Is part of that because you’re enjoying the comfort of being the victim?
Once you identify the problem, you can hopefully catch yourself when you’re guilty of it and maybe put yourself in the shoes of your friends, co-workers and relatives. When you see yourself through their eyes, you might find that it is unattractive to be constantly playing the victim.
Another tip is to try practicing a ‘gratitude attitude’. That means focussing more on the things that are going well in your life and that you’re grateful for. We are often advised to actively do this once a day at least – to take a moment out to reflect on all the things that make us happy and that can help us to counteract that victim mentality.
You probably have a roof over your head. Maybe some aspects of your health are great. You clearly have caring friends and colleagues who are willing to listen to you. There must be things that you have to look forward to?
Likewise, try to be at least somewhat positive in your conversations with others. Make a pact with yourself that when you speak to someone else, you will always try and say more positive things than negative things. That means you can still express yourself and share your problems but at least you will be creating a happy and positive atmosphere, for the sake of the other person if nothing else.
It’s important to talk about your problems and get them off your chest. But there should be a couple of close people you do with this and you shouldn’t let it be the only thing you talk about.
So start to reign in the stories of things going wrong. People don’t like spending time with negative people and your attempts to gain sympathy or empathy are probably having the opposite effect. Stop talking about your problems at work. Don’t tell strangers. And certainly don’t write about them on Facebook.
Often victim mentality can come with a culture of blame. If things aren’t your fault, then they must be someone else’s fault!
This is why it’s equally important to learn to forgive and forget. When you can forgive others, then you can move on and focus on rebuilding your life. Hanging on to resentment will only make you feel worse and prevent you from progressing.
As one quote states: “being angry at someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”.
Try as well to shift your locus of control outward. Ask yourself how you might have contributed to your situation or made it worse – either through action or inaction. More importantly, ask what you can do now to make the situation better. Are you out of work? Have you been turned down for countless jobs that have made great stories for your friends? Then instead of trying the same thing over and over again, maybe you could try and improve your CV? Do voluntary work? Apply for a less demanding role?
Once you have a plan of action that can help you to potentially improve your situation, you are now responsible for not taking that action. And if you are responsible, then you are not a victim.
Adam Sinicki is a full time writer who spends most of his time in the coffee shops of London. Adam has a BSc in psychology and is an amateur bodybuilder with a couple of competition wins to his name. His other interests are self improvement, general health, transhumanism and brain training. As well as writing for websites and magazines, he also runs his own sites and has published several books and apps on these topics. He lives in London, England with his girlfriend and in his spare time he enjoys climbing, travelling, playing games, reading comics and eating sandwiches.