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Do you know someone who seems to become a victim in nearly every situation? It’s possible they have a victim mentality, sometimes called victim syndrome or a victim complex.
The victim mentality rests on three key beliefs:
- Bad things happen and will keep happening.
- Other people or circumstances are to blame.
- Any efforts to create change will fail, so there’s no point in trying.
The idea of the victim mentality is thrown around a lot in pop culture and casual conversation to refer to people who seem to wallow in negativity and force it upon others.
It’s not a formal medical term. In fact, most health professionals avoid it due to the stigma surrounding it.
People who feel trapped in a state of victimization often do express a lot of negativity, but it’s important to realize significant pain and distress often fuel this mindset.
Vicki Botnick, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) in Tarzana, California, explains that people identify with the victim role when they “veer into the belief that everyone else caused their misery and nothing they do will ever make a difference.”
This leaves them feeling vulnerable, which can result in difficult emotions and behaviors. Here’s a look at some of those.
One main sign, Botnick suggests, is a lack of accountability.
This might involve:
- placing blame elsewhere
- making excuses
- not taking responsibility
- reacting to most life hurdles with “It’s not my fault”
Bad things really do happen, often to people who’ve done nothing to deserve them. It’s understandable that people who face one difficulty after another may start to believe the world is out to get them.
But many situations do involve varying degrees of personal responsibility.
Consider job loss, for example. It’s true some people lose their jobs without good cause. It’s also often the case that certain underlying factors play a part.
Someone who fails to consider those reasons may not learn or grow from the experience and could end up facing the same situation again.
Not seeking possible solutions
Not all negative situations are completely uncontrollable, even if they seem that way at first. Often, there’s at least some small action that could lead to improvement.
People who come from a place of victimization may show little interest in trying to make changes. They may reject offers of help, and it may seem like they’re only interested in feeling sorry for themselves.
Spending a little time wallowing in misery isn’t necessarily unhealthy. This can help with acknowledging and processing painful emotions.
But this period should have a definite end point. After that, it’s more helpful to begin working toward healing and change.
A sense of powerlessness
Many people who feel victimized believe they lack power to change their situation. They don’t enjoy feeling downtrodden and would love for things to go well.
But life continues to throw situations at them that, from their perspective, they can do nothing to succeed or escape.
“It’s important to be mindful of the difference between ‘unwilling’ and ‘unable,’” Botnick says. She explains that some people who feel like victims do make a conscious choice to shift blame and take offense.
But in her practice, she more commonly works with people who experience deep-seated psychological pain that makes change truly seem impossible.
Negative self-talk and self-sabotage
People living with a victim mentality may internalize the negative messages suggested by the challenges they face.
Feeling victimized can contribute to beliefs such as:
- “Everything bad happens to me.”
- “I can’t do anything about it, so why try?”
- “I deserve the bad things that happen to me.”
- “No one cares about me.”
Each new difficulty can reinforce these unhelpful ideas until they’re firmly entrenched in their inner monologue. Over time, negative self-talk can damage resilience, making it harder to bounce back from challenges and heal.
Negative self-talk often goes hand in hand with self-sabotage. People who believe their self-talk often have an easier time living it out. If that self-talk is negative, they may be more likely to unconsciously sabotage any attempts they could make toward change.
Lack of self-confidence
People who see themselves as victims may struggle with self-confidence and self-esteem. This can make feelings of victimization worse.
They might think things like, “I’m not smart enough to get a better job” or “I’m not talented enough to succeed.” This perspective may keep them from trying to develop their skills or identify new strengths and abilities that could help them achieve their goals.
Those who do try to work toward what they want and fail may see themselves as the victim of circumstances once again. The negative lens they view themselves with can make it difficult to see any other possibility.
Frustration, anger, and resentment
A victim mentality can take a toll on emotional well-being.
People with this mindset might feel:
- frustrated and angry with a world that seems against them
- hopeless about their circumstances never changing
- hurt when they believe loved ones don’t care
- resentful of people who seem happy and successful
These emotions can weigh heavily on people who believe they’ll always be victims, building and festering when they aren’t…