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Victim mentality: 8 signs & how to overcome it

a man who has a mindset of a victim mentality wants to break free

"What's the point in trying when I never win?"

"This society will never let me get ahead."

"Everyone is always out to get me."

People with a victim mentality are prone to thoughts like these. Victim mentality, which is an adopted mindset where you believe you have no control over your life and are being targeted unfairly, is often a result of trauma. People who get stuck in this mindset are prone to feelings of helplessness, frustration, resentment and anger.

Below, we'll go over a more detailed definition of victim mentality, its causes and how you can free yourself from its confining grip.

Table of contents

What is victim mentality?

First things first: No one chooses to be a victim, and victims are never to be blamed. The events that happened to them were truly outside of their control, and the blame lies with the perpetrators who chose to do wrong.

Victim mentality is the choice to remain stuck in a mindset where you have no power, no control and no responsibility for life's outcomes. It creates a tendency to distort your perspective into one where the cards are stacked against you, and the world is trying to ensure you never win at anything. This mindset is bad for your mental health and blocks you from getting what you want in life.

Dr. Marcuetta Sims, a trauma-trained licensed psychologist, further explains the difference between being a victim of something versus having victim mentality:

"The difference is being able to assign responsibility appropriately. In a situation where someone has a victim mentality, they are often unable to take any responsibility for their part in the problem. Everything is someone else's fault, and they have no sense of how they could have contributed in any way. When someone is actually a victim of something, there is likely a clear boundary violation. I want to make sure we're differentiating here between situations like sexual assault and any kind of abuse, which is clearly not the fault of the victim.

I think the line is drawn when there is a consistent pattern of a person being unable to take accountability for their own actions. ... If a person can focus on specific events that are contributing to the resentment/hurt, then this is more likely an appropriate response, but when it is a global perception of the world, it's likely more a victim mentality."

External locus of control vs. internal locus of control

People with a victim mentality have what's known as an external locus of control: They believe that they have no control over their life and that outside factors are in charge. They are bound by circumstance.

Developing an internal locus of control, a belief that they do have control over their lives, can lend agency and hope to someone stuck in a victim mentality. They'll start to believe they can change their situation.

What is an example of a victim mindset?

An example of a victim mindset would be a son who, from a young age, had to be the caregiver for his siblings because his parents were neglectful.

When he grows up, he neglects himself and pours all his energy into people who never reciprocate. He still pays the bills for his siblings, rescues them when they get into any trouble and never says no to their requests for help. He even chooses romantic relationships with women who are excessively needy and expect him to take care of them, putting himself last.

Meanwhile, he is constantly frustrated and feels like life is unfair. He often tells his friends, "No one ever puts me first. No one ever cares about me the way I care about them. I always have to do everything." He feels comforted when his friends offer their sympathy for his sad situation. All the while, he never reflects on how he creates these codependent relationships by seeking people who rely too heavily on him and by never asserting his own boundaries.

His victim mentality was sparked by a real trauma, but the problem is, he got stuck in it and never was able to move beyond this unhealthy coping mechanism.

What creates a victim mentality?

In short, trauma creates a victim mentality.

"When someone has a victim mentality, this is because they were in a past experience where they had to play small and push their emotional experience aside to survive," explains licensed marriage and family therapist Katie Ziskind. "There may be a past experience of sexual abuse, emotional neglect or trauma of some kind that causes someone to develop a victim mentality. In the past experience, they had to play the role of the victim to get through and get to where they are now."

As with any unhealthy coping mechanism, a victim mindset is useful at times. People adopt a victim mentality because, despite its harmful effects, it helps them survive hardship.

But as with any unhealthy coping mechanism, a victim mindset is detrimental in the long run. It saps you of your power, rendering you incapable of creating the life you want.

Need help regaining confidence in yourself? Try our free Personal Power online coaching program to cut through limiting beliefs and realize your true potential.

8 tell-tale signs of victim mentality

1. Expecting others to hurt you

Someone with a victim mentality has trouble trusting people because they expect that everyone is out to get them. This may cause them to take on a cynical view of people, even the ones they love.

2. Assuming malicious intent

People with a victim mentality often believe that others do things for the sake of harming them. They're not able to entertain other possible reasons for people's actions.

For example, if a person walks by someone and bumps into them, most people would probably assume it was an accident. But for someone with a victim mindset, something as small as this can be seen as an attack. They might think, "Ugh, they did that on purpose because they don't like me." They may not even consider that it might have been unintentional.

3. Feeling like you have no power to change anything

One of the worst parts of having a victim mentality is that it makes you believe you have no power to change your situation; no matter what you do, misfortune will find you because you're always the victim. This mindset is exhausting and doesn't leave room for much growth.

4. Feeling like nothing is ever your fault

While it's true that sometimes a bad thing happens because of other people's actions, real life is not so black and white. Events often happen that have a mixture of responsible parties.

For example, if you and your best friend start growing apart due to a lack of communication, you might frame it as, "Well, it's his fault because he never reaches out to me. He must not care." That's coming from a victim mindset, where nothing is your fault and others are out to get you.

In reality, friendship requires effort from both parties, so a more balanced way of thinking would be, "I wish he would text me or call me. But, to be fair, I can't even remember the last time I reached out to him. I'll text him today and see what he's up to." That shifts your perspective out of a victim mentality and helps you realize that you do have the power to change things.

5. Nursing grudges

Even when you receive an apology, if you have a victim mentality, that may not be good enough. You may not see the apology as genuine, or you might still stew over what that person did because you're unable to forgive them.

6. Getting defensive easily

Someone with a victim mentality will bristle at the slightest insinuation that they might be responsible for how something turned out-even if it is legitimate and necessary feedback.

For example, during a performance review, a manager might point out that an employee has a pattern of showing up late to work. If this employee has a victim mindset, they might go on and on about how it wasn't their fault, the traffic in the city is really bad and so-and-so shows up late sometimes too. This defensiveness stems from an inability to accept personal responsibility.

7. Frequently venting about how others have wronged you

Venting, or talking about your frustrations as a way to relieve the stress, is normal, and in moderation, is fine. But for someone with victim mentality, venting is the only kind of talking they might do. You might notice that every story they tell gets twisted into how they were wronged by someone else. Their stories never mention how they themselves might be at least partially responsible for an event.

8. Assuming you won't get what you want (so you don't even try)

People with a victim mentality often won't take any risks or try to obtain something they want because they assume they'll always lose. This is known as a defeatist attitude, where you fail in your mind before you've even failed in real life.

How to get out of a victim mentality

As you can see, having a victim mentality blocks you from achieving long-term goals and renders you unable to see the power you hold. The good news is that, with help and effort, anyone can unlearn their victim mindset. Here are some ideas to get started:

1. Address the trauma

If the victim mentality is coming from an unresolved trauma, then trauma processing can be an effective way to come to terms with what happened so it doesn't terrorize you anymore. Please note that trauma processing should always be done with a licensed trauma-informed therapist with whom you've built a lot of trust.

2. Practice emotional regulation skills

A lot of the thoughts surrounding a victim mentality can happen because of a lack of emotional regulation skills. Emotional regulation is the ability to manage the way you're feeling in a healthy, appropriate way.

If you're stuck in a spiral of shame, helplessness or anger, it might be due to poor coping mechanisms, such as shifting the blame elsewhere or believing everyone is trying to hurt you.

By practicing emotional regulation skills, you can rein in your negative emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

3. Develop empathy

Empathy is feeling what others feel and trying to see things from their perspective. The latter part (perspective-taking) is key to overcoming victim mentality.

Because someone stuck in a victim mindset tends to assume others have a malicious intent, it helps to put yourself in the supposed perpetrator's shoes and try to see it from their point of view. Are there other explanations for why they did what they did? Have you asked them for their point of view so you can better understand them?

4. Find what you can control

Yes, a lot of the things that happen in life are beyond our control. We cannot control, for example, what other people do. The key to breaking free from a victim mindset is to find and focus on what you can control, no matter how small it might be.

5. Accept what you can't control

And for the things you can't control? Practice acceptance-which is definitely easier said than done. Acceptance isn't about approving something that happened; it's about releasing yourself from the shame, stress and anger that it causes you.

6. Work with a life coach

Life coaches are wellness professionals who help you gain greater self-awareness, get clear about your goals and unlock your full potential. Though they are not mental health professionals, coaches do a lot of mindset work, meaning they'll ask questions and provide insights about how you can change your perspective to achieve your goals.

7. Work with a therapist

Therapy is the number one recommendation that Sims has for people suffering from victim mentality.

"This mindset is likely the result of a past trauma and learned helplessness," she says, "where the life circumstances that keep popping up reinforce the beliefs that they are a victim, and they can't change that. Having a therapist that can help work through those past experiences can be life-changing."

Therapists are licensed mental health professionals with the education, certification and experience to diagnose mental health disorders (if any are present) and provide a treatment plan.

But even if you don't have a diagnosable disorder, everyone suffers from something at some point in their lives. And when working with a coach or opening up to friends isn't cutting it for you, a therapist is an objective third party who will listen without judgment and provide insights and solutions you just couldn't find on your own. The best part about therapists is that they can handle the heavy, scary feelings you might be carrying and are too afraid to unload on a friend or family member.

So how do you go about finding a therapist? If you feel comfortable, you can ask friends or family for ones they recommend. Otherwise, you can Google for therapists in your area or ask your doctor for recommendations. You don't have to go with the first therapist you find. It's perfectly within your right to ask questions about their approach to therapy, and it's normal to contact or work with a few therapists before you find the right match for you.

Break free from victim mentality and live the life you deserve

As we've seen, victim mentality is, unfortunately, often a cause of real trauma. Being a victim is never anyone's choice, and victims should never be shamed or ostracized.

We all develop coping mechanisms as a way to survive what happens to us, and sometimes, these coping mechanisms are unhealthy. That's exactly what a victim mentality is. It served you at one point, but when it's no longer serving you, it's time to let go so you can regain agency in your life.

Thankfully, you can unlearn a victim mentality and move toward healthy coping mechanisms where you take the reins back in your life, focus on what you can control, let go of what you can't and live the life you've always dreamed of.

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