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Victim mentality: 5 signs & how to deal with it (in yourself & others)

“That isn’t my fault!” “They’re out to get me!” “Why do you always blame me?”

Are these words familiar?

We all know someone who blames the world for all their misfortunes, when half the time their problems are a result of their own irresponsible actions.

And we all know someone who would prefer to cry and complain rather than do something to fix their own problems.

This is known as having a victim mentality – the tendency to portray oneself as a victim, even when they are far from it.

In this article, we discuss everything about the victim complex – what it is, why people develop it, signs that you or someone you know may have it, and what can be done to get over it.

What is Victim Mentality? 

You might have someone in your life who regularly plays the victim.

According to Judith Orloff, M.D. in her book Emotional Freedom, you might know someone with pervasive victim mentality if you experience the following:

  • You are burned out by their excessive neediness
  • They often seem inconsolably depressed or oppressed, often for different reasons
  • They believe in fate and “bad luck”, or always talk about things not being fair
  • You know that when they call, chat, or meet up with you, you are bound to listen to their latest complaints and personal tragedies
  • They are obsessed with negativity and it compromises your own positivity

If you can relate with at least three of the statements above, then you might know a professional victim.

Also known as victim complex and victim syndrome, victim mentality isn’t very difficult to recognize in others, although it can be near impossible to recognize in yourself.

Victim mentality is built around three core beliefs:

  • You are destined to have bad things happen to you
  • These bad things are a result of other people or your circumstances
  • There is no point trying to change these bad things because they are destined to happen, so all efforts to prevent, change, or avoid them will fail

It is important to note that victim mentality is not a formally-recognized medical concept; psychiatrists and other doctors are reluctant to use the term due to its surrounding stigma and associations. 

It is also not formally recognized because victim mentality is not a mental or psychological disorder; instead, it’s a learned state of mind that individuals can unlearn with some effort.

The first step requires the individual to recognize and accept their tendency to adopt a victim mentality.

Recognizing Victim Mentality, In Yourself and In Others: 5 Surefire Signs 

What are the signs of victim mentality; what does it look like?

According to therapist Vicki Botnick, having a victim mentality begins when a person identifies most closely with the role of victim.

Whether you mean to or not, we all see ourselves as having certain roles in our relationships and interactions.

People who showcase victim mentality are those who find the mindset and situation of traditional victims most similar to their own, even if they are not exactly victims themselves.

According to Botnick, people identify as victims when “they veer into the belief that everyone else caused their misery and nothing they do will ever make a difference.”

Here are 5 signs that a person might be exhibiting victim mentality: 

1) They Always Feel Powerless

Victimization often begins because a person has accepted in their heart that they do not have the means or power to change or avoid situations they do not like.

They may have previously attempted to change their undesired circumstances and failed, and they now lack the willpower to try again.

This leads to a deep sense of powerlessness and acts as a kind of defense mechanism for the person – instead of believing that their attempts at changing their circumstances weren’t enough, they simply choose to believe that the circumstances can’t possibly be changed at all, so there is no reason to try again.

While it can be painful to accept the idea that you are powerless to improve your circumstances, this is often like choosing the lesser evil, as opposed to accepting the idea that you haven’t tried hard enough or aren’t good enough yet to do it.

This is a means of avoiding accountability and responsibility, which leads to our next point.

2) They Avoid Accountability and Responsibility

A main sign of victim mentality is the unwillingness to accept personal accountability and responsibility for the things that happen to you.

People who exhibit victim mentality tend to assess their undesired situation and choose to make excuses or place the blame on other people or destiny or anything else.

You often hear them say things like, “It’s not my fault!”, “That’s not fair!”, “I already did everything I could!”, and “Why should that be my problem?”

While it is true that we can’t always avoid bad and undesirable events, professional victims have a knack for convincing themselves that every unwanted event is a result of the universe being out to get them, when this isn’t actually the case.

Common examples include unemployment, low grades, and falling out with other people.

While these can be a result of unlucky circumstances, they can also be a result of a person failing to commit to their own responsibilities and fulfill expectations.

3) They Put Themselves Down with Negativity and Self-Sabotage

People with victim mentality tend to see their own victimization in everything they do, even when there is nothing bad currently happening.

This is because they’ve internalized their own victimization; they see themselves as a victim more than anything else, and that negativity rests around them when they look in the mirror.

Victim mentality teaches people that they can’t do anything about their situation, so they end up drowning themselves in thoughts like:

  • “Nobody cares about me.”
  • “I guess I deserve all the bad things that I experience.”
  • “There is nothing I could do, so why should I even bother?”
  • “I never experience anything good.”

The problem with these thoughts is that they act as a vicious cycle.

The more that a person convinces himself that nothing could be done to prevent their unwanted situation, the less willpower they will have the next time they are challenged.

The person’s negative internal monologue feeds on its own self-pity, proving itself to be true not because they are actually destined for bad things to happen to them, but because they have shaped their own environment and habits in a way that only bad things could happen to them.

This leads to self-sabotage, in which the victims do shape their own fates in a way: by believing themselves to be victims they sap themselves of the energy or willpower to improve themselves, and thus continue to prove to themselves that they are unlucky.

4) They Never Recognize Possible Solutions

There are certain unwanted events that are uncontrollable – natural disasters, the natural death of loved ones, and simple blind bad luck.

But in many cases, we control our own fortunes, and the effort we put into the things we do can affect the outcomes we experience.

Those with a victim complex are unable to see it this way.

When a person becomes enamored with their own role of victimhood, they do not even attempt to recognize possible solutions to improve their situations.

Even when there are others offering clear help or solutions, a victim would prefer to wallow in their own self-pity rather than accept the help and attempt to work towards change.

In the rare cases that they do accept any help, they will do so half-heartedly, as if only to prove to themselves that even when they try, nothing could be improved either way.

As stated above, individuals with victim complexes are often their own worst enemy.

5) They Are Filled with Anger and Resentment

With so little self-confidence and so much assurance that the universe isn’t on their side, individuals suffering from their own victim complex generally end up emotionally unstable.

They have mountains of pent-up resentment, anger, and frustration for a number of reasons. They might feel:

  • Hopeless because they believe their circumstances will never improve
  • Resentful of those around them who are successful and happy
  • Frustrated that society doesn’t do more to help them
  • Hurt and alone with the belief that those around them don’t care

These heavy emotions can lead to angry outbursts and self-isolation, with feelings of chronic loneliness and depression that builds up over time. 

Why Do People Adopt a Victim Mentality? 8 Perks That Come From Adopting a Victim Mentality 

For people who live positively and try to enrich themselves and those around them, it can be difficult if not impossible to understand why others might adopt this self-sabotaging, toxic, and ultimately destructive victim mentality.

The best way to understand victim mentality is as a reaction. No one is born with victim mentality; instead, it’s a learned behavior that comes out as a byproduct to events we experience from childhood onwards.

These can be both positive and negative events, creating a belief in a person that “playing the victim” reaps a more desirable outcome than otherwise.

Here are some quick perks you might get from exhibiting a victim mentality:

  • If you are faced with a difficult or unwanted task, you don’t have to take responsibility for them; people will expect you to hide away and help you
  • People become accustomed to giving you attention when you feel the need to complain about something
  • Others will give you attention and feel sorry for you, making you feel better about yourself
  • People will learn not to upset you, criticize you, or generally be hard on you, because they know that you can’t take it
  • You never have to do unwanted tasks on your own; others will feel sorry for you and end up doing what you want them to do
  • You can make yourself a more interesting person by turning mundane events into emotionally-draining events by framing yourself as the victim
  • You can avoid boredom by creating artificial drama in your personal relationships
  • You don’t have to learn how to stand up and fight for yourself because your default reactions are being sad and disappointed

The perks we listed above show that there is a kind of soft power that comes with being a victim, which those who adopt the victim complex become addicted to exploiting.

People who know how to play the victim might be doing so because it gives them power over others, the feeling of being valued by those around them, and attention.

In a way, it is a means of manipulating not only yourself so that you don’t have to take personal accountability for the bad things that happen to you, but also manipulating others into feeling sorry for you and doing what you want.

4 Reasons Someone Might Have a Victim Mindset

It is important to note that not all individuals who exhibit victim mentality are doing it insidiously; some cases of self-victimization are the result of extreme trauma and loneliness. 

While playing a victim can evolve into a means to manipulate others for personal gain, the origins of this behavior in a person aren’t always so insidious.

Too often, the tendency to victimize yourself is a learned behavior from childhood, as a result of either negative or positive events.

Here are some reasons why someone might have a victim mentality:

1) You grew up watching adults act this way

Maybe it was your parents or maybe it was through TV and movies.

Either way, as you grew up you watched adults act like victims: always complaining about things they didn’t deserve, about other people messing up their own lives, and blaming everyone except themselves for their own problems.

This is the simplest way to gain a learned behavior, through watching your parents.

2) Your parents responded best to your cries for attention

Love and attention are essential requirements for children, but parents don’t always know how to give these.

Your parents might have ignored you and denied showing you any love and attention when you were happy and disciplined; only when you cried out and made a ruckus did they try to coax you.

This led to the understanding that bad, victim behavior would generate a reward.

3) You experienced childhood abuse

Those who develop victim mentality as a results of child abuse are those with the most serious cases.

Sexual abuse to a child can lead to feelings of extreme helplessness, leading to the beliefs that the world is dangerous and they can do nothing to help themselves.

4) You and one of your parents had a codependent relationship

You might have had a parent who needed you to take care of them, physically or mentally.

This might lead a child to believing that love must be earned rather than given freely, and that they can best earn the love of others when they are weak, sick, or simply unable to help themselves.

Not Sure If You’re Really a Victim or Just Have Victim Mentality? Look Out for These 10 Behaviors

Recognizing victim mentality in others is easy, but recognizing it in yourself can be difficult, as you have to assess your own mental barriers and ideas and see if they are really as true as you think.

If other people have suggested that you might have a victim mentality, here are some signs to look out for in yourself to confirm their theory:

1) You tend to give up early on in a task or without even trying, because you lack the confidence that you can do it

2) You would rather that someone else controls your life because you don’t believe that you have the power or ability to make the right choices

3) You tend to put yourself in situations where you absolutely need the help of other people through your own wrong actions

4) You always seem to have the perfect excuse and you can’t remember the last time you said, “This was my fault, I could’ve done better”

5) You don’t know how to take a loss or bad event without self-punishing or beating yourself up, physically, emotionally, or psychologically

6) There is always another factor or person to blame and it always seems to make sense

7) Your coping strategies are self-destructive, and have led to you ruining relationships, destroying progress, and ultimately hurting yourself

8) You are resentful and bitter that you don’t have the life you want, instead of wondering why that might be and finding the answers

9) You sabotage yourself by listening too much to your self-criticism, thus preventing yourself from trying to do anything that might be good for you

10) You don’t believe in the person you see in the mirror

3 Techniques For Dealing with Victim Mentality in Others

Living with someone who regularly falls back on a victim mentality can be immensely challenging, particularly if that person is a big or active part of your life.

The first question you have to ask yourself is: how do you want to deal with them? Do you want to help them get over their victim mentality, or do you simply want to learn how to tolerate them?

Whatever you choose, it is important to let your response be guided by empathy rather than force. Dealing with victim mentality begins with self-acceptance, and you can never force anyone to accept a flaw they aren’t ready to acknowledge.

Here are some ways you can guide them:

1. Don’t label them

Calling someone with victim mentality a “victim” is the last thing you want to do, and will only compel them to dig their heels in deeper.

Instead, gently try to discuss with them their issues of complaining, inability to accept responsibility, and blame shifting.

Start the conversation; even if they don’t accept it, it helps to put the thoughts in their mind.

2. Draw up your personal boundaries

Understand your own limits when it comes to dealing with them. Their issues aren’t yours, and you shouldn’t suffer because they can’t deal with their own problems.

Ask yourself: what are your limits? If they cross those limits, detach yourself from them and let them deal with themselves.

They will either slowly recognize how they are pushing you away or they are too far for you to help them at all.

3. Address their internal dialogue

Individuals with victim mentality never truly engage in introspection. They never take the internal dialogue further. After they shift blame and avoid responsibility, they then wallow in their own self-pity.

Help them by talking to them. If they say that they can’t do anything to help their situation or if they can’t achieve their goals, then push that conversation forward.

Ask them: why can’t they do anything? What would it take to allow them to do something? Give them a bridge between their own self-doubt and reality, and help them cross that bridge on their own.

Remember: when dealing with individuals exhibiting victim mentality, you are dealing with people with intense emotional instability. They often struggle with depression and/or PTSD, they have low self-esteem and self-confidence, and they already feel like they have no support. Be direct but gentle; guide them without forcing them.

3 Strategies For Dealing with Victim Mentality in Yourself

If you are dealing with your own struggles with victim mentality, you must recognize that you are at the start of a long journey of unlearning your own behavior and replacing it with healthier behavior.

While discussing your issues with a therapist can always help, we realize that not everyone is comfortable with sharing their issues with a stranger and not everyone has the means to do so.

Thankfully, you are more than capable of helping yourself with your victim mentality on your own. You have already passed the first and perhaps most difficult step, which is acknowledging your own flaws, so congratulations.

Here are some things to keep in mind during on your journey to self-betterment:

1. Identify the beliefs that are limiting you

You have spent a lifetime shying away from decisions and challenges and making excuses for that behavior. It is time to address your own reactions and take time before committing to them.

As you move forward, take a moment and think about your mind’s initial reaction to everything you experience, both good and bad.

Why did you feel that way, and why did you want to react that way? Is this the right and healthy way to react? If not, what can you do instead that you wouldn’t normally do to challenge yourself?

2. Take responsibility when you least want to

There is a saying amongst fitness enthusiasts: the days you don’t want to go to the gym are the days when it is most important to go.

Growth can only be achieved by pushing yourself beyond the limits that you are used to. Measure the times when you are most uncomfortable.

Ask – why are you uncomfortable? Why do you want to run away? And then choose not to run away.

Even if your heart and mind are totally convinced you will fail, do it anyway.

3. Learn gratitude towards everything

Wake up every day asking yourself: what are you grateful for today?

When faced with negative circumstances, search for the silver lining, the way to see it as a glass half full rather than a glass half empty.

Think of every failure as an opportunity to try again with more experience, rather than as a door shutting in your face.

Be grateful for everything, especially the things that make the least sense to be grateful about.

Unlearning Victimhood – A Long Yet Possible Road

Unlearning any learned behavior can be one of the most difficult things you might ever need to do.

Whether it is you or someone you know who needs to stop falling back on victim mentality, remember: it will take a long time before you can completely shed yourself of that behavior.

You must hypnotize yourself into positivity, in the same way that you once hypnotized yourself into being a victim.

It is simply the way you look at life and measure the events that happen to you, and your ability to control your initial reaction and think about it before letting it happen.

Find your own peace, and over time, the victim complex will simply be a previous chapter in your life.

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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