Has anyone ever called you out for “always playing the victim” or told you that you have a “victim personality”? Understandably, most of us would probably get upset if that ever happened and become defensive. After all, statements like that can feel a lot like invalidating our feelings and belittling our struggles.
But it’s important to recognize constructive criticism when we get it, especially when it comes from someone you can trust to have your best interest at heart. So before you dismiss their words altogether, it might be good to take the time to reflect on them first.
Licensed therapist Dr. Vicki Botnick defines victim mentality as a state of mind wherein a person identifies themselves as a victim of circumstances or other people, even when untrue. Thus, people with this type of outlook avoid taking responsibility for their own actions and feel that they have no control over what happens to them.
With that said, here are 6 signs according to experts that victim mentality may be ruining your life:
People with a victim mentality view themselves as powerless and at the mercy of others or life in general. This view of oneself as unable to control, impact, or change one’s circumstances is what is known as “learned helplessness,” according to licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Karen Gepp. People afflicted with learned helplessness stop trying to overcome the challenges they face and instead resort to blaming everyone else around them for their misfortunes and mistakes. So if you often find yourself complaining all the time whenever something goes wrong without not even reflecting on the part you may have played, then you might be struggling with a victim mentality.
False Proof of Anger
According to counselor Andrea M. Darcy and therapist Dr. Sheri Jacobsen, people who live their life from a victim mindset tend to spend a lot of time suffering in silence and repressing their rage. They are rarely visibly angry but are convinced that those around them are always upset or angry with them. They read too much into every little thing and take everything too personally, taking it as false proof that everyone else is against them. Why? Because it means they can keep themselves helpless and use it as an excuse to give up before even trying.
Similar to the last point, people with a victim mentality are not only convinced that they can “read” everyone else — usually negatively, as being angry or against them — but they also expect other people to just know how they feel and give them consideration all the time. For example, when someone hurts their feelings without meaning to, they automatically assume it was intentional. But they don’t usually communicate it to the other person because they unrealistically expect them to just know it. And according to Dr. Karen Gepp, this may lead to a lot of keeping score in relationships and difficulty with intimacy and trust.
Another sign that you may have a victim mentality, according to Andrea Darcy and Dr. Sheri Jacobsen, is that you’re likely to over-explain your side of the story whenever a conflict arises. You may also talk about things that happened for a long time after the fact and get hung up on the past. Why? Because those trapped in a victim mindset are constantly seeking proof that they did nothing wrong and everyone else is at fault instead. So they can sometimes have a very warped sense of logic just to justify their passivity and inaction.
Do you believe that the world is a dangerous place? That other people are too self-interested or antagonistic towards you? And if so, do you think of yourself as someone who can’t fend for themselves or achieve their goals because of it? If so, such negative self-talk is most likely the result of having a self-victimizing viewpoint, says mental health journalist Crystal Raypole and psychologist Dr. Timothy J. Legg. And this way of thinking often gives way to catastrophizing beliefs such as “Everything bad happens to me” and “I can’t do anything about it” that may be hurting your self-esteem.
Not Coping With Stress
Finally, mental health and wellness coach Allaya Cooks-Campbell explains that having a victim mentality makes it more difficult for us to cope with stress. Because viewing ourselves as the victim all the time erodes our self-confidence and takes a toll on our emotional well-being, often causing a lot of frustration, anger, and resentment. So when stressful things happen, you probably can’t think straight. You may also have angry outbursts from time to time, feel the need to socially withdraw and self-isolate, and struggle with feelings of loneliness and depression. Having a victim mentality can also make it difficult for us to seek help or support from others because it makes us wary of their intentions.
So, do you relate to any of the things we’ve mentioned here? Did going through this list help you realize some of the ways you may be trapped in a victim mentality? Answering yes may feel shameful and overwhelming, but recognizing that you are living your life from this negative state of mind is an important first step to take in moving towards empowerment and away from victimhood.
The change isn’t likely to come easily or quickly, but increasing your self-awareness, challenging negative self-talk with self-compassion, and practising accountability can make a great difference in your life, your relationships, and your mental health. It’s also worth noting that a victim mentality is often an unhealthy way of coping with unhealed trauma, so you may want to consider the benefits of seeking professional help, too.
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- Cuncic, A. (2023). “Victim Mentality: Definition, Causes, and Ways to Cope.” VeryWell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-victim-mentality-5120615
- Dary, A. M. & Jacobsen, S. (2023). “Do You Have a Victim Personality? 12 Ways to Tell.” Harley Therapy Mental Health Blog. Retrieved from https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/live-life-like-victim-12-ways-tell.htm
- Elizabeth, A. (2021). “4 Signs You Have a Victim Mentality (And How to Break out of It).” LifeHack. Retrieved from https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/move-away-from-the-victim-mentality.html
- Gepp, K., & Lebow, H. I. (2022). “What Are the Signs of a Victim Mentality?” Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/health/victim-mentality#victim-mentality
- Raypole, C. & Legg, T. J. (2019). “How to Identify and Deal with a Victim Mentality.” Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/victim-mentality#signs
- Cooks-Campbell, A. (2021). “Victim mentality: How we hold ourselves back by blaming others.” BetterUp. Retrieved from https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/move-away-from-the-victim-mentality.html