I want you to think about this quote: “When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.”
This is a quote from Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth. The word “victim” can make people uncomfortable. When we think of victims, we may think of someone who has been hurt by a violent crime. We may think of judges or society “blaming the victim” who has been subjected to these crimes. Or, we may think of someone who has a “victim mentality.”
There are victims of violent crimes in this world. Oppression and violence toward marginalized groups does exist. But in this video, we’re going to focus on how people develop a victim mentality, and how this mentality may affect their behavior.
What Is A “Victim Mentality?”
A victim mentality is a viewpoint that someone is consistently a victim of the negative actions of others. This is not someone who recognizes that they were a victim of a one-time incident or act of violence. They constantly behave as though they are a victim, even if evidence contradicts their viewpoint. This is a mentality that can develop strong roots in a person’s mindset.
Signs of Victim Mentality
A person may outright tell you that they believe they are a victim, but this is not always the case. You are more likely to spot someone with a victim mentality by how they act. A victim mentality may drive the following behaviors:
- Expressing the negative intentions of others
- Being anxious or especially vigilant around others
- Asking for recognition of their victimhood
- Comparing themselves to others, with others being more fortunate or loved
- Failing to empathize with others who may also be wronged
Where Does This Mentality Come From?
It can be frustrating to be around someone who always (and often, inaccurately) labels themselves as a victim. They are not always emotionally available for others because they are wallowing in their own victimhood. And unfortunately, when people get frustrated with a person (or group of people) with a perceived “victim mentality,” they tend to downplay the fact that victim mentality often comes from being wronged.
Crisis and trauma are often at the roots of a victim mentality. This trauma may be caused by actual violence in which the person was a victim and did not contribute to the trauma or violence. Sometimes, it’s not. This varies from case to case.
Victimhood turns into a victim mentality when a person decides to blame all of their shortcomings or negative events on other people. They believe that they cannot take any blame for what happens to them, even if they have to make decisions along the way.
Victim Mentality and Learned Helplessness
Positive psychologist Martin Seligman has studied how people explain their shortcomings or failures. These “explanatory styles” consist of three different dichotomies: pervasiveness, permanence, and personal. Someone with a victim mentality has a very specific explanatory style.
Let’s look at pervasiveness first. Seligman believed that people use global or specific explanations of failure. Someone who is more optimistic may use a more specific explanation, believing that their failure is a one-time event and that other events may turn into wins. Someone with a victim mentality may use a more global explanation. They believe that every time they try to succeed, they will fail.
Now let’s look at permanence: people either believe failure is temporary or permanent. More optimistic people believe that failure is permanent, and with the right tools, luck, or situation, they can succeed. Someone with a victim mentality does not feel that they can grow out of victimhood, because they are not responsible for what happens to them. They are more likely to believe that their failures and shortcomings are a permanent fixture of their life.
Finally, let’s look at personal explanations of failure. Some people blame themselves for failures and shortcomings. A person with a victim mentality is more likely to only blame others for their personal failures and shortcomings. But as I start to talk about moving out of a victim mentality, it’s important to know that only blaming your failures on yourself or only blaming your failures on other people can lead to unhealthy consequences.
Can You Step Out of Victim Mentality?
Victim mentality is a mindset. Although it has strong roots and requires a lot of inner work to unravel this mentality, it can be done. You can break free from the idea that you are a victim of everyone else’s toxic, negative behavior.
Again, this might require inner work or the help of a professional. If a victim mentality is rooted in trauma, a licensed therapist can help you face that trauma and understand it in the context of your overall life. There are incidents in which you might have been the victim to someone’s violence or manipulation. But you can understand that while still separating that incident from the rest of your life and decisions. Your abuser is a separate person from all of the other people in the world.
It also takes some self-awareness to recognize when you can step out of a victimhood mentality and change your thinking. Let’s say you pitch your business to investors, and they’re not interested. A person with a victim mentality may blame the failure on the investors. They may blame the failure on the manufacturers of your product, who failed to see your vision through. They may blame the failure on their business partner, society’s failure to see value in their product, etc.
To get out of a victim mentality, you would have to recognize these thoughts and label them as ones that contribute to an overall victim mentality. Then, you have to change them. You can objectively look at the failure and see where you might have fallen short: in your pitch, in how you answered the investors’ questions, etc. You can try to objectively look at the product, and see how you can change things to make it more appealing. The list goes on and on.
It is possible to step out of a victim mentality, but it often requires unraveling what you believe about the world, failure, growth, and how you relate to other people. But it can be done, and you can overcome the idea that you are permanently a victim.