The ‘victim mentality’ comes from the unwillingness to own our life

Here it comes, I thought: another tale of abuse, neglect, the inappropriate and the unimaginable. I wasn’t trying to minimize the sad and regrettable childhood this gentleman had endured.

“Don’t let your history interfere with your destiny!”

Dr. Steve Maraboli, American behavioural scientist, author and speaker

“You want to talk about a hard life,” he said. “You should have grown up in my family!”

Here it comes, I thought: another tale of abuse, neglect, the inappropriate and the unimaginable. I wasn’t trying to minimize the sad and regrettable childhood this gentleman had endured. I was just getting a little tired of hearing about it every time we sat down to chat.

I recognized the life lessons his upbringing had taught him: you’ll never amount to anything; you’re worthless; you’re not smart enough; no matter how hard you try, it’s never good enough; no-one will ever love you; and the big one – trust no-one because they’re all out to get you.

It proved a potent combination for the development of poor self-esteem and a victim mentality.

A victim mentality is one in which we blame others for our unfortunate circumstances, regardless of whether they resulted from the malice of others, pure misfortune or our own poor choices.

The victim believes he or she is disadvantaged, helpless to control circumstances and everyone else is to blame. The future holds only bad things and disappointment.

It’s easy to buy into the notion that we are destined to struggle, endure bad luck and be the victim of circumstances. We have all played the victim role at one time or another: after a disappointing event, unfulfilled expectation or when things simply didn’t go our way.

Most well-grounded individuals will eventually snap themselves out of it, realizing that what makes us a victim is our self-limiting beliefs and unwillingness to own our life and decisions.

American psychiatrist Judith Orloff, author of Emotional Freedom, is an expert in the victim mentality and has created the Am I in a Relationship with a Victim? Quiz. Says Orloff, “If you typically get drawn into fixing other people’s problems, chances are you’ve attracted numerous victims into your life.” Answer each of the following questions with a definitive yes or no.

1. Is there anyone in your life who often appears inconsolably oppressed or depressed?

2. Are you burned out by their neediness?

3. Do these people always blame “bad luck” or the unfairness of others for their problems?

4. Do you screen your calls or say you’re busy in order to dodge their litany of complaints?

5. Does their unrelenting negativity compromise your positive attitude?

Give each “Yes” response one point and count your score. Says Orloff, “If your score is three or more then you are probably in relationship with a victim. Interacting with this type of person can cause you to be irritated or drained and will make you want to avoid them.”

The victim tends to be self-absorbed and shielded from reality by a protective cocoon of self-pity. And as odd as it might seem, this way of thinking has benefits, albeit negative ones. People tend to help you more when you have learned to be helpless to some degree.

You don’t need to take responsibility or ponder anything very deeply because everything is someone else’s fault or problem.

You expect little from others and thus invest little. You never need to take a chance because you’re bound to fail. If these thoughts sound absurd, you’re right, but it is exactly these types of thoughts and a myriad of others that keep people playing the victim.

If you’re dealing with the owner of a victim mentality, it is vital to set kind but firm boundaries. Orloff suggests we smile and say kindly, “Our relationship is important to me, but it’s not helpful to keep feeling sorry for yourself. I can only listen for five minutes unless you’re ready to discuss solutions.” This takes courage. Orloff advises that you brace yourself for a full-on guilt-trip. “If the victim, irate, comes back with, ‘What kind of friend are you?’ don’t succumb to that ploy. Just reply, ‘I’m a great friend and I love you, but this is all I can offer.’” Orloff acknowledges that this is often easier said than done. I have known many people who have set boundaries with victims only to find the relationship over. But that is not always a bad thing.

If you’ve raised your awareness to the point where you recognize your own proclivity toward a victim mentality, good for you – here are four ways to break free from the mind-set.

Take inventory. Take an objective look at the situations and circumstances you have blamed others for creating. Can you find the role you played? Even if it was a minor one, acknowledge your part in it and own it. Doing so can provide you with insight and awareness – valuable tools for dismantling a victim mentality and setting you free to live an empowered life.

Forgive. Acknowledge that people hurt you but it’s not happening right now. When you learn to forgive, you can release your burden and free yourself to move forward. If you need help, seek out a professional therapist or life coach.

Write a new story. The old story of the victim serves no-one – especially you. Write a new story where you learn valuable life lessons from every experience and apply those lessons daily. Make yourself the hero, not the victim of the new story.

Gratitude. Rather than focusing on what you don’t have or didn’t get from the past, look for the positive that is all around you. If you can’t find it then ask for help in creating it.

“If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it,” wrote Richard Bach, American best-selling author. “If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.”

Although the patterns that bind us to a victim mentality are strong, they can be broken and the process starts with small steps in the direction of love and hope. Remember, we become what we think about most of the time. What are you thinking about? Who do you wish to become?