A victim mentality can be a significant obstacle to healthy relationships and personal success. Past experiences shape this self-defeating outlook on life and can make the pursuit of happiness an endless battle. Finding a good therapist in a mental health treatment program can help free individuals from this identity and unleash their true potential.
What Is a Victim Mentality?
A victim mentality – also called a ‘victim complex’ and related to ‘victim sensitivity’ – causes a person to feel as if they are always the target of misfortune. They return to the same old question whenever something goes wrong: “Why me?”
For individuals who suffer from this mentality, they believe that the world is out to get them and they are perpetual victims of bad luck or unfortunate, unavoidable circumstances. Researchers theorize that victimhood may develop in response to experiencing victimization in adolescence. This mentality is rooted in deep emotional pain from having been the victim at some point in their life.
Reflecting on a Scenario
Imagine: Shakira’s closest friend is Yenifer. Shakira has always had trouble trusting people due to her family history, but she has grown on Yenifer. Yenifer makes a new friend, Dinara. The two went on a road trip together, but Yenifer kept it from Shakira. When Shakira found out from a mutual friend, she felt betrayed and filled with rage. She refused to speak to Yenifer about it and vowed never to trust anyone again. In fact, from now on, she will stick to herself. This was the end of Shakira and Yenifer, but it was the end of forming a close bond like that for a long time.
Reflection: This situation could be hurtful for anyone, but it could have been handled differently. Importantly, just because Yenifer hurt Shakira, it does not mean Shakira should carry this distrust into other relationships. Maybe Dinara had a reasonable explanation for not telling her. Like Shakira, some individuals have a strong sensitivity to mishappenings.
Manifestations of a Victim Mentality
A victim mentality can cause an overwhelming emotional response to things that go wrong, even if they can be remediated or overlooked. The person may replay the situation repeatedly in their mind, ruminating about what the conflict says about their shortcomings. They can be hyperaware of anything that may signal dishonesty in social interactions.
A victim mentality has internal conflicts and struggles with interpersonal relationships. For example, they may:
- put themselves down frequently
- blame others for their misfortune
- have difficulties accepting apologies
- have suspicious thoughts of others’ intentions
- have a high mistrust of others and judges quickly
- have great difficulty bouncing back from disappointments
- make self-centered decisions when faced with a social dilemma
- be preoccupied with negative situations or past trauma but will not seek help
Putting up an Emotional Wall
Studies show that individuals prone to this way of thinking and behaving have a deep fear of exploitation: “Their antisocial and egoistic behavior can be conceptualized as a defensive reaction to prevent exploitation: victim-sensitive individuals behave uncooperatively toward others because they expect others to behave uncooperatively toward them.”
This can be a major dilemma because the individual may want desperately to trust and connect with others. They cannot overcome the feeling that they will be hurt if they do. Keeping up an emotional wall helps them avert vulnerability and the pain of disappointment.
Why Does This Trait Develop?
Going back to the Shakira scenario, she learned that most people cannot be relied on or trusted at a young age. She tried to trust Yenifer, but what Yenifer did was too much to handle, too triggering. As a child, her parents were emotionally unavailable and failed to notice her many attempts to get their attention. She had one or two friends in school and felt like an outcast. She felt alone most of the time.
Researchers believe that the victim mentality can form a coping mechanism in response to adverse experiences between early childhood and late adolescence. For instance:
- being bullied in school
- being betrayed or rejected by loved ones
- basic needs not being met in early childhood
- experiencing ongoing emotional stress and pain
- experiencing trauma like physical or sexual abuse
Some people have learned to “play the victim card” intentionally as a form of manipulation in order to get what they want (e.g., sympathy or help).
You Can Retrain Your Mind
If you experience life as described here, know that you are not innately a bad person and you are not alone. Therapy can help you break old patterns of thinking and behaving to form healthier ones. You might have been the victim at one point, but you do not have to live with those fears anymore. With a good therapist, you can learn how to cope with disappointment and evaluate situations through a lens untainted by fear and distrust.
Harboring negative ideas about oneself in relation to the world can reduce a person’s ability to evaluate situations and people for what they are. From the perspective of a victim mentality, a person feels as if they are never safe from external threats. You may not realize that this feeling results from traumatic memories that continue to dictate their behaviors. Avalon Malibu is a mental health and addiction treatment center in Malibu, CA. We offer a Trauma program targeted at treating emotional disturbances caused by traumatic experiences. Our staff has years of experience and training to meet the needs of every client. At the heart of everything we do is believe that clients should be met where they are, not where we think they should be. If you suffer from a victim mentality, call (844) 857-5992 to learn about our therapy options.