An example of having a victim mentality is when someone in your life has accused you of “playing the victim”. It's likely that you felt offended by this, and that you believed it missed the mark.
You may have thought about how your distress was entirely genuine and felt hurt that this other person believed you were being insincere.
However, playing the victim is hardly ever on purpose, and you can be drawn to occupy the victim role without ever trying to trick or mislead people.
Whether you've been accused of having a victim mentality or know someone who has, it's helpful to develop a deeper understanding of this state of mind.
In this article, we'll explore why and how someone might end up playing the victim, and look at how it gradually drains the resources of the victim as well as those around them.
Most importantly, we'll look at how you can take control – how you can empower yourself to leave the victim mentality behind.
A victim complex is characterized by a kind of consistent self-pity and powerlessness. If you have this kind of mindset, you exclusively look outside yourself when trying to explain painful or difficult situations.
in other words, it's never your fault. So, for example, if you adopt a victim mentality in relationships, arguments will revolve around you blaming your partner for whatever has gone wrong.
Whether it's something they've done or a reaction to something you've done, your gut feeling will always be that they have caused the discord in your relationship.
Meanwhile, if you don't get promoted at work, you'll immediately assume you were passed over for unfair reasons, rather than asking yourself what you might be able to work on in order to get promoted in the next round.
The victim mentality allows you to avoid engaging with your own flaws and vulnerabilities. That's its key benefit, along with keeping you in your comfort zone and helping you avoid responsibility.
If you're powerless, after all, you don't need to move forward – others won't let you. However, occupying the victim position also holds you back from personal development, and from healthy self-confidence. If you don't believe in your own power, you never fulfill your full potential.
Of course, a victim complex doesn't develop in a vacuum. It's also typically involuntary.
Blame-shifting in the manner described above is almost always a response to something that has happened to you, often early in life. Let's look at a few of the most significant causes.
Firstly, it's true that some people who adopt the victim role are deliberately playing others or intending to inflict punishment. Such individuals may also have narcissistic or histrionic traits, consistently placing themselves at the center of dramatic narratives.
However, this is by far the least common scenario. It's much more likely that a victim complex results from adverse life circumstances and substantial emotional wounds.
In particular, past trauma is probably the most common reason for playing the victim. Not everyone responds to trauma in this way as adversity impacts us all in different ways, but it's easy to see how self-victimization can result.
Specifically, at some point, you truly were victimized, and this has left you with the understandable assumption that this is your role in life. You play the victim card not to manipulate or to consciously shirk responsibility, but because you have deep feelings of powerlessness.
Betrayal can have a similar impact. For example, if you've been betrayed by someone you trust in childhood and then experienced infidelity in relationships as an adult, you can default to a victim role. You may believe you can't trust anyone and read everyone as a potential persecutor.
When thinking about whether betrayal or trauma in your own life might lead you to play the victim, remember not to focus on whether the wound is “big” enough. What matters is not whether someone else would class your experience as a serious trauma. Rather, what defines it as trauma is its impact on you.
As well as holding back your development, occupying the victim role can leave you incredibly emotionally drained.
Why is this? In brief, it's because playing the victim completely undermines your agency. It leaves you unable to do anything about the difficulty you face. Whatever you're struggling with – whether it's relationships, your career, money, or your health.
You feel powerless to come up with a plan or change. If you see yourself as a powerless victim, you think that there's nothing at all that you can do to improve your situation.
Meanwhile, someone who recognizes their own power can come up with different strategies, learn from their experiences, and keep trying new ones until something works.
Your dynamics with other people can also quickly become exhausting. In a sense, you're using others to prop up your view of yourself as a victim, and this can prevent real closeness.
You are unlikely to receive genuine empathy from someone if they view you as playing the victim card, and the resulting life is a lonely one indeed. Plus, if others are the enemy and you can't trust them, you can't truly lean on anyone for support. In time, carrying all of your difficulties will wear you down.
Finally, being a constant victim also requires lying to yourself. It takes a lot of energy to keep coming up with reasons for your own powerlessness. Hiding from yourself is emotionally draining – in addition to being unable to let your guard down around others, you can't let it down around yourself either.
All of this adds up to exhaustion. If this picture sounds familiar, keep reading to discover some strategies you can employ in order to move out of the victim position.
Before we move on to concrete strategies and techniques, let's first consider a quick inventory of the key traits of a victim.
Look out for the following characteristics in yourself and others:
Refusing to seek solutions. All negative situations are out of the victim's hands, so there's no point in thinking about how to make things better.
Feeling powerless, as though it's impossible for you to succeed or feel good.
A strong inner critic. Victims often have a voice inside their head that tells them they lack power as well as value. The voice of this inner critic is usually based on things said by people who have betrayed or hurt the victim in the past.
A lack of dependability. Other people can't rely on the victim because it takes very little evidence for the victim to turn on them and view them as a persecutor.
Low self-esteem. If you're in the victim position, you don't stand up for yourself or for your rights. You'll often believe you're less smart, capable, and attractive than the average person.
Anger and resentment. Often, this will be pushed down and hidden underneath sadness. However, occasionally this built-up anger will emerge, often through resentment of those the victim perceives as powerful and successful.
If you're in a victim position, it's important to note that you may be more or less vocal about this. Some victims are loud about their victimhood, outwardly blaming others, and constantly complaining about their hard lives. However, others present in a more stoic way. These self-victimizers will display obvious distress but always say “It's okay” or “I'm fine” when anyone attempts to offer support.
Now, if you recognize yourself in the above descriptions, don't despair!
The victim mentality grows out of genuine difficulties, and overcoming the victim mentality is definitely possible.
We'll offer six tips aimed at helping you to stop playing the victim, all of which you can start practicing immediately.
When you live in the moment, you keep your mind focused on what you're experiencing and turn your attention away from both the past and the future.
This means you're no longer ruminating on past behaviors, or worrying about future victimization.
One effective way to take control of your life in this way is to practice mindfulness.
Whether you do daily breathing exercises, guided meditations, or visualization exercises, you teach your brain to tune into the present.
If you're not familiar with mindfulness, start with just 5-10 minutes of focusing on your breath.
Allow thoughts you drift by, and repeatedly return your attention to the movements of your chest.
When exploring your limiting beliefs, there's an intimate connection between victimhood and negative beliefs acquired earlier in life.
So, challenging those old beliefs can help you shed your victim stance.
Try writing down the negative beliefs you have about yourself, and then write out a counter-reply.
For example, if someone told you that you'd never amount to anything, write down five of your greatest accomplishments.
Return to this list whenever you need to be reminded that you are powerful.
Practicing gratitude is a technique you can use to make your view of the world (and other people) more positive.
It's a way of giving yourself evidence that there is goodness around you, and that there are good things in your life.
Simply take a little time at the end of each day to write down 5-10 things that make you feel grateful, no matter how small.
Pay particular attention to your own accomplishments and moments of empowerment.
To move beyond being a victim, it's crucial that you see yourself as someone with agency.
This means taking responsibility for what you do, and for the things that happen because of you.
It can be uncomfortable to acknowledge when you've done something that isn't ideal but try to view these moments of culpability as a lesson.
What could you do differently next time?
What have you discovered about yourself through this experience?
Self-focus is a natural part of playing the victim.
You become so attentive to your own pain and your own struggles that you stop connecting with others.
To widen your view and engage more with the world, make a habit out of daily acts of kindness.
Do a favor for a friend, volunteer some of your time, or find old items you can donate to charity.
Notice how good it feels to be helping others rather than needing their help.
The more often you examine your image of yourself as the victim, the more you'll begin to see that this isn't who you really are.
When you have the urge to blame others, ask yourself: am I really a victim here?
Yes, things may not have gone your way, but what was your role in the situation?
This self-reflection isn't intended to make you blame yourself, but it will help you take responsibility and see your own power.
So, now you understand what playing the victim involves, and you have a toolkit that can help you to move away from victimhood to a place of appropriate accountability.
This means you're ready to move past at least one thing that may have been holding you back. But what else is holding you back?
In what other ways are you self-sabotaging and keeping yourself small? Take our LOA quiz to help you identify more of your major blocks to success.
This is the next step in becoming the very best version of yourself, and the next step in manifesting the future you desire and deserve. Whatever is holding you back, you can beat it.