All of us have felt victimized at some point or another in our lives. At these times we may feel taken advantage of, wronged by another person and/or circumstance, or that life is simply just unfair. The victim stance is a powerful one—the victim believes he or she is always morally right, is not responsible or accountable for their actions, and is entitled to sympathy from others. Individuals with a victim mentality feel that others are generally luckier or happier then they themselves are. They blame others or institutions for their misfortunes, ascribe unfounded negative intentions to other people, and may even experience pleasure derived from feeling sorry for themselves. They are self-abasing by putting themselves down due to underlying low self-esteem, inadequacy, and depression. Chronic negative self-evaluations produce feelings of hopelessness and helplessness–a vicious cycle that perpetuates and underlies the victim mentality.
Ultimately, individuals may maintain a victim mentality because they are afraid of taking responsibility for their own wants and desires and they have a fear of failure. They unconsciously believe they are not deserving of having good things in their life.
It is possible to change the victim mentality since it is a learned behavior that usually begins in early childhood and learned behaviors can be unlearned. Young children are helpless and vulnerable and they rely on their caregivers for daily support. Some young children only receive positive reinforcement and emotional support when they elicit sympathy from distant caregivers. In these cases, having a victim mentality is reinforced because it is successful. However, in the long term being a victim takes away our individual power and potential.
Transitioning from a victim mentality to a “taking back control” mentality requires understanding and examining the underlying psychological issues contributing to the victim mentality in the first place. Research studying the psychology of victimhood suggests that individuals with a victim mentality have difficulty expressing and processing negative emotions, such as anger, fear, and disappointment as well as difficulty with taking responsibility for their desires and actions. This results in feeling hopelessness and helplessness-an all too familiar feeling for individuals struggling with the victim mentality.
Effective treatment focuses on helping individuals become aware of what they are doing that actually sustains their inability to take control of their life and helps them to see situations and relationships from many perspectives in order to expand their options for problem solving thereby decreasing feelings of powerlessness. Treatment also focuses on empowering individuals to take responsibility for their own desires and long-term actions and ultimately to feel deserving of all the good life has to offer them.
Below are a few tips to help you take back control:
1. Make a list of your desires and goals. Writing your goals and desires down is the first step towards taking ownership of your life. You have your own purpose and life destiny to fulfill. Others do not have a right to interfere with that process. It’s your journey and yours alone.
2. Choose one goal and create a plan for achieving it. Allowing yourself the opportunity to take risks in order to achieve your goal is one way to NOT be a victim.
3. Be honest with yourself and examine what you may be doing that unintentionally places you in the victim role. For example, do you blame others for negative outcomes because you may be too afraid of making a mistake, taking responsibility, or of asserting yourself?
4. Take time out on a daily basis to do something you enjoy and want to do.
5. Consider psychotherapy to develop a healthier self-concept. Developing a healthier self-concept will help to decrease feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and help you to live a fuller, more satisfying, and genuine life.
We want to hear from you. Do you consider yourself a victim? What do you do to perpetuate the victim role? Have you overcome the victim mindset? What have you done to overcome it? Do you have suggestions to share to help others?
This fall, Dr. Durlofsky will be starting psychotherapy groups for individuals struggling with the victim mentality. To learn more, call (484) 431-8710 or email firstname.lastname@example.org