Research Paper By Teresa Andronikou
(Life Coach, Single Moms, CANADA)
A victim, according to the Oxford dictionary is “a person who has been harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action”. We have all been a victim at some point in our lives but how we choose to view those moments defines how we deal with the world around us.
The motivation behind this research paper is from my experience with being stuck in this mindset. At the time, I felt that everything was happening ‘to me’ as opposed to ‘for me’. It took many years and a huge commitment on my part to break free of this cycle. Now that I am on this life coaching journey and my focus is working with single moms who are transitioning out of a relationship, this topic piqued my interest.
In this research paper, I will explore how to recognize a victim mentality, how the mindset is created, what are the benefits of being in this mindset, and how to coach clients with this mindset.
How to recognize a Victim Mentality
According to Harley’s therapy (2006) “Having a ‘victim mentality’ means you blame your challenges in life on others around you, even if you can’t prove their negative actions. You might also blame many things on circumstances, which you see as always unfair”.
Those that live in the victim mentality always think the worst. They blame others for where they are in their life, they complain all the time but never take action to make a change. They might ask for help but never take it and may respond with “yes, but” and proceed to find excuses as to why the suggestion won’t work. Their view of the world is that everything and everyone is against them. Leaving those around them frustrated and helpless on how to change their view.
Those that are in this mindset make no effort to learn from their mistakes or deal with the obstacles that they are faced with. They put all their energy in their self-pity, their focus is that ‘bad things’ always happen to them.
Below is a list of signs of a person that is in a victim mindset:
- Always have something go wrong in their life
- All the conversations end up around their problems
- They always brace for the worst
- Feel helpless in situations and feel that there is nothing they can do about it.
- They mainly focus on negative events and disappointments
- They seem addicted to misery and chaos
- They act like a Martyr
- They take pleasure in blaming others for what happened
As you can see, it can have a detrimental effect on those with this mindset. Their stories may be very true but how they view and respond to their situations causes them to live in this mindset.
How is a Victim Mentality created?
Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. ~Wendy Mass~
According to Kets de Vries (2012) “Much of what creates a victim mindset finds its foundation within the family of origin”
A person can learn to be a victim by watching the adults around them operate this way. If their parents always complained about everything around them or made it seem like the world was always against them, then they can grow up to think that this is how they need to operate to get attention or gain power.
The victim mentality can be learned if it is a way to survive childhood. It is a natural tendency for humans to want to be shown attention and love and if that’s not offered freely then one could find ways to receive it by acting sick or allowing bad things to happen to them.
Another way to form this mentality is if a child has a codependent relationship with their parents. The child could feel responsible for their care and wellbeing. They might start to believe that they are in charge of their parent’s happiness. The child can start to think that the only way to earn love or attention is if you are sick or weak, which could follow them into their adulthood creating the victim mentality.
The victim mentality can also be created if they were victims of physical or mental abuse growing up. The feeling of helplessness and shame can take them into their adulthood with no self-esteem and view the world as “not a safe place to be in” and they learn to survive by being a victim.
The victim mentality is a learned behavior that is used as a survival instinct by humans and can be unlearned in time. For those that suffered trauma in their childhood, it could be a very long process to unlearn but in time they can be healed from it.
What are the benefits of being a victim?
The victim mindset will have you dancing with the devil, then complaining that you’re in hell.~ Steve Maraboli ~
The victim gets to blame others and never take responsibility for their actions. They might be upset about a situation with someone else and instead of taking ownership of their emotions they choose to blame others for the way that they are feeling.
The victim gets to have power over others. By having others feel sorry for them the victim can manipulate the situation to get what they need or want from the other person which could include giving them money or running errands for them.
The victim gets to stay in their comfort zone. When one is in this mindset, they normally don’t take any actions in their life and with that comes no risk of failure or rejection, keeping them in their comfort zone.
As you can see, there are some huge advantages to having this mindset, one doesn’t have to take responsibility for their actions they can blame others for their circumstances. They also can have others feel sorry for them by helping them out with anything they need and they don’t have to take any risks, they get to stay comfortable. This might be why so many choose to stay in this mindset it may seem much easier.
How can someone stop being a victim?
Take responsibility for their life. If the victim can start to take ownership of their actions or where they are today. They can start to regain power over their life again and start to focus on what they can do next to make it better instead of waiting for the next thing or person to blame.
Practicing Gratitude. When one focuses on what they are grateful for, there is no room to be a victim. By changing this perspective from what they are missing to what they have and can truly shift their mindset.
Being kind to others. In the victim mindset, the focus is always on themselves and what is not going right for them. When they shift their focus and energy on helping others, they are not only positively impacting others’ lives but they are empowering themselves by being a contribution to others.
Forgiving and letting go. When they can learn to forgive and release their resentment and bitterness towards others and replace those feelings with compassion and understanding, it will help to move them out of the victim mentality.
The biggest step is taking responsibility for their lives and where they are today and moving forward from there. Another big step is gratitude, if they can practice these two things, they will start to see a shift in the way that they view life. Being kind to others and forgiving and letting go will come naturally once the first two are in place.
How to coach clients with a Victim Mentality
If your client is operating from a victim mindset, start by looking at how they respond to situations. Have them see that even though they might not have control of the situation that they have the power to decide how they will respond to that situation. It’s also important to help them reframe their perspective, this will help them to see the situation differently and come to a more empowering feeling about the event or experience.
Possible questions could be:
- “How is your current view or actions benefiting you?”
- “What is within your control?”
- “What in this situation can you be grateful for?”
- “What is the most enjoyable aspect of this?’
Then, help them create a clear picture of the results they would love to have. This will help them to focus on what they want in their life and how they can take action towards those results.
Possible questions could be:
- “What does life look like two years from now?”
- “What is stopping you from taking that action or reaching that goal?”
- “What are you prepared to give up in order to take that action or have those results?”
And lastly, ask them to do what they can from where they are. Guide them to take actions towards their goal and hold them accountable. Celebrate their baby steps by focusing on the progress made. If they hit a roadblock along the process guide them to refocus their attention by asking “What lessons can you learn from this that will move you toward your goals and dreams?”
Guiding your client through this process might happen several times as it may take time for your client to shift out of their victim mentality but in time with the willingness to change, there will be a shift in perspective.
A victim mindset is a learned behavior and with time can be unlearned. It takes awareness and a willingness to change. Once this is present and new actions are established, anyone dealing with this mindset can reprogram their minds and how they view and respond to the world around them. Whether it’s you or a client, the first step is creating awareness and working through that awareness, establishing a goal or an ideal outcome and from there anything is possible.
Collier, N., 2018. Are You Ready to Stop Feeling Like a Victim?. Psychology Today, [Online]. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/
Harley Therapy Ltd- Psychotherapy & Counselling in London. 2016. The Victim Mentality – What is and Why You Use it. [ONLINE] Available at https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk.
Harrison, K., 2014. Victors and Victims: Are You Being Held Back by a Victim Mentality?. 1st ed. US: Authentic Publishers.
Kets de Vries, Manfred F.R.,(July 24, 2012). Are You a Victim of the Victim Syndrome? Working Paper No. 2012/70/EFE. INSEAD
Victim (n.d.) In the Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/victim