We all know that person who’s prone to a victim mentality. If anything goes sideways in their world, they instinctually divert to woe-is-me-isms, pointing fingers, or any behavior that helps them seek pity. A victim mentality is marked by a general sense that the unhappiness one feels or the circumstances one endures are completely the fault of others. Those who play the victim deflect blame and responsibility. It’s an issue that can lead to serious problems in a marriage.
Victim mentality is complicated and often a coping mechanism formed in childhood. But if you’re in a relationship with someone who constantly sees themselves as the victim in their personal narrative, it can be a constant swirl of chaos and emotional upheaval. You may find yourself constantly being blamed for their problems, or always listening to them talk about how nothing goes right in their lives and that they are powerless to change their circumstances.
Those who possess a victim mentality will often offer excuses for their actions, insisting that it’s always someone else’s fault, or use passive aggression as a means of wearing others down until they get their way. In addition, someone who is in a relationship with a person prone to victim mentality will often find themselves doing tasks for them, taking care of them, constantly building them up, and, often, avoiding subjects that might upset them in any way. While victim mentality can often be the result of Coping with the near-constant flow of negative energy, and coping with it can be exhausting and trying. In order to begin to try and deal with someone who is a victim, you have to be able to spot the signs.
“Signs of victimhood include a great deal of worrying aloud and complaining, rejecting guidance or advice, harping on the same problems repeatedly without solving them, and engaging with you in such a way as to give you the impression or hope that they wish to hear what you have to say or change,” says Karen R. Koenig, a psychotherapist, blogger and author of seven books. “A tip off for therapists that someone has a victim mindset is that they’re working very hard — harder than the client — to engage or change them, and that they feel victimized themselves by clients acting as if they want help then pushing it away.”
Dr. Jeff Nalin, Psy.D, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the Founder and Chief Clinical Director of the Paradigm Treatment Centers, adds that a victim mentality creates a vicious reward cycle that can be hard to escape.
“This mindset can create patterns and generate ‘rewards’ that make it difficult for a person to break free,” he says. “An unhealthy mindset allows individuals to avoid taking responsibility; they may become manipulative as other people will often feel sorry for them and consequently lavish extra attention on them.
Once these rewarding patterns are formed, Nalin says, they are difficult to change. More so, a victim mindset can become attractive to some people, as it grants them specific power, the power to avoid responsibility, to feel persecuted, to not have to deal with difficult emotions and situations, and, above all, the power to manipulate other people.
“In short,” Nalin says, “a victim mentality empowers a person by garnering attention and the feeling of being valued and in control.”
It’s important to note that, per Nalin, those with a victim mentality are likely not aware of their mindset and haven’t actively chosen to live this way. This presents a difficult challenge for their partner or anyone who is trying to help them. But it is certainly possible to take productive measures. So how do you break someone out of a victim mentality? Here are a few steps to take.
Listen and Empathize. But Don’t Always Agree
Those who find themselves in a relationship with someone who has a victim mentality need to understand that arguing with the person about it will not solve the problem. Most of the time, the person simply wants to be heard and know that someone else understands the way they’re feeling and supports them. They’re convinced that they’re in the right. The partner’s job is to listen to their complaints but avoid saying that they agree with their sentiment. “It’s important not to agree with them,” Nilan cautions, “but to convey empathy for how they feel.” You can still be helpful and loving without telling them they’re in the right.
Point Out Their Thinking
It’s certainly difficult to make a person with a victim mentality aware of how they’re behaving. And you need to pick your times wisely. But if or when the opportunity presents itself, it’s important to point it out. That clarity, says Nilan, is often hat they need to break the cycle of victimhood. “Acknowledging that they are stuck in a rut and encouraging them to find some solutions may be all that is needed to help them seek change,” says Nilan.
Of course, awareness is only part of the solution. It will take perseverance and pushing through resistance to get someone with a victim mentality to try and change their mindset. “Although what happens to us in our past is beyond our control, we have the ability to reclaim our power and become responsible for our own happiness,” Nilan says.
Help Them Take Responsibility
Accountability is one of the key strategies is overcoming a victim mindset. The person playing the victim has to take responsibility for their actions and for their role in the events of their life. “When they are accountable for their own feelings, actions, and well-being, they can move forward to bigger and better things,” says Nilan. “Otherwise, the poisonous pattern will continue.”
One such way to do this is to encourage them to be mindful of negative thoughts that can seep into their minds. A person who is liable to be a victim needs to consistently take steps to counter those thoughts and keep themselves from slipping back into old patterns. Mindfulness activities can be a real help here. “Even doing something as simple as jotting down feelings will help outgrow the negative mentality and overcome any challenge at hand.”
Help Them Love Themselves
A victim mentality can take root when a person doesn’t like themselves, and it’s important that they learn to be kinder to themselves in order to break the cycle of victimhood and learn how to be kind to others as well. This is where self-care comes into play. “Eating right, getting enough sleep, and implementing practices such as mindful meditation, journaling, and positive affirmations will help them heal and rid their minds of negative thoughts,” Nilan says.