Victim mentality is when a person feels like a victim even when there is evidence that says otherwise. It can affect all types of relationships. Signs can vary but may include blaming others and not taking responsibility for one’s own actions.
Victim mentality is a type of cognitive distortion of how a person views the world and their own circumstances.
There are various causes of victim mentality. However, one of the main causes is life experiences, such as trauma or neglect in childhood.
This article explains victim mentality. It also discusses the signs and causes of it. Finally, it lists how to cope with it.
“Victim mentality is the belief that in any given situation, you are the victim. It is the perception and conclusion one draws where one places oneself as the victim and others as the perpetrator,” Dr. Menije Boduryan-Turner, licensed psychologist and founder of Embracing You Therapy in California, told Medical News Today.
Georgina Sturmer, MBACP, an online counselor in the United Kingdom, expands on this.
“Stephen Karpman’s ‘Drama Triangle’ model demonstrates how we can sometimes fall into patterns in our relationships with others when we are playing power games in social interactions,” she said.
“There are three points on the triangle: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. If we find ourselves defaulting into the position of a ‘Victim,’ or having a victim mentality, then it usually indicates that we feel sorry for ourselves, that we feel powerless and helpless, and often blame others for the situations that we find ourselves in.
“And we will often take steps to subconsciously keep ourselves in the position of ‘Victim,’ sometimes refusing help from other people and sabotaging ourselves, or resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms,” Sturmer said.
Someone with a victim mentality may see themselves as a victim in any given situation or circumstance, even if there is evidence to show otherwise. They may feel and believe that they have no control over what happens to them.
Victim mentality further defined
“When we think about a victim, we often think about innocent victims. Someone who has experienced something negative, or traumatic, through no fault of their own.
But victim mentality is something entirely different. It’s about how we see ourselves, and our default patterns in relationships.” — Georgina Sturmer
The signs of victim mentality can vary from person to person. Signs may show up in a person’s behavior, mental and emotional health, and in relationships.
Signs of victim mentality may include:
- blaming others for situations and circumstances
- assuming other people cannot be trusted
- believing that one does not have control over one’s own life
- refusing to take responsibility or accountability for one’s role in a situation
- becoming defensive
- complaining rather than problem-solving
- engaging in catastrophic thinking
- engaging in all-or-nothing thinking
- magnifying other’s wrongdoings while minimizing one’s own actions and wrongdoings
A study from 2020 suggests that victim mentality may be a personality trait. Researchers refer to this as the tendency for interpersonal victimhood (TIV).
Researchers explain this trait can span various types of relationships and includes four dimensions, or patterns. The four patterns are:
- need for recognition
- moral elitism
- lack of empathy
According to Sturmer, a victim mentality may stem from a person’s life experiences.
“If we have been through a traumatic experience, an unhealthy relationship, or if we have struggled to elicit the praise or attention of others. This can manifest in different types of behavior, but in some circumstances, it can lead to a victim mentality. A sense that we feel intrinsically helpless, that we are doomed to be unsuccessful, to always need help from other people,” she said.
Dr. Menije expands on this, “Another major cause of developing a victim mentality is childhood family relationships. If a person grew up in an environment that was often dismissive or neglectful, that person may develop a victim mentality to feel ‘seen’ by others.
Playing the victim can become an unhealthy way to seek validation from others.”
More about the causes of victim mentality
“Overall, having a victim mentality is a type of cognitive distortion where one’s view of things is distorted, flawed, or skewed.
There can be many causes of cognitive distortions; some of them are all-or-nothing thinking, aka black-and-white thinking, where one often sees things in absolute and this-or-that terms.
Therefore, in any conflict or upsetting situation with all-or-nothing thinking, a person with a victim mentality is more likely to believe one is the victim and the other is not. They have difficulty thinking in the gray.” — Dr. Menije
There are various ways a person can cope with someone who is prone to victim mentality.
Important to remember
“Remember that someone who holds on to a victim mentality often ‘pulls’ other people into playing specific roles.” — Georgina Sturmer
Dr. Menije shares the following tips for coping with someone with victim mentality:
“When interacting with someone with a victim mentality, it is important to maintain healthy boundaries, specifically trying not to ‘fix’ their victim mentality. Simply focus on what you want to communicate on your end, take accountability for your role in the problem, and firmly ask them to reflect on their role.
Sometimes, people with a victim mentality can use guilt as a way to justify their victim status. It is important not to feed into the guilt.”
In some cases, loved ones may develop victim mentality as a response to trauma. In these instances, it can be very difficult to uphold boundaries and not help them in any way possible.
“If we think about the ‘Drama Triangle,’ this might mean that you find yourself operating as a ‘Rescuer,’” Sturmer said.
Sometimes, a person’s persistence to help can be more harmful than helpful — to themselves and their loved one with victim mentality.
“It might trigger your ‘people-pleasing’ tendencies, and you then find yourself doing everything in your power (even if it’s to your own detriment) to help somebody out. And feeling anxious or upset if you’re unable to help them or if they refuse your support.
Alternatively, you might find yourself operating as a ‘Persecutor,’ growing frustrated with the other person and contributing to their sense of helplessness,” she continued.
One more tip
“So, how can we avoid this? It starts with noticing what happens when you’re aware that the other person has a tendency toward a victim mentality.
Act with compassion and care, and remind yourself that this is likely to be a learned behavior on their part, and they might not know how to help themselves.
But hold your boundaries, even if it triggers feelings of guilt or embarrassment. Ensure that if you offer them support, that you’re also empowering them to try to help themselves and build their own confidence and support network.” — Georgina Sturmer
According to research from 2021 involving sexual violence survivors, there are often certain turning points in a person’s healing and transition from self-labeling themselves as a “victim” to “survivor.” These include:
- social support
- reclaiming their own story
- understanding that healing does not have a set timeline
A person can consider working with a mental health professional to help them through these turning points on their healing journey.
Coping with and overcoming victim mentality
“Once a person can have the insight to recognize that they have been stuck in their victim mentality, it is important to have self-compassion.
There is no need to judge oneself for struggling with victim mentality, because self-judgment and self-criticism won’t help the person grow out of their victim mentality.
Self-compassion can look like, ‘I noticed I have been engaging in a victim mentality, and I feel embarrassed about it. It is OK to feel bad about it, I am learning to change it.’” — Dr. Menije
Sturmer expands on how a person can cope with victim mentality:
- Notice your triggers: Are there certain people or situations where you find yourself sliding into a sense of helplessness and self-pity? If so, ask yourself what you can do to bolster your confidence and assertiveness beforehand.
- Evaluate your mentality: We can’t control what other people will say, do, or think. But, by and large, we control how we respond to those around us. Ask yourself whether you feel as if you are in control of your own responses.
- Reflect on where your victim mentality stems from: Have you always felt this way? It might be worth exploring the root cause further. Perhaps it’s based on your relationships or an experience that you have been through. Can you find a way to ground yourself in the present and remind yourself that, whatever you have been through in the past, it’s over now? And reflect on whether you have what you need to write a new chapter of your story.
According to Dr. Menije, healthy communication is also critical to overcome victim mentality:
“Another important tool for coping with it, aside from self-awareness and self-compassion, is learning healthier communication skills. After all, victim mentality is triggered by conflict or unpleasant situations.
So, we have to learn healthier ways to manage and communicate conflicts with others so that we don’t fall back on our victim mentality.”
Mental health resources
Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being.
Victim mentality is when a person views themselves as a victim in various situations, even when there is evidence otherwise.
The signs of victim mentality include blaming others, believing others cannot be trusted, and not taking responsibility for one’s own actions.
Some research suggests that victim mentality may be a personality trait in some people. It may also result from life experiences, including family relationships or trauma.