Victim Mentality: How to Pass the Pity Please

08 Apr 2024
8 min read
The Victim Mentality - All You Need to Know

Are you dating someone with low self-confidence, minimal self-efficacy, and negative thinking? If so, most likely, you’re with a person who has a victim mentality. Here are some examples of their self-pity talk:

  • Bad things always happen to them more than to others
  • The bad things that occur are someone’s fault
  • Nothing in the world is their personal responsibility
  • They are helpless to change things because whatever they do won’t work

Being around someone with a victim mentality is hard, so if you choose to stay in a relationship with a victim mentality person, you need to understand how victim syndrome works. In this article, we’ll explain this personality disorder and why it requires patience, some real work, and, most likely, professional help.

Where Does a Victim Mentality Come From? 5 Common Sources

There are two sources of a victim mentality:

  1. Occasional: This victim mentality can be caused by high anxiety or stress levels. When those recede, so does the victim mindset.
  2. Permanent: If that victim mindset is pretty continuous, probably, it involves deeper mental health issues. In the extreme, it can result in borderline personality disorder.

In the permanent victim mentality case, several things may be the sources of the syndrome. We’ll describe here the 5 most common ones.

1. Past Trauma

Past traumas include:

  1. Not having needs met during childhood
  2. Traumatic experiences such as emotional and/or physical abuse
  3. The loss of parents or primary caregivers

In one of these scenarios, the child grows into adulthood believing they cannot change their lives, cannot trust others, and will always be misunderstood. This is what psychologists call learned helplessness.

If it happens in adulthood, a traumatic situation can still lead to learned helplessness and victim syndrome going forward. It is all about the response, not the situation itself or the age. When people respond to trauma with feelings of helplessness to control their lives going forward, that’s when the victim mentality sets in.

2. Unhealthy Codependent Relationships

As with past trauma situations, unhealthy codependent relationships can happen between adult partners or in a parent/child dynamic. And again, it’s not about the situation but more about the response chosen to this situation.

When someone tends toward a victim mindset, they won’t take responsibility for the bad things in their lives. Instead, they blame their partner or other family members. The situation worsens if the codependent relationship partner lets the victim take on self-blame, perpetuating their victim mindset.

Related reading: How to Stop Being Codependent and Reclaim Your Life

3. Betrayal Experience

We have all probably experienced betrayal at some point – from a friend, family member, co-worker, or a love partner. If we take these situations as life lessons, we practice self-compassion and self-care, lick our wounds, and ultimately move forward, accepting new healthy relationships.

But if we choose to conform to a victim mindset, we will stick to our feelings of being betrayed. Moving forward, we see others as potential betrayers, even if someone just calls us out or provides minor criticism. This interpersonal victimhood impacts all our relationships, both personal and professional. Ultimately, it works as a self-fulfilling prophecy and leads to some real betrayals over and over again.

4. Need for Control

Have you noticed that victims are hidden control freaks? Well, playing the victim card attracts attention, so people with a victim mentality may use this trick as often as possible. And if they are gaining sympathy from this victim role, they will keep it up.

The longer others offer sympathy, the worse the victim mentality gets. That’s how interpersonal victimhood turns into emotional manipulation that gives them validation and recognition.

Related reading: 11 Warning Signs of a Controlling Boyfriend and Why They Are Not OK

5. Need for Moral Superiority

Moral elitism is a coping mechanism that makes some sense of a positive self-image to ongoing emotional pain. In essence, the person with a victim complex develops a sense of superiority by accusing others of having immoral, selfish, and unfair attitudes and behaviors. They, on the other hand, are the ethical ones.

Moral superiority is another control method that allows a person with a victim mentality to avoid taking personal responsibility for their life circumstances. It also damages all their relationships, as they cannot take responsibility for their missteps and beliefs.

7 signs of victim mentality

7 Signs and Observable Behaviors of Victim Syndrome

If your partner has a victim mentality, they can demonstrate different victim behaviors. And if you don’t recognize victim mentality behavior, you may be one of their innocent victims yourself. So, let’s see what the most common patterns of victim personality construct are.

1. Avoiding Responsibility and Accountability

Whenever bad things are the consequences of their behavior, a person with victim syndrome won’t analyze and take steps to correct it, make a positive change, and move forward. Assuming accountability for what went wrong is not for a person with a victim mentality. Instead, they will act so:

  • Someone or something else is always to blame
  • All kinds of excuses for why something happened will be developed
  • No root cause relates to their behavior
  • They cannot accept responsibility for their actions, which contributed to the situation

In short, the victim mindset repeats, “It’s not my fault,” but it does not take responsibility for what happened.

2. Not Looking for Solutions to Problems

Since no solution will ever work, a person of victim behavior does not bother to solve any problem. Even more, victims will reject the solutions others, including you and authority figures, suggest – even if they work.

Of course, we all pass the stage of denial and helplessness. But while most people initially wallow in pity, they will get over it and start to look for solutions. Only those without self-efficacy and personal agency will not.

Related reading: Are You the Problem in Your Relationship? 15 Signs

3. Constant Complaining

It’s frustrating if you care about the person in a close relationship, but everything you get on the receiving end is complaining. But your special someone with a victim mentality can’t help themselves. Complaining is part of their worldview and victim status, and everything you can do is learn how to protect yourself from this behavior.

4. Self-Sabotage

Once the victim mentality is entrenched, a person is constantly engaged in negative self-talk, which ultimately translates into self-sabotage. Once that self-talk takes hold, the learned helplessness sets in, blocking any possible action. In short, they are stuck in their self-pity party.

When faced with something positive, the negative self-talk sets in, and the person convinces themselves that it’s not worth the risk. So they procrastinate or turn down positive offers of help or new opportunities because they are convinced they won’t work out.

5. Learned Helplessness

Another personality trait of victim syndrome is feeling powerless regularly. For them, external factors cannot be modified or controlled, no matter what they do. And so, there is no reason for developing self-efficacy.

They feel helpless to alter any circumstances of their life. Thus, they settle for what is and do not look to a future that will change at all.

Related reading: Dating a Man With Low Self Esteem: Is It Worth It?

6. Lack of Confidence

The victim mentality causes negative self-talk that translates to low confidence and the belief that they cannot overcome the challenges they face in life. When a challenge does present itself, they simply fold and revert to their learned helplessness.

If they do try to face a challenge and don’t meet it successfully, they only reinforce being a victim of circumstances out of their control. They are sure they have no power over the present or future.

7. Non-Stop Negativity

Those with a victim mentality frequently carry resentment, frustration, and anger at a world that is against them. Their enemies are those who are successful and those who don’t show sympathy and give them attention.

Taking responsibility for their own life is not for them because an unfair system of external factors keeps them from success. And they resent those who make suggestions, offer help, or encourage them to take any risks.

How you can help your partner with a victim mindset

5 Strategies to Work With Someone Who Has a Victim Mentality

Before discussing the coping strategies you can use to manage your dating or living with a person who has a victim mindset, consider yourself. Do you want to dedicate your life to helping them overcome their feelings and behaviors? And can you do so without sacrificing the quality of your own life?

Remember, a victim may overwhelm you if you don’t know how to be empathetic without getting pulled into their spiral. It is, after all, a mental health issue, and you are not a professional. But if you still want to try, consider some of the strategies Vicki Botnick offered.

1. Don’t Use Labels

Even if you think they act like a victim, don’t use this term. Phrases like “playing the victim card” always carry a negative context, so it’s better to point their attention to the signs of this behavior without labels.

It’s safer to share your observations on these things:

  • They complain a lot
  • Blaming other people only
  • Saying they are helpless to change their life
  • They express their helplessness while feeling trapped and stuck
  • They say that nothing they do makes any difference
  • They can’t identify what they have done that might make a difference

Even though the victim complex has many facets, try to address only one specific behavior at a time. This way, you can ask some questions that can make the conversation more productive.

One personality trait is to complain about and blame others. A project at work didn’t meet a deadline. The victim’s response is to blame a co-worker on the team. Ask questions like, “What did the co-worker fail to do?” Maybe it was a budget item. You might then say, “I know you are really good with budgets and numbers. Was there something you could have done to help them?” You have paid your victim a compliment and then indirectly suggested something productive they could have done.

2. Respect Your Own Boundaries

It’s hard to detach from the problems of someone you care about. But it can also be exhausting because they tend to dominate conversations, and those conversations will always be negative. Victims have a tough time seeing anything positive in their lives, get frustrated, and are always ready to lash out.

If you sense this coming on, take a break and set your boundaries. This way, you clearly state that you need interactions with positive people only to maintain balance and control of your life. If they care more about their victim mindset than about you and reject change, take your time and get some good vibes in your life.

Related reading: Boundaries in Relationships – Keeping Them Healthy

3. Offer to Help with Solutions

Do not misunderstand this strategy. You are not in the business of finding solutions to their problems. You are helping them come up with solutions, do their own research, and support their actions.

Botnik’s advice for helping with solutions breaks down into three steps:

  1. Tell them you understand they feel helpless in the situation
  2. Ask them what they would do if they could
  3. Encourage them to engage in some brainstorming some solutions

If things go well, encouraging them to take some control in just one situation may develop into a positive behavior pattern.

There is a promotion opportunity at work, but your victim is convinced they won’t be selected and can’t control the situation at all. Ask them what they could do to make themselves more visible to the decision-maker. See if you can get them to brainstorm some things – perhaps staying after hours to work on some ongoing tasks and submitting tasks before they are due or offering to help a co-worker.

4. Validate Their Positive Qualities

It may ease the victim’s pain to feel that someone else recognizes some positive things in their life. It’s important here not to make things up. The compliments must be genuine.

Here is what you can tell about:

  • List the things they do well
  • Get them to remember their achievements
  • Remind them of your affection for them

You don’t have to agree with everything they’ve said or done. This strategy lets them know you understand them and validates how they feel about themselves.

5. Encourage Them to See a Therapist

Self-victimization is a learned behavior. And there are usually some pretty deep-seated causes in their life experiences that they will need to address. Professional counseling will help them acknowledge those causes, bring their feelings to the surface, work through them, and ultimately develop new productive behavior patterns.

It’s All About Personal Responsibility: Theirs and Yours

People who see themselves as victims have a lot going on in their heads. Many of their beliefs are erroneous, but those beliefs drive their inability to develop self-efficacy and live a productive life. Emerging from self-victimization into a life of self-agency is a long and complex journey.

If you want to love and support someone on that journey, buckle up. It’s all about personal responsibility; theirs and yours.

Love&Sex Expert
Cherie Hamilton
I’ve always been inspired by women who are outgoing, very sure of themselves, and not afraid to be who they were, including their sex lives. Under their tutelage, I gradually shed my old self, hung out and socialized with them, and, over time, became the empowered, self-confident, and sexual woman I am today. Happy to share my insights with other women today!

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