The Victim Mentality
Updated: Apr 23
Know anyone like this: they offer few smiles, rarely have a good time, their outlook tends to be negative or hopeless, and they have an endless list of problems that can't be solved? It's possible this person(s) struggles with a victim mentality (meaning they perceive themselves to be disadvantaged as a result of their circumstances or someone else's actions).
Aside from throwing "pity parties", consider the following behaviors as associated with a victim mentality.
Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist and I will never be a relationship expert. My discussion here hinges on extreme behavioral patterns, not once-in-awhile reactions. My definitions may appear to have a textbook reference but are sincerely derived from firsthand experiences. In place of the word victim I sometimes prefer to use survivor.
A defensive survivor is prone to having (plausible) excuses for every move they make. They're constantly defending and/or explaining why they did what they did - even when no one is questioning their motives. They're easily triggered, or offended, especially when facing a personal challenge or an opposing viewpoint. They have a sense of self-inflated innocence while those around them are primarily to blame for responding or not responding a certain way.
The disappearing act can be a legitimate retreat into oneself in an attempt to solve a complex problem. Whether or not this is healthy behavior is debatable and we should always aim to respect privacy. However, those with a survivor mentality often leave the scene of friendships in hopes of drawing attention to their absence. Rather than take the initiative of practicing vulnerability or proactively seeking help, they want others to show interest and ask questions first. These types are likely survivors of emotional manipulation and/or controlling relationships.
Tough exterior types
Some situations require us to exude confidence and take an authoritative stance. For example, those in a leadership position (i.e. parent, employer, etc.) show strength in order to gain the respect and reverence of those around them. But a survivor's tough exterior is one of "not taking crap from anybody." It's a perpetual defensive position despite having no direct or indirect conflict. These survivors act as if they're above any situation that could potentially expose their own faults and weaknesses.
Blowing off everything types
Constantly making and breaking commitments is another attention seeking behavior similar to isolation but with a twist. On a "good day", these types are a joy to be around. On a "bad day", they will avoid you without good reason or prior notice. Deflection, aloofness, and indifference is hard to shake. A survivor who signals a desire for quality time or companionship, but cancels when the appointment arrives, is likely battling insecurity and/or the (past) wound of abandonment.
Overcoming a victim (survivor) mentality
It doesn't take much attention to detail to find the common thread of a victim/survivor mentality. Each flaw I described above has either a root of rejection or a root of unforgiveness, or both. I guarantee you will be hard-pressed to find otherwise. Once someone is wounded, and these behavior types become an embedded response to every situation, it's impossible the person is simply "having a bad day."
There is no formula to overcoming a victim mentality. It's a combination of acknowledging real or perceived hurts, taking responsibility for emotional responses, and finding healthy ways to communicate with those we hope will understand what we're going through. It helps if we don't deny or over-exaggerate the reality of our problems; if we stop blaming others (and ourselves) for all that goes wrong; and we avoid keeping a record of offenses. Through this process we will eventually stop behaving like a victim, move beyond surviving, and graduate to living as an overcomer.
I haven't perfected any of this. In, fact, my ability to show compassion toward myself is limited and I'm impatient with waiting to be delivered from dysfunctional behaviors. The best I can do for now is continue taking steps to identify triggers and learn when to just let it go. This will likely take the rest of my life to figure out, but it's worth the fight if I can gain permanent freedom.
Lyrics for victims/survivors: https://youtu.be/oDlN4UZr4O0