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Victim Mentality: Signs, Causes & 10 Ways to Break The Cycle

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If you or someone you know has a hard time trusting people or tends to believe that nothing you do will make a difference, you may struggle with a victim mentality. If this is you, you’re not alone! 

A victim mentality is a learned behavior stemming from past experiences where there was likely a betrayal of trust1 Fortunately, by regaining your sense of agency and rebuilding trust, you can overcome a victim mentality and boost your overall well-being.

In this article, we’ll look at what a victim mentality is, including signs, causes, and consequences, as well as ten ways to break the cycle. 

What is Victim Mentality? (Definition)

Victim mentality is a learned behavior in individuals who believe they have no control over their life because they think nothing they do will matter. They tend to think bad things are always bound to happen to them, and others are usually to blame. People with a victim mentality often feel powerless, without agency, and lack accountability in their lives.

According to research, the primary root cause of a victim mentality stems from a betrayal of trust in past experiences.

Watch our video below to learn the 8 laws of power and how to be more powerful:

Note on a victim mentality vs. actual victim: The difference between having a victim mentality and being an actual victim is that an actual victim’s reality is based on real actions that have happened to them, whereas a victim mentality is based on a perceived reality that something is going to happen to them based on their past experiences (either real or perceived).

Signs of Victim Mentality

The signs of victim mentality manifest in an individual’s thoughts and actions in various ways, from self-pity to cynicism. These are the signs to look out for paired with victim mentality quotes to help you recognize the possible signs in yourself and others:

  • Negative self-talk or self-pity. “I never do anything right.”
  • Pessimism about the future. “It will never work out.”
  • Fears of being taken advantage of. “Bad things have happened before, so they will inevitably happen again.”
  • Envious of others. “If only I had money like he does.”
  • Ruminates on past bad experiences. “She was the worst boss. [Same old story].”
  • Struggles to enjoy the good. “Summer is great, but it sucks because winter is coming.”
  • Lack of empathy. “Oh, you think you have it bad? What about…”
  • Afraid of any risk. “I can’t do that. Something bad always happens when I try.”
  • Disinterested in solutions. “There’s nothing that can be done.”
  • Rejects feedback or support. I can’t do that. It will never work.”
  • Lacks trust in others. “No one understands; therefore, I can never trust anyone.”
  • Cynical toward others’ motives. “People are always out to get me.”
  • Narcissistic. “Pay attention to my problems. You should feel sorry for me.”

Pro Tip: One way to identify whether you or someone you know has fallen into a victim mentality is if they tend to use absolute words like “never” and “always” to describe themselves, their situation, or the motives of others.

Causes of Victim Mentality

The root cause behind a victim mentality stems from a breakdown or betrayal of trust1, which most often occurs in situations where people have experienced (or been exposed to):

  • Traumatic experiences2 leading to strong emotional reactions that recur over time
  • Painful or stressful situations that lead people to react different in the future
  • Exploitation of emotion, energy, personhood, or security, causing a lack of trust
  • Unfair treatment or lack of respect that makes people feel less than they are
  • Social rejection makes people feel unwanted or question others
  • Unhealthy relationships where there tends to be a lack of boundaries and evidence of codependency 
  • Threat avoidance as a means to cope with potential pain
  • Extensive media exposure to trauma, exploitation, or violence where people may not have a direct connection with trauma but develop a sense of victimhood from indirect exposure

Example Scenarios of Victim Mentality

To help give you a picture of what victim mentality looks like in the real world, here are three example scenarios that might be similar to something you’ve witnessed or experienced.

Victim mentality example in the workplace

You and your team are working on a project together. Your boss has given you a budget and goal and put you in charge. Your teammate, Sarah, however, is unhappy about it. “The boss never believes in me,” she says. You try to remind Sarah of the strengths she brings to the table, but the praise is rejected. 

You hold the first meeting, and people go around sharing their ideas. She shares hers and afterward says, “No one ever appreciates my ideas.”

Others try to encourage her, but she deflects and ruminates on past instances where she perceived “no one ever listened” to her. 

As the meeting goes on, some teammates are getting excited and already setting up plans, but Sarah says she wants to be realistic: “We’ll never sell that many tickets. That idea won’t work.” By the end of the meeting, most people feel deflated and unmotivated.

Victim mentality example in families

Your mom asks your dad for help doing chores around the house. He responds by saying, “Why are you always nagging me? Don’t you realize all the sacrifices I make for you?” He storms out of the room. “You’re the reason I drink so much. You don’t believe in me.” 

You and your siblings try to cheer him up, but it doesn’t work. Your mom says, “He must not love me.” Your brother says, “Why can’t we be like the other families who don’t fight all the time?” You feel like you can’t bring up your discomfort because it feels like it won’t matter anyway.

Victim mentality example in relationships

John is dating Rachel, and due to a long history of being taken advantage of in his past relationships, he believes that Rachel is out to get him. He’s suspicious of every move, looking for a hidden agenda. “Why do you want to hang out with your other friends? Aren’t I good enough for you?” 

Rachel tries to make him feel better but feels like she’s constantly trying to prove her love and dedication to John. He doesn’t realize he’s pushing her away and doesn’t understand why she seems so unhappy. 

Unfortunately, these scenarios aren’t uncommon; the consequences decrease your quality of life and impact those around you. 

Negative Consequences of Victim Mentality

The negative consequences of victim mentality impact various areas of your life, both personally and even at a societal level. They include poor mental health, a lack of meaningful relationships, negative work dynamics, and a lack of societal accountability. Let’s look at each of these consequences a little further.

Poor mental health

There is a common correlation between poor mental health and a victim mentality. Poor mental health stemming from past trauma or abuse can lead to a victim mentality, and the slippery slope of a victim mentality (whether or not you are a victim) can lead to poor mental health. Negative consequences include depression and a sense of helplessness or hopelessness.

Lack of meaningful relationships

Those with a victim mentality tend to unintentionally push people away due to their pessimistic outlook, unwillingness to take responsibility, lack of trust in others, and poor boundaries, to name a few.

Negative workplace dynamics

Working with someone with a victim mentality poses various challenges for their teammates and supervisors. They often display a lack of motivation, a cynical attitude, a lack of trust, and an unwillingness to see possibilities. 

Note: A lack of psychological safety3 and poor workplace culture can also produce these kinds of negative attitudes. Understanding the root cause of these behaviors is important before concluding that someone may have a victim mentality.

Lack of accountability in society

At a societal level, groups of people can develop a victim mentality and tend to believe that nothing will get better. Blame is often placed on the perceived “other,” and solutions usually feel unattainable. The other side is seen as particularly untrustworthy and suspicious. What inevitably happens, as a result, is a lack of agency on a cultural or societal level to believe that anything can be done about the issue.

Fortunately, there are practical steps you can take to overcome a victim mentality, regain your happiness, and avoid these negative consequences.

How Do You Get Out of Victim Mentality? 10 Ways to Break the Cycle

Reflect on your wins

Those with a victim mentality have difficulty seeing solutions and possibilities in their future. One way to help reframe your mind is by reflecting on the times in your life when you succeeded. By remembering what success felt like and that it was possible, you can regain motivation for today. 

To help you with this process, try reflecting and journaling through these questions:

  • What is one thing I’m proud of doing in each decade of my life?
  • What are my strengths, and how did I best use them over the last year?
  • What are the top three challenges I’ve overcome in my life?
  • What character traits do I possess that have helped me overcome difficulties?
  • What’s something I’ve accomplished that surprised me?
  • What’s a risk I’ve taken that turned out positively?
  • What’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done?

Engage in acts of kindness

Regaining a sense of agency is a helpful way to overcome a victim mentality. One of the best ways to do this is by focusing outward on what you can do for others. In fact, studies show4 that engaging in acts of kindness is contagious and can even reduce stress. 

Try some of these ideas to get you started:

  • Write a note to someone you love and tell them why you’re grateful for them.
  • Pay for someone’s meal or groceries.
  • Offer to babysit your friend’s kids for free, so they can have a date night out.
  • Wash your friend’s or partner’s car.
  • Buy something off of someone’s Amazon wish list. 
  • Take care of an errand or a chore for your friend or partner.
  • Donate food to a local food bank.
  • Volunteer at a local charity. 
  • Teach a craft at your local assisted living facility. 

For more acts-of-kindness ideas, check out our article on 62 ideas to be a nicer person.

Set simple goals for yourself

Since a victim mentality makes people feel like they don’t have control or agency over situations, one practical step to help you take responsibility is setting achievable goals. If you’re in deep, try starting with small, simple goals. 

Look at the different areas of your life and think about something you can achieve today. Then move on to something you can accomplish this week, and so on. The importance here is that you own your goal5 and make it something you can be responsible for. 

Here are some simple goal ideas to get you started:

  • Work: Today, set a goal to respond to one important email. This week, set a goal to learn one new trick to make your job easier. 
  • Friends: Today, set a goal to make someone smile with an act of kindness. This week, set a goal to get a date on the calendar to connect with an old friend.
  • Family: Today, set a goal to call a family member just to say hi and tell them what they mean to you. This week, get a date on the calendar for a family game night
  • Relationship: Today, set a goal to ask your partner five deep questions. This week, set a goal to plan a fun date
  • Hobby: Today, set a goal to spend 30 minutes of uninterrupted time on a hobby you enjoy. This week, set a goal to complete one hobby project. 
  • Health: Today, set a goal to drink eight glasses of water. This week, set a goal to plan five healthy meals. 

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Take a deep breath before you respond

When presented with a challenge, someone with a victim mentality often has a knee-jerk, negative reaction. Their flight-or-fight response might kick in, leading them to respond from a place of fear. 

In these situations, try these simple practices:

  • Notice the discomfort you feel in your body when someone shares something with you or asks something of you. Are you tense? Is your stomach tight? Is your blood pressure high? Do you feel yourself getting warm? These body reactions might indicate your deeper fears or thoughts about what is happening. 
  • Take two or three deep breaths before you respond with the first thing that might come to your head. Research shows6 deep breathing exercises can reduce stress and stabilize blood pressure.

Pro Tip: You may need more than a few breaths before responding. If you notice the feelings in your body are especially heightened, it might be time to take a walk or step away from a situation for 20 minutes or so. 

Ask yourself, What am I afraid of? Where do these fears stem from? What don’t I trust about this situation? What are the perceived motives I see? What story might I be telling myself about what is going on?

Reframe negative thoughts

Those who struggle with a victim mentality often feel stuck in negative thought patterns. 

Fortunately, since a victim mentality is learned, a victor mentality is something that can be learned, too!

One way to achieve a victor mentality is by reframing your negative thought patterns. 

For example, if you often imagine worst-case scenarios, reframe your mind with a new question the next time you find yourself going down that path. “What’s the best that can happen?” By giving yourself a positive visualization7, you can start to train your brain toward positive outcomes. 

Other positive reframing questions you might ask include:

  • How does my perspective change if this person is doing their best?
  • How do I help make others’ lives better?
  • If I knew X could not fail, how would I and others benefit?
  • What am I grateful for today? (Practicing gratitude is an excellent way to reframe your negative thoughts!)

Set boundaries

Codependency and enmeshment in relationships are common among people who struggle with a victim mentality. You might notice this is an issue if you or someone you know often feels taken advantage of, over-commits themselves, feels burnt out, has a hard time saying no, or takes on other people’s problems as their own. 

One way to help you break the cycle is by doing the work of setting boundaries in your life. For the best outcome, we highly recommend going through the process of talking with a therapist or counselor. 

In our article on how to set boundaries, we outline five steps, which include:

  • Visualize and name your limits. Pay attention to what supports your well-being vs. what doesn’t. Ask yourself, What is causing unnecessary stress in my life?
  • Openly communicate your boundaries. Be clear about what you need and what you can and can’t do. Ask yourself, What am I denying myself by saying yes right now?
  • Uphold your boundaries. Remind people of the boundaries you set, and try not to compromise.
  • Learn how to say no. The next time you feel obligated to say yes to someone, filter through whether or not a yes aligns with your values, goals, and needs.
  • Take time for yourself. Engage in self-care and self-compassion with activities that bring you joy. Ask yourself, What does my body need right now? What does my mind need?

Learn to rebuild trust

In this article, we share the common causes of a victim mentality which are primarily based on feelings of a betrayal of trust1 in past experiences. If you struggle with a victim mentality, we highly recommend discussing these root causes with a counselor or therapist; understanding where this mindset stems from is one of the best ways to begin healing. 

As you unpack what contributes to a victim mentality, you’ll start to discover how rebuilding trust with others can help you regain a positive outlook on your life. 

Here are a few tips to help you rebuild trust:

  • Ask open-ended questions: Questions that get people to open up and increase connection. They typically begin with “what,” “how,” and “why.”
  • Recognize the power of oxytocin triggers: Make eye contact, give handshakes and fist bumps, and dance and laugh together.
  • Notice your body language: Are you folding your arms or putting physical boundaries between you and someone else? Remain open, lean in, and be present with others.

Give yourself compassion

As you discover the root of your victim mentality, you may learn how some of your past experiences with betrayal and trauma (or even witnessing others’ negative experiences) have contributed to your outlook and lack of trust in others. You may have beaten yourself up to the point of feeling like your pain is deserved, and there’s nothing you can do about it. 

This is why self-compassion is valuable in healing from a victim mentality. 

Try some of these helpful self-compassion tips to get started:

  • Get reacquainted with how amazing you are. Journal about your loves, strengths, values, desires, triumphs, and times you’ve overcome hardship.
  • Speak positive affirmations to yourself in the mirror. Try affirming mantras like “I am worthy” or “I can do hard things.”
  • Send an encouragement note to your future self. Getting a note from your past self can be a fun way to remind yourself of your values and dreams.
  • Self-soothe with a head massage or foot massage. Research shows8 that self-soothing actually reduces stress!
  • Exercise and eat healthy food. The simple act of caring for your overall well-being is a great way to show yourself compassion. 

For a deeper dive, check out our article for ten tips on how to practice self-compassion

Identify your needs

Those with a victim mentality often struggle with taking responsibility because they tend to feel like what they do won’t matter anyway. One way to take responsibility is by starting with your own needs. 

To do this, start with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs9’s_hierarchy_of_needs, and go through the checklist:

  • Physiological: Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? What can you do to take care of your body today?
  • Safety/security: Are you secure? What would make you feel safe?
  • Belonging/Love: Are you lonely? How can you take a step to connect with someone?
  • Esteem: Are you proud of yourself? What steps can you take toward your goals?
  • Self-actualization: Are you fulfilled? What activity might bring you joy today?

Go to therapy

One of the most important things you can do for yourself if you struggle with a victim mentality is to go to therapy or counseling. While the tips we offer here can be helpful, they do not replace the healing work that can take place with a guiding professional. This is especially true if you are a victim of abuse or trauma

We are so honored to help you find authentic connections! If you are struggling to find the help you need, please note that all content on this website should not be considered professional medical advice. It is always best to consult a doctor or licensed therapist with any questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health. For a good resource for therapists, you can check out Mental Health America’s helpful list.

Overcoming Victim Mentality Key Takeaways

In summary, take note of these practical ways you can overcome a victim mentality:

  • Set simple goals for yourself. What can you achieve today and this week?
  • Take a deep breath before you respond. Notice the feelings in your body and take a moment of reflection before you engage. 
  • Reframe negative thoughts. Ask yourself questions like, What’s the best that can happen?
  • Set boundaries. Recognize when the healthiest thing you can do is say no.
  • Learn to rebuild trust. In the healing process, rebuild trust to regain happiness.
  • Give yourself compassion. You matter and are worthy of compassion!
  • Identify your needs. Take responsibility by taking care of your needs.
  • Reflect on your wins. Remember where you’ve overcome challenges in the past.
  • Engage in acts of kindness. Regain a sense of agency by doing things for others.
  • Go to therapy. Talking to a professional is the best thing you can do to find healing from a victim mentality. 

For more ideas on self-development, check out our article 8 Ways to Achieve Greatness.

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