A victim mentality is where you often feel like a victim, even when the evidence says otherwise. Signs include frequently blaming others and having trouble accepting personal responsibility.
We all have days when we feel like the world is against us.
Maybe you try to connect with others, but they don’t seem to understand the extent of your pain — or when making positive changes, you might self-sabotage or give up quickly.
This is natural from time to time. But if this sounds like your situation most (or all) of the time, you may be living with feelings of victimhood.
A victim mentality can make it feel like life is unfair. You may even feel there’s nothing you can do to change your circumstances — but that isn’t true. There’s always something you can do. We asked two experts how to cope.
A victim mentality is when a person feels like a victim across situations, even when the evidence suggests otherwise. They may feel they have no control over what happens to them.
This outlook can impact many areas of your life — like relationships, work, and health.
Victim mindsets can develop as a coping mechanism for previous traumatic experiences, says Dr. Julie Landry, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in San Antonio, Texas.
It may feel like you have little control or impact over external factors in your life. She explains that it commonly stems from:
- experiencing multiple situations where you lack control
- ongoing emotional pain that leads to learned helplessness
- betrayal by someone closest to you
People with alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder may find that a victim mentality keeps them in the spiral of addiction. They may feel helpless to change their circumstances, asking for support from others while feeling unable to support themselves.
A victim mentality can manifest in many ways, says Landry. It can involve feeling like the world is out to get you or having difficulty taking personal responsibility for what happens in your life.
The signs of a victim mentality include:
- often placing blame on external factors or other people when things go wrong
- having trouble taking personal responsibility or seeing how you may have contributed to a situation
- being overly critical of yourself or others
- associating only with people who think like you
Mental (cognitive) signs
- seeing the world as unfair or unsafe
- cognitive distortions, like catastrophizing
- harmful thinking patterns or pessimism
- ruminating over past wrongs and hurts
- thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- difficulty with intimacy and trust
- emotional unavailability
- limited empathy for others
- mistrust of authority figures
- keeping score in relationships
- trouble accepting constructive criticism
- feeling unseen
- guilt or shame
- low self-esteem
- resentment of others
- social isolation
A victim mentality can affect your life in many ways, from stopping you from applying yourself at work to disrupting your relationship dynamics. You might also have trouble maintaining healthy lifestyle habits.
It’s hard to say if victim mentality is a symptom or a personality trait, as more research is still needed.
One 2020 study suggests that the victim mentality may be a personality trait, dubbed the “Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood (TIV).” In this case, it spans multiple types of relationships and includes four patterns:
- a desire for recognition as a victim
- feelings of moral superiority
- limited empathy for others
- frequent rumination
A sense of victimhood may also be a symptom of another mental health condition, including:
- borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- major depressive disorder (MDD)
- narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD)
To determine the root cause of your feelings, you may find it helpful to work with a therapist familiar with trauma.
If you’re ready to change how you feel, many strategies can support you.
Consider professional support
You don’t have to go through this alone. Therapy can help you process past trauma and increase your emotional intelligence, says Landry. “It can help you learn to choose to either leave a situation or accept it, and take responsibility for what you can control in life and how you react,” she says.
A therapist may also work with you on goal-setting and developing self-efficacy, so you feel more in charge of your life. To complement your work in therapy, consider journaling to process emotions and cultivating a gratitude practice, she adds.
Try to practice self-compassion
Take a moment to appreciate yourself for everything you’ve been through, says Katie Ziskind, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Niantic, Connecticut.
“Experiencing abuse can lead to shame, guilt, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem,” she explains. “It’s really common for victims to think that they are the reason why someone has abused them, so counseling can help you build positive self-talk to remove any self-blame.”
Consider shifting your self-identification
Research suggests that, in some cases, it can be difficult to overcome a victim mentality if there are incentives for staying in that role — for example, medical benefits, income, or another form of security.
You may find it helpful to change your language, says Ziskind. “Instead of calling yourself a victim, you can switch over to calling yourself a survivor of abuse which can be more empowering and help create emotional confidence for future relationships.”
Try to own your story
A 2021 study found that women who had experienced sexual violence were able to move from a victim role to a survivor mentality by:
- securing social support
- reclaiming their story
- letting go of a set timeline for healing
There are many ways to own your story, like writing an article to help other people in a similar situation, volunteering with a nonprofit, and creating art, among other ideas.
It can be frustrating if you know someone who displays signs of a victim mentality, especially if you love them and want to see them stand in their power.
In this case, you may find it helpful to:
- encourage them to seek professional support
- remind them how strong and capable they are
- set and maintain healthy boundaries
- limit interactions that feel draining
- resist the temptation to rescue others
- learn about how to prevent codependency
Working with a licensed professional may help you feel more empowered, particularly if your challenges stem from trauma or a mental health condition. You may find it useful to use Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource.
Remember: you are strong. You got this.