The Culture of Victim Mentality

August 28, 2019
Have you heard about victim mentality? Do you complain or receive complaints constantly? Do you know what it means to have a victim mentality?

Everyone, at some point in their lives, has assumed the role of the victim in painful or traumatic situations. We’ve felt vulnerable, unprotected, and in need of care and protection. Victimhood culture, or victim mentality, reinforces this by making the person who assumes the role of the victim feel comforted and supported.

When we’ve experienced the care and protection of the people around us, we discover that it’s a nice sensation to have other people’s attention. We like to feel important and for other people to be constantly watching over us.

Sometimes, when people react this way, they end up developing the identity of chronic victims or a “victimist”. By this, we mean someone who has a victim mentality and who thinks they’re always the victim, not an innocent victim in any given situation.

This identity is wrapped in the culture of victimhood that they find themselves in. People will admire us if we help those in need, even if it means losing oneself in the process. On the contrary, not offering help opens us up to negative social criticism.

It should be noted that chronic victim mentality is not, in itself, an illness classified in the DSM-5, although it could become the psychological foundation for developing a paranoid personality disorder.

A woman crying.

What’s the victim’s role in the culture of victim mentality?

Continuous sympathy

While it’s true that we often assume the role of victims when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves, there are certain people who turn that role into a lifestyle. What’s the reason for this? What drives someone to almost enjoy these negative feelings?

The answer is simple: sympathy and getting attention. The sympathy that occurs when a person is a victim causes them to enter a “continuous loop”. I feel bad, they sympathize with me and back me up, and so I keep behaving the way I do.

The culture of victim mentality: Society’s role

Society plays a key role. According to Giglioli, an expert in comparative literature and author of the book Analysis of the Victim, victimhood is a cultural addition to the social laws that govern our culture. The victimhood culture says that to be seen as a victim is “socially good”, as helping those in need is something that people consider to be a positive attitude.

In the victimhood culture, there’s a certain tendency to bolster that victim’s role with phrases such as: “Poor thing”, “He doesn’t have anyone”, “How can I not help my own mother?”, or “I’d be a bad son or daughter if I didn’t help her”. All of this mixes in with the fear of what others will think of us if we didn’t help the other person.

External control locus

People with victim mentality really believe that everything that happens to them is someone else’s fault or simply life’s circumstances. They think that “I’m just really unlucky” or “Why does everything happen to me?”

This is what’s known as an external locus of control, where someone is incapable of accepting responsibility for their own actions. On the contrary, they always attribute responsibility to external factors that are out of their control.

The victim mentality and negativism

People with victim mentality tend to exacerbate the things that happen to them. They blow things out of proportion, and this keeps them from seeing the positive side of things. They’re completely focused on the negative, so much so that the good things go unnoticed.

Because of this, their problem-solving strategies are blurred by what’s happening to them. As a result, this keeps them from thinking of possible alternative solutions to their difficulties and taking charge of their lives.

“Optimism is very valuable for a meaningful life. With a firm belief in a positive future, you can redirect your life towards what’s most important.”

-Martin Seligman-

A couple embracing.

Emotional blackmail as a form of communication

People with a chronic victim mentality try to manipulate the people around them in order to achieve their goals. For this reason, they tend to easily recognize the most empathic people. They focus on them and use that empathy for their own benefit to get what they want.

When that person doesn’t do what they expect, they place them in the role of executioner and themselves as victims. They say things such as:

  • “With everything I’ve always done for you, this is the way you repay me?”
  • “Leave me alone.”
  • “If you don’t do it, then that means you don’t love me.”

All of this makes the other person feel guilty. Simply put, they try to get what they want through emotional blackmail.

What can I do if I’m faced with a victimist?

Whatever you do, don’t give them what they want. Don’t give in to them. If you do, then that will encourage the victimist to continue in their “role”. If the people around them keep doing “more of the same”, then it’ll just become a vicious cycle. Pandering their needs and giving them the attention they seek will simply maintain, or sometimes boost, the victimist’s attitude.

You need to explain to the chronic victimist the reasons why you’re changing your behavior towards them and that you’re trying to help them come out of their comfort zone. In this way, the victimist may understand the reasons for that change in you and also the benefits they’ll receive. It boils down to this: “When I don’t help you and give you what you want, I’m actually helping you”.

Keep an emotional distance. Being surrounded by such negative people will wear you out. You need to protect yourself and set limits because your well-being is important too.

Alternative actions

You can suggest possible alternative actions they could take:

  • “What can you do differently to what you’ve done so far?”
  • “What part of the blame can you accept?”
  • “Are you willing to accept that you have an active role in what happens to you and that not everything is the result of bad luck or other people?”

Don’t get too involved if that person doesn’t want to change. Remember that you can’t sacrifice your own life in order to please someone. It’s important to offer them our understanding and our care but that doesn’t mean sacrificing our well-being.

Remember that you’re not the guilty one. Guilt is one of the victim’s main weapons. It’s common for the other person to feel guilty when they don’t fulfill the victimist’s wishes. Remember that they’re using your guilt to try to get what they want.

Learn to say “no”. When you’re not willing to do something, then say “no” in a kind way but clearly and firmly. Don’t give them too many excuses because the victimist can use them against you.

Urge them to seek help from a professional. In the case of people with a chronic victim mentality, we recommend they get psychological assistance from a specialized professional who can really help them.

As you can see, the culture of victimhood leads us to often renounce our desires and needs in order to help others. It’s important for us to be aware of this in order for us to protect ourselves and encourage change in the person who assumes the victim role.