A ‘victim’ mindset or ‘poor me’ attitude is a personality trait where a person sees themselves as a victim of the negative actions of others and behaves as if this were the case. They blame the challenges they face and all the bad things in their life on other people, essentially abdicating responsibility for the situations they find themselves in.
It’s important to note that this victim mentality is a learned and acquired behavior – it’s nothing to do with biology or genetics. It’s a dysfunctional mindset that the person has brought on themselves due to a constant focus on negative thoughts.
They believe that life is beyond their control, that the world is conspiring against them and they’re consumed by pessimism, fear and anger. That results in constant blame, finger pointing and ‘pity parties’, often not only to avoid self-responsibility but also to gain attention. They believe they could be happier, more successful, richer, etc. but circumstances won’t let them. Their life is a never-ending series of dramas that are never their fault.
And that’s a hopeless attitude. You need to step up and take personal accountability for, and ownership of your life, good and bad. Your goals, dreams, plans, successes and failures are all yours – nobody else can live them for you. Yes, of course external factors outside your control can impact negatively on you and, unavoidably, things will happen that cause you pain and difficulty, but that’s just life. The world is not conspiring against you and you can’t blame everything that’s wrong on other people and unfair circumstances. But that’s what these ‘poor me’ people do.
For many ‘victims’, the triggers began in their early life and they developed this mindset as a coping mechanism. But, regardless of what happens to us as children, it’s our responsibility as adults to reclaim responsibility for our behaviour, our happiness and our success. You simply can’t let your whole life be held back by nothing more than a self-imposed limiting belief.
Before I go on, let me be clear; I’m not talking about people who have genuinely been victims of trauma or a tragic event. I’m talking about people who lay blame where there’s no evidence of negative actions and who see persecution where there isn’t any.
Here are some signs that someone has a victim mindset:
- Their conversations frequently revolve around themselves and their own problems
- They expect people to feel sorry for them
- They blame others when things go wrong or they fail to achieve a goal
- They often imply that other people have it easier because they’re luckier or get preferential treatment
- They rarely admit when they’re enjoying themselves
- They tend to be manipulative in their dealings with others.
Sounds very unpleasant, doesn’t it? And it is – for both the person and everyone else! When someone is self-obsessed and always focusing on their bad luck, it’s draining. I used to have a friend who blamed everything – their lack of life skills, education, success and happiness – on everyone but themselves. It was the fault of their parents, their wife, their siblings…and eventually I walked away. If you spend too long with negative people, their negative mindset and ways will rub off on you. You’ll slowly start adopting their abnormal view on life as the new norm – I’ve seen this happen so many times.
“Self-pity is the easiest way to create unilateral misery.” – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
So, what do you actually gain from adopting this ‘victim’ personality trait? Why do people do it?
Well, in a warped way, playing the victim does have some great perks, which is why most people with the ‘poor me’ trait are so emotionally invested in perpetuating this toxic behaviour. They feel a kind of pleasure when they receive pity or attention and get a perverse thrill from creating a sense of guilt in others. Quite simply, it becomes a kind of addiction for them.
They benefit from:
- Not having to take responsibility for anything
- Other people’s attention
- Others feeling sorry for them and being far less likely to criticise or risk upsetting them
- Feeling they have the right to complain
- Regularly getting exactly what they want
- Feeling interesting because there’s always so much drama.
And being so consumed by the conviction that they’re the victim gives them a lot of power: the power to avoid responsibility, to feel ‘righteously’ persecuted, to feel sorry for themselves, to avoid uncomfortable emotions and to manipulate other people.
“The victim stance is a powerful one. The victim is always morally right, neither responsible nor accountable, and forever entitled to sympathy.” – The Zur Institute
But these feelings of power, entitlement and the supposed ‘perks’ of being the victim aren’t real. The truth is that a victim mentality is always destructive:
For the person themselves:
- They lose friends because their constant negativity eventually makes people walk away
- People don’t want to socialise with them because it’s very boring when someone is constantly talking about themselves and how hard-done-by they are
- Their health can suffer – a constant negative attitude and feelings of helplessness can lead to stress, which is proven to affect the chemical balance of the brain and the immune system
- They often refuse to try new things because they focus on the possible negative outcomes
- It traps them in their current situation because they believe they’re at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control and therefore can’t change things
- They don’t tend to find solutions to genuine problems because they’re not looking for solutions; they’re too busy feeling victimised by the situation
- Despite making everything about them, they actually lack confidence and self-esteem
- They are so self-defeating in their words and actions, they will purposely put themselves in situations that are bound to lead to failure and harm.
Ultimately, it robs the person of their ability to be their best self. As Carl Jung said, because they don’t see that they can be the cause of their dilemmas, they can’t see that they are the solution. And so it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: they believe they have no chance of success because the world is against them; then, because of that belief that the world is against them, they have no chance of success.
“It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going.” – Carl Jung
For you, if you’re around someone with the trait:
- Their chronic pessimism and ‘woe is me’ outlook can really wear you down
- Because they’re passive-aggressive, they tend to sulk and will purposely spoil a task or something that’s supposed to be fun
- Their behaviour can easily swing from ‘victim’ to ‘victimiser’ and they may blame you for something that’s not your fault
- You can’t trust them with anything important because they won’t take any responsibility for the outcome
- Because they are manipulators, you can never trust them to tell the truth or do ‘the decent thing’
- If you spend too much time with them, their mindset will eventually rub off on you and you could start to take on some of their destructive behaviours.
Nobody said it was easy!
One of the things that’s particularly irritating about people with a victim mindset is their belief that “it’s okay for everyone else”. They think that if they weren’t being persecuted and events weren’t conspiring against them, they would be successful – that it’s only because the world is against them that they’re not one of life’s winners.
But that’s simply not true. The vast majority of truly successful people have put in a great deal of effort, overcome challenges, recovered from failures and persevered their way to the top. Some key truths:
- They work harder and smarter than those around them
- They invest in their own success, putting time and money into personal and professional learning and development
- They make short-term sacrifices for longer-term benefit
- They keep going when others give up
- They see failure as a lesson learned and move on
- They never lose focus on their end goal
- They maintain a positive attitude and never lose belief in their ability to succeed
- They tend to be generous to others, in terms of time, knowledge and money
- They take responsibility for their decisions and are accountable for their actions
- They admit when they’re wrong, make adjustments and move forward
Successful people are survivors. Where victims argue for their limitations and make excuses for mediocrity, successful people know there are no limitations.
If you’re reading this article because you suspect you might be clinging to a victim mindset, the first thing you need to do is accept this fact:
You cannot move forward in your life unless you step out of the victim role and into the survivor role.
Here are my top 10 tips on how to step out of this toxic mindset:
1. Think about the potential long-term consequences. If you allow yourself to get stuck in a victim mentality:
- How will it hold you back from doing the things you dream about, deep down?
- How will it affect your most important relationships?
- How is it affecting your relationship with yourself?
Really take time to think about the negative impact this mindset could have on your life over the coming months and years. Be honest with yourself and let it give you the motivation to make changes.
2. Change your story. By that, I mean stop telling yourself the same old things about your past. You can’t change what’s gone but you can change what’s coming. If you hold on to grudges against other people and the world, the only person that’s hurting is you – don’t let past pain dictate a lifetime of pain. Use past troubles as a driver, as motivation for you to ensure those things will never happen again. Remember: the best revenge will always be massive success!
3. Take responsibility. When you begin to take responsibility for your part in what happened in the past, no matter how difficult or painful that might be, you allow yourself to become more in control of your own life.
“Every single successful person I’ve ever spoken to had a turning point and the turning point was where they made a clear, specific, unequivocal decision that they were not going to live like this anymore.” – Brian Tracy
4. Accept, forgive and move on. Undoubtedly, you have been hurt by someone in the past – we all have – but if you’re holding on to negative feelings about them, it’s nothing but a burden for you. Accept what happened and how it made you feel, but understand that it’s not happening to you now. Even if you can’t necessarily forgive someone, put what happened in a box and move on, allowing yourself to dedicate all your energy to today and to your future.
5. Stop complaining. When you hear yourself going into ‘blame’ stories – whether that’s against other people, situations beyond your control or life in general – make a conscious effort to say “stop”.
6. Stop feeling entitled. If you think that the world owes you a certain life, you’re on a hiding to nothing. You need to get out there and work for what you want.
7. Understand that you can’t control everything! We can’t control what other people say and do, and there will always be life and world events that are beyond our control, so there’s no point in getting worked up about it. The important thing to realise is that you always have control over how you react to things. You get to choose how you respond to every situation you’re faced with, so, what’s more important: anger or personal growth? Too often, we rely on our emotions to dictate our thoughts and actions, when we should be using logic and rational thought. So try not to react in haste and don’t get worked up over things you can’t do anything about.
8. Let go of negativity. If there’s something negative in your life that isn’t helpful to you and can’t be changed, let it go. Letting go doesn’t mean you’re a pushover or that you bear anyone ill will, it just means your future happiness and success is more important than wasting time and energy on something that’s not doing you any good.
9. Give yourself positive goals to focus on. Making a list of your desires and goals is an important step towards taking ownership of your life. This is your journey, so map it out. Start with one goal and create a plan for achieving it, understanding that you might need to take some risks. This is a sure way for you to prove to yourself that you’re in control and not a victim.
10. Be thankful and practice gratitude. Gratitude is a simple but very powerful way of reminding yourself that your life is better than you might be perceiving it to be. This is something I learned from Tony Robbins: each day, try to find three things that you’re grateful for, focus on each of them and feel consciously and sincerely thankful for having them.
Every day, without fail, I take a few moments to be truly grateful for my family, my friends and my health. These things are the bedrock of my life and my happiness and it puts anything negative that might happen that day into perspective.
So, instead of focusing on what you don’t have, look at everything you do have and be grateful.
“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” Eckhart Tolle
And finally….Action and attraction
I firmly believe that success comes from two sources: the positive action you take and the positive energy you attract (the ‘law of attraction’ – see blog post: What is the Law of Attraction and how can you use it to reach your goals?)
So, in addition to putting in practical, physical and mental effort – that’s working hard, being dedicated and focused, eating well and taking regular exercise – you also need to put in the effort to be positive, kind, thoughtful, empathic, generous….you might say, ‘a good person’.
That principle is as old as the hills and we’ve all heard it articulated in many different ways:
- Do unto others as you would have done to you
- You get what you give
- If you put it out there, you get it back
- You reap what you sow
….you might call it ‘karma’.
Under this ‘law of attraction’, someone with a victim mentality is utterly devoted to and focused on their struggles and their woes and, as a result, things never seem to improve for them. Long and short, if you act like a victim, you’ll be one.
Conversely, survivors and successful people who focus on the positives and look for solutions rather than getting weighed down by challenges, always seem to get more of life’s goodness. They still have struggles and bad times like everyone else but, because they don’t fixate on them, those bad things pale into insignificance.
So make the effort today to eliminate any trace of that victim mentality from your life. If someone around you is playing the victim, by all means try to help them change their thinking but, if they can’t or won’t, then appreciate that you might need to simply walk away. As for you, whenever you find yourself thinking ‘poor me’, stop and take a moment to focus on the good things. Remember that you’re in control of your own life and your success is entirely in your hands.