Let us discuss the victim mentality and how victimisation plays a huge, determinantal role in how most people relate to themselves. This is a critical discussion which I intend to handle delicately. Today, as we know, ‘victim’ has become a politically loaded word.
So let me be upfront: what I’m going to contend is that the victim mindset is detrimental to your personal growth; it’s something which will hold you back in life and blind you from your potential to grow, become more and define your own life without external limitations.
The victim mindset chains you to believe that your past defines you and will always define you; that you will always be your present; that your mental health, skills, personality, habits, and beliefs which you adopted in your past due to your circumstances have more control over you than you do and that you are powerless to determine and redirect your future and redefine your worth.
Does that mean I believe victims are all weak and pathetic? No, they’re people deserving of sympathy, love, care, understanding and support to help them heal from their experiences and past. The only problem I have seen as a life coach is with clients who incorporate their victim status as part of their present identity. Everyone has been a victim of something in their life, and the likelihood is that they will be a victim of something again. Some people go through horrific traumas whilst others go through less severe but more frequent traumas.
Nobody goes through life untouched and all experiences, good and bad, are valid, regardless of whether they are majorly life-changing, extremely traumatising or mildly disturbing. I have known countless people with traumatic childhood stories, soldiers who have witnessed horrific deaths, people who have been horrifically assaulted in adulthood, people who were bullied at school, who lost their parents, and those who spent years in emotionally abusive relationships.
While I’m very against the victim mindset, I’d like to distinguish my argument from those of extreme critics who discard victims and victim mindsets as insignificant and an impediment on social evolution. Unlike them, I don’t deny the significance and reality of victims’ experiences, the severity of trauma and the complex psychological issues it breeds in people.
While I’m an advocate against adopting and maintaining victim mindsets, what good does putting down people with a victim mindset do? If people berate them yet offer no alternative outlook on life except ‘suck it up and get on with it’, people won’t take their argument seriously and continue to perpetuate a mentality which is only harming themselves and their potential.
My argument against the victim mindset focuses more on how harmful and detrimental it can be to your wellbeing and future potential when it is maintained in your present tense, and thus your present identity. Your experiences in life constitute your worthiness to other people: who you become and how you allow all your experiences to mould you into a wiser and more empowered person transforms your intrinsic value. You may choose to disagree with me here, but I believe there’s a mighty difference between saying “I am a victim of x” versus saying “I was a victim of x”.
I don’t encourage people to deny what they’ve gone through or hide the difficulty they faced because of it. However, what I do encourage people to do is acknowledge it as something which made you who you are today, not part of who you are today.
While I accept that a lot of people will take issue with this argument, I would urge them to consider what benefits carrying their victim status in the present tense offers them: does it empower or disempower them? Does it allow them emotional distance from the past or force them to carry it with them?
Recovery is a long and challenging process, and nobody experiences it the same way. However, I believe acknowledging it as something you’ve gone through rather than living through is the healthier option: it doesn’t take the pain away, but it helps maintain your autonomy and inability for the world to define you. Only you should define yourself.
While it may feel comforting and more comfortable to view your life through a filter of “It’s not my fault. They made me do it/It did it to me”, this submission to a state of powerlessness is not only debilitating, but it smacks of immaturity. Whether or not you’re conscious of your desires, the victim mentality is driven by two core needs: sympathy and vindication.
Vindication allows for the ‘victim’ to renounce any responsibility for how their life unfolds, and the sympathy validates their feelings and emotions. When we talk about accepting responsibility in this context, we’re not promoting the idea of ‘victim-blaming’: that’s a whole different argument which isn’t deserving of legitimation.
Unfolding the psychology of how people find themselves in certain situations and circumstances in life is a delicate process which varies from case to case. It is an important idea to address because understanding the limiting beliefs systems someone holds onto can help uncover why they may find themselves in similar or cyclical circumstances. Still, this uncovering of patterns of behaviour isn’t embedded in relaying fault or blame on anyone.
What I mean when I talk about taking responsibility in terms of the victim mindset is that people with a victim mindset allow themselves to become governed by destructive patterns of thinking, behaviours and attitudes because they have subscribed to the idea that they are not in control of their environments, actions or emotional maturity.
A person with a victim mentality, who continually finds themselves in difficult circumstances with money, health and relationships, feels as though the world is against them, that the universe is “doing it” to them and conspiring their downfall.
They are quick to blame their boss, friends, parents, partner, children, pets, colleagues, classmates or even God for the way things turn out and are usually consumed by anger (whether they internalise it or externalise it depends on their character).
People with the victim mindset can’t see or face the idea of acknowledging themselves as the common denominator throughout their circumstances. They adopt a passive role and mentally and physically refuse the concept of quick bounce back after being knocked down.
People with a victim mentality aren’t always easy to identify; whilst you have likely come across people who pull out the “woe is me” and “it’s not my fault” cards quite openly, there are millions of stiff-upper-lipped people who don’t show any emotions and instead choose to internalise their self-pity and sense of victimisation.
Yes, things happen to us: we can find ourselves in cycles of just bad luck. People do things to us, things take a turn for the worse, we find ourselves betrayed again and again, but we can’t excuse our lives away based on past experiences and circumstances.
People who take responsibility for their circumstances accept bad things happen, and that situations can be difficult, distressing and stressful at times. Still, they know they are responsible for finding a solution and implementing it.
This is an excerpt from Rise & Conquer (Chapter One) – Due for publish in 2020.