“Oh you poor victim. Quit being a martyr. Next thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to get nailed on a cross.”
Has anyone said something like that to you? If so, you may be occasionally playing victim—or adopting a victim mentality. Most people have done so from time to time. But the difference between having a victim mentality, playing victim and being a victim is significant.
A victim is someone who has been taken advantage of, or has endured unwanted and undeserved abuse, loss, injury, accident or a disaster that they could not have prevented. They have gone through misfortune and frequently have the need for other people to have compassion toward them.
Someone with a victim mentality feels powerless and helpless. They assume they have very little power or influence, and therefore frequently don’t act to change negative situations or events. They are generally poor risk takers, because they assume bad outcomes. They view other people as more powerful, more in control and better able to effectively right what’s wrong. As a result, they tend to be passive, routinely feeling that they are not responsible for what happens in their life, and they frequently have feelings of pessimism, shame, depression and despair. They often feel stuck, and have a hard time taking steps to get themselves unstuck. They are often angry at themselves, and self-berating.
Someone who plays victim, on the other hand, acts or presents as a victim, but is really making excuses because they don’t want to be held responsible for what they did or didn’t do. They are seeking your attention, and they want you to feel sorry for them—because they feel sorry for themselves. They hope you will be less likely to criticize them or ask them to do anything. They often feel like other people are more fortunate than they are, or that the world is against them. So they solicit empathy and/or sympathy with their sad stories or drama. They yearn to feel cared for by other people.
People who play victim frequently make excuses about why they couldn’t get a task done on time, if at all, and it’s almost always someone else’s fault. Seldom do they take responsibility and own up to their mistakes or failings. They are often insecure, explaining away words or behaviors instead of acknowledging an error, inaccuracy or miscalculation. And they frequently blame other people for how they feel.
There are several things you could do if you’d like to get out of the victim mentality of feeling powerless and helpless, or if you’d like to stop playing victim with other people. First, pay attention to the different ways you sidestep accountability. You can take control back over your life by accepting responsibility for what you say, what you do (or don’t do), and how you feel. Didn’t get that job? Redouble your efforts and go after another, and keep doing that until you succeed. The world isn’t against you, you’re just giving up too easily, and with not enough of a fight.
Practice good self-care activities: pay attention to your diet and nutrition, exercise, try yoga, learn to meditate, go to therapy, journal your emotions, go dancing and practice positive encouraging self-talk. Part of empowering yourself is recognizing that you are the master of your own fate. And each night, as your head hits the pillow but before you sleep, recount everything you did or that happened to you that day that you’re appreciative of or grateful for. Feeling grateful is a surefire way of not feeling like a victim.