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Do You Have 'Victim Mentality'? What To Do About It

12/18/2010 12:35 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

We all know people who "victims" are -- people who view their lives through the filter: "It's not my fault. They [or it] did it to me." When you understand what the feeling of victimization really is, where it comes from and how it affects people, you will discover that it is even more widespread and debilitating than you might think.

The primary source of feeling like a victim is the feeling of powerlessness, and because we don't like feeling that we are powerless, we tend to blame someone or something for causing that feeling. So we feel that we are a victim of circumstances or other people's actions and that we can't do anything about it. Being a victim is experiencing yourself at the effect of something outside yourself.

Thus the single most important belief responsible for the feeling of victimization is I'm powerless. Other beliefs that could underlie this feeling include: I'll never get what I want, People can't be trusted and Life is difficult.

Why Feeling Victimized Is So Debilitating

The reason feeling victimized is so debilitating is that it undermines your ability to do anything about your situation. If you are having difficulties in any area of your life, such as relationships or money, and you experience yourself as powerful and in control of your life, you can devise a strategy to improve your situation. And if one solution doesn't work, you can learn from your experience and try again.

But if you have a victim mentality -- in other words, if you feel powerless to affect your circumstances -- you are likely to feel that the world is "doing it" to you and that there is nothing you can do about it.

That's why this is one of the most devastating problems you can have: If you have any other problem but see yourself as responsible for your situation, you have the ability to look for and implement a solution. If you have the problem of feeling victimized by life or other people, you are less likely to look for and implement a solution because you feel you can't do anything about your situation.

Most victims can be identified by their conversation, which consists of a lot of "woe is me" and "it's not my fault" language. However, there also is the "stoic" victim. Such people do not complain, and they keep a "stiff upper lip," but underneath they experience a sense of victimization. Such people frequently don't even let themselves know how they are feeling.

So victims are not just people who speak their victimization, but also those who have that experience underneath a veneer of confidence and "Everything's okay; really, it is."

Typical Characteristics of Victims

Here are a few other important characteristics of victims:

  • People who are victims usually don't see that the only thing in common between all the people and situations they think they have been victimized by is themselves.
  • Victims usually are people you can't depend on, because they deny responsibility for their actions. They are quick to blame other people and situations for anything that doesn't work in their lives.
  • Victims don't have resilience, which is the ability to quickly bounce back after being knocked down.
  • Victims generally are passive.
  • Victims are usually angry at the people or events they think have "done them wrong," and underneath the feeling of anger is almost always the feeling of powerlessness.
  • Successful people are rarely victims. One might be able to be a victim and still make money and have great relationships in rare cases, but usually it would be difficult for victims to be successful. To be successful you need to learn from your mistakes and try again. Victims are, by definition, people who do not acknowledge responsibility for their actions and who blame outside forces.

So if you are a victim or know someone else who is, what can you do to help yourself or the other person? Fortunately, the source of this problem is similar to the source of almost every other problem: your beliefs. Reality and other people are not causing you to feel like a victim; your beliefs are. Get rid of the beliefs that cause the problem, and the feeling of victimization will disappear for good.

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