How to Break Out of a Victim Mentality: 7 Powerful Tips

by Henrik Edberg


Image by *Zara (license).

“If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.”
Richard Bach

“Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the nonpharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.”
John W. Gardner

One big problem a lot of people have is that they slip into thinking of themselves as victims that have little or no control over their lives. In this headspace you feel sorry for yourself, the world seems to be against you and you get stuck. Little to no action is taken and you get lost in a funk of sadness and self-pity.

So how can you move out of that mindset? In this article I’d like to share a few things that have helped me.

1. Know the benefits of a victim mentality.

There are a few benefits of the victim mentality:

  • Attention and validation. You can always get good feelings from other people as they are concerned about you and try to help you out. On the other hand, it may not last for that long as people get tired of it.
  • You don’t have to take risks. When you feel like a victim you tend to not take action and then you don’t have to risk for example rejection or failure.
  • Don’t have to take the sometimes heavy responsibility. Taking responsibility for you own life can be hard work, you have to make difficult decisions and it is just heavy sometimes. In the short term it can feel like the easier choice to not take personal responsibility.
  • It makes you feel right. When you feel like the victim and like everyone else – or just someone else – is wrong and you are right then that can lead to pleasurable feelings.

In my experience, by just being aware of the benefits I can derive from victim thinking it becomes easier to say no to that and to choose to take a different path.

It also makes it easier to make rational decisions about what to do. Yes, I know that I can avoid risk and the hard work of taking action by feeling like a victim. But I also know that there are even more positive results if I choose to take the other route, if I make the better choice to take a chance and start moving forward.

2. Be ok with not being the victim.

So to break out of that mentality you have to give up the benefits above. You might also experience a sort of emptiness within when you let go of victim thinking. You may have spent hours each week with thinking and talking about how wrong things have gone for you in life. Or how people have wronged you and how you could get some revenge or triumph over them.

Now you have to fill your life with new thinking that may feel uncomfortable because it is not so intimately familiar as the victim thinking your have been engaging in for years.

3. Take responsibility for your life.

Why do people often have self-esteem problems? I’d say that one of the big reasons is that they don’t take responsibility for their lives. Instead someone else is blamed for the bad things that happen and a victim mentality is created and empowered.

This damages many vital parts in your life. Stuff like relationships, ambitions and achievements.

That hurt will not stop until you wise up and take responsibility for your life. There is really no way around it.

And the difference is really remarkable. Just try it out. You feel so much better about yourself even if you only take personal responsibility for your own life for a day.

This is also a way to stop relying on external validation like praise from other people to feel good about yourself. Instead you start building a stability within and a sort of inner spring that fuels your life with positive emotions no matter what other people say or do around you.

4. Gratitude.

When I feel that I am putting myself in victim role I like to ask myself this question:

“Does someone have it worse on the planet?”

The answer may not result in positive thoughts, but it can sure snap you of a somewhat childish “poor, poor me…” attitude pretty quickly. I understand that I have much to be grateful for in my life.

This question changes my perspective from a narrow, self-centred one into a much wider one. It helps me to lighten up about my situation.

After I have changed my perspective I usually ask another question like:

“What is the hidden opportunity within this situation?”

That is very helpful to keep your focus on how to solve a problem or get something good out a current situation. Rather than asking yourself “why?” over and over and thereby focusing on making yourself feel worse and worse.

5. Forgive.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in thinking that forgiveness is just about something you “should do”. But forgiving can in a practical way be extremely beneficial for you.

One of the best reasons to forgive can be found in this quote by Catherine Ponder:

“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”

As long as you don’t forgive someone you are linked to that person. Your thoughts will return to the person who wronged you and what s/he did over and over again. The emotional link between the two of you is so strong and inflicts much suffering in you and – as a result of your inner turmoil – most often in other people around you too.

When you forgive you do not only release the other person. You set yourself free too from all of that agony.

6. Turn your focus outward and help someone out.

The questions in tip #4 are useful. Another question I use when I get into the victim headspace is simply:

“How can I give value right now?”

Asking that question and making that shift in what you focus on really helps, even if you may not feel totally like doing it.

So I figure out how I can give someone else value, how I can help someone out.

And thing is that the way you behave and think towards others seems to have a big, big effect on how you behave towards yourself and think about yourself. For example, judge people more and you tend to judge yourself more. Be more kind to other people and help them and you tend to be more kind and helpful to yourself.

A bit counter intuitive perhaps, but that has been my experience. The more you love other people, the more your love yourself.

7. Give yourself a break.

Getting out of a victim mentality can be hard. Some days you will slip. That’s ok. Be ok with that.

And be nice to yourself. If you have to be perfect then one little slip is made into a big problem and may cause you to spiral down into a very negative place for many days.

It is more helpful to just give yourself a break and use the tips above to move yourself into a positive and empowered headspace once again.

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{ 24 comments }

Corinne McElroy October 9, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Hi Henrik,
I like how you looked at the benefits of a victim mentality. It is interesting to look at the side of what are we getting out of what we are doing.
Love your blogs
Wishing you the best
Corinne McElroy

Charles - Creative Lab October 9, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Hi Henrik,

Forgiving and finding the hidden opportunity are my two favorites.

Forgiving puts a situation where harm is being done to you in the past, and therefore the wrongdoing is no longer in effect, it is past.

Finding an opportunity broadens perspective. If someone is fired for example, the opportunity is that many more things become possible. A new career track, new places to consider living in… Stepping back and really considering the range of possibilities dissolves dead-end syndromes.

I would add taking on personal development as a whole. Build the strength to actually make those tips real options to act on, and not just theories!

Nice reading you again, I hadn’t been around in a while!

Elizabeth October 9, 2009 at 6:18 pm

This is amazing, thank you!

Matthew | Polaris Rising October 9, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Karen channeled information on Martyrdom a little while ago which was very helpful. A lot of the victim mentality is because we think being small serves us. Certainly what you write here can be tools. Another help is seeing clearly why we think being small serves us and protects us, so we can choose again.

The link is http://www.polarisrising.com/martyrdom-chief-feature-and-healing-victim-consciousnesshtml.html

Armen Shirvanian October 9, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Hey Henrik.

Solid material about showing the benefits. I see them all as worthless in the long-term, and great in the short-term, meaning a victim mentality isn’t a sustainable success plan.

This set you have provided is of the empowering type.

Thanks.

Michelle October 9, 2009 at 8:44 pm

This is a great article. I sometimes feel i slip into victim-mode when I get frustrated with my job search. I’ll have to remember these tips.

Srinivas Rao October 9, 2009 at 9:24 pm

It amazes me how many people are stuck in a victim mentality. I’ll be the first to admit I”ve been there. You might get attention but really it’s resentment disguised as attention. Victims bring the other people around them down, and you want be the one that brings people up.

Positively Present October 10, 2009 at 3:35 am

Amazing post. This is so helpful … such a great resource for anyone suffering from a victim mentality.

lichen October 10, 2009 at 5:27 am

Thank you very much for your excellent words??

Gordie Rogers October 10, 2009 at 6:22 am

Some bad crap happened to me and my sister when we were young. I put it behind but she can’t. She dropped out of high school and has been unemployed for 10 years. She’s got no goals and there seems to be no encouraging her. Very sad.

Faramarz - Anxious Candy October 10, 2009 at 10:01 am

SELF PITY – D.H Lawrence

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

wise words people

L Walker October 10, 2009 at 2:14 pm

I’m new to your blog, been checking it out for a couple of weeks. It’s amazing, I love the thought and care you put into each post. Often when you read “tips” articles, they fall flat, as the tips are not practically applicable or relatable. Your tips are very clear, concise, easy to follow, and to apply in real life.
Great blog!

Fatima Da October 10, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Fantastic post.. I like the responsibility issues and how you have teased out the reasons we all need to take responsibility for our life. Great post and thanks for sharing.

elle October 10, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Just stopping by to let you know that I’ve nominated you for the One Lovely blog award. I’ve selected your blog as one of a group I’ve recently discovered, which deserve special mention. Pick up your award at my blog <a href= "http://chasingeducation.com"? Chasing Education

Michelle Ho October 12, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Hi Henrik,

I’ve only read your two most recent posts and I’m already hooked on your blog. :) Thank you for helping to make this corner of the world a little brighter!

Your fourth tip on Gratitude was particularly meaningful to me because I used to find it really hard to do, and needless to say I was bogged down with negativity. But now there’s this amazing site called Gratitude Log where users are encouraged to express their gratitude on a daily basis, and also interact with other users. It’s made a huge difference for me! http://www.gratitudelog.com

B. uno October 12, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Thank you for all your articles ..Wish I could truly express my appreciation ..Past words !!

Josten October 13, 2009 at 3:25 am

Giving ourselves a break and forgiving are very important steps to break out of the victim reality.
Great post as usual

Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome October 13, 2009 at 9:10 am

I spent a long time playing victim and the benefits you outlined described exactly why I did so. Western culture (especially North American culture) encourages the victim mentality (“It’s not my fault!”) and it takes real strength of character and a strong sense of self to break out of it.

Your seven tips will help lots of people looking to break free.

Cheers,
Alex

Bob Patterson - WorkloadMaster October 14, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Henrik,

Very powerful and thoughtful post. Thank you for writing it.

Too often I’ve fallen victim to the victim mentality myself. For me the best medicine has been forgiveness, which is probably the most difficult.

Your post is an excellent reminder to keep from falling victim to taking the easy way out. I fear that those who most need this aren’t likely to find it (or pay attention if they do).

Off topic – As a recent convert to Thesis, I really enjoy your simple and elegant implementation of it.

– Bob

Kim - Inspirational Thoughts October 15, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Hi Henrik,

I love the spin you put on the ‘victim mentality.’ I think this is most people’s preferred method of dealing with things as it’s easier. For me, I’ve never considered any benefits from taking this approach, but I guess it can help you cope through the tougher times in life.

I think the keys, as with anything, is balance. If we can find a good balance between responsibility and victimization, I’d think we’d all be better off.

Amanda@choosing-life-my-way.com November 11, 2009 at 4:03 pm

I love this. It is so damaging to ourselves to hold on to a victim mentality, and yet so hard to break free from at times. An inspiring read :)

Brent B November 19, 2009 at 5:28 am

I liked the blog. I must say it takes one to know one. I have a dear friend who has been treated very badly by life. From child rape to physical abuse that left permanent damage. Now she seems to take no responsibility for any choice she makes. I fall very much in to the “liberal guilt” category. How do you tell someone who has been through the things she has been through and still deals with the damage to “get over it.” I would like to forward this article to her but the bomb would go off I am afraid. It is not subtle enough.
How does a friend go about confronting this behavior in a loving way?

Peter January 23, 2010 at 10:56 am

It’s interesting how everyone of these comments except Brent have no problem with the post. I like the post too and – full disclosure – struggle with victimhood. I think there is a middle ground between being always happy and always sad. It seems we always want to be happy (and I guess victims always want to be sad). Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book is about addiction to happiness, and I think ‘get on with your life’ and ‘take responsibility for your life’ are signs of an addiction to happiness. Some people have been deeply deeply hurt and continue to be hurt in their lives – yes, often by people who are victimizing them. Some people may need to mourn a long long time. Some people may try and try and never actually get the help and support they need to begin to heal. Especially if everyone around them is saying ‘skip the mourning bit, and move on.’ There has to be a much more balanced take on the issue of victimhood. Maybe someone could write a parallel post on people who victimize – 7 parallel topics. I think then we would have a much more real picture.

Kelly April 6, 2010 at 2:09 am

I really enjoyed your blog. My 17 year old son is in a residential treatment center and they teach him to stop playing the victim in one of the phases of the program. I have printed your article to show my 16 year old daughter who will hopefully gain insight from it, so she can start thinking more positive about her future.

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