Victim Mentality: Definition, Causes, and Ways to Cope

Woman on stairs with head in hands.

Lerexis / Getty Images

Do you constantly feel as though you have no control over situations or that other people are out to get you? Or do you feel as though bad things keep happening to you no matter what you do? If you find yourself blaming other people for events or situations in your life, you may be struggling with what is known as a victim mentality. 

People with a victim mentality feel as though bad things keep happening and the world is against them. You may feel as though everyone else is against you, be that your partner, your coworkers, or even your family or friends. Even though there might be things that you can do to help fix the situation, you don’t take responsibility for anything and feel as though everything is out of your control.

In addition, you might take things personally even when they are not directed at you. You might think thoughts like, “What did I do to deserve this?” You might also feel resentful a lot of the time.

Most likely you went through a bad time in your life or experienced trauma, but you had no coping strategies at the time and developed this negative viewpoint or victim mindset. This led you to believe that life just happens to you and that you have no responsibility for what happens in your life.

Even when people come along and try to offer you solutions, you probably come up with a list of reasons why those solutions won’t work and leave those who offer help frustrated or not understanding what went wrong.

You might even question why you continue to behave in this way. The truth is that there are probably some secondary benefits of refusing to change your victim mindset. You might be gaining sympathy or attention for your distress from what happened to you. You might feel relieved that others are offering you help or validation. You also probably don’t ever want to feel vulnerable again, and so it’s easier not to take risks.

This articles discusses what a victim mentality is, signs and symptoms of this mindset, and how you can learn to eliminate some negative thought patterns.

Understanding the Victim Mentality

Taking a step back, what exactly is a victim mentality? While a victim mentality is not a recognized diagnosable condition, it is a commonly accepted term and has some other alternate names such as victim syndrome and victim complex. 

Those with a victim mentality hold three beliefs:

  • Bad things have happened in the past and will continue to happen to you.
  • Others are to blame for your misfortune.
  • There is no point in trying to make a change because it will not work.

For people who hold a victim mentality, it seems like sinking into negativity is easier than trying to save yourself, and you may even force this mindset onto other people.

At its core, a victim mindset is rooted in trauma, distress, and pain most of the time. When you experience a traumatic situation, typically at the hands of other people, you may learn that you are helpless and that nothing you do in the future is going to make any difference.

This leads you to feel vulnerable and afraid, and in turn, you choose not to take responsibility or place blame on other people and make excuses even when there are actions you could take.

Is a Victim Mindset Permanent?

While it’s understandable that you might feel this way after a traumatic series of events, the truth is that there are always multiple factors involved in any bad situation. While you may not have been able to control what happened to you in the past, it’s likely that you do have some degree of control over what happens to you going forward.

For example, if you’ve been trying to find a job without any success, there is the opportunity to learn from what hasn’t worked so that you can try and make some changes for the future. In contrast, someone with a victim mindset will have little interest in taking actions that could lead to improvement.

In addition, when other people try to help you, you might retreat into self-pity and argue that nothing will work. In other words, you really just want to feel sorry for yourself rather than work toward any meaningful change.

While it’s okay to feel bad about what has happened to you and make sure to work through difficult emotions, everyone with a victim mindset needs to find an end to self-pity and work toward change and healing. Otherwise, your feelings of being a victim and being powerless will follow you for the rest of your life.

The truth is that life will never stop giving you challenges, and if you feel as though nothing you do makes any differences, then you’ll be climbing an uphill battle the rest of your life.

One of the most common signs of a victim mentality is continued self sabotage and negative thinking. The good news is that this is not an inherited trait; rather, you’ve learned to behave in this way. At one time you were likely a victim, but you don’t have to continue on being a victim.

A victim blames others for their current situation, even when others have nothing to do with it and they themselves are to blame (or at least partly to blame).

Yes, your rights were violated and you didn’t deserve what happened to you. You deserve empathy and compassion—and understanding. And you can give these things to yourself without waiting for anyone else to give them to you.

Signs of a Victim Mentality

What are some signs of a victim mentality? If you aren’t sure whether you are struggling with a victim mentality, here are some potential signs to watch for:

  • You blame other people for how your life's going
  • You feel as though everything is stacked against you
  • You have trouble coping with setbacks
  • You have a negative attitude going into most situations
  • When someone tries to help you, you lash out in anger
  • When you feel sorry for yourself, it makes you feel a bit better
  • You tend to hang out with other people who also like to complain and blame other people
  • You find it hard to make changes in your life
  • You feel like you lack support from other people
  • You lack self-confidence or have low self-esteem
  • You feel like others should recognize that you have been a victim
  • You want the people who have done you wrong to recognize what they did
  • You have a very black and white view of other people
  • You lack empathy for other people’s problems
  • You tend to ruminate about situations
  • You are passive when you go about your days
  • You think that the world is an unfair place
  • You are hypervigilant to bad things that might happen
  • You are not emotionally available to other people
  • You feel as though failing is permanent
  • You have a constant feeling of helplessness
  • You have a tendency to catastrophize
  • You always feel as though other people are better off in life than you

Victim Mentality Behaviors

What is victim mentality behavior? It refers to the types of actions that people with a victim mentality tend to engage in. What are the behaviors that people with a victim mentality tend to engage in? Below are some of the common ones that you might observe:

  • A tendency to blame other people
  • Not taking responsibility for your own life
  • Being hypervigilant around other people and reacting to small things in a big way
  • Being very aware of when people have bad intentions
  • Feeling as though everyone else has it easier than you and so you don't try
  • Feelings of relief when you receive sympathy or pity and seeking this out as a result

Victim Mentality Attitudes

Additionally, what are the attitudes that go along with a victim mentality? Here are some of the attitudes to watch out for.

  • Feeling overly pessimistic about your future
  • Feelings of repressed anger
  • Feeling as though you are entitled to sympathy from others
  • Feeling defensive no matter what other people say
  • Feeling as though there is no point in looking for solutions
  • Seeing people as black and white or good and bad
  • Being unwilling to take risks
  • Exaggerating the risks of situations or how bad they could turn out
  • Putting yourself down all the time
  • A feeling of learned helplessness

Victim Mindset Beliefs

Finally, let’s consider the beliefs that are held by someone with a victim mindset. Below are the most common beliefs you might hold if you have this type of mindset. In a way, this is very much a mindset of learned helplessness.

  • Bad things are always happening to me.
  • There’s no point in trying to change because I can’t do anything about what is happening.
  • I am deserving of the bad things that happen to me.
  • Nobody cares about me or what has happened to me.
  • I have no choice about what happens to me.
  • I don’t know what to do to change things.
  • I must accept what happens to me.
  • I can’t make changes in my life.

Causes of a Victim Mentality

What causes someone to have a victim mentality? Common causes can include:

  • Experiences of past trauma where this mindset was developed as a coping mechanism
  • Multiple negative situations where you had no sense of control
  • Ongoing emotional pain that makes you feel helpless or trapped so that you give up
  • Having someone betray your trust in the past makes you feel like you can’t trust people going forward (especially a parent or partner)
  • Secondary gain after the initial period (e.g., making others feel guilty so that you get attention)

What personality disorder plays the victim?

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a type of personality disorder that is often associated with a victim mentality. People with this condition sometimes engage in victim behavior to manipulate others, but they often possess an excessive sense of victimhood and entitlement. By shifting the blame onto others, they are able to protect their own exaggerated sense of self.

Outcomes of a Victim Mentality

What are some of the outcomes of having a victim mentality? Below are some of the most common outcomes that may result if you persist in having this mentality:

  • Feelings of guilt, shame, and depression
  • Feeling frustrated with the world
  • Feeling hurt and that people don’t care about you
  • Feeling resentful of other people who are successful
  • Feeling depressed, isolated, or lonely
  • Having relationship issues or problems at work because others feel manipulated or blamed
  • Feeling bad about yourself or engaging in self-destructive behavior
  • Feeling as though you thrive on drama and refusing to make changes when you face setbacks
  • Constant negative emotions such as fear, sadness, and anger
  • It may take you a long time to trust therapists or authority figures

How to Stop a Victim Mentality

If you identify with all the signs and symptoms of having a victim mindset, you might be wondering how to get yourself into a better frame of mind.

If so, below are some tips to help you to cope better and move to a better mindset:

  • Choose to either leave situations or accept them
  • Speak out to reclaim your power to change a situation
  • Read self-help books like Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”
  • Forgive yourself or others who have harmed you (do not accept but rather forgive) to reduce hostility and trauma responses
  • Find help from a therapist who can help you process past trauma
  • Develop your emotional intelligence
  • Take responsibility for what you can control in a life situation and how you react
  • Take control over who you spend time with
  • Engage in self-care to treat yourself compassionately and with kindness
  • Engage in self-love and seeing yourself as a worthwhile person
  • Engage in a journaling habit to release bad feelings 
  • Start to say no to things that don’t align with your values or what you want for your life
  • Make yourself a priority and take care of how much energy you expend
  • Identify personal goals that you can work towards
  • Figure out how to get the same benefits you have been getting with a victim mindset (e.g., self-care)
  • Practice gratitude for what you already have in your life

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can stop dwelling in a negative mindset.

Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts

How to Help Someone With a Victim Mentality

Are you wondering how to help someone with a victim mentality? It can be frustrating to try and help someone who has a victim mentality because they don’t take responsibility for their life and seem to blame everyone else. However, this is only because there is a lot going on beneath the surface. Below are some ways that you can help:

  • Be empathetic and acknowledge that they have faced painful events in their past
  • Don’t label them as a victim as this will just make the situation worse
  • Identify specific unhelpful behaviors like shifting blame, complaining, and not taking responsibility
  • Allow them to talk and share their feelings
  • Don’t apologize if you don’t feel that you are solely to blame for a situation
  • Set boundaries and don’t let them invade your personal space
  • Offer help to find them solutions but don’t try to protect them from bad outcomes
  • Help them to brainstorm goals or ways to change their lives
  • Ask a lot of questions to probe and get them thinking (e.g., What are you good at? What have you done well at in the past?)
  • Validate their feelings rather than brushing them off
  • Encourage them to speak to a therapist if they have trauma that has not been processed from the past
  • Prepare for your conversations and don’t allow yourself to get caught up in bad dynamics
  • Don’t attack them and be gentle; allow them to grow through your encouragement

Things to Say to Someone With a Victim Mentality

Are you wondering what specifically you can say to someone with a victim mindset? Below are some phrases that you can use:

  • “I’m sorry that you are going through this. I’m here to talk when you want to figure things out.”
  • “I have about an hour to talk if you’d like to try and figure things out.”
  • “I can’t solve this problem for you, but I’m here to help you through it.”
  • “I care about you but we seem to be rehashing the same things over and over. Can we come back to this later?”

Reasons a Victim Mindset Continues

Why would a victim mindset continue if it is making you feel bad? The truth is that there can be a lot of secondary benefits that can result from a victim mindset. Below are some of the reasons why deep down you don’t want to change.

  • It allows you not to take responsibility for your life
  • People will try to help you and solve your problems for you
  • You may be addicted to drama in your life
  • You may prefer to avoid feeling angry and instead, it’s easier to feel upset or sad
  • Being a continuing victim makes you feel like others value you
  • It’s become a way of survival or a habit that you can’t unlearn
  • You’re afraid to face the anger, shame, fear, or sadness that is underlying your victim mindset
  • It helped you get through a really hard time and now it’s just a habit
  • If people think you are struggling then they won’t criticize you
  • It helps you to avoid conflict with others
  • You are more likely to get what you want in situations
  • There are fewer expectations of you if everyone knows you are struggling 
  • People will not burden you with their problems if you already have a lot of your own
  • You have an influence on people when you play the victim
  • It forces other people to take care of you

A Word From Verywell

If you are struggling with a victim mentality, it’s important to know that it’s not your fault even though you may be in the habit of responding this way. If you struggled with trauma, then you have a genuine reason to feel like a victim. Nothing can take that away from you.

At the same time, you need to show yourself self-compassion so that you can move past this situation and seek help if needed. Continuing to dwell in a victim mindset leaves you feeling powerless and helpless and unable to initiate change in your life.

Whatever you can do to shift yourself out of a victim mentality will be the first step toward becoming the person that you want to be.

While it may be hard for you to remember what it was like before you started thinking this way, if you take small consistent steps, you’ll eventually get to where you are trying to go. And, it will be easier for others to support you along the way when you are open to help and offers of suggestions from other people. You don’t have to accept what happened to cause this mentality, but being able to move on from it will help you a great deal.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Orloff J. Strategies to Deal with a Victim Mentality.

  2. Gollwitzer M, Süssenbach P, Hannuschke M. Victimization experiences and the stabilization of victim sensitivityFront Psychol. 2015;6:439. Published 2015 Apr 14. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00439

  3. McCullough ME, Emmons RA, Kilpatrick SD, Mooney CN. Narcissists as “victims”: the role of narcissism in the perception of transgressions. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2003;29(7):885-893. doi:10.1177/0146167203029007007

  4. Kaufman SB. Unraveling the Mindset of Victimhood.

  5. Harley Therapy Counselling Blog. The Victim Mentality - What it Is and Why You Use It.

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.