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Victim mentality is an acquired personality trait in which a person tends to recognize or consider themselves as a victim of the negative actions of others, and to behave as if this were the case in the face of contrary evidence of such circumstances. Victim mentality depends on clear thought processes and attribution. In some cases, those with a victim mentality have in fact been the victim of wrongdoing by others or have otherwise suffered misfortune through no fault of their own. However, such misfortune does not necessarily imply that one will respond by developing a pervasive and universal victim mentality where one frequently or constantly perceives oneself to be a victim.
Victim mentality is primarily developed, for example, from family members and situations during childhood. Similarly, criminals often engage in victim thinking, believing themselves to be moral and engaging in crime only as a reaction to an immoral world and furthermore feeling that authorities are unfairly singling them out for persecution.
In the most general sense, a victim is anyone who experiences injury, loss, or misfortune as a result of some event or series of events. This negative experience, however, is insufficient for the emergence of a sense of victimhood. Individuals may identify as a victim if they believe that:
- they were harmed;
- they were not the cause of the occurrence of the harmful act;
- they were under no obligation to prevent the harm;
- the harm constituted an injustice in that it violated their rights (if inflicted by a person) and/or in that they possessed qualities (e.g., strength or goodness of character) making them persons whom that harm did not befit;
- they deserve sympathy.
The desire of empathy is crucial in that the mere experience of a harmful event is not enough for the emergence of the sense of being a victim. In order to have this sense, there is the need to perceive the harm as undeserved, unjust and immoral, an act that could not be prevented by the victim. The need to obtain empathy and understanding can then emerge.
Individuals harbouring a victim mentality would believe that:
- their lives are a series of challenges directly aimed at them;
- most aspects of life are negative and beyond their control;
- because of the challenges in their lives, they deserve sympathy;
- as they have little power to change things, little action should be taken to improve their problems.
Victim mentality is often the product of violence. Those who have it usually had an experience(s) of crisis and/or trauma at its roots. In essence, it is a method of avoiding responsibility and criticism, receiving attention and compassion, and evading feelings of genuine anger.
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A victim mentality may manifest itself in a range of different behaviours or ways of thinking and talking:
- Identifying others as the cause for an undesired situation and denying a personal responsibility for one's own life or circumstances.
- Exhibiting heightened attention levels (hypervigilance) when in the presence of others.
- Awareness of negative intentions of other people.
- Believing that other people are generally more fortunate.
- Gaining relief from feeling empathy for oneself or receiving empathy from others.
It has been typically characterized by attitudes of pessimism, self-pity, and repressed anger. People with victim mentality may develop convincing and sophisticated explanations in support of such ideas, which they then use to explain to themselves and others of their situation.
People with victim mentality may also be generally:
- realist, with a general tendency to realistically perceive a situation; yet may lack an awareness and/or curiosity about the root of actual powerlessness in a situation
- likely to display entitlement and selfishness.
- defensive: In conversation, reading a negative intention into a neutral question and reacting with a corresponding accusation, hindering the collective solution of problems by recognizing the inherent conflict.
- categorizing: tending to divide people into "good" and "bad" with no gray zone between them.
- unadventurous: generally unwilling to take even small and calculated risks; exaggerating the importance or likelihood of possible negative outcomes.
- exhibiting learned helplessness: underestimating one's ability or influence in a given situation; feeling powerless.
- self-abasing: Putting oneself down even further than others are doing.
A victim mentality may be reflected by linguistic markers or habits, such as pretending
- not to be able to do something ("I can't..."),
- not to have choices ("I must...") ("I have no choice..."), or
- epistemological humility ("I don't know").
Victims of abuse and manipulation
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Victims of abuse and manipulation often get trapped into a self-image of victimisation. The psychological profile of victimisation includes a pervasive sense of helplessness, passivity, loss of control, pessimism, negative thinking, strong feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame and depression. This way of thinking can lead to hopelessness and despair. It may take a long period of time for therapists to build a trusting relationship with a victim. There frequently exists a distrust of authority figures, and the expectation of being hurt or exploited.
There have been studies on how people who take responsibility of their actions and take charge of their lives will excel much more in life, particularly in cases of academics and professional life. Possessing a victim mentality can create quite the opposite. Having a mindset that the predicament one is in can cause a mentality that things are owed to them, rather than working to achieve a goal. Without having a goal to work hard to achieve, there will be less motivation and initiative which will cause a lack in productivity. A focus in large of victimhood could lead to deteriorating well-beings, which could also lead to potential violent behavior. There is also a lack of personal responsibility and accountability in the mindset.
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Since victim mentality is primarily a reaction to one's experiences and not inborn, it is possible to change it which may be provoked by an extraordinary situation or crisis. Since recognizing naive and condescending suggestions is a general characteristic feature of victim mentality, a person with victim mentality will generally not respond positively to attempts by another person to wrongly identify the problem and its solution. For this reason, the condition may become chronic.
In 2005, a study lead by psychologist Charles R. Snyder indicated that if a victim mentality sufferer forgives himself and/or the situation leading to that mental state, symptoms of PTSD and/or hostility can be mediated.
For adolescent victims, group support and psychodrama techniques can help people gain a realistic view of past traumas. These techniques emphasis the victims' feelings and expressing those feelings. Support groups are useful in allowing others to practice assertiveness techniques, and warmly supporting others in the process.
However, successful identified techniques have included therapeutic teaching methods regarding concepts of normative decision theory, emotional intelligence, cognitive therapy, and psychological locus of control. These methods have proven helpful in allowing individuals with a victim mentality mindset to both recognize and release the mindset.
One may consider collective victimhood in political settings. If the leaders of a country, and the citizens who support them, collectively feel like victims of neighboring countries (e.g. following past border disputes), those leaders may be more likely to advocate violent conflict resolution or suppression of freedom of speech.
Political psychologists Bar-Tal and Chernyak-Hai write that collective victim mentality develops from a progression of self-realization, social recognition, and eventual attempts to maintain victimhood status.
- Learned helplessness
- Moral agency
- Persecutory delusion
- Victim blaming
- Victim complex
- Victim playing
- "The Victim Mentality – What It Is & Why You Use It". Counselling Blog. HarleyTherapy.co.uk (Harley Therapy Ltd.- Psychotherapy & Counselling in London). April 26, 2016 . Retrieved August 7, 2018. Lay summary.
- Harvey, Annelie J.; Callan, Mitchell J. (July 18, 2014). "Getting "Just Deserts" or Seeing the "Silver Lining": The Relation between Judgments of Immanent and Ultimate Justice". Abstract. PLOS ONE - Beta Version of PLOS (Public Library of Science) - Scientific Journal. 9 (7): e101803. Bibcode:2014PLoSO...9j1803H. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101803. PMC 4103766. PMID 25036011.
Observers engaged in more ultimate justice reasoning for a "good" victim & greater immanent justice reasoning for a "bad" victim. Participants' construals of their bad breaks varied as a function of their self-worth, w/ greater immanent justice reasoning for participants with lower self-esteem.
- Kaminer, Wendy (July 30, 2010). "The Culture of 'Victimism' Gives Way to a Culture of Bullying". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
- Bar-Tal, Daniel; Chernyak-Hai, Lily; Schori, Noa; Gundar, Ayelet (June 2009). "A sense of self-perceived collective victimhood in intractable conflicts" (PDF). Sequential stages: the process of victimization; Victim-to-victimizer cycle. International Review of the Red Cross. 91 (874): 234, 256. doi:10.1017/S1816383109990221. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
those who perceive themselves as a victim attempt to gain social validation by persuading others (family, friends, authorities, etc.) to recognize that the harm occurred & that they are victims...the sense of collective victimhood is related to negative affective consequences of fear, reduced empathy & anger, to cognitive biases such as interpretation of ambiguous information as hostile & threatening, to emergence of the belief that violent action taken is morally justified, to reduced moral accountability & finally to a tendency to seek revenge.
- Aquino, K.; Byron, K. (2002). "Dominating interpersonal behavior and perceived victimization in groups: Evidence for a curvilinear relationship". Journal of Management. 28 (1): 71. doi:10.1177/014920630202800105.
- Sykes, C. J. (1992). A nation of victims: The decay of the American character. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0312098827.[page needed]
- "International Review of the Red Cross: Volume 91 - War victims - Cambridge Core". Cambridge Core.
- Coicaud, Jean-Marc (2016). "Victim Mentality & Violence: Anatomy of a Relationship". In Jacob, Edwin Daniel (ed.). Rethinking Security in the Twenty-First Century: A Reader. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 245–264. ISBN 978-1137525413. Retrieved 2019-07-02.
- de Vries, Manfred F.R. Kets (July 24, 2012). "Are You a Victim of the Victim Syndrome?". Mindful Leadership Coaching. London: INSEAD Business Press, Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2116238.
- Shirin, Dr. Kim K. "The Victim Mentality". Articles. DrShirin.com. Archived from the original on March 27, 2007. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
- Colier, Nancy (January 12, 2018). "Are You Ready to Stop Feeling Like a Victim?". Psychology Today. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
- Zitek, E. M.; Jordan, A. H.; Monin, B.; Leach, F. R. (2010). "Victim entitlement to behave selfishly" (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 98 (2): 245–55. doi:10.1037/a0017168. PMID 20085398. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
- Braiker, Harriet B. (October 3, 2004). Who's Pulling Your Strings? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation. McGraw-Hill Education. ISBN 978-0071446723.(2006)
- Knittle, Beverly J.; Tuana, Susan J. (January 1, 1980). "Group therapy as primary treatment for adolescent victims of intrafamilial sexual abuse". Helpless Victim Mentality. Clinical Social Work Journal. Human Sciences Press. 8 (4): 237–238. doi:10.1007/BF00758579.
Therapists...have noted the long period of time needed to build a trusting relationship. There is frequently distrust of...authority figures as well as the expectation of being hurt or exploited.
- Snyder, Charles R.; Heinze, Laura S. (April 1, 2005). "Forgiveness as a mediator of the relationship between PTSD & hostility in survivors of childhood abuse". Discussion. Cognition and Emotion. Taylor & Francis. 19 (3): 413–31. doi:10.1080/02699930441000175. PMID 22686650.
...overall forgiveness, as well as forgiveness of self and situations, mediate the PTSD-hostility relationship.
- Knittle, Beverly J.; Tuana, Susan J. (January 1, 1980). "Group therapy as primary treatment for adolescent victims of intrafamilial sexual abuse". Helpless Victim Mentality. Clinical Social Work Journal. Human Sciences Press. 8 (4): 240. doi:10.1007/BF00758579.
The same incident would then be reenacted, only this time the victim would stop the assault by means of verbalizations, physically overpowering the offender, obtaining assistance from the other parent, or some other method. The group members develop a sense of mastery over situations in which they were once helpless. They use the group to practice assertiveness skills, and they warmly support each other in the process.
- Danziger, Sanford (2010). "The Educational Benefits of Releasing "Victim Mentality": An Approach from the Fields of Business and Psychology" (PDF). Developments. Journal of Developmental Education. 34 (2): 43. Retrieved August 10, 2018.
- Bar-Tal, Daniel; Chernyak-Hai, Lily; Schori, Noa; Gundar, Ayelet (June 2009). "A sense of self-perceived collective victimhood in intractable conflicts" (PDF). Foundations. International Review of the Red Cross. 91 (874): 233. doi:10.1017/S1816383109990221. Retrieved August 21, 2018→ Sense of Victimhood has 3 foundations: (1) rooted in a Realization of Harm Experienced either directly or indirectly (2) 'Victim': a social label → result of Social Recognition of an act as illegitimate harm (3) Individuals Perceive Themselves as Victims → often attempt to maintain this status
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- Thomas J. Nevitt: The Victim Mentality. https://web.archive.org/web/20121014034523/http://aaph.org/node/214