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Victim mentality is an acquired personality trait in which a person tends to recognize 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 empathy.
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;
- the challenges in their lives merit them deserving of sympathy;
- as they have little power to change things, little action should be taken to improve their problems.
In essence, victim mentality 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 humilty ("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.
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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.
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→ Constantly acting a victim can have perceived benefits: (1) Having the 'Right' to Complain (2) Less likely to Receive Criticism (3) More likely to be Granted Requests (4) Avoiding Anger, too Occupied w/ Feeling Sad. → People with a victim mentality believe they have little other means of achieving Attention, Feelings of Value, & Power
- 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). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101803. PMC 4103766. Retrieved August 7, 2018→ 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.
- K. Aquino and K. Byron, 'Dominating interpersonal behavior and perceived victimization in groups: Evidence for a curvilinear relationship', Journal of Management, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2002, p. 71.
- "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→ You might be the victim of a crime. In such a case you have every right to feel that things were out of your control, because they were, & any thought that it’s somehow your fault & you are responsible is erroneous thinking. A healthy person recognises that beyond random bad occurrences, many things in life happen because of choices they themselves made, & that they have power to choose differently. They understand that when misfortune does happen, it is nothing to do with personal value or 'deserving' or 'not deserving'.
- C. J. Sykes, A nation of victims: The decay of the American character, St. Martin's Press: New York, 1992
- "International Review of the Red Cross: Volume 91 - War victims - Cambridge Core". Cambridge Core.
- "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 8, 2018. Lay summary.
- de Vries M.F.R.K. (2014) Are You a Victim of the Victim Syndrome?. In: Mindful Leadership Coaching. INSEAD Business Press. Palgrave Macmillan, London
- 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. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(2), 245-255. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0017168
- Braiker, Harriet B., Who's Pulling Your Strings ? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation (2006)
- 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. Boone, North Carolina: ProQuest. 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
- Caroline M Luke Butiz Butera (2010). The causes, prevalence, and treatment of obesity revisited in 2009: what have we learned so far? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91, 277S-279S.
- Christopher Peterson (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press.
- Thomas J. Nevitt: The Victim Mentality. https://web.archive.org/web/20121014034523/http://aaph.org/node/214