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Victim mentality

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Victim mentality is a psychological concept referring to a mindset in which a person, or group of people, tends to recognize or consider themselves a victim of the negative actions of others. 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. The term is also used in reference to the tendency for blaming one's misfortunes on somebody else's misdeeds, which is also referred to as victimism.[1][2]

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.[3]

Characteristics of the victimhood mindset have been observed at the group level, although not all individual-level traits apply.[4]


A victim mentality may manifest itself in a range of different behaviours or ways of thinking:

  • Identifying others as the cause for an undesired situation and denying a personal responsibility for one's own life or circumstances.[5]
  • Attributing negative intentions to the offender.[4]
  • Believing that other people are generally more fortunate.[6]
  • Gaining relief from feeling pity for oneself or receiving sympathy from others.[7]

It has been typically characterized by attitudes of pessimism, self-pity, and repressed anger.[8]

People with victim mentality may also:

  • exhibit a general tendency to realistically perceive a situation; yet may lack an awareness or curiosity about the root of actual powerlessness in a situation,[9]
  • display entitlement and selfishness[10]
  • become defensive, even when others try to help[11]
  • be categorizing: tending to divide people into "good" and "bad" with no gray zone between them.[5]
  • avoid taking risks[12]
  • exhibit learned helplessness[13][14]
  • be self-abasing[15]

At the individual and collective level, other features of a victim mentality include:[16]

  • Need for recognition[4] – the desire for individuals to have their victimhood recognized and affirmed by others. This recognition helps reaffirm positive basic assumptions held by the individual about themselves, others and the world in general. This also implies that offenders recognize their wrongdoing. At a collective level this can encourage people to have a positive well-being with regards to traumatic events and to encourage conciliatory attitudes in group conflicts.
  • Moral elitism[4] – the perception of the moral superiority of the self and the immorality of the other side, at both individual and group levels. At an individual level this tends to involve a "black and white" view of morality and the actions of individuals. The individual denies their own aggressiveness and sees the self as weak and persecuted by the morally impure, while the other person is seen as threatening, persecuting and immoral, preserving the image of a morally pure self. At a collective level, moral elitism means that groups emphasize the harm inflicted on them, while also seeing themselves as morally superior. This also means that individuals see their own violence as justified and moral, while the outgroup's violence is unjustified and morally wrong.
  • Lack of empathy – because individuals are concerned with their own suffering, they tend to be unwilling to divert interest to the suffering of others. They will either ignore the suffering others or act more selfishly. At the collective level, groups preoccupied with their own victimhood are unwilling to see the outgroup's perspective and show less empathy to their adversaries, while being less likely to accept responsibility for harms they commit. This results in the group being collectively egoistic.[4]
  • Rumination – victims tend to focus attention on their distress and its causes and consequences rather than solutions. This causes aggression in response to insults or threats and decreases a desire for forgiveness by including a desire for revenge against the perpetrator. Similar dynamics play out at the collective level.[4]

Victims of abuse and manipulation[edit]

Victims of abuse and manipulation are often trapped in a self-image of victimization. The psychological profile of victimization includes a variety of feelings and emotions, such as pervasive sense of helplessness, passivity, loss of control, pessimism, negative thinking, strong feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame, and depression.[17] This way of thinking can lead one to hopelessness and despair.[18] The victim role can be reinforced by individuals viewing themselves as having had the same agency at the time they were victimized as they have in the present.[19]: 240 

It is common for a therapist to take a long period of time to build a trusting relationship with a victim. Oftentimes, victims will develop a distrust of authority figures, along with the expectation of being hurt or exploited.[19]

Sexual abuse and victim mentality appear to have strong connections. Regardless of gender, all age groups forced to participate in and perform non-consensual sexual acts are more likely to develop feelings of self-recrimination, guilt, and self-blame for acts that they were forced to perform.[20] Sexual abuse may also manifest in other ways such as petting, lewd verbal suggestions and communication, and exposure of one's body for sexual pleasure.

According to Koçtürk, Nilüfer et al.[21] the timing of disclosure among victims of abuse may vary, especially when it comes to sexual abuse. If the event occurred during their childhood or teenage years, they may not tell anyone until adulthood. The reasons for doing so are numerous, such as not wanting to draw attention to the event, not wanting the event to become a public spectacle, fear that their peers, friends, and others would think negatively of them, and not wanting to cause problems within the household. It has been found that victims who disclose to their family members early on usually have higher levels of support from family members and their community. Encouragement to disclose their traumatic experience sooner, rather than later, is greatly needed.

Studies conducted by Andronnikova and Kudinov [22] sought to determine a correlation between the degree of abuse and victimhood, and the victim's likelihood to exhibit behaviors consistent with a victim mentality. Studies were successful in identifying a strong correlation between those with a victim mentality and negative behaviors such as catastrophizing, self-demandingness, demandingness to others, and low frustration tolerance.

Breaking out[edit]

In 2005, a study led by psychologist Charles R. Snyder indicated that if a victim mentality sufferer forgives themselves or the situation leading to that mental state, symptoms of PTSD or hostility can be mediated.[23]

For adolescent victims, group support and psychodrama techniques can help people gain a realistic view of past traumas, seeing that they were helpless but are no longer so.[24]: 240  These techniques emphasize 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.[24]

Successful 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.[25]

Trauma, victimization, and victimology[edit]

Trauma can undermine an individual's assumptions about the world as a just and reasonable place and scientific studies have found that validation of trauma is important for therapeutic recovery. It is normal for victims to want perpetrators to take responsibility for their wrongdoing and studies conducted on patients and therapists indicate that they consider the validation of trauma and victimization as important for therapeutic recovery.[26] De Lint and Marmo identify an 'antivictimism' mentality existing within society as a whole, and those who choose to use the label victim mentality; expecting individuals to only be "true victims" by showing fortitude and refusing to show pain, with displays of pain being seen as a sign of weakness. This will create an environment where a victim is expected to share their emotions, only to be judged for displaying them.[27]: 55 

Victimology has studied the perceptions of victims from sociological and psychological perspectives. People who are victims of crime have a complicated relationship with the label of a victim, may feel that they are required to accept it to receive aid or for legal processes; they may feel accepting the label is necessary to avoid blame; they may want to reject it to avoid stigmatization, or give themselves a sense of agency; they may accept the label due to a desire for justice rather than sympathy. There can be a false dichotomy between the roles of victim and survivor, which either does not acknowledge the agency that victims exerted (for example, leaving their abusers) or the fact that others' behaviour caused them harm.[28]

Collective, competitive, and inclusive victimhood[edit]

Collective victimhood[edit]

Collective victimhood is a mindset shared by group members that one’s own group has been harmed deliberately and undeservedly by another group.[29][30] 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.[31] Researchers have observed that a strong feeling of collective victimhood is associated with a low forgiveness level and an increased desire for revenge.[4] They noted this pattern replicated in different contexts such as the Holocaust,[32] the conflict in Northern Ireland,[33] and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[33][4][34]

Competitive victimhood[edit]

Competitive victimhood refers to a tendency to view one's group as having suffered more compared to an adversarial group[35] and describes the dynamic in violent, intractable conflicts where each group seeks to demonstrate that it has suffered more than the adversarial group.[36][37] As a result, groups involved in violent conflicts tend perceive their victimization as exclusive and may belittle, minimize, or even deny the adversarial group’s pain and suffering.[4][36][38] Researchers observe that competitive victimhood arises from the conflicting parties' desire to defend their moral image, restore agency, and gain power.[39][40] Competitive victimhood has been found to critically and significantly hinder conflict resolution and reconciliation,[37] as well as decrease the potential for future peaceful coexistence.[41]

Inclusive victimhood[edit]

Some researchers have argued that victim beliefs do not necessarily contribute to group conflict, hypothesizing that victim beliefs which recognize similarities between victim groups' experiences may increase empathy and prosocial behavior toward out-groups and adversarial groups.[38] This may aid in the reconciliation process, decreasing competitive victimhood and increasing forgiveness.[40][37][42] Other researchers hypothesize that rather than emphasizing inclusive victimhood, the emphasis should instead be on shared humanity.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 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.
  2. ^ Kaminer, Wendy (July 30, 2010). "The Culture of 'Victimism' Gives Way to a Culture of Bullying". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  3. ^ 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. S2CID 53594158. 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.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kaufman, Scott Barry. "Unraveling the Mindset of Victimhood". Scientific American. Retrieved 2023-11-09.
  5. ^ a b 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.
  6. ^ "Victim Of Circumstances Mentality Holding You? Let's Change". wealthfulmind.com. 2022-01-11. Retrieved 2023-12-09.
  7. ^ "Victim Of Circumstances Mentality Holding You? Let's Change". wealthfulmind.com. 2022-01-11. Retrieved 2023-12-09.
  8. ^ Shirin, Dr. Kim K. "The Victim Mentality". Articles. DrShirin.com. Archived from the original on March 27, 2007. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  9. ^ Colier, Nancy (January 12, 2018). "Are You Ready to Stop Feeling Like a Victim?". Psychology Today. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  10. ^ 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): 245–55. doi:10.1037/a0017168. PMID 20085398. S2CID 9760588.
  11. ^ "Victim Of Circumstances Mentality Holding You? Let's Change". wealthfulmind.com. 2022-01-11. Retrieved 2023-12-09.
  12. ^ "What Is a Victim Mentality?". WebMD. Retrieved 2023-12-09.
  13. ^ "Victim Mentality: Signs, Causes, and What to Do". Psych Central. 2018-03-20. Retrieved 2023-12-09.
  14. ^ "Learned Helplessness and Generalized Victimhood | Change, Inc. St. Louis Counseling". 2017-07-27. Retrieved 2023-12-09.
  15. ^ Durlofsky, Dr Paula (2013-09-20). "Understanding the Victim Mentality". Main Line Today. Retrieved 2023-12-09.
  16. ^ Gabay, Rahav, Boaz Hameiri, Tammy Rubel-Lifschitz, and Arie Nadler. "The Tendency to Feel Victimized in Interpersonal and Intergroup Relationships." The Social Psychology of Collective Victimhood (2020): 361.
  17. ^ Remschmidt, Helmut (2001-08-16), "Sexual abuse and sexual maltreatment", Psychotherapy with Children and Adolescents, Cambridge University Press, pp. 525–536, doi:10.1017/cbo9780511666438.032, ISBN 9780521775588, retrieved 2022-03-10
  18. ^ 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)
  19. ^ a b 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. 8 (4). Human Sciences Press: 237–238. doi:10.1007/BF00758579. S2CID 71450173. 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.
  20. ^ Newsom, Walter S. (November 1993). "Review of Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse". Contemporary Psychology: A Journal of Reviews. 38 (11): 1235. doi:10.1037/032816. ISSN 0010-7549.
  21. ^ Koçtürk, Nilüfer; Bilginer, Samiye Çilem (2020-11-01). "Adolescent sexual abuse victims' levels of perceived social support and delayed disclosure". Children and Youth Services Review. 118: 105363. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105363. ISSN 0190-7409. S2CID 225358209.
  22. ^ Andronnikova, Olga O.; Kudinov, Sergey I. (2021-12-30). "Cognitive Attitudes and Biases of Victim Mentality". Changing Societies & Personalities. 5 (4): 654. doi:10.15826/csp.2021.5.4.155. ISSN 2587-8964. S2CID 247073588.
  23. ^ 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. 19 (3). Taylor & Francis: 413–31. doi:10.1080/02699930441000175. PMID 22686650. S2CID 1485398. ...overall forgiveness, as well as forgiveness of self and situations, mediate the PTSD-hostility relationship.
  24. ^ a b 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. 8 (4). Human Sciences Press: 240. doi:10.1007/BF00758579. S2CID 71450173. 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.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ Kaufman, Scott Barry. "Unraveling the Mindset of Victimhood". Scientific American. Retrieved 2020-12-31.
  27. ^ Lint, Willem de; Marmo, Marinella (2018-07-03). Narrating Injustice Survival: Self-medication by Victims of Crime. Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-93494-5.
  28. ^ Leisenring, Amy (2006). "Confronting "Victim" Discourses: The Identity Work of Battered Women". Symbolic Interaction. 29 (3): 307–330. doi:10.1525/si.2006.29.3.307. ISSN 1533-8665.
  29. ^ Jasini, Alba; Delvaux, Ellen; Mesquita, Batja (2017). "Collective Victimhood and Ingroup Identity Jointly Shape Intergroup Relations, Even in a Non-violent Conflict: The Case of the Belgians". Psychol Belgica. 57 (3): 98–114. doi:10.5334/pb.334. PMC 6196837. PMID 30479795.
  30. ^ Bar-Tal, Daniel; Chernyak-Hai, Lily; Schori, Noa; Gundar, Ayelet (23 November 2009). "A sense of self-perceived collective victimhood in intractable conflicts". International Review of the Red Cross. 91 (874): 229–258. doi:10.1017/S1816383109990221.
  31. ^ 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. S2CID 53594158. 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
  32. ^ Wohl, Michael J. A.; Branscombe, Nyla R. (June 2008). "Remembering historical victimization: collective guilt for current ingroup transgressions". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 94 (6): 988–1006. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.94.6.988. ISSN 0022-3514. PMID 18505313.
  33. ^ a b "The Shadows of the Past: Effects of Historical Group Trauma on Current Intergroup Conflicts" (PDF).
  34. ^ Shefik, Sheniz (2017-03-21). "Socio-psychological Barriers To The Peace Process: Collective Victimhood And Identity In The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict". The Organization for World Peace. Retrieved 2023-11-13.
  35. ^ Young, Issac; Sullivan, Daniel (2016). "Competitive victimhood: a review of the theoretical and empirical literature". Current Opinion in Psychology. 11: 30–34. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.04.004.
  36. ^ a b Noor, Masi; Shnabel, Nurit; Halabi, Samer; Nadler, Ari (2012). "When suffering begets suffering: the psychology of competitive victimhood between adversarial groups in violent conflicts". Personality and Social Psychology Review. 16 (4): 351–374. doi:10.1177/1088868312440048. PMID 22461010.
  37. ^ a b c d Burkhardt-Vetter, Olga (21 February 2018). "Reconciliation in the Making: Overcoming Competitive Victimhood Through Inter-group Dialogue in Palestine/Israel". The Politics of Victimhood in Post-conflict Societies. pp. 237–263. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-70202-5_10. ISBN 978-3-319-70201-8.
  38. ^ a b Vollhardt, Johanna (21 Apr 2009). "The Role of Victim Beliefs in the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict: Risk or Potential for Peace?". Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology. 15 (2): 135–159. doi:10.1080/10781910802544373.
  39. ^ Danbold, Felix; Onyeador, Ivuoma; Unzueta, Miguel (January 2022). "Dominant groups support digressive victimhood claims to counter accusations of discrimination". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 98. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2021.104233.
  40. ^ a b Shnabel, Nurit; Halabi, Samer; Noor, Masi (September 2013). "Overcoming competitive victimhood and facilitating forgiveness through re-categorization into a common victim or perpetrator identity". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 49 (5): 867–877. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2013.04.007.
  41. ^ "The victim wars: How competitive victimhood stymies reconciliation between conflicting groups | Magazine issue 5/2012 - Issue 15 | In-Mind". www.in-mind.org. Retrieved 2023-12-02.
  42. ^ Demirel, Cagla (8 May 2023). "Exploring inclusive victimhood narratives: the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina". Third World Quarterly. 44 (8): 1770–1789. doi:10.1080/01436597.2023.2205579.