10 Signs You Or Someone You Know Has A Victim Mentality

People with a victim mentality aren't doing themselves any favors.

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It can be depressing to be around someone who is always negative and constantly finds things to complain about.

In particular, people who possess a victim mentality often self-sabotage their most important relationships. They feel they do not deserve the good things in life, looking at the glass half empty as a reflection for what is really going on deep down within themselves.

The phrases "victim mentality" and "victim complex" are not actual diagnoses, but rather descriptors for a specific type of negative thought pattern that can prevent people from achieving their goals and finding lasting happiness.


What is a victim mentality?

In an article in PsychCentral, Hilary I. Lebow explains that a victim mentality is "where a person feels like a victim across situations, even when the evidence suggests otherwise."

In other words, when someone is stuck in a victim complex, they can't see that the circumstances and people around them are usually good. When good things happen, they tend to ignore or downplay them and instead focus on the negative aspects of the experience.

RELATED: 9 Scary Ways Narcissistic Victim Syndrome Traps You In A Bad Relationship


In a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences in 2020, researchers recognized this as a specific personality trait, which they named 'Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood (TIV),' defined as "an enduring feeling that the self is a victim across different kinds of interpersonal relationships," with four dimensions, including "need for recognition, moral elitism, lack of empathy, and rumination." Notably, the scientists separated those with TIV from those who have narcissistic personality disorder.

It's important to note that terms like "victim complex" and "victim mentality" should never be used to dismiss the very real effects of trauma that result from a person being an actual victim of abuse, assault, or any other traumatic event.

Sometimes, terms like "victim mentality" can be used by abusers against a person who has survived very real abuse or trauma as a way of gaslighting them and making them feel unstable. They may be told they "play the victim" when, in reality, they are not the victim. They may even be a victim who is trying to ask for help.

While some trauma survivors may come across to others as being stuck in a victim mentality, this is not a personality flaw, laziness, or a result of simply not trying hard enough to "think positive."


What causes a victim complex?

Victim complexes have a variety of causes. Research published in 2015 states that the causes are not genetic, but rather created by experiences that "thwart a particular need, the need to trust."

For example, they may have experienced "physical abuse, betrayal of trust, or social rejection" and lacked healthy coping mechanisms for managing their emotional reactions to whatever it was that happened.

Importantly, it should be noted that, in the 2020 study where researchers identified victim complexes as TIV, victim mentalities were not correlated with abuse or trauma, and the researchers asserted that a victim mentality can develop without one having experienced severe trauma or victimization.

Maybe they were raised by adults who also had negative attitudes and were themselves stuck in a victim mentality, so it became a normalized behavior for the child to slip into the victim role easily in relationships or social dynamics in general.


Perhaps the individual had a childhood that was marked by a number of negative events that weren't associated with their parents, but they did not learn healthy coping mechanisms. Instead, they started to develop a habit of being on the lookout for the next bad thing about to happen. Or they may feel as though it is normal to feel powerless and unable to change one's own situation.

A person with a victim mentality also may have found that the best way to get attention is to be a victim, according to Jeff Nalin, Psy.D, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist.

"This mindset can create patterns and generate ‘rewards’ that make it difficult for a person to break free,” he says. “An unhealthy mindset allows individuals to avoid taking responsibility; they may become manipulative as other people will often feel sorry for them and consequently lavish extra attention on them."

RELATED: Want To Know How To Get What You Want From Your Life? Stop Playing The Victim


10 Signs of a 'Victim Mentality' or Complex

1. You do not take action or you give up.

You find any possible reason why it’s not going to work out, making excuses and giving up before you get started. It’s not fun to put effort into something if you are not confident it will work out.

2. You lack self-confidence and self-belief.

You don’t believe in yourself, causing you to not follow through on your ideas. You put things off, find excuses, avoid being accountable, find escape routes, or coast along rather than live life.

3. You let others take control over your life.

You let others tell you how to live your life since you feel that they know more than you. If you put your life in the hands of others, you have no control over your life. You do not take responsibility for your actions and blame other people when things go wrong.

4. You let negative self-beliefs sabotage your choices.

You give up based on your internal critic. You settle for things in life that support how you see yourself: not feeling good enough.


5. You deplete yourself until you need support.

You run around trying to please everyone — to the detriment of yourself — until you hit a crisis and need to be rescued. You stop functioning for yourself when you are running on empty.

Then, it is everyone else’s fault because you carried them and forgot to think about yourself. You then blame them for not meeting your needs when you didn’t meet your own needs.

6. You feel bitter and resentful that you're not living your best life.

You end up meeting the needs of others because you fear being alone. You give to everyone else, but you are not there for yourself. You don’t focus on yourself but instead on living everyone else’s life, rather than living your own.

When your life falls apart, you end up bitter and resentful at life and not feeling in control.


You feel good when pleasing everyone else and rely on your happiness coming from others, rather than fulfilling your own self. You can feel like a martyr, but you’re not there for yourself.

7. You make excuses for why you give up.

You make excuses or justify why things will not work out, sabotaging your chances because you do not want to go for what you want and risk failure.

You end up escaping the fear of rejection, avoiding failure or being judged. You are avoiding your feelings of not being good enough, but actually end up feeling worse when you give up.

8. You engage in self-destructive coping behavior.

You seek instant relief when you’re not feeling good about yourself, so you attempt to feel better by engaging in addictions, affairs, or other behaviors that are impulsive and dangerous to your emotional or mental health.


You end up running into new feelings you avoid confronting in the process of running away from these unwanted feelings.

9. You beat yourself up or self-punish.

You attack yourself with self-blame and negative self-talk. You mercilessly punish and berate yourself when things go wrong. And then you feel like a victim, due to the self-sabotage and havoc you've wreaked on your own life.

10. You are never at fault.

When you are not berating yourself and being overly self-critical that is in no way constructive, it's always someone else’s fault. If you're a victim, everyone else is to blame because you shirk all responsibility and blame others when things go wrong.

RELATED: How To Let Go Of Your Victim Mentality And Rewrite Your Life Story


How to Deal With a Victim Complex in Yourself

In childhood, you can internalize the belief that there is something wrong with you when you feel unlovable. By holding onto the internal critic within yourself, you may end up acting out these self-loathing feelings with self-destructive behavior that works against you.

You may not see the self-critic deep within you when you lack the self-love you need in order to heal because you are the master at running away from your feelings.

The actual truth is that you are your own worst critic, and you let your internal saboteur shoot you in the foot. You feel like a victim because nothing ever goes your way, despite the fact you won't risk taking steps in the right direction.

If you want to stop feeling like a victim, you have to take responsibility for your life.

If you blame life, others, or situations for things that go wrong, rather than looking at how you run away to escape the feeling of not being good enough, you'll stay stuck in this cycle.


By ignoring your internal critic, you will continue to self-sabotage unless you deal with the critical part of you. It's time to start listening to yourself and examining your habits and thought patterns critically.

Living within the victim mentality will continue to bring unwelcome outcomes if you can't change your perspective.

If you do not recognize the signs of having a victim mentality, you may not realize that you are the one who subjects yourself to feeling as though you do not deserve the good things in life.

RELATED: How To Know If Your Spouse Is Playing The Victim (And 4 Ways To Help Them Overcome It)

How to change your negative thought patterns

1. Reach out to a mental health professional.

This could be someone like a therapist or counselor. They can help you tease apart what role your own thinking has played in your life today, and release you from some of the feelings of responsibility you may have over events that were not your fault.


2. Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness simply means paying attention to what's happening inside you. There are plenty of effective meditation and mindfulness courses and tracks available online and via popular apps that can make a huge difference in your life.

Learning how to observe your thoughts more objectively as they enter your mind can help you examine your negative thought patterns and stop them from affecting your moods and behaviors as heavily.

3. Ask trusted friends and family to help keep you accountable.

Let the people you love know that you are trying to turn over a new leaf in your life. Chances are, they'll be happy and eager to support you.


Ask them to help you identify when you may be stuck in your typical victim mentality. It might help to share with them phrases that will be helpful to pull you out of it without making you defensive.

For instance, it might be hurtful to hear them say, "See, you're doing it again!" or "You always do this." Instead, talk to them about saying something like, "You might be stuck in a negative thought pattern here," which can snap you out of your victim mindset and help you view your actions or thoughts more objectively.

Let them know that you know it's your responsibility to change your own life, but that their help would mean a lot to you because you trust them.

RELATED: Victim Vs. Survivor: Why The Words You Choose To Use Matter


How to deal with someone who has a victim mentality

Nothing you say will help someone with a self-defeatist attitude, but there is some unhealthy pleasure they derive from seeking sympathy while being in crisis as a form of attention-seeking behavior.

Sometimes, even when you offer them hope, they can make you feel like you do not understand them, so they complain more to show you how miserable they are. If you offer a solution, they give you another problem to make excuses for why nothing will work out.

It’s not your job to rescue negative people who do not want to save themselves.

All you can do is be there — as long as it isn't unhealthy for you — and ensure to preemptively safeguard yourself from their negativity. If you get caught up in trying to make them feel better, you, too, can get caught in their tumultuous chaos and go down with them.

The best antidote to helping someone who lacks gratitude and self-love is to point out directly that no matter what you say, they always find excuses or find things wrong.


Once they see that they’re caught up in the victim mentality, they can own their actual behavior and see how self-defeating it actually is.

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Nancy Carbone is an author and trauma therapist. She helps people with overcoming relational trauma.