10 Signs You (Or Someone You Know) Has A Victim Complex & How To Deal With It

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It can be depressing to be around someone who is always negative and constantly complains about everything.

Some negative people carry with them a victim mentality that sabotages any chance they have at happiness. The tend to find things wrong with their life or feel that they do not deserve good things.

The phrases "victim mentality" and "victim complex" are neither medical nor psychological terminology, and neither are actual diagnoses. But they are great descriptors for a specific type of negative thought pattern that can prevent people from achieving their goals and find lasting happiness.

People stuck in victim mentality may also have a martyr complex, which is when a person actively seeks out conflict or the feeling of being persecuted in order to maintain their identity as the victim.

Let's discuss victim mentality, how it happens, how to know if you are stuck in a victim complex, and how to deal with victim mentality in others, as well as the difference between feeling victimized as an actual survivor of abuse or trauma versus being stuck in a negative thought pattern.

What does victim mentality mean?

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."

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.

A victim complex is a form of negativity bias, which is natural for human beings when kept in control.

Negativity bias is the "notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions) have a greater effect on one's psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things."

The problem occurs when it gets out of control and the bad, unfortunate and painful aspects of life start to overshadow the hope, love and positivity that exist alongside the darkness.

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The person stuck in this mentality will act negative and spread that energy around them, and, as a result, people adopt a negative or aversive attitude toward them, which only worsens the cycle.

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.

While some trauma survivors and real victims may appear to be stuck in victim mentality, this is not a personality flaw, laziness or a result of simply not trying hard enough to "think positive."

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 the victim.

What causes a victim complex?

Victim complexes are acquired characteristics, which means that victim mentality is not part of a person's nature due to genetics. They become stuck in a victim mentality due to events that transpire in their lives, not something innate about their biology.

Maybe they were raised by adults who also had negative attitudes, themselves stuck in victim mentality, so they believe it's normal and slip into that victim role easily in relationships or group dynamics.

Or perhaps their childhood was marked by a number of negative events, and they learned to adapt by always being on the lookout for the next bad thing about to happen. They may simply have learned that it is normal to feel powerless.

A person who has a victim mentality also may have found that the best way to get attention — especially as a child — was to be a victim.

Maybe their parents responded better to their cries than their laughter or emotionally neutral behaviors, setting them up for thought patterns that subconsciously focus on the negative rather than the positive.

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 which 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 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 self-defeating behaviors.

You end up destroying yourself and ruining your life by running away from these unwanted feelings.

9. You beat yourself up or self-punish.

You attack yourself with self-blame, punish yourself and berate yourself when things go wrong, and when you feel like a victim by self-sabotage and ruining your life.

10. You are never at fault.

It is always someone else’s fault. If you're a victim, everyone else is to blame because you lack responsibility and blame others for things that go wrong.

RELATED: 7 Signs The Person You Love Acts Has A Martyr Complex

Do I have a martyr complex?

Similar to a victim complex or victim mentality, a martyr complex can affect your life and prevent you from achieving your goals for a happy life.

A martyr is someone who "sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle." A martyr complex, however, happens when there is no good reason to martyr yourself or become a victim.

Sharon Martin, LCSW explains that "similar to a people-pleaser, a person with a martyr complex will sacrifice his or her own needs to serve others. But martyrs also learn helplessness — feeling they have no choice and are a victim to other people’s demands."

How can you know if you are living with a martyr complex? Ask yourself if you have given over control of your life and your power to others, or even to fate.

Oftentimes, martyr complexes and victim mentality go hand-in-hand and feed off one another. If you only see the negativity in life, you may fall into a pattern of believing that all the negative things happening to you are due to a role you play, which is likely imagined or self-assigned.

The key to facing your martyr complex and taking control over your life is to set healthy boundaries.

Martin explains, "When you start expressing your feelings, wants and needs, and setting boundaries, some people may be angry or even leave. This is normal. When you change, those around you have to change, too."

She also notes that your new, positive attitude will start attracting healthy, happy people. If you allow yourself to accept them, you can make real changes to your life.

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 felt unlovable. By holding onto the internal critic within yourself, you 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 self-love because you are the master at running away from your feelings with self-sabotaging behaviors. You self-sabotage by giving up on yourself and making excuses, in order to run away from how you feel about yourself.

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.

But 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're going to 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 ruin your life if you let these feelings take over and impact you.

If you do not recognize the signs of having a victim mentality, it can destroy your life. You may not realize that you do not allow yourself to deserve the good things in life, find things wrong with your life, and see the glass as half empty.

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, objectively, as they enter your mind can help you examine your negative thought patterns and stop them from affecting behaviors.

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 excited for 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 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.

How To Deal With Someone Who Has A Victim Mentality

Nothing you say will help someone with a self-defeating attitude, but there is some pleasure in seeking sympathy while being in crisis, because a person gets love and support in that way.

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 and ensure the negativity doesn't rub off on you. If you get caught up in trying to make them feel better, you, too, can get caught in the chaotic negativity and go down with them.

The best antidote to helping someone who with a victim complex 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 is.

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Nancy Carbone is a relationship therapist and psychodynamic psychotherapist with 18 years of counseling experience. She specializes in the treatment of personality disorders and relational trauma, and is accredited as a mental health social worker.

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This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.