Have you ever wondered if you have a victim mentality?
The victim mentality is not a diagnosis. It is not found in any medical journal or the sacred DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, 5th edition).
It may not be a diagnosis, but it is like cancer to your mental health. And the term can be thrown around like a diagnosis or a weapon. It is not a compliment to be told you have a victim mentality. But it can be overcome. It is possible to heal and move away from a victim mentality.
Trauma and the victim mentality
Where did the term Victim Mentality come from? Victim means the one harmed or killed as a result of a crime, accident, event or action. It is one who is tricked. And it also means a living creature used as a religious sacrifice. Historically, it shares the same root word as the word “holy,” meaning that victim also carries the meaning of ‘one set aside.’
The victim mentality is a way of thinking that arises from our trauma, a belief that one will always be a victim. You may have been a victim because of a one-time incident or a pattern of events in your life. Whatever your experience, the victim mentality leads you to believe that once a victim, always a victim. The cancer sets in and you believe that life has set you aside. You sideline yourself. You are out of the action and off the path.
For some of us, the victim mentality makes you feel a little like a sacrificial lamb. We may conclude that we are meant to suffer. Trauma leads to victim, which can lead to victimhood. It can be insidious and even alluring. We suffer, we won’t heal, our world shrinks. We blame, we stuff our emotions, we limit our actions and conclude there is nothing we can do about our pain.
There is nothing wrong with being a victim. It simply means that for a moment, you were powerless to life circumstances or to another person or group. It does not have to define the course of your life unless you allow it. Victimhood tells a story that has a ring of truth: I have been harmed, I have been hurt, I am suffering and in pain. Life has been hard on me. End of story.
But healing gives you another story with a better ending. You have more to your story than your trauma. You can make choices, or even just one choice to improve your life and keep it moving forward.
Honoring the victim without it becoming victimhood
When you experience trauma, a person can respond in a variety of ways, some healthy and others not so healthy. A person can find a way through the trauma to healing and to resilience. Or we may dwell on our trauma, or to move on too quickly. How we respond to our trauma can impact how we view our lives.
Early in my life, I experience a series of accidents as a result of my incessant curiosity. By age six I had been to the emergency room numerous times for serious wounds, broken bones, and for swallowing a bottle of children’s aspirin (non-suicidal). Physically, my body had experienced a great deal of trauma, but it was not until I was in my 40s that I realized that I carried an emotional residue from these experiences.
For years, I ignored and stuffed. I did not allow myself to face my wounds and they festered. I did not have a conscious victim mentality, but I was in denial. For healing to come, I had to slow down and open up. Experiences of trauma call for grace, for a hand up and allowing the pain to slowly heal.
It may be difficult, but honoring a moment where you felt powerless can set you free. You may have been powerless then, but today you can take back your life. You have choices and you can improve yourself, your future and how you think about your life.
How to heal from victimhood
Healing will change your life but your healing will look differently than the next person’s journey. That does not mean you are unusual or weird. It is just how you need to face your circumstance. The set of recommendations below are just that, ideas of what has worked for me and continue to work. You may need other things. Stay on the journey and get help. There is more to life than your trauma.
1.If you have experienced physical, emotional, sexual or spiritual trauma I recommend seeing a professional counsellor or Psychologist. The experience can change the course of your life for the good. Reading can be tremendously helpful, but it cannot be a substitute for caring, professional help.
2.Remind yourself that an incident of trauma is just that – a moment in time. You have had, and will have, thousands of other days. It is an isolated incident rather than your entire life.
3.You are not alone. Speaking up will end the isolation and will help you attack the lie that your experience was so life-altering that you will never over come it.
4.Acknowledge when you blame others, especially if you feel they deserve it. It can be difficult to change this habit, but blaming others erodes your need for responsibility. Every experience can be an opportunity to learn, but blame short circuits any learning that you may have experienced. Begin by acknowledging when you blame. Noticing is the first step towards change.
5.Take responsibility, one choice at a time. Begin by exercising one choice, one positive willful action to change your life. See failures as learning rather than confirmation that you will never change. For more on this, see the brilliant book Mindset by Carol Dweck. The book describes how we can have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset and teaches you how to change your thinking.
6.Practice gratitude. Notice each day how you bounce back. Keep a log of your resilience to help erode the beliefs that life will never go your way. It can look like a log of the things you are grateful for, or the ways you have learned something new, or how you have challenged yourself each day to step out of your comfort zone. Any progress is a step towards resilience.
7.Keep at it. Remember that “To be successful you need to learn from your mistakes and try again” to quote Morty Lefkoe in his Huffington Post article. When you give up, you will remain a victim. Persistence, sticking with your growth and moving forward will help you to face and eventually overcome the mentality.
8.Refuse to dwell in self-pity. Self-pity can become a cancer. It can keep a person safe because they don’t have to risk, face responsibility, admit their mistakes or their vulnerabilities. There is no moving forward when you live with self-pity. When you take the risk and admit to someone you trust that you engage in self-pity, it can help to break the pattern. Instead, practice self-resilience. Remind yourself of the ways you have made positive choices. And refuse to isolate yourself, because that can be like gasoline on the fires of self-pity.
9.Forgive yourself and forgive the circumstances that led to your wounds. Forgiveness sets you free, it does not release the perpetrator (if there is one) from responsibility. Forgiveness is a daily choice to let go of wounds, and pain.
“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” Catherine Ponder
10.Be kind to yourself. Self-care is not self-pity. It is anything that you do to renew yourself, positive ways that you engage in to help you cope. When you slip back into a negative way of thinking, just recognize it. Being hard on yourself won’t help. Give yourself a break when you slip.
11.For more on healing, see my article Your Healing Will Leave Scars.
The victim mentality does not have to be a life-sentence, you can heal and overcome the impacts from your trauma and from the devastating effects of a victim mentality. But please, don’t face it alone.
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