How To Overcome Victim Mentality: 7 Experts Share Incredibly Powerful Tips + Strategies To Break Out of Victim Mindset
“There is a fine line between compassion and a victim mentality. Compassion though is a healing force and comes from a place of kindness towards yourself. Playing the victim is a toxic waste of time that not only repels other people, but also robs the victim of ever knowing true happiness.”
― Bronnie Ware
A sincere thanks to all the awesome experts who shared their best tips, insights and strategies on how to overcome victim mentality.
Do you ever think, “Everything bad is happening to me? What about me? Why me? I can’t do this.”
These are signs that you may be collapsing into a victim mentality.
When we were children we were often powerless, but as an adult we typically have more options, choices and power to make decisions to take better care of ourselves. Every NO we state now inherently has a YES to it... if we can see it.
If I say NO to putting me down, I am saying YES to treating me with equality, mutuality and respect.
When I say NO to being silent, I am saying YES to having a voice and speaking my truth.
Too often we adopt a defense of freeze, collapse and flight - all VICTIM defenses.
If we identify with these defenses and they become automatic habits then we keep ourselves in a VICTIM state. Now the TRUTH is, it is not OTHERS victimizing us, but we are ourselves perpetrating against ourselves when we play the victim. And we are perpetrating against others by blaming, attacking, criticizing others for our inner victim state and demanding that they change or rescue us.
Every time we play the victim we are perpetrating against ourselves and others.
Another common trap is to think about everything that went wrong in our past and often use these experiences to make excuses or justify our current inaction, staying in a victim state.
In this way we are actively keeping ourselves small - identifying with being little and incapable - can you see the perpetration in this? It is pity, sympathy, patronizing and infantilizing at its worst and does not honor our capacity or encourage growth.
So what is the practice to help ourselves get out of victim mentality?
Instead of saying, “it is okay you can hide and not work, see friends, do this task… you can’t do it it, is too hard, it isn’t safe”, you can instead understand you were afraid and learned to hide, acknowledge and have empathy for this past pain, and lovingly remind yourself that now you are older, have more resources, more choices, are safer and can be brave and face the world.
In this way you encourage yourself to get up, grow, and enjoy the fruits of growing up - a sense of self, self esteem, self efficacy and self empowerment.
Next time you notice wallowing in the past or collapsing into victim mentality, remind yourself this is a memory state, and you have choice now to CHANGE how you relate to yourself and live life.
Through this mindful practice you are claiming your ability in the moment to change, grow and evolve. This is respectful and loving. LOVE is not allowing yourself to stay stuck in the past, small or victimized… this is codependency and victim mentality.
LOVE is supporting your ability to say YES/NO, to engage fully in your life, to take care of yourself and grow.
Eloise Erasmus Ph.D., L.P. - www.aslaninst.com
We all indulge the occasional pity party, but making that party our permanent residence makes for a difficult and joyless existence.
Victim mentality is about feeling entitled to something (love, money, safety, respect, etc.) while absolving ourselves of any and all responsibility in the matter. We feel justified in our blame (and may have every reason to blame).
However, though most of us have the experience of being victimized, unless we see victim mentality as a choice we are making, we remain in a state of powerlessness and will not be able to overcome it.
My work is in inner liberation, and I know that when I catch myself indulging my Inner Victim, I am not free.
I am trapped in my desire for others to resolve my unhappiness and dissatisfaction. And in my identification as Victim, I'm not looking into myself for answers; in fact, that's the last place I want to look.
I will begin by framing victim mentality from my understanding and perspective, which is rooted in somatics and energy healing. I will then offer an example followed by concrete ways to shift out of this mode of thinking.
So how does this part of our ego develop?
For that, we need to back up slightly to the structure of the human personality, which has three facets: the Higher Self, the Lower Self, and the Mask.
The Higher Self is our authentic self, what many refer to as the divine self, inner light, or core self. When we are born we are nothing but this light, full of curiosity, joy, and innately hard-wired for love and connection. As we encounter life, our Higher Selves are injured by traumas such as ruptures in attachment, inadequate mirroring, betrayal of trust, neglect, or outright suppression.
When this happens, we have a natural survival instinct to protect ourselves.
We contract muscularly, tightening emotionally and energetically in the body to shut down the unbearable pain of the trauma or injury. We also come up with ingenious strategies that help justify the contraction and help us block future injury, which I will illustrate in an example below.
The strategy that holds the pain of the original wound then becomes part of the Lower Self, or the Shadow Self, the part of us that emphatically says, “NO” to the flow of life because experiencing pain is part of life. Finally, the Mask Self is the aspect of the personality that we hold up socially. It is what we want others to see and who we had to become (hint: not our Real Self) to get love in our family.
The Mask distorts and hides the Lower Self so that no one, perhaps not even ourselves, can see the strategies we once adopted and incorporated into our personality structure.
Let’s say a child is raised in a family of distrustful people who believed the world wasn't safe and that others were out to get them.
This child, a naturally curious, open, and loving being, will learn in both unspoken and overt ways that these core qualities are a liability for her, that they are not safe to explore or express, and that she must shut them down in order to be loved and accepted in her family.
Her strategy might be, “My trusting, loving self is not safe in this world and I must harden myself against it” and/or, “My trusting, loving self doesn't match the energetic vibration of this family and so I must disown my trust/love/openness in order to belong here.” It bears noting that these decisions and strategies are totally unconscious and often preverbal.
So in addition to banishing these part of her Higher Self, this child's Lower Self might cover up feelings of shame, fear, and disgust for these truly marvelous qualities that were not appreciated in her family of origin.
To protect these vulnerable feelings, this child might develop a Mask of invulnerability, false power, and suspiciousness to keep herself safe (which she believes she must do) and to continue getting approval from her family.
When she is hurt by other people, which is inevitable in our lives, she will rely on the belief that other people are bad and cannot be trusted, thus reinforcing her Mask and placing herself in the role of the victim.
I chose this example in order to illustrate the non-violent ways victim mentality can develop within our family of origin, though it can also get passed down through experiences with violence, epigenetically, and through experiences with systemic oppression. In fact, victim mentality can develop from a broad range of life experiences, but in every case it is a Mask emotion.
The function of the Mask in relationship to victim mentality is to keep us powerless and irresponsible.
It is someone else’s job to keep me safe, give me love, support me, and take care of my needs. All the power operates externally, keeping us childish, entitled, and disengaged from the game of life. We cannot engage fully in life without taking emotional risks or looking at ourselves as a co-creator in every dynamic we encounter. Moreover, we won’t allow ourselves to fully experience the healthy personal power that arises from self-responsibility and self-care.
The good news is that we are indeed able to break free from old, destructive narratives and reprogram new ones. Some of the specific strategies I recommend that are essential (and that I myself have used) to counteract and overcome victim mentality are:
Confront the Mask.
The first step in any personal growth journey is to crack through the Mask. Remember, the Mask is there to keep the Lower Self unconscious.To work on victim mentality specifically, listen to yourself when you are in Victim mode. Even better, write down your narrative.
- Notice if you have an agenda or of there is a payoff for being in victim mentality, for example, do you want others to feel sorry for you?
- Are you seeking support, compassion, respect, attention?
- How does victim mentality feel in your body?
- What parts of your body get activated when you are in that mode?
- Are there parts of the narrative that feel satisfying and juicy?
The Mask is sneaky, so get really honest, even when everything in you wants to look away.
Part of Mask work is to explore your beliefs, as beliefs are mental structures that organize our perception. In whatever way feels right to you, whether it's through journaling, art-making, or psychotherapy, find out what beliefs are supporting and feeding your victim mentality.
Some examples are:
I can't trust anyone.
Life is too hard, I can't do it.
I don't want to be responsible.
I am not powerful/I am afraid of my power
An exercise I often use in my groups is to write down what you learned about yourself, others, and life from your family of origin and community. Focus on the ages 0-6 only, allowing yourself to get in your child memory (not your rational adult) and keep your sentences short and factual, for example: “I was too emotional,” or, “I wasn’t good enough.”
Write everything down, even if it doesn’t make sense in the moment. Some of the beliefs may be operating at an unconscious level, so it might take some digging to find the roots. Allow yourself to look at (and feel) how those beliefs are acting upon your life now, and especially how they are linked to victim mentality.
Release the Lower Self.
Lower Self work is fundamentally connected to belief systems and requires a real willingness to find the answers within yourself. You have to find the courage to feel the original "unfeelable" feelings (usually shame, sadness, fear, need, and rage) you repressed in order to survive your childhood. It requires brutal honesty, and victim mentality is all about the lie that you are powerless and helpless RIGHT NOW.
Lower Self release is best done with a trained professional so that you have the support you need to get through this process. Think of this as detox and decolonization of old narratives, since victim mentality is a learned experience and can sometimes feel like your best friend (think addictions).
An often unexpected but necessary part of the journey is a total shift in who you believe you are, which can be temporarily unsettling as your system reorganizes itself. Drink lots of water.
Work that mantra!
When I was working on victim mentality specific to my relationship, I walked around my house with my hand just below my diaphragm (at my 3rd chakra), repeating, “I am not a victim, I am powerful” whenever I found myself in the old, comfortable but destructive narrative.
It was a reminder to put my big girl pants on and to look within when the impulse to relinquish my power to others was so tempting. It helped me explore what choices I was making in the moment, and whether there were other ones that were also available to me.
Did I need to speak my needs more? Reach out to others for support? Take better care of myself? Programming daily reminders on your phone that are empowering and choice-opening are helpful too, as are quotes around your house. I believe we all need reminders.
Develop gratitude for life's lessons.
Victim mentality is allergic to gratitude because it wants to remain small and entitled. Begin a daily gratitude practice (writing is better than just thinking about it) for basic things like breathing or running water.
Do it even if you don’t quite feel it. It might even make you feel angry as the gratitude smacks up against the part of your ego that wants to hold onto being a victim. Structure time for your gratitude practice, post it online, or get a buddy to do it with you if you need to hold yourself accountable.
Over time, you might notice an opening in your capacity to experience joy. As you continue in your daily practice, incorporate people, things, and events that are a little more challenging to feel grateful for.
Gratitude for life’s lessons is not about saying, “I am grateful this crappy life event happened to me,” but instead says, for example, “I am grateful for how this crappy life event helped me develop ___________ (skills and abilities) I now use to ___________(more wisdom).”
As the late Mary Oliver wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
Fall in love with self-responsibility and power.
Absolving yourself of responsibility and denying your real power are at the helm of victim mentality. Self-responsibility is setting boundaries, stating your needs, and practicing self-care, among other things. It is the work of the adult self, who is the only real “other” that can take care of and support your inner child.
We often associate responsibility with burden, but self-responsibility is about giving to yourself. We have a similar relationship to power; most of us are afraid of real power because we’ve only experienced toxic power and thus confuse one for the other.
Real power is recognizing yourself as a co-creator, and that as a co-creator you have the free will, choice, and creativity to shape your life regardless of circumstances. Real power is understanding that your mind is a tool to create freedom and happiness.
How do you do this? Practice, practice, practice. Practice taking risks to step out of the comfort zone of your victimhood and watch your life transform.