Victim or Survivor?

In the aftermath of a tragedy, trauma, or abusive experience, many initially take on a victim mentality. This is a completely normal response to traumatic events. When working through trauma, we gain acceptance of the events, and take control of our healing process by moving forward. Recognizing history and learning to grow through its experiences.

What’s a victim mentality?

“A victim mentality is when an individual percieves him/herself as the target of the trauma, tragedy, abuse, etc. to the point where it negatively affects his/her well-being. Victims often identify with negative, self-defeating emotions such as shame, guilt, anger, resentment, etc. A victim mentality promotes self defeating thoughts such as:

  • I should have known better than to trust this person
  • I probably deserved it
  • I deserve to feel this way
  • I always get taken advantage of
  • I always get treated badly

Self defeating thoughts focus on the negative activating events and can be falsely applied to reflect something negative about the individual” (CBT Psychological Associates, n.d.).

It’s normal to require a little greif time when things don’t go your way. Many of us whine to our significant others, before gathering ourselves… renegotiating hopes and dreams more in alignment with reality, and getting back in the saddle again. We all just need to sit on the pitty pot every once in awhile. It’s a normal part of experiencing and working through all of your emotions.

Victim Identity

Andrea Matthews LPC, NCC, says that the “temporary state of self-pity, however is a drop in the bucket compared to what happens when we are dealing with someone with a full-blown victim identity” (2011). She goes on to say that “a person with a victim identity is someone who has identified with whatever crises, traumas, illnesses or other difficulties that has occurred in their lives, particularly those that began very early in life” (Matthews, 2011).

The belief systems of the person with a victim identity fall along these lines:

  • Life is really, really hard.
  • Don’t get up, you’ll just get kicked back down again.
  • Beware, always beware of trickery; its around every corner.
  • You can’t trust anyone.
  • I can’t.
  • You just don’t understand how hard it is for me.
  • “They” are always bigger, badder and smarter than me.

“These belief systems are in place to protect the victim from ever having to really engage in life and hurdle its hurdles. Doing so is just plain too risky. No, the best way to cope is just to stay on the down-side of life, and never, never, never, expect more” (Matthews, 2011).

You’re not alone

In essence, it’s quick and easy to slide down the slippery slope of working through our traumatic experiences and journey through victimhood. Healthy individuals break free from the “poor me” mentality relatively quick, but others who have endured more trauma in their lives may cling onto victimhood.

It’s important to note – again and again – that feeling victimized initially, especially when things are directed at you from the beginning… is a completely normal initial response. If the targeted behavior goes on for any period of time it does emotional damage that is hard to grow through.

What you come to work through and accept is that “everyone gets attacked, injured, cheated, fooled, and harmed during their life – if not physically, then emotionally. And everyone gets harmed by unpleasant events. We’re all victims, in moments, to life’s challenges and difficulties – life’s lifeness” (Colier, 2018).

“It’s psychologically healthy to acknowledge the suffering and feelings of powerlessness that accompany such experiences” (Colier, 2018).

Victim mentality stems from an inability or unwillingness to take ownership of one’s own wants and needs, or a sense of powerlessness unrelated to the situation at hand. When one feels powerless, often that’s projected onto others. It can also be a due to a “negative narcissism – believing everything happens for, against (mostly against), and in relation to oneself” (Colier, 2018).

So how does one break free from victim mentality?

Nancy Colier, LCSW, Rev. gives us 10 ways we can break free from victim mentality and into survivorship!

  1. Take ownership and responsibility for your own needs and wants. Determine what you want and what’s important to you. Name it, and do what you need to do to make it happen – for yourself. Don’t waste time blaming or getting angry at those who don’t want or need the same things you do, don’t wait for them to come on board or help you get what you want. Get busy taking care of what’s important to you, and leave the others out of it (Colier, 2018).

2. Practice saying “no.” If you don’t want to do something and don’t (realistically) have to do it, don’t do it. Remember you are allowed to have needs, just like other people.

3. Stop blaming. When you hear yourself going into blame stories, whether against other people, the world, life, whomever… say “stop” to your self out loud, and actually turn your attention away from your blaming thoughts.

4. Become aware of the root of your sense of powerlessness. Before you construct the next narrative on who’s stealing your power, get curious about the underlying feelings of powerlessness that precede all situations.

5. Be kind to yourself. “When you’re blaming the universe and life for your suffering, you’re not actually attending to your suffering or helping yourself feel better. By claiming the victim role, you are intensifying your own pain. With victim identity in play, you’re not only suffering because of whatever happened, you’ve now added to that suffering the fact that you don’t get what others get, because you’re cursed, life and everyone in it is out to get you, and basically the universe hates you (feel better?)” (Colier, 2018).

6. Turn your focus to helping others. When you’re in victim mentality, the whole world is about you and your pain. Acknowledge your suffering with kindness, and then consider how you can help another being. As counterintuitive as it may be, the more you feel deprived, the more you need to give. Offering kindness is the surest antidote to “poor me.”

7. Practice gratitude. Victim mentality focuses you on your suffering, specifically what you’re not getting. Try flipping your perspective and focusing on something that matters to you, that you do enjoy, and that you do “get.” Shift your attention from what you’re missing to what you have.

8. Write a list of ways you can change the bad situation. When you feel like a victim, you convince yourself that there’s nothing you can do to change your circumstances, but that’s almost never true. Get busy with how you can try and improve the situation, even if it feels impossible.

9. Practice empathic listening. When listening to other people, try listening with the intention of feeling what they’re saying from inside their heart. Stop focusing on what you need to do about what they’re saying, what you think about what they’re saying, or anything else that has to do with you. Listen as if you were just ears hearing, without putting yourself in the way.

10. Practice forgiveness. When you play the victim role, you’re deciding to hold onto bitterness and anger and the certainty that you’ve been wronged – often without even investigating what the other’s intention may have been. Instead of poisoning your own experience with resentful thoughts, try practicing compassion and understanding for the other.

There’s nothing good about living life as a victim, or with a victim… but with awareness, a desire to change, and new habits, you can outgrow the victim mentality and adopt the survivor mentality! Empowerment and self-command are available to everyone. The first step is simply to decide that you’re ready to stop being a victim. Are you?

Another interesting view on the word “victim”:

Michael Karson, Ph.D., J.D., (August 30, 2016)., Psychology Today: Why I Prefer “Victim” to “Survivor”

What do you think? If you enjoyed this article, like, comment, and subscribe!


CBT Psychological Associates, (n.d.), The Survivor Mentality

Colier, N., (January 12, 2018), Psychology Today: Are You Ready to Stop Feeling Like a Victim?

Matthews, A., (February 4, 2011), Psychology Today: The Victim Identity

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