I was wary as I walked into her living room. We hadn’t exactly been on friendly terms for the past few days as a result of the shabby way she had been treating my friends and I. We’d noticed and began to withdraw. I guess she, in turn, had sensed our withdrawal, because she requested to speak to me about the situation and I consented. I sat on her couch and waited for her to speak.
I listened to her narrate stories of being abused as a child and the more she spoke, the clearer it became that she was attempting to tie her unfortunate experience to the things she did to us. I sincerely didn’t see what her being abused as a child had to do with the way she’d treated us and told her as much. I also told her I felt she had turned her experience into a crutch, thinking she could act however she felt towards people and blame it on her being abused, hoping she’d be excused for her attitude.
At the time, I had no idea that that behaviour had an actual name. A few years ago, though, I learned what it was called. Victim mentality. Some refer to it as victim identity. Whatever you want to call it, it has affected quite a number of us. Yes, myself included.
Plenty times sef. It is the disposition that causes an actual victim to continuously dwell on a trauma long after it has happened, living life and making detrimental decisions based on that unfortunate event.
If you’ve ever had to deal with someone with a victim mentality, you’d agree with me that they can be quite exhausting to be around. And if you’ve never dealt with a person with victim mentality or you just want to know my thoughts, please keep reading to find out why it isn’t attractive.
Reasons to Hate a Victim Mentality
1. If you’re at fault, it stops you from taking responsibility. The first thing I’ve noticed is that most people who have a victim mentality are never quick to accept responsibility. When something goes wrong and you have a part to play in the drama, the ideal and mature thing would be to admit where you were at fault, right? And to own up to your mistakes, right? Now, the thing with a person who has a victim mentality is that nothing is ever, ever, ever their fault.
They got fired, not because they were consistently late, but because the HR Manager has something against Idoma people.
Their business failed because their uncle’s brother’s wife’s niece’s friend didn’t help them that one time fifty years ago.
They’re not making money because nobody is ‘buying Nigerian’ or because ‘women aren’t supporting women’. It certainly isn’t because their product sucks or that they have the worst customer service.
The reason they are where they are is because all the people they helped so long ago abandoned them in their time of need.
Ha! Their village people are at work again.
They decided to become thieves because the government didn’t ‘provide jobs’ but they chose to ignore the fact that God blessed them with amazing carpentry skills.
It’s the devil. They need to bind and cast. And sow a seed. And ‘kill by fire’ so demons can ‘die by fire’! Or whatever delusional thing people decide to do to avoid taking responsibility.
2. A victim mentality keeps you from seeing the bigger picture and that is that pain can be beneficial. Has something bad ever happened to you and some time later, it becomes clear why you had to go through that experience because you realise you’re better because of it? Yeah? Exactly! The popular quote, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ is nothing but the truth. Strength is built from pain especially when we don’t allow ourselves to be so consumed by the effects of the trauma. Character refinement is developed from certain painful experiences—wisdom, empathy, kindness, resilience, these are all built from tough times. A victim mindset keeps you from understanding that.
3. You start to have a ‘woe-is-me’ outlook on life and for that reason, you become quite negative and pessimistic. You only see everything that is wrong with a situation or the things that are likely to go wrong.
4. You begin to have a ‘someone-always-has-it-better’ mindset.
He got a good education because Dangote is his daddy.
She always gets to work on time because she drives a snazzy car.
You pay too much attention to and become bitter about the fact that someone else’s privileges have helped them attain a particular level in life and thus, fail to work with whatever is available to you.
5. It keeps you stagnant because you remain in one spot (mentally), dwelling on things that went wrong. It’s OK to pause when things don’t go your way, and take stock of the situation to analyse and establish what could’ve been done differently. But when you’re done with that, for goodness’ sake, please MOVE. ON. A victim mentality causes you to go on and on and on about what happened without trying to find a way forward.
6. You tie everything to your experiences. Your whole life becomes about that distressing incident, which eventually ends up being your identity, a part and parcel of you. People with victim mentalities usually enjoy and even live for the sympathy and pity their stories garner. Sometimes, like in the case of the lady in the story I told at the beginning of this post, they even tie certain character flaws or shortcomings to an adverse incident that has nothing to do with their unflattering behaviour. They also expect those close to them to ‘just deal with it! You know that’s just the way I am!’
7. Having a victim mentality makes you ridiculously paranoid. You always think everyone and their mamas are ‘out to get you’.
That babe rejected my proposal because I’m short.
Why are you speaking to me that way? Is it because I’m not married?
It’s because I didn’t go to school.
It’s because I’m black.
It turns you into a crazy person, making you see things that are non-existent.
8. People with victim mentalities are usually quite selfish. It’s always about them and their pain and their troubles. They are blind to the trials of others around them, because they believe they should always be the centre of attention. They are the kinds of people who don’t check on their friends as they feel they should be the ones who ought to be constantly cared for. They also have a habit of cheapening the trials of others by making their problems seem bigger than everyone else’s.
9. It makes you resentful mostly as you fail to move on and rise above. You clutch your negative experiences close to your chest like they’re tangible, living, breathing things, refusing to let go and choosing, instead, to keep dwelling on the past. You hold on to real and even perceived wrongs and because of this, you fail to forgive where necessary.
10. You start to act entitled. People with victim mentality believe everyone owes them something and are pretty bitter when someone fails to deliver on something they believe they are owed.
11. It causes you to magnify and romanticise your unpleasant experiences. You make a matter bigger than it actually is, ‘prettying’ it up to make it seem more appealing in an attempt to justify not just your feelings, but your behaviour as well.
12. A victim mentality puts you in a position of helplessness.
I am where I am today because of what so-and-so did and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.
It makes you think that you have no control over your life and the kind of outcomes you want to see. You believe someone else is in charge of where you hope to be. And that’s not true. That’s not true at all.
• • •
Dealing With People With Victim Mentality
1. When dealing with someone who has just gone through a trauma, one of the worst things anyone can do to such a person is to be insensitive or to trivialise their pain by telling them to ‘just get over it!’ It becomes a problem, however, when victims just give up or turn into, for lack of a better word, jerks. But still, be patient with them. Also be kind. They’ve actually gone through a rough experience, they’re just dealing with it the best way they know how.
2. Hear them out. Everyone wants to be heard. We all just need someone to listen to us; we want to know that someone gets it. Someone gets us.
3. Show empathy. I’m on the fence about this one though, because sometimes, showing empathy can be a way of enabling and encouraging their actions based on their dispositions. But sometimes, showing we see where they are coming from can bring down their guards; that way, whatever message you’re trying to pass can be received more readily.
Overcoming a Victim Mentality
1. No matter how shaming or shameful your role in the incident, own up to it.
2. Come to terms with your reality. Not behaving like a victim doesn’t mean sweeping the experience under the carpet, pretending it never happened. Acknowledge the occurrence but choose to rise above. Don’t wallow, but even if you do, let it not be for too long. Say to yourself, “Yes, a bad thing has happened to me but I won’t let it be the only thing that now defines me. I will move forward with whatever resources are available to me.”
3. Realise that it’s not always about you. Be reminded that you aren’t the only one going through something. Reach out to others and reach out to give and not gain. It’s not always about you. Don’t cheapen or trivialise the trials of another because you feel your problem is greater than theirs. Even if their experience isn’t as extreme as yours, don’t shut down their pain because you feel it isn’t valid enough.
4. Understand that everything happens for a reason. There is always a higher purpose attached to certain occurrences, even the most devastating ones and if you allow yourself to be permanently consumed by the trauma, you could miss the gain from the pain. You experienced it because you could take it. As scary as that sounds, it’s true. You wouldn’t be in that situation if you weren’t strong enough to withstand it. So whenever you face a heart-wrenching experience, cry, go through all the feels; but when you’re done, wipe your eyes and remind yourself that it’s happening because you can take it. So fight to rise above.
5. As soon as you can, begin the process of figuring out how you can benefit mentally, emotionally, spiritually and even financially from the negative situation. Ask yourself, “How can this experience add to me? What does God want to use this situation to achieve? How can my life be better as a result of everything that’s going on?”
6. Take responsibility for your life and your choices. No one owes us anything. We have no control over everything that happens to us, but we have control over how we respond.
7. Plan the way forward. Decide the next step to take that would yield productive results.
8. Let it go. Not everyone would understand your pain nor the whys, whats and hows of all you’re going through. Decide to let go and move on, anyway. It’s one of the most liberating things you can do for yourself.
9. Help another. Share your story. Someone else can be saved by it.
It’s time to stop letting your experiences define you. It’s time to grow up and stop blaming everyone else. Own up to whatever role you played in ending up where you are. And even if you had no hand in finding yourself in that place—maybe you were just at the wrong place at the wrong time or you were simply a victim of circumstance—the hard truth is, you’re most likely the only one that can get yourself out of there. As unfair as this may sound, the sooner you accept this fact, the better.
It’s time to let go of your victim identity. I understand that you’ve gone through so much battering, bruising and breaking and people have hurt you deeply and betrayed your trust and you’re paying for someone else’s sins but please…it’s time to move on. You can’t keep dwelling on the past. You can’t keep making choices based on a few unpleasant events. It’s time to let go. It’s time to heal. Some days you may, no, scratch that; you will find yourself slipping. That’s normal, don’t beat yourself up. As soon as you notice though, snap out of those thoughts.
Speak to someone if you need to. Heck, you can talk to me if you want to. I’m no certified therapist, but I believe I know one or two things. Please, feel free to get in touch. I don’t mind at all.
You’ll be alright.