Victim Mentality: 10 Ways to Help Clients Conquer Victimhood

Victim mentalityLife isn’t always fair, and injustice is everywhere. However, some people see themselves as victims whenever they face setbacks or don’t get their own way.

Can you recall someone who “plays the victim” to win sympathy for their point of view? Maybe they even accuse others of being bullies, abusers, or psychopaths if they disagree with them. Playing the victim can help someone get their needs met without taking any responsibility for their part in a difficult situation (Andronnikova & Kudinov, 2021).

What causes this victim mentality, and how is it distinct from victimization? What are the signs and dangers, and could there be a close relationship between victim mentality and narcissism?

We’ll answer your questions below and also share how to help clients overcome a victim mentality. These include developing resilience to life’s inevitable losses and disappointments and cultivating self-efficacy and compassion when things don’t go as planned.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Relationships Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients build healthy, life-enriching relationships.

What Is Victim Mentality? A Definition

Let’s first distinguish between the legitimate use of the term “victim” and the term “victim mentality.”

We are all potential victims of injustice, crime, abuse, and bullying. We will all experience trauma at some point in our lives. Yet a handful of individuals will go on to develop a “victim mentality” (Andronnikova & Kudinov, 2021).

It’s important to understand that a victim mentality is usually based on a legitimate experience of victimization at some point in an individual’s history. The difference is that this experience has distorted their worldview and interpersonal experiences, often due to poor coping strategies and psychological inflexibility (Gabay et al., 2020).

It is a painful state of mind that prevents any possibility of peace and contentment. According to Kaufman (2020, para. 6), a recent review of research studies on victim mentality found it consists of four main characteristics:

“constantly seeking recognition for one’s victimhood, moral elitism, lack of empathy for the pain and suffering of others, and frequently ruminating about past victimization.”

Let’s unpack this a bit and explore what each of these characteristics actually means.

1. Constantly seeking recognition for one’s victimhood

A person with a victim mentality seeks validation of their victim status from others. This may be expressed as constant complaining about setbacks or perceiving changes in circumstances as unfair.

Other people are required to agree that these events amount to a personally directed injustice, or else they too will be accused of victimizing the person (Gabay et al., 2020).

2. Moral elitism

A person with a victim mentality implicitly believes in their own moral superiority. In short, they are right, and those who disagree with them or have different views are wrong. This can be summed up in the colloquial expression “it’s my way or the highway.”

It points to black-and-white thinking, a lack of nuance, and an inability to cope with complexity. It may be expressed in a sense of entitlement to whatever is defined as “good,” regardless of effort or merit. Again, it also indicates a lack of psychological flexibility that is required to bounce back and develop resilience (Gabay et al., 2020).

3. Lack of empathy for the pain and suffering of others

A person stuck in a victim mentality is self-absorbed with little ability to imagine other perspectives. It doesn’t matter how much another person may be suffering; if they do not provide ongoing validation of perceived victimization, they risk being deemed a victimizer.

Those with a victim mentality lack emotional literacy, compassion, and empathy. This is deeply disruptive to all kinds of relationships, both personal and professional. It can lead to rejection, isolation, and loneliness, which is often seen as further evidence of unfairness (Gabay et al., 2020).

4. Ruminating about past victimization

Rumination involves repetitive thoughts about previous negative experiences, which can lead to a low mood, including feelings of shame, sadness, despair, and even depression (Kaufman, 2020).

Clearly, a person stuck in a victim mentality is in pain, suffering, and has poor mental health.

While these “victims” may be able to forge codependent relationships with those willing to “rescue” them by offering them unconditional validation and support, relationships with independent, healthy adults will likely elude them due to their inability to process conflict or sustain healthy boundaries (Kaufman, 2020).

The remainder of this article will dig deeper into the type of personality that is most vulnerable to developing a victim mentality before explaining how a coach, counselor, or therapist can help a client develop the resilience required to overcome a victim mindset (Graham, 2018).

Playing the Victim – A Mentality Disorder?

VictimhoodAn individual with a victim mentality operates according to an external locus of control, meaning they believe they have little or no personal agency and attribute their difficulties, failures, or challenges to external factors, other people, or situations they can’t change.

While a victim mentality is a brittle and painful state of mind, it can also be a form of manipulation designed to enforce compliance with the “victimized” individual’s goals (Kets de Vries, 2012).

Signs of a victim mindset

When a person plays the victim, they may assume the role of victim to get their needs met via secondary gains — advantages that accrue from avoiding responsibility for their problems. Signs of a victim mindset often include the following:

  1. Blaming others for their problems and difficulties
  2. Externalizing responsibility by seeing themselves as passive recipients of negative events
  3. Helplessness due to feeling at the mercy of external circumstances beyond their control
  4. Self-pity, dwelling on perceived misfortunes, and feeling sorry for themselves
  5. Resisting change or taking proactive steps to improve their situation
  6. Negative outlook on life, expecting and anticipating negative outcomes
10 Signs someone's always playing the victim - Psych2Go

For a further look at signs of playing the victim, take a look at Psych2Go’s video.

Dangers of victimhood

Adopting a victim mentality has significant impacts on mental health and overall wellbeing. Overcoming victimhood involves recognizing personal agency, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and actively working toward positive change.

Therapy, coaching, and/or self-reflection can help transform a victim mentality into self-efficacy and a sense of competence, moving a client from merely surviving to thriving (Yılmaz, 2021).

Borderline personality disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a complex mental health condition characterized by unstable moods, behaviors, and relationships. Individuals with BPD may experience intense emotions, have difficulty regulating their emotions, and struggle with a fragile sense of self. They may also have a history of traumatic experiences or neglect, which can contribute to feelings of victimization and a tendency to adopt a victim mentality.

Those with BPD may be more likely to see themselves as victims and seek out external validation to support this belief. This can lead to a cycle of self-sabotaging behaviors, unstable relationships, and emotional turmoil.

When working with clients with BPD, it is vital to address these patterns of thinking and behavior, help them develop healthier coping strategies, and work toward a more positive and empowered mindset.

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These detailed, science-based exercises will equip you or your clients to build healthy, life-enriching relationships.

Understanding Narcissistic Victim Mentality

Narcissistic victim mentality may be present when a person with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) repeatedly portrays themselves as a victim, often when they are the ones causing harm through manipulation (Coicaud, 2017).

This type of behavior is characteristic of narcissistic individuals who play the victim to gain sympathy, control and manipulate others, and avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

Key features of narcissistic victim mentality include:

  1. Avoiding responsibility for their actions and downplaying or denying any wrongdoing by portraying themselves as innocent victims
  2. Seeking sympathy and attention to their needs by portraying themselves as unfairly treated, potentially exaggerating their hardships to guilt others into complying with their wishes
  3. Manipulative behavior, such as exploiting others’ empathy and compassion to exert control, induce compliance, or obtain forgiveness
  4. Shifting blame to hide their own faults by creating a narrative where they are victims of circumstances beyond their control
  5. Martyr complex, where they portray themselves as self-sacrificing and constantly suffering for the sake of others
  6. Inconsistent victim status, where they switch between playing the victim and asserting dominance or superiority, depending on what they believe will best serve their interests at a given moment

Not everyone who portrays themselves as a victim is necessarily narcissistic. The term “narcissistic victim mentality” refers to a manipulative pattern of behavior associated with individuals who have narcissistic personality disorder (Covert, 2019).

Addressing such behavior often involves setting boundaries, promoting accountability, and seeking support outside the relationship as needed.

Narcissists & their victim mentality - DoctorRamani

For an in-depth exploration of how overt and covert narcissists play the victim to get their needs met, take a look at DoctorRamani’s video on the narcissistic victim mentality.

How to Overcome the Victim Complex

Having experienced victimization, it’s normal to feel sadness, anger, and anxiety about the future while grieving any loss attached to the experience. However, eventually, a victim of crime or trauma will begin to heal by engaging in practices to aid post-traumatic growth.

A victim complex can prevent the transition to healing and integration, but this can be overcome through the cultivation of self-awareness, a willingness to change, and a commitment to taking responsibility for actions and choices.

If you are working with a client stuck in a victim mentality, here are interventions that can help shift the victim mindset, along with links to further resources.

  1. Encourage your client’s self-reflection to improve their self-awareness and identify unhelpful thinking patterns at the root of the victim complex.
  2. Perform an assessment of your client’s strengths and adopt a strengths-based approach to working with them.
  3. Challenge negative thoughts that prevent the client from taking responsibility for solving problems.
  4. Assist your client with setting realistic goals by breaking down larger goals into smaller, more manageable steps. Achieving small successes can build confidence and self-efficacy and reduce feelings of helplessness.
  5. Focus on solutions by helping your client develop problem-solving skills and take proactive steps to address challenges.
  6. Introduce your client to a growth mindset by reframing setbacks as a natural part of the human experience and opportunities for learning and personal development.
  7. Help your client cultivate resilience by facing challenges, adapting to change, learning new coping skills, and developing psychological flexibility.
  8. Encourage your client to cultivate a sense of gratitude by learning to appreciate the good things in life, no matter how small.
  9. Coach your client to set healthy boundaries with others to prevent manipulation and exploitation. Saying “no” when necessary prevents overwhelm and prioritizes wellbeing.
  10. Encourage your client to practice self-compassion by helping them accept that everyone makes mistakes and faces challenges. Coach them on how to treat themselves with the same compassion they would offer a friend.

Overcoming a victim complex is a gradual process that requires consistent self-reflection with the support of a coach, counselor, or therapist. Building resilience is crucial to developing a healthier mindset based on psychological flexibility, realistic expectations, compassion for oneself and others, and an internal locus of control.

How I stopped being a 'victim' and restarted my life

Watch this TEDx talk for a moving, true-life account of experiencing victimization without developing a victim mentality.

After his father murdered his mother in front of hundreds of witnesses, Arman Abrahimzadeh founded the Zahra Foundation to advocate against domestic violence. He describes the turning point in his life when a newspaper described him as follows:

Arman’s life was marred by violence, but not defined by it.

The next section explores how to develop resilience and cultivate self-efficacy as antidotes to a victim mindset.

Building Resilience & Self-Efficacy

Building ResilienceBuilding resilience — the capacity to bounce back from setbacks, losses, and other difficult experiences — requires psychological flexibility, which is the capacity to face and adapt to stressors rather than avoid difficulties or disintegrate under pressure (Kaufman, 2020).

In addition, overcoming a victim mentality requires self-efficacy — a belief in one’s ability to complete tasks, set life goals, and achieve them. Self-efficacy requires an internal locus of control, acceptance of one’s own and others’ strengths and limitations, and the ability to set expectations accordingly.

Resilience also requires compassion for oneself and others and an appreciation of impermanence and imperfection as conditions of our human experience (Gabay et al., 2020).

In short, building resilience involves developing coping mechanisms and adapting positively to challenges, setbacks, stressors, and change. A resilient person still experiences pain and suffering, but they have confidence in their ability to overcome difficulties, bounce back, and also learn from their experiences (Graham, 2018).

10 Tips for building resilience

Here are strategies that can help clients build resilience:

  1. Empower clients by reframing their negative thoughts and interpretations into more realistic perspectives.
  2. Develop coping skills by breaking down problems into smaller, manageable tasks.
  3. Identify potential solutions and take proactive steps toward resolving challenges.
  4. Set realistic goals by breaking them into smaller, attainable steps.
  5. Celebrate small victories along the way to build a sense of accomplishment, confidence, and competence.
  6. Cultivate flexibility by learning to accept loss and change as a natural part of life rather than a personal injustice. Practice adapting plans and strategies in response to change.
  7. Prioritize self-care, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep. Physical wellbeing supports mental resilience.
  8. Practice stress management by engaging in activities that promote relaxation, such as meditation or breathwork, and setting aside time for activities that bring joy and relaxation.
  9. Cultivate a growth mindset by learning from difficult experiences. Learn to see challenges as opportunities for personal development.
  10. Maintain a sense of humor in situations when appropriate. Laughter reduces stress and enhances resilience. Joy dissolves tension and rigidity.

The role of self-efficacy

Building resilience is an ongoing process that includes seeking support from others when needed. Developing these skills over time will help overcome a victim mindset and support a sense of self-efficacy, a concept pioneered by psychologist Albert Bandura (1997).

Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in their ability to succeed and accomplish a particular task or goal. It plays a significant role in motivation, behavior, and personal accomplishment. A victim mentality is inherently incompatible with the belief that you can get things done (Mazur, 2023).

In summary, self-efficacy informs how a client approaches and navigates their life. Building and maintaining a positive sense of self-efficacy contributes to a sense of personal competence and wellbeing. Self-efficacy is essential for overcoming a victim mindset (Gabay et al., 2020).

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Empower others with the skills to cultivate fulfilling, rewarding relationships and enhance their social wellbeing with these 17 Positive Relationships Exercises [PDF].

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More Resources From

In addition to all the articles linked in the sections above, also has a selection of resources to support your practice.

Worksheets include the following:

  • This Cognitive Restructuring Worksheet uses Socratic questioning to challenge negative thinking and its basis in fact or opinion.
  • Our Problem-Solving Worksheet for Adults helps clients develop problem-solving skills by breaking problems down into manageable steps before brainstorming and identifying solutions.
  • It Could Be Worse is a worksheet designed to reframe negative thoughts and cultivate gratitude to help build resilience.
  • Exploring Past Resilience will remind clients how they overcame past setbacks and challenges to support them in identifying strategies and strengths to draw upon in the future.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others build healthy relationships, check out this collection of 17 validated positive relationship tools for practitioners. Use them to help others form healthier, more nurturing, and life-enriching relationships.

If you are interested in a deeper learning experience that also contributes to your professional development, then consider taking our Realizing Resilience Masterclass©, a six-module training course for practitioners.

A Take-Home Message

People who see themselves as perpetual victims of injustice can be frustrating and draining to be around. However, when working with clients stuck in a victim mindset, it’s important to understand that they are genuinely suffering, but perhaps not due to the perceived unfairness they blame for their pain.

Rather, a victim mentality can be a desperate attempt to garner support due to a lack of the coping skills required to solve problems and overcome challenges. There is no quick fix, but there are interventions that can help clients cultivate resilience and even achieve post-traumatic growth.

As practitioners, we need patience and a strengths-based approach to help clients conquer a victim mindset, by supporting them in the development of skills needed to rise to the challenges of daily living.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Relationships Exercises for free.

  • Andronnikova, O., & Kudinov, S. (2021). Cognitive attitudes and biases of victim mentality. Changing Societies & Personalities, 5, 654–668.
  • Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. Worth.
  • Coicaud, J. M. (2017). Victim mentality and violence: Anatomy of a relationship. In E. D. Jacob (Ed.), Rethinking security in the twenty-first century (pp. 245–263). Springer.
  • Covert, T. J. (2019). Narcissist: The ultimate guide. Author.
  • Gabay, R., Hameiri, B., Rubel L. T., & Nadler, A. (2020). The tendency for interpersonal victimhood: The personality construct and its consequences. Personality and Individual Differences, 165.
  • Graham, L. (2018). The resilience toolkit: Powerful practices for bouncing back from disappointment, difficulty, and even disaster. New World Library.
  • Kaufman, S. B. (2020). Unraveling the mindset of victimhood: Focusing on grievances can be debilitating; social science points to a better way. Scientific American. Retrieved January 13, 2024, from
  • Kets de Vries, M. F. R. (2012). Are you a victim of the victim syndrome? INSEAD Faculty and Research Working Paper. Retrieved January 13, 2024, from
  • Mazur, L. B. (2023). The victim. Human Studies, 46(3), 583–605.
  • Yılmaz, T. (2021). Victimology from clinical psychology perspective: Psychological assessment of victims and professionals working with victims. Current Psychology, 40(4), 1592–1600.

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