The Victim Syndrome

The victim is the one who believes that they have no control over what is happening to them, what they’re experiencing and how their life looks. The victim feels like they’re followed by bad luck, as if all that’s bad happens to them intentionally, as if life and the world have something against them; they’re the one who always complain, but do nothing to solve the problems they face.

Faced with a problematic situation or a personal dissatisfaction, we generally choose one of these two options: we actively seek for solutions and change the situation, or we remain in that situation and complain (an option that many people choose, but which is not at all constructive). Of course, there is also a third option - to accept what we can’t change and to find a way to make peace with it and live as beautiful as possible. But this kind of approach also refers to finding solutions, because, yes, when we find that it’s not up to us to change the situation, or at least not now, acceptance becomes a solution. But the victim can never live in peace or be pleased, because neither accepts nor changes what they don’t like, on the contrary, they can dramatize more than it’s necessary a situation and most of the time this attitude brings them more problems. The victim complains, blames others and finds excuses and explanations because they don’t take responsibility for their life. Even if they’re responsible for their own actions, they look for justifications for their results. If something goes wrong, surely is somebody else’s fault, or somebody made them do that and provoked them to act that way. But what happens when you take your life in your own hands is the following: you find that you don’t have anyone to blame.

Even if apparently they want a miraculous salvation, the victim doesn’t actually accept help from others - any solution is proposed to them or discussion that highlights their share of responsibility is met with a defensive attitude, with discontent, with even  more victimization: “yes, but you don’t understand; no one understands me”, “it’s hard”, “I can’t”  “as if I like my situation” and the classic saying “yes, but ...”.

Any effort you make to help them, any advice and suggestion are rejected from the start - the victim will find reasons why all of these will not work, will seek arguments to prove that their problems are impossible to solve, unique, hard to be understood. It's like they invite others to help them by the way they always complain and by their dramatization, just to show them that any attempt to help on their part is doomed to failure, is ignored, minimized, met with hostility. This happens because the victim doesn’t actually want to give up their victim role, to solve their problems and live in harmony, but wants to be pitied and to get others’ attention. In order to get rid of this mental and attitudinal pattern, first of all they have to take responsibility for their life, to understand that not others are to blame for the way they live, but this means giving up convenience and adopting a proactive attitude. And, as it’s far easier to blame others, this way justifying our unhappiness, we are not all willing to take control of our lives.

The victim mentality implies an unfortunate vision of life - people are mean and have something against us, the world is a place full of dangers waiting for you every step you make, surely something bad is going to happen, only others are lucky and so on. It’s as if the victim attracts in their life people and circumstances  to validate their status - we can mention accepting abusive relationships, choices that are inappropriate for them even if other better options are available to them, uncalled renunciations and sacrifices, that is, other reasons to victimize: “after all that I’ve e sacrificed for you ...", self-destructive behaviors that are new opportunities for self-induced suffering.

This mentality develops over time (it’s not an innate trait) as a result of the way we’ve been educated and the experiences we’ve been through. A child whose role model is a  “victim” can easily learn and imitate this kind of attitudes and behaviors.

A child who has suffered countless abuses throughout their life can also learn that they are a powerless person who can’t control anything that’s happening to them even though they have now passed their childhood. As an adult, they may seek to approach people who resemble their parents, even if they have abused them, because this is the intimacy and relating model they know, thus perpetuating the victim-abuser relational pattern. Therefore, an abused and powerless child can also remain a “victim” in adulthood, this way unconsciously trying to take revenge on their parents - those who have hurt them. The destructive belief that lays behind is: “It’s your fault that I’ve turned out like this; I’m dysfunctional because you didn’t know how to raise me, so bear the consequences.” It’s as if they seek revenge, justice, but they behave in a deeply self-destructive manner, turning all the negative emotions and frustrations against themselves. By inducing their own suffering, they hope that others will realize the harm they’ve caused them.

An abused child grows up with the mentality that the world and life itself it’s unfair (because of the injustices they were subjected by their parents). Feeling powerless, when they face certain difficulties or failures in life, they will say “I knew that it will be like this /  that things will go wrong / that life is unfair,” thus validating each time the vision they have already formed since childhood. They will tend to give up - “what's the point of trying, if you fail anyway?”, to self-sabotage, to complain, to perpetuate their learned helplessness. As if they create their reality according to this belief, this self-fulfilling prophecy.

A neglected or unloved child can learn that by suffering they can draw the attention they seek for, for example: “only when I get sick / I suffer / I’m powerless my parents are there for me”. The child notices that their parents are nicer to them when they aren’t well. In adulthood this belief can be manifested by looking for situations that will keep them in a state of suffering because this way they will receive attention, affection or support from others.

This victim’s syndrome therefore refers to certain cognitive and behavioral patterns that begin to form since childhood, are reinforced with time, and which influence the individual's life in all its aspects. We have all met people who, at some point in their lives, may have been more tended to victimize themselves, manifesting a certain temporary helplessness, but in the case of those who have this syndrome, the victim's attitude and mentality is the filter through which they see themselves, the world and their life, defining their personality to a great extent. The victim thinks that everyone around them is more fortunate, happier, richer, more fulfilled than them, and even when things seem to go well, they still find reason to complain. They blame those around them for the way they feel and attack them especially when criticized. This way, criticism, though constructive, only makes them more upset and infuriates them. The victim doesn’t want to analyze their life, the way they are or their problems to make certain changes, because they don’t believe they are responsible for that.

But why a person who suffers prefers to remain in their suffering instead of changing something? As we’ve shown above, the victim really thinks there is no solution or rather they don’t want to accept that there are solutions to their problems. They even feel wronged and hurt and think it’s not up to them to take their life in their own hands. But these beliefs have formed as a result of some life experiences that the person hasn’t been able to cope with in their childhood, and, in order to defend themselves, to survive, has learned these thinking and behavioral patterns. To change these patterns, it’s necessary for the person to realize that helplessness is a typical characteristic of children, and that changing them involves getting out of the Child ego state and embracing the Adult ego state. An adult can’t feel helpless, the one who feels like this is the inner child.

It also involves becoming aware of the secondary benefits of being a victim, such as the fact that people around us can handle us with kid gloves in order to avoid upsetting or confronting us, we can achieve in a much easier way what we want (manipulating others through our “helplessness”), the compassion or attention we receive from others, the fact that others take responsibility for our problems and we remain in our comfortable and warm bubble and so on. But there is also a flip side, because the victim attracts the aggressors and not always helplessness sparks compassion in people, but aggressiveness.

It is preferable to make conscious choices instead of letting us guided by irrational mechanisms buried in the unconscious. However, in order for this to happen, we must give up the idea that we are helpless, that we have no inner power. To get out of this vicious circle of self-sabotaging and be honest with ourselves. To no longer depend on other people, to no longer put our happiness in their hands, and stop waiting for them to save us. Yes, we can ask for help if we feel the need, but it’s not okay to expect others to take responsibility for our problems and solve them for us. Sure, many could say, “but I don’t have enough confidence, I don’t think I can do it alone”, “I would like to do this, but I don’t think I can”. Well, confidence is gained by taking action. Maybe you will never feel really prepared to make that change, maybe you will continue to postpone doing something because you wait for the day you’ll feel more confident. Things don’t work that way. You have a lot more strength than you could imagine, and believe me, when you “take the bull by the horns” and you face those things you are now afraid of, you will find that there isn’t as scary and hard as you imagined. Nowadays, we can no longer afford the luxury of being and living as victims. Let us remember that although we can’t always control the circumstances, we can control how we respond to those circumstances. And this, in the end, represents a great human freedom that makes us feel stronger.

If we want to master our life, if we want to turn into reality that future that we now only dream of, we must overcome our comfort zone, our passivity, lack of trust and negative beliefs that block our evolution. Also, we are not only responsible for what we do, but also for what we don’t do. Not taking action is also a decision we have to take responsibility for.

The power is in your hands! What do you choose? To be a victim or a winner in life?

Dr. Ursula Sandner



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