7 signs someone has a victim mentality, according to psychology

We all get dealt a bad hand from time to time. But do you know someone who seems to be constantly at the mercy of circumstances, other people, or just plain bad luck?

Well, you might be dealing with someone who has a victim mindset. 

The ‘bad luck’ these folks constantly bang on about has more to do with their outlook than their circumstances. 

Today, we explore seven signs that this is that case. 

1) They believe their life is more difficult than everyone else’s

Back when I was managing an adult language school, one of the teachers I brought did exactly this. 

On paper, he was a perfect fit: experienced, courteous, and seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the opportunity. 

However, as weeks turned into months, I began to notice a recurring theme in our conversations. No matter the topic, he somehow steered it back to the myriad of challenges he faced, both in and out of the classroom. 

It was as if his problems were always more significant, his hurdles insurmountably higher than anyone else’s.

For instance, if another teacher mentioned staying late to prepare for a class, he’d counter with tales of entire weekends lost to grading and lesson planning, painting a picture of martyrdom for the sake of his students. 

When discussions turned to personal life, his narratives were laced with misfortune, from problematic neighbors to a never-ending string of transport troubles.

I didn’t fully grasp it at the time, but this is a textbook example of a victim mentality

Psychologist Erin Leonard captures the essence of this mindset in a Psychology Today article, stating, “Adopting a victim stance equates to a person fundamentally adhering to the belief that his or her life is more difficult than anyone else’s.” 

2) They lack empathy for others

You would think that those who experience suffering would have more empathy for other’s misfortunes, right? 

I used to, too. 

But surprisingly, this is often not the case for individuals with a victim mentality. In a review of studies on the topic, researchers pinpointed four central characteristics of the victim mentality, one of which was a “lack of empathy for the pain and suffering of others.”

This trait can manifest in various ways, from a dismissive attitude toward others’ problems to an outright refusal to acknowledge their struggles as valid. 

When a colleague faces a difficult situation, instead of offering support or understanding, someone with a victim mentality might downplay their issues or, worse, turn the conversation back to their own troubles. 

This lack of empathy often stems from being so wrapped up in their own narrative of suffering that they genuinely can’t see beyond it.

It’s a perplexing paradox: those who might benefit most from a mutual understanding of hardship can sometimes be the least capable of offering it to others.

3) They’re experts at playing the blame game

“I would have gotten that promotion if my boss wasn’t so biased,” “My relationship would be perfect if only my partner would change.” 

Sound familiar?

This tendency to avoid personal responsibility and attribute setbacks to others is a classic sign of a victim mentality, according to experts like mental health professional and author Arlin Cuncic

It’s a big sign..as is this next one. 

4) They struggle to accept constructive criticism

Back to that colleague I mentioned earlier. 

Naturally, I wanted to support him, so I did what I believe most managers would do: I addressed the concern directly and provided some constructive criticism. 

I was hoping it would foster growth and adaptation. But was my advice welcomed?

Regrettably, it was not. 

Instead of taking the feedback on board, he met it with a barrage of excuses, deflecting any suggestion of change. His reasons ranged widely, but many circled back to his recent move to Vietnam and the challenges of acclimating to a new culture, a common hurdle many of the teachers I had hired faced.

Yet, where others saw opportunity for growth, he saw insurmountable barriers.

This sort of unwillingness to take constructive criticism on board is another sign of this mentality, according to health and wellness writer Hilary I. Lebow

This pattern of behavior not only hinders personal and professional development but can also strain relationships with colleagues, friends, and loved ones who might otherwise be sources of support and encouragement.

5) They feel powerless to change their circumstances

phrases manipulative use be victim 7 signs someone has a victim mentality, according to psychology

“I can’t help it, that’s just how things are,” or “Nothing ever goes right for me,” “I can’t do that,” “It won’t make a difference” — do any of these statements sound familiar? 

Rather than seeking solutions or making changes, those with a victim mentality often believe they are at the mercy of their circumstances. They feel that no matter what actions they take, their situation won’t change, perpetuating their cycle of victimhood. 

So, what do they do to improve their lot? 

Nothing. They believe they have no power to change their situation. 

I think we can all empathize with this feeling to some extent. None of us want to feel powerless, and this goes a long way in explaining the other signs on this list, like blaming others and making excuses for their situation. 

But, and it’s a big but, as noted by Vicki Botnick, a licensed marriage and family therapist, “It’s important to be mindful of the difference between ‘unwilling’ and ‘unable.’” Some people with this mindset simply don’t want to change rather than not being able to.

Determining whether someone is unwilling or unable to change isn’t straightforward, but there are a few indicators that can help. 

Firstly, observe their reaction to different types of support or solutions offered. Are they outright dismissive, or do they consider and then rationalize why it won’t work? This can hint at a reluctance to change rather than an inability. 

Secondly, pay attention to their history of behavior in similar situations. Is there a pattern of avoiding change or effort, even when viable options are presented? 

Lastly, consider their engagement with self-improvement or help. Do they show interest in learning new coping strategies or improving their situation, or do they remain passive? 

These observations can provide insights into whether someone is stuck in a victim mentality by choice or by circumstance and how you might be able to support them effectively.

6) They want others to recognize their victimhood

Does the person you are thinking of seek validation victimhood from those around them? 

Craving for acknowledgment and sympathy is another characteristic identified by researchers as a sign of a victim mentality. 

They might frequently recount tales of misfortune, highlight instances where they felt slighted, or exaggerate challenges to elicit sympathy. 

Worst of all, when we don’t give them what they want—when we fail to validate their endless tales of woe—they may feel further victimized, as though our lack of response is yet another injustice in their litany of grievances. 

This cycle can be incredibly draining for those around them, as it places an unspoken expectation on friends, family, and colleagues to perpetually offer sympathy and support, often without any move towards resolution or improvement from the person in question.

7) They think they are better than others

This is the last point but by no means the least important. In fact, it may be the most shocking. 

Another characteristic identified by researchers in individuals with a victim mentality is what was termed “moral elitism.” But what exactly do they mean by this?

Joe Nash, a writer, and researcher, succinctly encapsulates the concept by explaining that people with this mentality, “believe they are right, and those who disagree with them or hold different views are wrong.” 

This isn’t just about having strong opinions; it’s about an entrenched belief in their moral superiority, which can lead to dismissive or derogatory attitudes toward others’ perspectives.

This belief in their inherent ‘rightness’ can isolate them, as it creates barriers to meaningful dialogue and connection with others. It can also lead to a refusal to self-reflect or consider alternative viewpoints, further entrenching them in their victimhood and impeding their ability to navigate life’s ups and downs effectively

The bottom line 

Not a particularly positive topic today, I know. 

However, recognizing signs like these is the first step in helping those who have this mindset. 

As always, I hope you found some value in this post. 

Until next time. 

Picture of Mal James

Mal James

Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business. As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys. In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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