12 signs of victim mentality in relationships [+ what to do about it]

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They act like victims.

They like to blame others. They think life is unfair only to them. They think everybody is out to get them. They moan about their problems but don’t take your advice when you give it. 

Do you know anybody like this?

If you do, chances are that they have what is called a victim mentality. Simply being around a person like this can be draining enough, let alone being in a relationship with him or her. 

In this article, we will be discussing what it is, 12 signs of victim mentality in relationships, and how to know if you’re playing the victim. We’ll also look into how to deal with someone with a victim mentality and ways through which they can free themselves of it. 

What exactly is victim mentality?

Bad things happen. It’s a fact of life.

However, there are people who believe that bad things “just happen” to them. It’s never their fault and they constantly blame others for unfortunate situations which befall them. They always think that the world is unfair, that’s just the way it is, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.

These are people who have a victim mentality, also known as victim mindset or victim syndrome. 

Victim mentality is rooted in three things: first, undesirable situations happen and will go on happening; second, none of it is their fault; and third, nothing will change so there’s no use in trying.

Another noteworthy fact about a victim mentality is that it is something learned. It typically stems from an interplay of nature and nurture.

As children, our parents or caregivers model behavior that we adopt when we ourselves become adults. Parents who demonstrate victimhood shape the way their children relate to others: people whose parents create a safe environment based on trust will do the same in unpleasant situations, whereas parents who do the opposite will have children who perpetuate the same situation.

How to spot someone with a victim mentality?

There are real victims out in the world: these are people experiencing war, abuse, homelessness, illness, injustice, and a number of other things. Because bad events happen to all of us, it’s very possible for each of us to act or feel like a victim sometimes.

But the thing is, victim mentality is just that – a mentality, a mindset.

What’s important to remember is that we always have a choice between framing things in a positive light and just sitting back and letting ourselves play the victim. There’s always something we can do, if not to solve the issue but to alleviate it. 

So that begs the question: what are the top 12 signs of victim mentality in relationships?

1) They avoid responsibility

One of the characteristics of someone with a victim mentality is that they tend to avoid taking responsibility for things that happen to them.

They blame other people or circumstances endlessly, make excuses for themselves, and then say that it is not their fault. What those with a victim mentality conveniently fail to see (whether deliberately or unintentionally) is that we all have a hand in our problems to a certain extent.

A friend of mine shared his experience with an ex-girlfriend who showed signs of having a victim mindset.

“Marianne* had this unhealthy ‘[expletive] happens’ mentality and a habit of not taking responsibility for our relationship,” he narrated. “I confronted her about her relationship with her now-ex (ex-boyfriend) and she just shrugged it off.

“She had cheated on her ex with me, and on me with another friend,” he continued. “When I brought this to her attention, she said sorry, but I know she’s only sorry because she got caught.”

This example illustrates how damaging this sign of victim mentality in relationships can be. Relationships are built on effort. Both parties have to accept responsibility for what they do and say. Taking responsibility promotes personal growth and builds trust, a deeper understanding of your partner, and compassion.

2) They don’t look for solutions

As mentioned earlier, one of the hallmarks of a victim mentality is believing that they have no control over their lives. For them, any attempts to influence their future is futile.

Those with a victim mentality are not interested in solving their problems and instead turn to feeling sorry for themselves. 

It is normal to feel bad about unfortunate incidents, but after the initial shock, there is always some form of action we can take.

3) They have low self-confidence

Building on the previous point, a sign of victim mentality in relationships is low self-confidence.

Victims tend to think things like, “I’m not good enough for this job, I probably won’t get it”, “I can’t do it”, and “I’m going to lose anyway”. This mindset enables them to stop even trying to solve their problems.

In cases when they do make an effort to try, to better themselves, and they fail, it further strengthens their belief that the game is rigged against them. This is also influenced by a negative view of life, which we will discuss later on.

4) They feel powerless

As mentioned earlier, someone with a victim mentality often feels they have no control, no power over their circumstances. They honestly believe that they do not have any capacity to change things.

When bad things happen to people, it can affect their worldview so extremely that the powerlessness they felt in past trauma could last until adulthood (especially when these situations originate in their childhood). 

Someone showing signs of victim mentality in relationships can’t tolerate conflict even if it is the healthy kind. They are unable to look inward; they know what they feel – which is a negative emotion – and the only way they can explain it is that it is “happening to them.”

5) They are passive-aggressive when interacting with others

People who experience powerlessness tend to be passive-aggressive when dealing with others. The likelihood of this happening between individuals in a relationship is greater since one’s passive-aggressiveness leads to the emotional blackmail of the other.

When they don’t get what they want (e.g., attention, sympathy), this is how they process their emotions. Since they can’t deal with their anger head-on, this is how they express it and how they get their way without actual confrontation.

Some passive-aggressive behaviors that a person with a victim mentality may show include: giving the cold shoulder, being sarcastic, blaming others, and sending mixed messages. This sign of victim mentality in relationships is one of the key ingredients of a recipe for disaster.

6) They appear attracted to drama

One of the 12 signs of victim mentality in relationships lends the appearance of these people as though they almost like getting into problematic situations or getting entangled in toxic drama.

They fail to do things that should be good for them – they associate with toxic people and engage in situations that can only lead them to fail and get disappointed. Victims also seem talented in dragging others into the turbulent mess that is their life.

Being in a relationship with such a person can get exhausting. Relationship drama, which tends to be more severe than typical difficulties between couples, indicates the immaturity of one (or both partners) and petty grudges that are not communicated to one another. 

7) They tend to engage in self-sacrifice

Another sign of victim mentality in relationships is undertaking self-sacrifice. People like this refuse to experience pleasure or don’t want to admit they are enjoying something. They tend to engage in self-sacrifice even if the person for whom they are doing it did not ask it of them. 

One instance would be when someone with a victim mindset sacrifices their goals in the guise of supporting their partner. Over time, they can develop feelings of resentment and frustration against their partner.

They might complain that they are deprived of whatever they need, conveniently forgetting that they have put their own plans on hold voluntarily. 

8) They may show a destructive pattern of behavior

In relation to having a tendency for self-sacrifice, another sign of victim mentality in relationships is that they sometimes show self-destructive behavior.

They express this by actively turning down (or even criticizing) help or advice offered by others, perpetuating the situation, and feeling sorry for themselves (e.g., saying, “Life is so unfair!”). 

In its most extreme forms, this includes acts such as driving under the influence, smoking too much, and abusing drugs. It could also manifest through gambling, sex addiction, self-harm, or worse.

9) They believe everybody is out to get them

People with a victim mindset live in a world filled with victims, victimizers, and sometimes, rescuers. They have an external locus of control, which means that they believe things happen to people because of things they can’t control. Everything is always up to fate, chance, or the powers that be. 

If you notice your partner behaves this way, they may have a victim mentality. It can even make you ask: do they really want to be helped? 

The thing about victim mentality is that it is self-fulfilling. To amend the words of Rene Descartes: “I [feel] miserable, therefore I am.”

10) They talk negatively about themselves

Among the signs of victim mentality in relationships is speaking of themselves negatively and approaching life in general with a negative outlook. 

Sometimes, when face with the challenges of day-to-day life, it can be hard to keep positive. But when you truly believe you have no way out of your current misery, that you are helpless, and always embroiled in drama — such as a person with a victim mentality — the least path of resistance is pessimism. 

Negative self-talk sounds a lot like speech that reinforces the hopelessness of their situation, which was discussed earlier in the article:

  • “Life is unfair”
  • “I had it coming to me anyway”
  • “It’s pointless, so why should I even try?”
  • “Bad things always happen to me”

Negativity usually comes together with self-sabotage. When someone with a victim mentality follows their negative mindset, they are more likely to unconsciously ruin their own efforts to change.

Couples are supposed to inspire and help each other grow. But if your partner is always putting him/herself down, the relationship may stagnate. 

11) They may have intimacy issues

One of the signs of victim mentality in relationships can manifest in intimacy and trust issues. When you are able to fully share your real self with your partner and experience closeness and connection, then we can say you share intimacy.

However, because people with a victim mentality are prone to negative attitudes and self-sabotage, they may push their partners away and actively find reasons why the relationship is doomed.

A person with a victim mindset can also tend to keep score (e.g., bringing up old wounds, thinking that their partner ‘owes’ them for something); have a hard time accepting criticism (e.g., saying, “I can’t believe you can say that about me”); and have difficulty practicing empathy. 

If your partner always thinks they are blameless in your arguments, that they are the wronged party, and that everyone else’s life is better than theirs, then they are unable to practice empathy.

12) They tend to judge others

As we mentioned earlier, a person with a victim mentality exists in an environment made up of victims, victimizers, and rescuers. Among the signs of victim mentality in relationships is the judgment of others.

Based on a single event or action, someone with a victim mindset categorizes another person as either friend or foe – rescuer or victimizer. 

This inclination could also be linked to feeling jealous of other people’s successes or good fortune. If your partner behaves this way towards you, it’s possible they have a victim mindset.

Why do people become victims?

Let’s face it, the signs of victim mentality in relationships are not good. Constantly getting a taste of these traits in one person can feel like a burden over time. It does nothing but add toxicity and negativity to your life. 

Why then, do some people appear to choose to be victims? Whether we like or not, this mindset provides the victim with certain perks. 

Freedom from accountability

As we have established, people with a victim mentality avoid taking responsibility for what happens in their lives. Breaking away from victimhood would mean having to own their actions and face the hard truth that their problems could be their fault. 

Secondary gain

People tend to repeat behaviors for which they get some sort of reward. For people with a victim mentality, this is the case. These ‘rewards’ or benefits are called secondary gain, and they can be anything from sympathy, attention, and even access to medication or money. Sometimes, people with a victim mentality don’t even realize that they get these perks.

Realized unconscious needs

Similar to secondary gain, people sometimes perpetuate the victim mentality because others validate certain needs. When they behave like victims, you as a partner – and other people around them – respond with sympathy and help.

Ways to deal with victim mentality

If you recognize these signs of victim mentality in relationships in your own, you might be at a loss for how to handle it. 

1) Drop labels

Labels in general do not serve any useful purpose.

A more constructive way to deal with your partner instead of hurtful language is to bring up their victim mentality in terms of their feelings and actions you notice: shirking responsibility, feeling hopeless, blaming, and griping.

2) Draw lines

If you suspect your partner has a victim mentality, chances are that s/he uses certain strategies (e.g., passive-aggressiveness, blaming, putting themselves down) to get you to do or give them what they want.

It’s tough to maintain a supportive attitude when this happens, so it may help if you set boundaries. Californian licensed marriage and family therapist Vicki Botnick advises distancing yourself from their negative attitude, in effect forcing them to take responsibility for their actions.

3) Practice empathy

While being in a relationship with someone with a victim mentality is imaginably frustrating, it’s important to remember that this behavior and attitude is learned.

This mindset can come from past trauma, constant betrayals, and codependency, which occurs when one prioritizes their partner before themselves and basically makes them the deciding factor for their mood.

4) Advise them to get professional help

With professional help, your partner can develop a healthier self-concept: they can become aware of their victim image and consciously steer themselves towards a more constructive perception of self.

They can be helped to think of themselves in newer, kinder ways; stop attracting toxic people and situations; recognize undesirable behaviors; and make conscious choices with confidence.

The bottom line

Dismantling the victim mentality can be very difficult for some, especially if they have lived their whole lives this way. It’s hard, but not impossible.

While their behaviors and attitude are tiring and sometimes harmful, we have to respond in constructive ways in order to help them effect real change in themselves.

Can a relationship coach help you too?

If you want specific advice on your situation, it can be very helpful to speak to a relationship coach.

I know this from personal experience…

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