It was ironic that Rob was stuck in the victim mentality. He didn’t meet the typical profile of a victim. He was educated, had a family, and successful career in helping others, of all things. But lately, his marriage started falling apart, his kids were not responding to him, his friends were few and far apart, and he was burnt out from his vocation. The stress he was experiencing was overwhelming and he went to counseling to find relief.
Yet, despite giving him the best advice on the market, he refused to grow. Added to that, he was unable to see how his own distorted thinking impaired his ability to communicate, function, and thrive. Yet he supposedly “helped” his patients who had the same perception problem he did. This was the irony.
Getting stuck in a victim mentality can happen to anyone. Unresolved issues, increasing amounts of stress, in combination with poor coping skills often keep a person trapped in a seemingly never-ending downward spiral. Rob agreed that he was stuck, but was unable to see his victim mentality and debated each point.
He insisted that he had no unresolved issues, yet he would get overly emotional just mentioning them. He said his stress was manageable except that he developed anger management issues. And he swore that his coping skills were superior but if that was the case, he wouldn’t be in this spot. In actuality, Rob’s perception of his reality was so distorted that his ability to analyze himself was severely compromised.
After several sessions of encouraging change, it became apparent that Rob wanted to remain a victim. Why would someone do this? Simply put, because there is power in remaining a victim. As a victim, there is no self-reflection, responsibility, vulnerability, and accountably. Instead, Rob could fail without having to change anything about himself. Even when he would succeed, he would find some limitation that kept him paralyzed. Here is a list of the eleven things he said during the session that confirmed his victim mentality.
- Complaining: “This stress is too much, I am so overloaded.” Rob had a long list of complaints about his life. Yet there were some good things happening to Rob which he was unable to use as a counterbalance to his pain. Seeing the positive things in life can help to diminish a complaining attitude.
- Isolating: “No one understands me or has empathy for me, not even you.” This was perhaps the most shocking statement as empathy was the primary goal of the sessions. But whatever Rob got was not enough. By isolating himself, he made it more difficult for others to reach out to him and offer support.
- Catastrophizing: “It will never get better; it will always be this way.” Taking a couple of events and drawing the worst possible conclusion kept Rob trapped in victimization. Hope is the anthesis to doom. A hopeful outcome, however improbable, could help Rob to keep moving forward despite the overwhelming odds.
- Quitting: “Nothing works, there is no point in trying anything else.” It was clear during the session that Rob had given up. He was throwing in the towel and didn’t want to consider picking it back up again. This is a dangerous place to be as depression often worsens and suicidality increases.
- Martyring: “This stress is my cross to bear.” Strangely enough, Rob seemed to obtain a sense of pride that his stress was so great that it resembled carrying and dying on a cross. To be a martyr is to die for some great cause or another person. Yet, by placing himself in this place and talking about it, he is victimizing.
- Antagonizing: “All I need is for her to do…” This is a passive-aggressive statement designed to toss responsibility onto another person. Rob insisted that if his wife would just talk about money, everything would be fine. But even when she did, he would move the bar again saying that she needed to agree with him on all spending items. When she refused, he became the victim saying that she was refusing to help him.
- Blaming: “It’s all her fault that we are in this position.” Sadly, Rob said this in front of his wife. Instead of taking his share of the responsibility for their financial state, Rob blamed the whole thing on his wife. He claimed that he was the victim and she was taking advantage of him. This kept him stuck.
- Dumping: “I just need to say one more thing…” Rob would talk non-stop for hours at a time without taking a breath. He would dump his feelings and thoughts onto his wife and then his counselor. When they would make a suggestion for what to do, he would claim that they didn’t know what they were talking about because they didn’t have all the information. This vicious circle discouraged his wife and kept Rob paralyzed.
- Generalizing: “It’s always been this way, nothing ever changes.” The words, ‘always,’ ‘never,’ and ‘nothing’ are overgeneralizing. To say that something ‘always’ happens is not true. There are exceptions. By overlooking those exceptions, Rob kept problem-solving at bay. Without a resolution, he could remain a victim.
- Exaggerating: “I’ve tried it all, I know it all.” The arrogance of this exaggeration seems contrary to a victim mentality, but it is not. First, the exaggeration is not true; no one has ‘tried it all’ or ‘knows it all’. Second, by claiming that he had ‘tried it all,’ this prevents trying any further or being willing to see things from another point of view.
- Comparing: “You haven’t experienced what I have, my stress is so much worse.” Rob compared his experience in helping others with his counselor’s. Of course, in doing so he made huge inaccurate assumptions about the counselor’s life and professional experience. Rather than accepting a comparison challenge, the counselor saw through his statement to his insecurity and need for affirmation.
Unfortunately, Rob chooses to remain stuck in victim mentality instead of getting out. Stopping the victimization begins with awareness. Then comes accepting responsibility, being willing to be accountable, and making an effort to change what can be changed. Remember the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.