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Avoiding the Victim Mindset

Practical Tips to Recognize and Overcome the Victim Mindset in Yourself and Others

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Life is often hard. Sometimes very hard.

So, we don’t need to make it harder on ourselves by adopting a victim mindset.

Now I am not speaking about real victims. Victims of abuse, harassment, hatred, or discrimination. These significant events can cause real trauma and pain. Individuals who have experienced these should seek professional guidance.  

I am referring to the victim mindset, where we unnecessarily place ourselves into the “role of the victim.” Sometimes this can be minor, but sometimes it can be significant and perpetuating.

And create a feeling of being trapped in a prison of negative thoughts and emotions.

This mindset may result from a real event that happened to us (that we usually make much worse than it really is).  This mindset is too often the result of the imaginary drama and problems we create in our minds.

Whether something happened or it played out in the theatre of our mind, the stress created and the diminished ability to develop positive solutions are real.

Why does this happen?

The number one purpose of our brain is to protect us, keep us alive. Our conscious, and subconscious minds are constantly on the lookout for anything that will harm us. Constantly looking to keep us protected physically and emotionally.

When we become threatened physically or even emotionally, our brains go into protective mode. You may have heard this referred to as “fight or flight.”

Emotional threats can be real or imaginary. Large or small.

When we feel that we are taken advantage of, or disrespected

When someone says something that we take offense to, or take personally

When someone raises their voice or invades our “space” (especially these days if they are not wearing a mask)

When we feel disconnected, or left out from a group, or don’t get enough “likes” on our social posts

These can be powerful triggers resulting in “victim behavior.”

One of the most significant behavior “traps” in anyone’s lifetime is what I refer to as the Victim- Perpetrator Dilemma.

And it is likely to occur frequently, if not daily!

When we feel “threatened,” our protective mode kicks in, and we either react in the moment– or hold in the feeling and lash out later. Many of us can recall having a “bad day” at work and get further aggravated by rush hour traffic and those horrible drivers on our trip home.

Then it happens.

Our loved ones at home greet us, and a simple request,

“Could you take out the garbage?”

sets us off and we lash out and snap at the person who asked us to do this relatively simple task.

When this happens, we have bottled up that victim mindset for so long that we become a perpetrator. And the Victim-Perpetrator Dilemma cycle continues.

When we are trapped in the Victim- Perpetrator Dilemma our cognitive brain power is reduced, and our emotional brains are in charge of our feelings and our actions.

The Victim- Perpetrator Dilemma is the behavior trap that explains much of the conflict in our professional and personal lives. It creates stress, reduces decision-making ability, impacts our well-being and our happiness. 

Even before eventually becoming a potential perpetrator, playing the “role of the victim” has significant consequences.

When we play the “role of the victim,” we are not only subject to losing our temper, but we tend to be overcome by self-pity. The “victim mindset” reduces our confidence and bruises our self-esteem. We become defensive, and we blame others.

And then, our ability to create a positive solution to the current situation is significantly reduced, and we get stuck in a potentially damaging, stressful mindset.

While our brain intended to “protect us,” it is not helping at the moment.

But you can change your thinking and take back control.

How to Identify When This Is Happening

The most obvious way to recognize that we (or someone else) are (is) falling into a victim mentality is by listening and recognizing language clues. For example, when:

We say things like, “You make me so mad.”  (does anyone have that much power over you?)

We become defensive. “It’s not my fault.”

We blame others, and don’t take accountability (“The customer is a jerk, or the client didn’t buy our recommendation” – instead of “we haven’t found a way to sell this proposal to our customer.”)

We take things personally. “They canceled MY flight!” , “Why did this have to happen to ME?”

We make excuses. “Well it is because_______.”

We have doomsday thoughts or use absolute language. “This will never work. This always happens to me.”

What Do We Do?

The first thing we need to do is create self-awareness that we may be falling into this potential trap.

Then take back control of the current situation. The reality of the moment.

How?

Think about what you are feeling? Ask yourself, “are my feelings helping me right now?”

This cognitive process will help rebalance your brain and help keep you in control—and out of the Victim- Perpetrator Dilemma.

An excellent follow up to this is to ask yourself if facts or judgments are driving you. (She raised her voice is a fact- She yelled at me is a judgment)

Think about the facts of the situation. (And give another boost to your cognitive brain over your emotional brain)

These tips will help you, but what about others?

When you recognize another person or group of people playing the victim’s role you must carefully assess the situation before responding.

For example, if an individual is in apparent stress, you can ask the question;

“What are you feeling right now?”

This question will get them to think and help rebalance their cognitive and emotional brain. Then follow up with a conversation that deploys strong empathy skills.

If you are discussing a situation with a group, let’s say a team you are leading, the most obvious first question is to ask about facts versus judgments. Do a written audit of the situation and then have the group collectively determine if facts or judgments are driving them.  

You could then point out the language and responses which are the obvious signals of a victim mindset.

Finally, follow up by asking for suggestions on reframing the situation to take more accountability and then develop two or three concrete action steps to move forward.

A victim mindset is not a winning mindset. A victim mindset is not a productive mindset.

Think about the sports team that may have just lost their star player to injury. Do they feel sorry for themselves and use that injury as an excuse? (If so, you can probably guess the outcome of the next game.)

Or do they use that injury as a catalyst for developing a new plan, with renewed energy?

Life is hard. Sometimes very hard.

How you chose to think and respond is up to you.

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    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

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