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Victim mentality is an acquired personality trait in which a person tends to recognize themselves as a victim of the negative actions of others, and to behave as if this were the case in the face of clear evidence of such circumstances. Victim mentality depends on clear thought processes and attribution. In most cases, those with a victim mentality have in fact been the victim of wrongdoing by others or have otherwise suffered misfortune through no fault of their own; however, such misfortune does not necessarily imply that one will respond by developing a pervasive and universal victim mentality where one frequently or constantly realizes oneself to be a victim.
The term is also used in reference to the tendency for recognizing one's misfortunes on somebody else's misdeeds, which is also referred to as victimism.
Victim mentality is primarily developed, for example, from family members and situations during childhood. Similarly, criminals often engage in victim thinking, believing themselves to be moral and engaging in crime only as a reaction to an immoral world and furthermore feeling that police are unfairly singling them out for persecution.
A victim mentality can also develop in people groups who have suffered abuse and injustice from other people groups. Very often, the emotional wounds from sustained and prolonged abuse of individuals from one people group by individuals in another people group can lead to a victim mentality. Especially when the oppressive people group has the power of government or superior military ability to successfully oppress an entire people group.
The oppressed people group will often become, understandably, suspicious and bitter towards the other people group. In many cases the victim mentality becomes ingrained into the cultural fabric of the oppressed people group. The African-American community in the United States of America is a good example. Some members of this people group have developed a victim mentality passed down from generation to generation because of the horrific abuse and injustice of slavery perpetrated by some individuals with several people groups.
This level of victim mentality can only be rectified by a recognition of the source and for each individual of the oppressed people group to change perspectives - to see the distinction between true injustice and the natural inequality that everyone experiences.
In the most general sense, a victim is anyone who experiences injury, loss, or misfortune as a result of some event or series of events. This negative experience, however, is insufficient for the emergence of a sense of victimhood. It has been suggested that individuals define themselves as a victim if they believe that:
- they were harmed;
- they were not the cause of the occurrence of the harmful act;
- they were under no obligation to prevent the harm;
- the harm constituted an injustice in that it violated their rights (if inflicted by a person) and/or in that they possessed qualities (e.g., strength or goodness of character) making them persons whom that harm did not befit;
- they deserve empathy.
The desire of empathy is crucial in that the mere experience of a harmful event is not enough for the emergence of the sense of being a victim. In order to have this sense, there is the need to perceive the harm as undeserved, unjust and immoral, an act that could not be prevented by the victim. The need to obtain empathy and understanding can then emerge.
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A victim mentality may manifest itself in a range of different behaviors or ways of thinking and talking:
- Identifying others as the cause for an undesired situation.
- Exhibiting heightened attention levels (hypervigilance) when in the presence of others.
- Awareness of negative intentions of other people.
- Believing that other people are generally more fortunate.
- Gaining relief from feeling empathy for oneself or receiving empathy from others.
People with victim mentality may develop convincing and sophisticated explanations in support of such ideas, which they then use to explain to themselves and others of their situation.
People with victim mentality may also be generally:
- realist, with a general tendency to realistically perceive a situation.
- defensive: In conversation, reading a negative intention into a neutral question and reacting with a corresponding accusation, hindering the collective solution of problems by recognizing the inherent conflict.
- categorizing: tending to divide people into "good" and "bad" with no gray zone between them.
- unadventurous: generally unwilling to take even small and calculated risks; exaggerating the importance or likelihood of possible negative outcomes.
- exhibiting learned helplessness: underestimating one's ability or influence in a given situation; feeling powerless.
- self-abasing: Putting oneself down even further than others are doing.
A victim mentality may be reflected by linguistic markers or habits, such as pretending
- not to be able to do something ("I can't..."),
- not to have choices ("I must...") ("I have no choice..."), or
- epistemological humilty ("I don't know").
Victims of abuse and manipulationEdit
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Victims of abuse and manipulation often get trapped into a self-image of victimisation. The psychological profile of victimisation includes a pervasive sense of helplessness, passivity, loss of control, pessimism, negative thinking, strong feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame and depression. This way of thinking can lead to hopelessness and despair.
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Since victim mentality is primarily a reaction to one's experiences and not inborn, it is possible to change it which may be provoked by an extraordinary situation or crisis. Since recognizing naive and condescending suggestions is a general characteristic feature of victim mentality, a person with victim mentality will generally not respond positively to attempts by another person to wrongly identify the problem and its solution. For this reason, the condition may become chronic.
One may consider collective victimhood in political settings. If the leaders of a country, and the citizens who support them, collectively feel like victims of neighboring countries (e.g. following past border disputes), those leaders may be more likely to advocate violent conflict resolution or suppression of freedom of speech.
Political psychologists Bar-Tal and Chernyak-Hai write that collective victim mentality develops from a progression of self-realization, social recognition, and eventual attempts to maintain victimhood status.
- K. Aquino and K. Byron, ‘Dominating interpersonal behavior and perceived victimization in groups: Evidence for a curvilinear relationship’, Journal of Management, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2002, p. 71.
- C. J. Sykes, A nation of victims: The decay of the American character, St. Martin’s Press: New York, 1992
- Braiker, Harriet B., Who's Pulling Your Strings ? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation (2006)
- A sense of self-perceived collective victimhood in intractable conflicts; http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=6647920
- Caroline M Apovian (2010). The causes, prevalence, and treatment of obesity revisited in 2009: what have we learned so far? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91, 277S-279S.
- Christopher Peterson (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press.
- Thomas J. Nevitt: The Victim Mentality. http://aaph.org/node/214