By Rachel Puryear
When someone frequently plays the victim, it can be toxic and destructive – for themselves, as well as for other people around them.
We’re all guilty of playing the victim sometimes. Doing so now and then is a part of human nature, as we tend to much more easily see ways in which others have harmed us, than we tend to see the ways in which we have harmed others. We also much more readily recognize and acknowledge where we are disadvantaged in relation to someone else (whether that’s actual or perceived), than where we are the ones advantaged over others.
There are some people, however, who play the victim regularly as their modus operandi, and it can even be a form of abuse – playing the victim is an underrated abuser tactic that’s more subtle than overt violence, but is still quite harmful and maddening.
Some kinds of situations push people to play the victim, even when they don’t usually do so; such as when they are feeling highly stressed, or as though they are being excluded or treated poorly by others, or as though they don’t have fair chances in life compared with many others, or feeling hopeless and out of control in their lives. When these types of things happen, it’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves.
Self-pity can even be a helpful coping mechanism to a limited extent. Outrage over feeling victimized can give us a needed sense of purpose and energy in pushing back against truly unjust situations.
However, given the heavy price of a chronic victim mindset, it’s important not to let a sense of victimization overtake oneself too often. If someone lets themselves slip into playing the victim regularly, and as a first resort; it not only becomes a habit, but it also becomes a highly addictive one.
So, how is a non-destructive, temporary, benign level of occasionally feeling victimized distinguished from a destructive, toxic level of chronically living with a victim mindset?
The difference is in letting oneself be defined by a sense of victimization as an integral part of their identity, versus not.
Once a person begins to strongly identify with their sense of victimization, which may be conscious or not; they tend to constantly see themselves as the victim to the exclusion of anything else. This keeps them trapped in a self-destructive spiral. It’s quite difficult to improve oneself while viewing oneself as perpetually being a victim of life.
When a person identifies with chronically being a victim, they have strong emotional incentives to maintain that sense of victimization. This mindset tends to influence their life choices for the worse – thereby pushing them to choose relationships, jobs, and other life circumstances which are unhealthy; in order to maintain that sense of victimization. This gives them more to complain about, and thereby supports their victim mindset.
Once a person feels like they must maintain a victim identity, they then insist that others view them that way, too. They become a “one-downer”. Whereas a “one-upper” likes to make themselves appear to always have a better job, house, marriage, family, body, looks, more money, and so forth to everyone else; the “one-downer” does the opposite.
If you aren’t feeling well, the one-downer will tell you that they were even sicker than you were. If you’re having relationship troubles, they’ll tell you their ex was way worse than yours. If you’re miserable at your job or struggling financially, they’ll tell you that your boss is a saint compared to theirs, they’re much poorer than you, and so forth. What they claim may or may not be true – but for these purposes, it doesn’t even matter. They will still claim that they had it worse than anyone else, and that they deserve special consideration to the exclusion of anyone else, even though they give nothing to anyone else having a hard time.
The one-downer/chronic victim doesn’t want anyone else to be seen as having been through more than themselves, and they want everyone to believe that they themselves have suffered the most. They don’t want anyone else to get more sympathy and attention than they do. They want all the focus to be on them, what a big victim they are, and for everyone to feel sorry for them – and only for them.
Do they ever reciprocate the tremendous amounts of compassion, sympathy and empathy to others when others need it? Of course not. It’s a one-way street for them. People who chronically view themselves as the victim are usually takers, not givers.
When someone behaves this way, it’s very difficult to help them, or motivate them to change. For instance; if you suggest they try a fresh approach to relationships, they’ll tell you that it won’t make a difference, because all men/women will just treat them poorly anyway/they can’t attract anyone good because they aren’t pretty/rich/whatever enough (and they think you are supposed to console and cheerlead them at this point, even though they will still refuse to be satisfied).
For another instance, if you show them new job listings for better positions, they’ll tell you that you just couldn’t understand how hard it is for them, they can’t get good jobs as easily as you, and they’ll probably also ask you for some money at this point (and tell you you’re a selfish asshole if you don’t give it.)
To be clear, this is not to say that some of the above excuses are not valid for some people, at some times. But someone with a victim mindset will always have an excuse for why they cannot try to improve their lives, and be defensive about it, yet they will still complain endlessly about it. They don’t want help, they want sympathy – and often, handouts as well. They want you to lavish them with attention, but they also want to brush it off so you still feel like a failure – it’s part of their emotional control over you, and never letting anything you do be enough. They want others to feel guilty for being (actually or perceived) better off than they are. They will feel victimized by you even suggesting any possible solutions, and not “understanding” why that won’t work for them.
Know – and remember – that you will not be able to change such a person, nor will you ever be able to satisfy or help them for very long, either. Trying to do so will not only not work, it will just bring you down with them – you could make yourself crazy, and suffer a lot of harm emotionally and otherwise. Accordingly, you are usually best off just staying away from these people.
As far as yourself, know that it’s okay to acknowledge your own hardships in life. You can acknowledge your pain. You can acknowledge where you’ve been treated unfairly, where bad things have happened to good people, and where things just don’t seem to make sense. In fact, it can be cathartic and healing to acknowledge all of these things to yourself; without judgment, and without shame.
At the same time, avoid slipping into the victim mindset. Resist the temptation to let your sense of victimization define you. Believe me, this is very hard, and I don’t expect anyone to do it easily – I do know how hard it can be to resist that very temptation when life seems very hard, and many problems seem so unsolvable. But given the high price of what someone becomes once they let their sense of victimization define them, doing so must nonetheless be avoided, even if it takes a tremendous amount of constant effort.
Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to not letting feelings of victimization define us. If you enjoyed this content and want to see more of it, please hit “like” and subscribe, if you have not done so already. xoxo