Many clients that come to our practice are having challenges learning how to deal with someone who plays the victim or has a victim mentality in relationships.
Have you ever dated someone that brings a level of emotional chaos and drama to your life that isn’t the norm for you? Maybe you can’t put your finger on what it is but something just doesn’t feel right. You are seeing red flags but you aren’t sure what they mean or if they are deal-breakers.
If so, you might be dating someone with a victim mentality in relationships.
What Is A Victim Mentality?
When I describe someone as being a victim, I don’t mean victim in the sense of someone who has been the victim of a crime or an assault. So what does playing the victim mean?
For the purposes of this article, a victim is someone who blames others for their problems, denies responsibility for their emotional state, and weaves the tale of how everyone does them wrong.
Not sure if this is what you are dealing with? This post explores 10 ways to tell if you are dating someone with a victim mentality in relationships. But first, let’s talk about why someone might be playing the victim in relationships.
What Causes Victim Mentality?
Much of how you think and act as an adult is a result of the beliefs you created about yourself and the world during childhood. Individuals with a victim mentality in relationships may have had the victim way of thinking modeled for them by their caregivers; especially if they had a parent with a mental illness or addiction.
Children raised by parents with mental illness or addiction are often victims of abuse and/or neglect, which makes them feel like the world is not a safe place. Even though they eventually grow up and can take care of themselves as adults, they are still left with that unsafe feeling, especially when in a relationship. Sometimes these individuals grow up to become codependent in relationships.
In other instances, the individual playing the victim in relationships may be suffering from mental illness. Depression and a victim mentality go hand in hand and most individuals with borderline personality disorder or covert narcissism have a major victim mentality.
That’s not to say that everyone with a victim mentality in relationships had a traumatic childhood or suffers from mental illness but those are both certainly contributing factors.
Signs of Victim Mentality In Relationships
Now that we understand some of the causes of victim mentality in relationships, let’s explore signs your partner may be playing the victim in relationships (and how to deal with someone with victim mentality).
Victim Mentality #1: Whenever they talk about their past relationships you find yourself getting sucked into the story of how crazy their ex is and feeling bad for them.
Ever wonder how it’s possible that ALL of his exes were so awful? They probably weren’t! What’s more likely is that he gets upset about minor things that most people don’t even consider to be problems or he doesn’t know how to effectively communicate frustrations in a way that a partner can hear and understand him.
Odds are, his ex probably wasn’t as bad as he interpreted her to be but because he hasn’t done the soul searching and personal growth work post-breakup to get closure and take responsibility for his side of things, he just views himself as a victim.
Reality: It takes two to start AND end a relationship. Maybe his ex did act like a crazy person but what did he do to provoke it? Or how did he set himself up to miss the red flags? Did she cheat on him? Ask him why.
Someone with a victim mentality in relationships will tell you he doesn’t know why. Someone who takes responsibility for the circumstances he creates in his life will tell you something like “I could have worked less and dedicated more time to her. She told me that is what she needed and I didn’t listen. Fortunately, now I have learned that lesson so I don’t make the same mistake with you.”
Which story makes you feel more secure as his current girlfriend? Ya, we know 😉
Victim Mentality #2: They never talk about what they did wrong in their past relationships or what they learned, just what the other person did wrong.
Reality: You should learn a lesson from EVERY relationship you have! People come into your life for one of two reasons. They are either a blessing or a lesson. If they are an ex, they are probably of the lesson variety. You should learn something about yourself, how to be a better partner, and what qualities you are looking for in a partner from every relationship. If not, you just aren’t being introspective and objective enough. You are too caught up in playing the victim in relationships to realize the lesson and potential growth in the experience.
Victim Mentality #3: They don’t have good relationships with their exes because they’re still holding onto past hurts.
If your partner gets angry or upset anytime he talks about his past relationships, he has not put the past behind him. He might think he has (especially if he is no longer sad or missing his ex) but if he was truly over all the hurt and anguish she put him through, he would be able to take responsibility for his portion of the difficulties and let go of the emotion surrounding the break-up.
Reality: Not everyone can or wants to remain friends with their exes but they should at least be able to talk about them without feeling angry or defensive. This is what it means to get closure.
When you are able to take responsibility for your portion of the difficulties, realize the experience happened FOR you and not TO you, and use the experience to make better choices moving forward, you are able to be in a healthy emotional place with your ex. If someone has a victim mentality in relationships, it’s usually hard to get this perspective.
Victim Mentality #4: When they talk about what they have learned from past experiences, it’s usually not in regards to something they can improve upon.
Instead, they make some sweeping generalizations like “people can’t be trusted” or “men are ass holes” or “women are crazy.” It takes vulnerability to talk about how we messed up and where we can do better. Victims are afraid to show vulnerability. They equate being vulnerable to being weak or wrong so they prefer to spend their time proving how wrong everyone else is to avoid scrutiny themselves.
Reality: Vulnerability is the key to having warm, connected, loving relationships. Vulnerability is the birthplace of intimacy. If you’re too busy playing the victim in relationships to admit when you are wrong or imperfect, your partner will not be able to trust you or relate to you.
Your partner already knows you aren’t perfect…no one is. What builds love and trust is embracing those imperfections and saying “I’ll do better next time.” When you let down your guard and ask someone to love you, imperfections and all, THAT is when you will find true love and acceptance.
Victim Mentality #5: They get upset very easily about minor issues in your relationship.
A victim acts like your flaws were put there purposefully to cause her pain and like you are acting with the intention of upsetting her. She takes everything personally and rarely gives others the benefit of the doubt.
Reality: Happy, healthy people don’t sweat the small stuff. Instead, they try to focus more on the good things in their life and the good qualities of their partner.
What you focus on creates your reality. If you focus on all the ways others harm you or harm each other, the world is going to look like a pretty terrible and scary place. If you focus on all the ways the people and circumstances in your life support you, you will feel safe, happy, and grateful.
Victim Mentality #6: They hold grudges.
People with a victim mentality in relationships have a hard time putting the past in its place once and for all because they feel as if the circumstances and events in their life are responsible for how they feel. They have what is called an external locus of control meaning they believe that outside circumstances determine their fate or mood.
Individuals with a healthy internal locus of control believe that they are the masters of their destiny and can choose how to interpret outside circumstances, thus, remaining in control of their emotions.
Reality: Life is too short to stay angry. Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. It’s toxic to you and your relationship. If you are secure in yourself and your partner’s love, you talk issues out, resolve them, and move on. You realize that YOU are in control of your emotions and no one else.
The way you think about an event determines how you feel. Nobody can make you feel a certain way without your consent. You are not a victim to your circumstances but a creator of your own reality.
Victim Mentality #7: You feel a sense of insecurity and instability about the relationship.
Dating a victim can often make a healthy person feel like they are walking on eggshells. The victim is so emotionally unstable and volatile, they cause you to feel the same way. People with pathological ways of being in relationships have a way of pulling pathological reactions from people who typically would not behave that way.
For example, a man who normally feels secure, happy, and trusting in relationships might find that he is often worried about his girlfriend breaking up with him when he upsets her. She is so used to an unhealthy relationship dynamic, she somehow pulls that reaction from her healthy counterpart until he hardly recognizes himself anymore.
Reality: If you find yourself unhappy or uncomfortable most of the time in your relationship but still cannot leave for some reason, you might be taking on the energy of your victim partner. Those with a victim mentality in relationships spend much of their time feeling unhappy, anxious, and insecure and can often make their partners feel the same way.
Try taking a step back and assessing whether you really feel this way or if you are taking on someone else’s stress. If you weren’t like this in any other relationships, it’s likely the dynamic between you and your partner that is causing these feelings. A break may be warranted to gain more clarity around this issue.
Victim Mentality #8: You feel responsible for your partner’s happiness.
You hold back from saying things because you know it might send them into a tailspin. Your mood is dependent on their mood and if they are upset, you are scrambling to fix it whether you are responsible for the upset or not.
This is similar to #7 above in that you start acting like a different person inside your relationship for fear of triggering a reaction in your partner. This type of behavior is a sign of a codependent relationship, which is a common dynamic when dealing with a victim mentality in relationships.
Reality: No one is responsible for anyone’s happiness but their own. It is your job to make you happy and your partner’s job to make herself happy. When two happy people come together, they can form a happy, healthy relationship. When one partner relies on the other’s actions to determine their mood, they are setting themselves up to be codependent and a victim.
Victim Mentality #9: Drama seems to follow them wherever they go.
Victims are always up in arms about something. Her best friend said something she didn’t agree with and now she is mad at her. His boss made a comment that he could have contributed more on a project and now he is worried he’ll be fired. He didn’t take out the trash like he promised so now you are mad at him and are weaving a story about how he doesn’t care about you.
Reality: Most things just aren’t that big of a deal! So your best friend did something you didn’t agree with. She is allowed to have different opinions from you and handle situations differently than you would.
So your boss gave you some constructive criticism. What a GREAT opportunity to step up and say “you’re right sir. I apologize for not doing my best. I promise to do better next time.” If I heard that as a boss, I’d have a newfound respect for my employee.
So your husband forgot to take out the trash. Does this mean he doesn’t love you anymore or that he just forgot? Which scenario makes you feel better? Go with that one because remember, YOU are the creator of your own reality.
Victim Mentality #10: They cut people out of their life.
Making amends with others and working through issues usually requires taking responsibility for some portion of the problem and always requires letting go of anger and forgiving. As mentioned above, this is not something people with a victim mentality in relationships are able to do.
They prefer to be right and lose the relationship than humble themselves, be vulnerable, and take responsibility for some or all of the problem. This emotional and reactive behavior of cutting people off creates chaotic, insecure, and unstable relationships.
Reality: Every relationship goes through hard times at one point or another. Even when you are married, there will be times when one or both of you want out of the relationship.
The fact of the matter is, the issues in your relationship are rarely because of your partner’s behavior. They are only a problem because you interpret them from your lens of ‘how things should be.’
Overcoming Victim Mentality
Most people bring unresolved issues from their childhood and past relationships into their current relationship. If you don’t figure out an issue with your current partner, odds are it will keep coming up for you in every relationship thereafter. To read more about this, read my blog post on How Your Childhood is Affecting Your Romantic Relationships.
One of three things probably happened as you were reading this article.
1) you realized you are dating a victim, 2) you realized you are BEING a victim, or 3) you thought of a friend or family member that is a victim or is dating a victim. These behaviors are not all that uncommon and the good news is, people can change.
In the end, the victim will end up facing painful consequences in their life and relationships if they do not change their behavior (as will their partner). However, you cannot just confront a victim and demand that they change. Doing so will make them feel vulnerable and wrong and yes, like a victim.
So now what? Whether you’re wondering how to deal with someone with victim mentality or want to stop playing the victim in relationships, there are ways to overcome this challenge.
If your partner has a victim mentality in relationships, try talking about how you are trying to take more responsibility for the choices you make in life and ask them to help hold you accountable. You could share some takeaways from this article with them and say “I read this and I realized I have some victim mentalities that I really want to change.”
Bring up situations you are experiencing and share both your old “victim mentality” and your new “responsible self” mentality. Model the healthy mindset for your partner and ask for their feedback and input. Eventually they will start to realize they might have some mentalities to change too.
If they start talking about a situation in their life like a victim, you can say something like “you know, I went through something similar and what really helped me get over it was thinking (insert healthy positive mindset here) instead of (insert victim mentality here). It was amazing how much better I felt just by changing my mindset.”
Get Help with Victim Mentality
Feel like you need extra support dealing with a partner who has a victim mentality in relationships? Online therapy could help! You could even tell them you have been thinking about seeing a therapist and wondered if they have ever thought about that too.
If you are in a relationship with a victim, couples therapy is a great way to get the ball rolling and your partner may enjoy it so much, he or she will opt for individual therapy as well.
Lastly, here are a few book recommendations for the victim in your life. It should be noted that these are great reads for anyone, victim or not!
- Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
- The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
- Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
- Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood
Quick disclaimer: almost everyone engages in some of these behaviors from time to time. While not ideal, having 2 or 3 of these qualities doesn’t make you or anyone else a terrible person. It means you are human and you have room to grow. However, if several of these qualities are a pervasive pattern in your life and your relationships are suffering as a result, be sure to download the free guide below to overcoming victim mentality in relationships and commit to making a change.
Ready for additional support? Book a free 30-minute consultation with a Couples Learn online therapist today.