In my last blog I wrote about the victim mentality. The victim mindset is an unhealthy way of functioning. It’s a pattern of thinking that damages people. People with a victim mindset tell themselves that the world is against them, nothing is their fault and they are powerless to change their lives. Today I want to look at how you deal with ‘victims’, either at home or at work. However please note that when I last wrote about ‘victims’ I acknowledged that many of these people have suffered real harm – still it is essential that everyone moves from a victim to a survivor outlook and does the work necessary to get on with their lives and again be productive post-trauma. People who recover from difficult childhoods, brutality and other abusive relationships are true heroes and survivors! People who refuse to leave the past behind become life-long victims. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but it is the reality of the situation because regardless of what you have suffered, at some point you must again take on the responsibility of your own wellbeing and happiness.
In this blog I will look at dealing with victims in two very different ways. You basically have two choices: you can either rein the victim in by setting firm boundaries or you can help support the individual overcome their victim mentality. There is no guarantee you’ll succeed. The path you choose is very much dependent on your relationship with the victim. I would only advise encouraging and supporting the person to change their mentality if you have a very close relationship – if the person is a spouse or close friend or family member. If you are dealing with a neighbour or work colleague it is probably more appropriate that you just accept they have a victim mindset and establish some boundaries.
Establishing boundaries for victims
Psychiatrist Judith Orloff wrote a book on how to deal with draining victims called The Victim Mentality. Dr Orloff wrote:
‘The victim grates on you with a poor-me attitude, and is allergic to taking responsibility for their actions. People are always against them, the reason for their unhappiness. They portray themselves as unfortunates who demand rescuing, and they will turn you into their therapist. As a friend, you want to help, but you become overwhelmed by their endless tales of woe.’
Dr Orloff said it is essential to set limits otherwise the ‘victim’ will suck you dry emotionally. Do not indulge the victim’s hunger for self-pity by listening to endless gripes. You might feel like shouting ‘I’ve had enough!’ but you will need to be a little more diplomatic. Dr Orloff suggests setting a time limit with a friend or relative, say something like, ‘Our relationship is important to me, but it’s not helpful to keep feeling sorry for yourself. I can only listen for five minutes unless you’re ready to discuss solutions.’ Expect the victim to be angry and even accuse you of failing him or her as a friend, but stand firm and reply, ‘I’m a great friend and I love you, but this is all I can offer.’
Dealing with a victim at work
With a co-worker, you need to be even more diplomatic. Dr Orloff suggests you respond with something like, ‘I’m really sorry that’s happened to you.’ Next, listen for a little while, then respond sympathetically with something like ‘I really hope the situation turns around for you however I must return to my work as I want to get this task finished today.’ Indicate with body language that you are keen to return to your work – breaking eye contact, and looking at your computer screen. You may come to feel that the less you engage with the victim, the better.
This advice may sound quite ruthless, but do try to be kind to the person with the victim mentality while still establishing some borders. Be empathetic rather than sympathetic. Put yourself in their shoes and appreciate they have probably suffered real harm but are not yet able to find themselves out of a maze – yet you do not also want to be trapped in the maze. Look at the person with love, do not be angry or treat them like an enemy.
Helping someone overcome the ‘victim’ mindset
To help someone escape a ‘victim’ mindset you first need to appreciate that the person is neither mad nor irrational. They have not even chosen to be a victim. They have suffered harm in their life and now they’ve just fallen into this way of thinking because it garnets support and attention from others. It reinforces their view that they are a good person and if things had only been different they would have probably been successful. It’s a way of saving face. Victims do not even consciously realise that by thinking of themselves as victims they have given away power to change the situation. Victimhood is a learned helplessness.
Do not develop an anti-victim mindset
To help a victim you cannot approach them from a position of superiority. Also examine whether they are truly a victim or there is something about their situation that needs changing. For example I know of a boss who thought his employee had a ‘victim mindset’ but in fact the woman had legitimate concerns. Her employer had not equipped her with the resources to do her job! She was wrongly labelled a victim.
Do not try to logically argue with a victim.
Remember you are dealing with someone who has an unhealthy mindset, not someone who is lacking in logic. First you need to validate the position the victim has taken. You are not agreeing with them, but just demonstrating that you have heard them. If they feel they have not been heard they will just restate their views. To validate the victim’s viewpoint you might say something like, ‘I understand that you are saying that it is very difficult for a woman to re-enter the workforce after taking time out to raise children and you are saying that no one will give you a job.’ You are simply telling the victim you have heard them, not that you agree with them. However to validate you must also reflect in your voice some of the despair, frustration and anger the victim feels.
Try to figure out if the person is willing to seek a solution
Ask the individual if he or she sees any way of the situation. There is a range of questions you can ask: Who are you committed to being known as in your life regardless of the situation? Even in the worst of circumstances, how do you want to be perceived? What have you given up on? If the circumstances were different, what would you really like to see happen? Are you willing to stand for making that happen even if it seems unfair and uneven at times? If you could have it your way, what are you really committed to achieving? Note that the key to this line of questioning is first recognising that the situation is terrible. You are not disagreeing with the victim’s core belief that they have been hard done by, your only question is, given things are tough are you prepared to get out of it?
If the victim avoids giving any commitment to solving his or her problems and only again describes their disasters you could outright say, ‘I want to support you, but it seems like you are set on and maybe even invested in there being no solution — is that correct?’ or ‘Seems like you are stuck in a hole — do you want to come out of it or prefer to stay in it?’
If the victim is showing real resistance to finding a solution you may want to ask them, ‘If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do then?’ Encourage them to give this a go. After all, what have they got to lose?
Persevere with the victim
When the victim finally shows some commitment to finding a solution, ask what action they will now take. Remember that it takes a long time to break a bad thought pattern and victims when faced with challenges are prone to quickly throw in the towel. The motivation for taking new actions may be great at first, but if the person does not see instant results, they may sink back into the victim mindset. You may have to repeat Step 3 when the individual feels defeated and again ask what they want to achieve. You could also try to shift their mindset and encourage them to think like someone who is truly resilient and courageous, for example, how would Turia Pitt act in this situation? How would Rosie Battie behave?
Offer ongoing support to the victim
The person will have a better chance of moving from victim to survivor if you offer them ongoing support. Keep the new commitment alive by continual conversation. Phone them, drop in, write emails, send encouraging texts like, ‘I remember what you said yesterday about giving it a go, and I was really impressed. Just keep going, you’ll get there!’
There are no guarantees that the individual concerned will break-out of the victim mindset. It is difficult to shift a mindset – you probably already know that. This is why it is often better to establish some limits when dealing with victims, however if you commit to helping someone breakout of this mindset then I hope you both succeed!