Guidelines for Dealing With Someone With a Victim Mindset

Posted on: April 19th, 2018 by Pat Mesiti 19 Comments

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

  5. 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!


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Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


  1. Sarah says:

    I believe my son has a victim mentality and he had a lot of childhood trauma. He lefft to live with his dad when he was 10 yrs. although we had contact his dad is a very negative man and he criticised our son. He then kicked him out when he was 16yrs. I am still picking up the pieces and he is now 31. He doesn’t believe he has any power to change things and is Avery angry man. I have daily contact with him and try to support and encourage him, it’s very draining, my next fear is that he will become homeless and that will just compound his attitude about life, he told me he hates people.
    How can I support him productively and keep sane myself.

    • Pat Mesiti says:

      Hi Sarah, you can’t really help a victim if they want to stay a victim
      Generally the person caring cares more than the person with the problem
      Does he acknowledge his victim thinking?
      Does he seek help of his own volition? If not, he must have an “I shall not kid myself anymore” day.
      The blaming must stop and you must stop enabling him by blaming his dad.
      Hope this helps!

  2. CHOON TEO says:

    Hi Pat.
    Thank you for this post. I believe my wife has been suffering from a severe case of victim mindset for the last 16 years, and the symptoms is deteriorating in recent years. We currently lives in China and phycological disorder is not a well developed science here. Can you please recommend some additional resources that I can explore to help my wife? Your response is greatly appreciated.


  3. Charles says:

    Hi Pat,
    Great article. Unfortunately I’ve only read this after I’ve reached the end of my tether dealing with a work colleague like this and feel that I’ve been well and truly sucked in. I’ve tried in the past and recently to explain this to my boss but just feel like everything is taken in isolation and excuses are made for my colleague. I’m on the verge of quitting a project that I set up and love but wondered if you had any advice on how to communicate these issues more effectively to my boss before I do quit?

    • Pat Mesiti says:

      Thank you for reaching out and although I don’t know the whole situation, I recommend to take the drama out of the issues and stick to the facts take the emotion out and deal with facts. Hope this helps!

  4. bruce says:

    Hi Pat,

    I believe my gf has this victim mentality. she makes me feel like I am her only source of happiness as she constantly falls out with her friends. it has got much worse for the last 6 months and it seems like we never have a positive conversation, instead our conversation is taken up by her bitching about her friends. I don’t feel like I can do this for much longer, I have suggested that she speak to a therapist about it but she refuses. when I then tell her that I can’t deal with acting as her personal therapist, she gets upset saying “i feel bad that i do this to you”. I am stuck because I want to her to understand that she has this victim mentality but im not sure how to tell her it in a positive way that will not end in her feeling angry and wrongly “diagnosed”?

    great article
    cheers pat,


    • Pat Mesiti says:

      Sorry to hear you’re experiencing this! Dealing with people who have a victim mentality is not easy, so I hope you find the tips shared in this article effective…

  5. Steph says:

    You almost word for word quoted Dr. Orloff, wow.

  6. Francene Haller Hartley says:

    Hi! My 33 yr. old son has taken on the mantle of victimhood wholeheartedly. He also has turned projection into an art form. Our interactions have turned bizarre, full of revised history and angry. I’ve been altering my normal calm, forgiving and ok isms with speaking the truth, I hope with love. He appears to feel very hostile with me “seeing him”. My latest approach is to take recovery time first( I’m depleted), set better boundaries, PRACTICE and REPEAT. I’m feeling discouraged and exhausted. Any suggestions? Thanks

    • Pat Mesiti says:

      There is never a one size fits all approach, but I recommend just listening to him because usually victims just want to be heard. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with what he says, just validate how he feels. Hope this helps!

  7. Noah says:

    Hi Pat,
    My girlfriend has been dealing with this mindset her whole life. (She’s 16 I’m 17) It seems to be her “go to move” when she is confronted with even the slightest correction, or observation about how she treats me and other people. She believed and says that I am told everyday that I’m doing stuff wrong. She doesn’t seem to take care of her own well being and her own thoughts of whether or not she actually does it or not. She clamps on to the observer’s belief’s. I don’t think that will get her anywhere. Please please help me. I read your article 15 minutes ago and we are already on step 4. She came up with a plan. To not listen to the negativity. I asked her what she classifies as negative. She said rude comments. I asked her to classify that. She said when people tell me or say that I’m not being nice. “Oh you don’t communicate with me enough”. Those make her tick. They dwell. They cause this mess. How can I make this go on? The process of course.

    Thank you,

    • Pat Mesiti says:

      Thank you Noah for your openness about what you’re facing. Remember that people with a victim mentality actually feed themselves by taking other people’s energy while talking about themselves. The best way to stop it is to stop feeding the dysfunction. In other words not have a ‘poor you’ attitude, but instead show them you are confident they can overcome their challenges, by saying something like ‘you’re a strong person, I know you’ll overcome this, I’ve seen you overcome a lot of things’.
      Hope this helps!

  8. Brianna says:

    My mother and I recently got into a disagreement and her apology was sent via email yesterday. I’m struggling to respond when she is explaining what things are going on in her life that makes her unhappy, consistently makes remarks about not having no outlet and when she tries to talk out her daily frustrations to me I change the subject. I do, but only because I can’t sit and dwell on the negative like she does. She mentions that work and her husband are extremely stressful and I don’t know how to approach her with out hurting her feelings. When upset she can hold grudges for long periods of time and growing up with her she would give the silent treatment for days when upset. I wish I could share her email to get more insight as I feel stuck because I love her, but so mad that she has turned every bit of her apology into a pity party for herself. I want to tell her she needs to seek help i.e., therapy, but scared of her reaction. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated! Thank you!!

    • Pat Mesiti says:

      Hi Brianna, it’s hard for a daughter to give advice to their mother, because it’s usually not received very well…
      What I would recommend, is when the dust settles, to share some books with her that could help her or invite her to attend personal development seminars. I think she can benefit greatly from access to personal growth information.
      Hope this helps!

  9. Lynda says:

    Thank you so much for your article. I realize I have started to adopt an anti-victim mindset for my husband as I feel I’m at the end of my rope- nothing else has worked. In the past I’ve tried to get him to take responsibility for his actions (yelling harshly at our kids or at me in front of our kids). I’ve told him those actions and words are damaging to his relationships. I guess I’ve been trying to reason with him.
    It seems to me what he’s dealing with is a cross between anger about his horrible childhood (victim mindset) and trying to gain control of things that aren’t his to control (maybe because he feels he hasn’t had the control over his own life that he should have).
    So kind of a cross between victim and control. Do those usually go together?
    I just need advice on ensuring I set boundaries without coming across as superior. He’s told me I make him feel like he’s not good enough or bad when I put my foot down and stick up for me and the kids. At this point our marriage is near over so I don’t think he will accept any empathy and support from me. But I need to keep boundaries so he doesn’t hurt us while at the same time not damaging his psyche more.
    Thank you

    • Pat Mesiti says:

      Hi Lynda,
      Thank you for your comment, and it looks like you’re facing some serious challenges.
      I would recommend you both do marriage counselling and that your husband does some trauma therapy to deal with hs childhood. Because what is important is to treat the root causes of his behaviour, not the behaviour itself. There are many excellent trauma therapies that help, such as EMDR.
      Hope this helps!

  10. Sam The Blueberry says:

    I believe my mother has a victim mindset. Shes had this mindset my whole life and its caused me and my sister to become her “therapists” at a very young age. I understand the abuse she went through as a child and the abuse we all were going through with my father. I always wanted to find a way to help my mother when I was younger but never could until now. Shes even thanked me listening to her and helping her get through this mindset. But sadly no matter how much tact I have or how I approach the situation she continues with this victim mentality. Shes abusing my sister and refusing to take responsibility for her actions. I just wanted to ask. Am I wrong for wanting to give up on her and take my sister out of that situation?

    • Pat Mesiti says:

      Thank you for sharing, and I don’t think it’s your job or responsibility to help someone who is not ready to be helped. The best thing you can do is encourage her to seek professional help so you can live the life you were meant to, instead of being held back by someone not ready for change.

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