Does someone you know have a victim mentality?
by Duncan Nalos
From time to time most of us can fall into feeling sorry for ourselves, blaming others for our problems, and leaning a little to heavily on those around us who love and care for us. Some good friend may come along hold out his lower lip, and with a sad expression say “pooooooor baby” and try to use humor to snap us out of our pity party. Hopefully we don’t stay in the “poor me” victim role for to long. On the other hand there are people who set up camp there, and live with a victim mentality. Some of these folks have had some very difficult experiences in life, and for some reason or another, have got themselves stuck in a “victim mentality” in which they blame others for their problems and feel powerless. They focus on every thing in their life that has gone sideways, and tend to drain the people around them. One pastor anonymously said “the devil sends some people along to wear out the saints”.
These people have discovered that there are benefits to being a victim. The victim role is powerful. The victim role is far more powerful than the perpetrator role. Being a victim evokes a sympathetic response in people. When a victim shares their story of need, or complaint, and if they are convincing, people will seek to be responsive. Some people feel responsible to care for victims, and come along side of them to help in any way they can. The vicim gets to be the center of attention. If you know someone who is in a victim role, you might want to contemplate all the benefits they may be receiving from being in that role. The victim calls for a Christian response. If you were a true Christian you would help me, they say. Some people are easily guilted, others may be more discerning, and consider their response more carefully.
To demonstrate love, compassion and care for those who cannot care for themselves, is a beautiful thing. As Christians we are called to be there for the widow, the orphan and those in need. However, some of us especially those with the gift of mercy, can be taken advantage of and need to ask the Lord for discernment. The early church in the book of Acts demonstrated care for the needy but there was a process for determining who was qualified to be on the list see (1Tim. 5:9). The widows in this case had to be known for their sacrificial service to others. An attitude of entitlement would never have been tolerated by the apostle Paul.
Paul would not tolerate free loading (2Thes. 3:10) "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." was his rule. (Gal. 6:1-10) Paul instructs believers to carry each others burdens, but he also commands them to test their own actions, and that “each one should carry his own load”. I take this to mean that we should evaluate what we can carry, and not ask people to carry the burdens for us that we are able to manage on our own. People in the victim role have a tendency to over burden the people around them. They can do a lot of damage in a Christian community. They can sink a small group bible study by overwhelming the group with their needs. People just decide to stop showing up for “a variety of reasons”. The real reason is that they just can’t handle the group centering around the needs of the person in the victim role.
Some people are very skilled at being the victim, and they are surrounded by people who are constantly trying to meet their needs and make them happy. In cases of abuse, abusers can use the victim role quite effectively to get others to do what they want. They may insist that their needs are more important than any one else's, and that they need to be the center of attention. The core issue in this scenario is that the abuser genuinely believes with all their heart that they are entitled. Change in this situation can only occur when the abuser gives up their sense of entitlement, which almost never happens.
The Christ centered life is all about giving up the attitude of entitlement. It’s about dying to self and living for Christ. In (Gal. 2:20), Paul says “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. We are called to shift our focus from ourselves, to a life in pursuit of God and his will. Letting go of a self centered focus on life, and embracing a Christ centered focus on life is a huge shift. For the person with the victim mentality the invitation is to let go, and let God take control. Christ’s example of yielding his rights and living a life of self denial is spelled out eloquently in Phil.2:5-8 and stands in stark contrast to this picture of self centeredness.
For those of you who live with someone who is stuck in a self focused victim role, it’s important not to do things for them that they can do for themselves. Ultimately you will be doing them a favor, because as they begin to take responsibility for themselves they will feel empowered, and their self esteem will improve. In the mean time, you need to tell yourself that you are not responsible for their happiness. They need to be responsible for their own emotions. Loving people in this way requires a bit of a backbone and may be a bit of a challenge for you. The hard part is when they try to make you feel responsible for their problem. A coping skill in this situation is to tell yourself, “he or she has a problem, but I’m not going to let it ruin my day”. This is called emotionally distancing. For those of you who have challenges living with a difficult person you may want to consider getting some counselling. It can be a big encouragement.