The Victim Mentality

Whether we like it or not, history does repeat itself. Markets plummet, nations fight, people argue, management refuses to listen, employees refuse to engage themselves. In families, unspoken expectations abound and spoken expectations are often unmet. All these circumstances educate us to be skeptical students of life. Every day we face the effects of other people’s decisions and can do nothing about them except smile and go on. As we experience these constant torrents, little by little, the surface of our pride and worth is eroded away. We stand the temptation of becoming self-centered and defensive. We develop a victim mentality.

People are often quick to embrace the victim mentality because it removes all blame and responsibility from themselves and places it on something or someone else. We are a victim of circumstance. We are a victim of others’ decisions. “I didn’t decide this. I can’t control it. Why should I have to take the blame for it?” This exemplifies the conversation we have with others or within ourselves as we step into this existence. The danger with following this mental and emotional path is that we express a number of negative things to those around us. Because each person may perceive the same situation differently, we run the chance of showing ourselves as a liar, selfish, unengaged, individualistic, standoffish, arrogant and unconcerned about others in the same situation.

As an example of the victim mentality, let me offer the following personal experience. Recently, my son came home from school. He did the homework that he was responsible for and which he had written down on his daily calendar. Of course, his sole intent was finishing so he could hit the pedals of his bicycle and trek off to his next conquest. Post haste, he finished his responsibilities and ventured out to experience the world. When I arrived home that evening, I asked him if had finished his homework. “Yep. I did it as soon as I got home from school.” I then asked the fatal second question, “Have you studied for your test tomorrow?” “What test tomorrow?” he responded back. “Dad! I didn’t know there was a test tomorrow!” Obviously, he felt that by pushing the point, he would somehow convince me that the test was unimportant and that his continued bike trek was the most valuable experience. What he was really saying, but not vocalizing was, “Why should I have to study for a test when I didn’t know it was going to happen?”

How many times do we jump into the attitude of the victim because either we don’t know about the circumstances that overtake us or we are not able to control their onset? How many times do we excuse ourselves from responsibility, liability and team membership solely because we were not part of the decision making process or were uninformed until the last moment? We have two choices when these circumstances catch us by the neck. We embrace them and work through them or we declare ourselves the victim and excuse ourselves: disgracing ourselves and forcing others to take the lead in addressing the challenge and moving forward. I would suggest that we lose more by victimizing ourselves than of facing the situation in truth and working it through for a resolution. While it’s true that taking the attitude of a victim offers us a false sense of power, control and exemption, we sacrifice our reputation in the same stroke.

My conversation with my son continued, “Son, maybe you didn’t know that the test was happening, but the test is happening and if you don’t choose to face this fact, you will be ill-prepared for tomorrow. You have two choices. You can face the truth and realize that you now have a situation that you weren’t expecting-one that needs handled and prepared for. Or, you can be the victim of this circumstance and fail the test tomorrow because you chose to ignore it rather than do everything you can to make the best of a trying situation. Which will it be?” Gratefully, he chose to make the best of it. It wasn’t one of the A+ grades that he often receives but he accomplished a handful of very important things, namely ownership in his life’s education, self-confidence, greater maturity and favor with me as his father. He showed me that he is growing up and becoming the man of honor I hope him to become.

You will have a test tomorrow. You won’t know what it is until it takes you by surprise. What are you going to do about it? Victim or victor, you decide.

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Bryan Hurlbut is the author of Making It Count: Putting meaning back in business and relationships. This and other topics can be found in the book Making It Count: Putting meaning back in business and relationships.


Chris Young said…
Powerful post and a great story Bryan! Thank you for sharing this and illustrating the importance of personal accountability and responsibility for one's results.

I have featured your post in my weekly Rainmaker 'Fab Five' blog picks of the week which can be found here:

Be well Bryan!

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