Life isn’t fair. Everyone, at some point, has to deal with a painful or unpleasant situation that they did not deserve. While some people are able to cope with the “unfair” situation and then move on, others seem to get stuck. They get caught up in feeling targeted by others, and by fate. They may not know why – and they even may recognize that they are sometimes being irrational to see mean-spirited intentions – but they feel like victims.
If you recognize that you often feel like a victim, think about whether you would like to change this. Your gut reaction might be, Of course, I want to. But really think about this. Do you just want it to change? Or, do you want to change it? The former is how a victim thinks – seeing themselves as being at the whim of outside forces. If the latter resonated with you, if you want to help yourself, that’s already a step in the right direction and away from the victim role.
According to Robert Leahy, PhD, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, there are a number of dimensions that comprise the victim role. Below are 6 characteristics of victim-oriented thinking, along with ways you can challenge that thinking.
1. You feel powerless, unable to solve a problem or cope effectively with it.
Challenge: What can you do to help yourself? Even if you are faced with a situation that cannot be fixed, think about what resources are available to help you through the situation more effectively.
2. You tend to see your problems as catastrophes.
Challenge: Be on the lookout for exaggerating how bad your problems are. Ask yourself: “What’s the worst that can happen?” Then follow up with, “How can I cope with that?”
3. You tend to think others are purposefully trying to hurt you.
Challenge: Is it possible that you are seeing a malicious intention that’s simply not there? Consider the other person’s perspective and what other motives they might have.
Even if certain people do want to hurt you (or have purposely hurt you), are there others who are supportive and show they care? By recognizing these latter relationships, you can see yourself as a victim in a situation without identifying yourself (your whole being) as a victim.
4. You believe you alone are targeted for mistreatment.
Challenge: Think about others whom you know personally, or whom you’ve heard about, who have been treated poorly or victimized. They might have experienced similar problems to yours, or very different ones. Either way, allow yourself to be aware that you are not alone in being treated poorly.
5. You hold tightly to thoughts and feelings related to being a victim. You also refuse to consider other perspectives for how to think about and for how to cope with your problems.
Challenge: Focus on what you can do to help yourself now, and consider what you might do differently in the future to discourage being victimized again. Also, talk with others whom you respect and be truly open to considering their input.
6. As a victim, you feel compelled to keep painful memories alive, not forgive, and take revenge.
Challenge: Think about whether these ways of thinking are serving you well, or whether they are perpetuating your unhappiness.
Work on accepting that you cannot change the past. This is obvious, but it doesn’t feel fair. So it is often difficult to stop fighting against. But as you come to accept it, you will likely realize that you need to let go of your anger and possibly even forgive. These are paths that often require work, commitment, and outside help (sometimes even professional guidance).
If you work on confronting each aspect of being a victim, you will find that you move toward feeling empowered and less vulnerable. And despite the pain you suffer, you will learn to thrive.
Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.