I’ll admit, I definitely have my moments of playing the victim. It’s just easier sometimes to blame my problems on my abuse and mental conditions than to take responsibility and do something about it. But to have a better life, I needed to learn how to stop playing the victim.
In this post, I’ll discuss what playing the victim means, the difference between being a victim and playing the victim, and 11 tips on how to stop.
What is Playing the Victim?
Playing the victim is also known as victim playing, self-victimization, victim card, or victim mentality.
Someone with a victim mentality tends to view themselves as a victim and may act, speak, and think like one.
Someone who plays the victim – which could be legitimate, exaggerated, or fabricated – seeks to feel as if they’re persecuted, terrorized, or bullied to gain attention, avoid responsibility, or manipulate others.
They are typically convinced that life is beyond their control and possibly out to get them. This belief results in a sense of helplessness, passivity, lack of control, negative thinking, constant blame, self-pity, and pessimism.
When someone has a victim mentality, their existence and perception are seen through the lens of victimhood.
Being a Victim vs. Playing the Victim
It’s important to realize that there is a difference between being a victim and playing the victim.
Feeling and recognizing that you are a victim of abuse, trauma, crime, or another circumstance is different than playing the victim. The keyword here is playing, which involves some level of exaggeration, fabrication, or manipulation.
Being a victim means that you are actually in a situation where you are legitimately victimized.
Sometimes, bad things happen that are out of our control. Some people will hurt or screw us over. We don’t cause, create, or deserve that. But we are responsible for how we choose to deal with it.
Being the victim turns into playing the victim when your victim status is used to avoid responsibility, wallow in self-pity, and hurt, manipulate, or control others.
So it’s okay to be a victim. But it’s not okay to use that status to control or hurt other people or yourself. That’s when it becomes toxic and when it’s time to stop playing the victim.
It’s okay to be a victim as long as you’re not stuck as one
You are allowed to take time to process whatever it is you’re going through or went through. Also, it’s perfectly fine to feel bad for yourself. Self-compassion is healthy. But wallowing in self-pity isn’t.
While it’s okay to take time to process your experiences, it’s also important to learn to move forward – little by little. That doesn’t mean letting go or forgetting whatever happened to you. But learn to process it and see it in a new light so that you can transform from a victim into a survivor.
11 Tips on How to Stop Playing the Victim
You might likely play the victim because you were at one point a victim. And that’s a habit that can be hard to break because playing the victim does grant you some power.
You have the power to avoid responsibility, avoid uncomfortable emotions, and manipulate other people into doing what you want.
You also get attention, sympathy, and possibly special treatment because of your victim status.
When playing the victim seems to grant you these supposed benefits, it could be hard to stop. But take a moment and think about the benefits that stopping playing the victim would get you.
You would feel less defeated and hopeless when something goes wrong. You can have the ability to experience gratitude and even joy in times of pain and suffering. And you can develop meaningful relationships that you might not otherwise have been able to.
So as hard as it is to stop playing the victim, it is worth it. And here are some tips to help you with that.
Explore your false beliefs and thoughts
You might believe that life is out to get you or that bad things keep happening to you. These beliefs cause anxiety, depression, anger, blame, and resentment.
So try to explore these thoughts and beliefs. One way to do this is to ask yourself what you are feeling during a hard time. What thoughts or beliefs triggered those feelings?
Also, try to understand how your childhood might have shaped your victim mentality. Once you’ve realized that you have been playing the victim, try not to blame yourself.
Recognize that you were just a child, dependent on a parent who didn’t give you the love and attention you deserved. Or they might’ve even intentionally hurt you.
Because of your upbringing, you might’ve developed this mentality, that no matter what, you won’t be happy. Or that the world is a bad place or is out to get you because if a parent could hurt their own child, what about other people?
But now, it’s different. You are no longer helpless. And you no longer have to be a victim. You can take control of your life.
Realize that you have more control than you think
There will always be things we can’t control. That’s why we have to focus on what we can.
You went through abuse and that sucks. But you’re still here and you’re reading this post. This shows that you’re trying. You are at least in control of something.
Wasting time feeling sorry for yourself and being resentful and angry of life and everyone who has ever wronged you only hurts you in the end.
I’m not saying you to have to forgive and forget. But realize that to truly heal, you need to start taking action and try to move forward.
The abuse you faced was not your fault. It was out of your control. And yes, it might’ve had consequences on your health and well-being and that’s not your fault either.
However, whatever you choose to do with it or how you want to deal with it is all on you. You can give yourself attention and time, seek help and support, and work on healing. Or you can continue moping and letting life pass you by. Which will it be?
Notice the role you play
First off, I’m not trying to blame the victim here. I’m not telling you to notice the role you played in your abuse. Once again, your abuse is NOT your fault. I hope that’s clear.
To notice the role you play means recognizing how your actions or lack of actions might have led you to where you currently are and how you are currently feeling.
Do you tend to focus on the negative? When good things happen, do you still have something to complain about? Is there anything you’re grateful for in life? Do you let opportunities pass you by because you think you’ll fail anyway?
While it’s easier to focus on other people or circumstances and point fingers, try to also be accountable for yourself.
Yes, the abuse you faced was traumatic. And it created consequences that will likely take a lifetime to overcome. I’m not saying it’ll be easy. Not at all. In fact, it’ll be very hard.
But you have the power to learn ways to overcome those consequences. You can do something. So while the abuse you faced wasn’t your fault, choosing to do nothing about it is.
Taking responsibility for how you choose to deal with a situation doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean that the person who hurt you isn’t guilty or shouldn’t be held liable. And it doesn’t mean that it’s your fault.
Taking responsibility means not taking out your anger on other people. It means not blaming your feelings or circumstances on people that had nothing to do with your negative experiences. It means not thinking the world is out to get you whenever something doesn’t go your way.
Taking responsibility means taking action rather than wallowing in self-pity. When you’re stuck feeling sorry for yourself, you don’t solve any problems, achieve any goals, or feel any better.
Instead, focusing on tackling and trying to solve what is within your control can improve your health, emotional state, and life.
So try to start taking responsibility for yourself. You can’t control others’ actions or thoughts. But you can control who you choose to interact with and how you want to handle a situation.
Regardless of how much you’ve been victimized or hurt by others, it is still your responsibility to meet your own needs and wants. It is your responsibility to try to heal and move forward.
Meet your needs
When you were a child, your parents or caregiver was responsible for your needs. But right now, it’s you.
One reason people play the victim is that they don’t know how to meet their own needs. Therefore, they use their victim status to manipulate and control others into meeting their needs for them.
Realize that no one is entitled to meet your needs. Just because you went through trauma doesn’t mean you have the right to make other people cater to your every whim and demands. They can do it out of sympathy, support, or love. But it’s not a should.
You are the one who should meet your own needs. But I know it can be hard when you’ve never learned how to. Therefore, you can learn to reparent yourself. Be the parent to yourself that you never got. Learn how to in this post.
Be kind to yourself
While it’s okay to feel sympathy for yourself when something bad happens, there’s a point where it reaches unhealthy levels. Self-compassion is healthy. Wallowing in self-pity, though? Not so much.
When you’re busy blaming the world on your suffering, you’re actually neglecting yourself. By playing the victim, you’re magnifying the pain you feel.
Maybe some satisfaction comes from it, but it’s all just temporary. In the end, you’ll still feel like life is out to get you or how everyone else has it better than you. When you’re stuck in that mindset, how will you ever feel better?
To truly heal, you need to practice self-compassion. And again, that’s different than feeling sorry for yourself.
Self-compassion means being kind to yourself. It means giving yourself time and attention to process your experiences and deal with your feelings in a healthy way.
Try to see the strength within yourself. You have the power to make changes to your life. You can overcome challenges. It won’t be easy and you might want to give up at times. But every little positive change you make to your life will heal and benefit you in the long run.
Treat others how you want to be treated
Sometimes, it can be hard for us to notice other people’s agony or feelings when we’re stuck in a bad headspace ourselves. And that’s okay.
It’s okay if you need time for yourself. It’s okay if you’re not as responsive or friendly to other people as you’d like to be. You’re not required to please everyone.
However, what’s not okay is if you mistreat, hurt, or disrespect other people because you think you have the right to due to your struggles.
You don’t have to care about other people specifically. You don’t have to go out of your way to be kind or anything. But try to at least be respectful. Simply put, treat others how you want to be treated.
Some people use their abuse as an excuse to hurt other people.
They claim their abusive or toxic behavior is not “abusive” because they were abused. Or they say they “can’t help it” because they were raised that way or they have mental illnesses that cause them to behave that way.
But no. You are responsible for YOUR behavior. Yes, abuse and mental conditions can cause you to act out. But that is NOT an excuse. It is still your responsibility to keep it under control, NOT go around hurting people and justify it by claiming “I was abused so it’s okay”.
If you are not feeling like interacting, ask for space or excuse yourself. And if they don’t respect that, then it’s no longer your responsibility to be respectful because they’re not respecting your boundaries. But till then, try to at least maintain some decency.
Personally, gratitude has helped me immensely with getting out of the victim mentality. I started acknowledging and appreciating the good in my life and it helped me feel better.
Gratitude helps you realize that life isn’t as bad as you think it is. There are good things in it and it’s up to you to notice them.
Try to make practicing gratitude a habit.
Every day, find just three things you’re grateful for no matter how small. You can keep a journal to make it more concrete if you’d like. Try to be genuinely thankful for these things. Acknowledge how they make your life better.
Build more resilience
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity – whether that’s a daily hassle, a bad day, a stressful situation, or a life-changing event.
In the face of challenges, do you tend to give up? Or do you get back up and try again?
Everyone has resilience. Even you. You’re still here despite all that you went through. That is resilience. But you can improve and continue to build it.
Related: How to Build More Resilience for Abuse Survivors
Become a survivor
Try to let go of your victim status and embrace becoming a survivor instead.
Letting go of your victim status doesn’t mean you’re no longer a legitimate victim. It doesn’t mean dismissing or denying all the times you were victimized or hurt by other people. It doesn’t mean ignoring the trauma or pretending it never existed. Not at all.
Letting go of playing the victim means letting go of the victim mindset that’s been holding you back. It means letting go of feeling helpless and hopeless. And letting go of pity parties, pessimism, jealousy, anger, and resentment.
Becoming a survivor means acknowledging the strength and power you have to continue moving forward regardless of the challenges you faced and continue to face.
Becoming a survivor doesn’t take away your hard experiences. Instead, it shows that you are working on overcoming it or have overcome it. You might not think you are, but once again, you’re still here and you’re still trying. That is a strength whether you believe it or not.
In Schnall’s book, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger: Turning Bad Breaks Into Blessings, she compares a victim’s mentality to a survivor’s.
A victim asks how long it will take to feel good. A survivor decides to feel good even if things are not so great. A victim grinds to a halt. A survivor keeps putting one foot in front of the other. A victim wallows in self-pity. A survivor comforts others. A victim is jealous of someone else's success. A survivor is inspired by it. A victim focuses on the pain of loss. A survivor cherishes remembered joy. A victim seeks retribution. A survivor seeks redemption. And most of all, a victim argues with life. A survivor embraces it.
Reach out for help and support
Healing is not something you have to do alone. In fact, social support is crucial for healing.
It’s okay to reach out for help. It’s okay to ask for support. It is NOT a sign of weakness. If anything, it’s a sign of strength.
And when you do receive support, recognize it as a blessing, not an obligation. Again, no one is entitled to meet your needs or wants. They can do it out of love, support, or sympathy. But it’s not something you should expect or demand.
You can also consider seeking professional help. A professional can offer an objective perspective. They can also help you process your experiences and develop tools to heal. You can connect with a certified therapist here.
Learning how to stop playing the victim will be difficult. I admit, I still have my moments and it’s something I’m working on. But it’s worth it and every little improvement does make a difference.
Learning how to stop playing the victim is meant to help you. It is not easy and it will take time. But that’s all a part of healing.
Be compassionate and kind to yourself. Give yourself all the attention and time you need. And don’t be afraid to ask for help and support.
Do not underestimate your power and strength. You can take control of your life, even if it doesn’t feel that way.
Hi there, I’m Estee.
Having been raised by an abusive mother, I developed an interest in mental health to better learn, understand, and manage the effects the abuse had on me. My experiences inspired me to create Hopeful Panda.
In my free time, you’ll find me cooking, organizing, playing video games, writing, or spending time with my family. You can read more about me and my blog here.
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