My previous post discusses what playing the victim is and tips on how to stop. In this post, I’ll discuss some of the signs that might indicate whether you are playing the victim.
Being a Victim vs. Playing the Victim
Due to the sensitivity of the topic of victimizing and victim-blaming, I would like to reiterate something I’ve said in my previous post.
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. Playing involves some level of exaggeration, fabrication, or manipulation.
Simply put, being a victim means that you are actually in a situation where you are legitimately victimized. Or in the context of this blog, you ARE a victim of abuse. I am not denying or dismissing that.
However, being a victim turns into playing the victim when your victim role is used to avoid responsibility, wallow in self-pity, and hurt, manipulate, or control others.
Who tends to play the victim?
First off, anyone can play the victim. This includes actual victims themselves. As stated before, it is fine to be a victim, especially if you’ve been legitimately victimized. In fact, recognizing that you were a victim is very important for healing.
Playing the victim, on the other hand, is a different story.
Oftentimes, playing the victim is a behavior associated with abusers. Abusers often fabricate a victim status as a way to control and manipulate others.
However, many abuse victims end up playing the victim due to learned helplessness. So it’s important to recognize that there are varying degrees and ways how one can play the victim.
Just because someone plays the victim one way doesn’t mean they’ll do it in another. In other words, just because someone doesn’t do anything to improve their situation doesn’t mean they’ll manipulate others into doing what they want.
This post is mainly directed at actual victims who may also play the victim or are stuck with a victim mentality. Although some of these signs might also apply to abusers, please note that sharing signs of playing the victim with an abuser does NOT indicate that the person is or will be abusive.
Abuse victims could’ve picked up traits from their abusers. Or it could’ve been conditioned or manifested due to actual victimization. So again, although some abuse victims end up becoming abusive, a few traits do not determine that they are or will be.
13 Signs of Playing the Victim
I admit that I display these signs at one point or another. And it is still something I struggle with at times. However, just because some of these signs describe you does not mean they define you.
Try not to be too hard on yourself if any of these signs seem to describe you. It will be hard and it will take time and effort. But you have the power to make changes if you want to.
Blaming others for your feelings or situations
One common sign of playing the victim is blaming other people or circumstances for negative feelings or events that happen in your life.
You may blame other people or circumstances for the unhappiness or lack of fulfillment you feel. Or you may blame something or someone whenever something negative happens to you or things don’t go as planned.
- Life’s just not fair.
- They’re the reason my life’s awful.
- I would be happy if things were different.
This behavior might be appropriate at times. As in, it’s understandable if you want to blame your parents for the abuse you faced or blame the weather for ruining your plans.
However, people playing the victim tend to always blame their feelings or situations on someone or something else. What further makes this a problem is that they don’t seem to want to do anything about it.
While difficult things out of your control are not your fault, choosing not to do anything about it is.
When you continue to blame external factors for what’s going wrong in your life, it shows you’re not taking any responsibility. And when you’re not taking any responsibility, you’re not going to get anywhere.
While there are things that will be out of our control, there are also things within our control. Our actions and perceptions, for example, are things we can change.
Constantly pointing fingers does nothing but breed anger, resentment, and sorrow. It’s not easy but it is possible to do something about your situation.
If your plans are ruined, come up with a backup. If you’re feeling negative, try to dig deeper to find out why and find a healthy way to cope.
Believing the world or life is out to get you
Another sign you might be playing the victim is if you have the belief that the world or life is out to get you. You may feel targeted or personally attacked by misfortune and negativity.
- Bad things always happen to me.
- Why me?
- Life is never going well for me.
- There is always something wrong.
Do you often find something to complain about, even when things are going right? Are you often mad or upset at the world for what happened or is happening to you?
Every day, things happen that are out of our control. And it’s normal to feel frustrated, angry, upset, or depressed when things don’t go as planned or when things go wrong. It’s normal to wonder sometimes why bad things happen to certain people.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and feel like you want to give up sometimes. And it’s okay to give yourself a break when you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. The important thing is to recognize that this is all temporary and that you can eventually move forward.
However, if you feel constantly and easily slighted or angry over every little thing and believe that life is out to get you, that becomes your problem.
Your perception that life is out to get you might cause you to pick out the negative things that are happening in your life. And if you look for the negatives, you’re going to find them. Because well, nothing’s perfect and nothing ever will be.
And constantly focusing on the negatives will keep reinforcing your belief that life is out to get you because something bad always seems to be happening. Can you see that cycle you’re stuck in? Can you see how it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Viewing things that have nothing to do with you as a personal attack or insult
Do you often view things as personal attacks or insults even though they may have nothing to do with you?
For example, if someone is talking about how loving their mother is, would you call them out for being insensitive because you didn’t have a loving mother? Or if someone posts their wedding photo online, would you call them inconsiderate because you’re single or going through a divorce?
While everyone has their triggers and uncomfortable topics, most people don’t tend to make someone feel bad for talking about things that aren’t exactly offensive or taboo.
Someone playing the victim might make something unrelated to them about themselves or their trauma. They seem to think other people should go out of their way to make sure not to offend them.
Have you ever done this or something similar? Have you gone out of your way to make someone feel bad for making a harmless comment because it personally made you uncomfortable or offended you?
It’s okay to speak up if someone talking to you is saying something triggering to you or that you’re not comfortable with. That’s setting boundaries.
However, it is not okay to purposely go out of your way to tell someone they’re being insensitive, inconsiderate, invalidating, or offensive when the conversation doesn’t concern you in the first place.
If you don’t like what someone is discussing or posting online, you don’t have to engage. Choosing to engage when you don’t have to makes it your fault.
Believing you deserve special treatment due to your experiences
Do you think that others should cater to your needs and wants because of the difficult things you’ve been through?
Believing you deserve special treatment or sympathy due to your experiences is a sign of playing the victim.
You may believe that the world owes you a better life because you didn’t get one growing up. But no one owes you anything.
You can argue that your parents owe you a childhood. And you can hate them or demand it back. But that’s only hurting you. And after everything they’ve done to you, why would you want anything from them?
You might also expect sympathy from others. And when you don’t get it, you might feel upset or angry. But again, no one owes you anything.
You can think they’re inconsiderate or insensitive for not sympathizing with your situation. But in the end, feeling upset or angry over it only hurts you.
Approaching life believing you deserve special treatment makes you entitled. And when you’re entitled, you can almost never be happy because you believe you deserve everything good. And when good things don’t come, you’re stuck feeling unsatisfied and unhappy.
Try to notice how this mindset is making you unfulfilled and discontent with life. Feeling entitled means that even when good things come, you won’t get to appreciate it because you see it as a right.
Just because you had a hard life doesn’t mean you deserve special treatment.
If someone does offer you special treatment, accept it with appreciation and gratitude. But if not, you have no right to ask for or demand it.
Using your trauma, mental illnesses, or struggles to justify toxic behaviors
One huge sign of playing the victim is using your trauma, mental conditions, or struggles to justify destructive, self-sabotaging, codependent, or even abusive behaviors.
Our minds are powerful. So it makes sense that it can influence our actions or inactions.
Using your experiences, trauma, or mental illnesses to explain your action or inactions is valid. However, it shouldn’t be used to excuse it, especially when those behaviors hurt others.
My trauma has created unhealthy coping methods that sometimes hurt people I care about. And it definitely hurts me. But I am actively monitoring and making changes where I can. It’s hard, but I am improving and I am trying.
Many abusers blame their abusive behavior on their struggles, mental illnesses, or trauma. I’ve come across many self-proclaimed narcissists who claim it’s their disorder that makes them abusive, claiming it’s not within their control.
But that is NOT an excuse. It is NOT okay to hurt other people. While some conditions might cause you to behave inappropriately, in the end, it is still up to YOU to do something about it.
There are many people with similar conditions, traumas, or experiences that don’t justify their toxic behaviors. They can acknowledge their actions or inactions and take responsibility for them.
It’s not guaranteed, but at least try to do something about it. At least try not to hurt or abuse others. And don’t try to justify those hurtful actions by claiming you can’t help it or it’s just how you’re conditioned.
If you don’t at least try to stop hurting others or try to at least manage your toxic behavior, then that is completely on you – not your trauma, not your conditions, but you as a person.
Doing nothing to improve your situation, life, or yourself
Whether it’s life in general or regarding a specific situation, someone who plays the victim tends to complain rather than do something about it. They may also often give up before even trying.
Complaining can be healthy because it helps get things off your chest and lets you open up about your issues with someone who can offer support and validation. However, if complaining is all you do without taking any action, then that’s not just unproductive, but also unhealthy.
Some people constantly complain about how awful their life or situation is without doing anything to try to improve it. It might even seem like they like being in that circumstance so they can continue to complain and play the victim.
If this sounds like you, it can be hard to get away from that mindset. But as stated before, the least you can do is try.
When problems arise, you have the right to complain. You have the right to feel frustrated, stressed, and overwhelmed. But try to find solutions or workarounds. And if it’s really out of your control or unsolvable, try to reframe the way you look at it.
Thinking your experiences or struggles are worse compared to other people
Many people that play the victim tend to believe their experiences, trauma, or struggles are worse compared to other people. In other words, they believe everyone else has it better or easier than them.
- Why can’t I have that life?
- Life is so unfair.
- I’m not lucky like they are.
- My life is so much harder than theirs.
- Everyone else’s life is so much better.
- Other people have it so much easier.
Many people who play the victim often get so caught up in their “woe is me” narrative that they end up lacking perspective. They tend to focus on the negatives in their life while only recognizing the positives in other people’s.
While life is definitely unfair at times, you don’t know other people’s lives. You don’t know the struggles they go through. Maybe they do have it better or easier, but you don’t know that for sure. You also don’t know how hard they might’ve worked to get there.
It’s easy to blame things on luck or destiny. That way, you can go, “Oh well, there’s nothing I can do about it”. But that mindset keeps you trapped.
If you don’t think life can ever be different for you, it never will. You will continue to let opportunities pass you by. And you’ll continue to feel like a victim because you’re making yourself one.
Attempting to one-up others’ negative experiences
People who play the victim tend to “one-up” others’ stories about their traumatic experiences. Sometimes, it may even seem like they enjoy talking about their traumas to others, either to get sympathy or to win some nonexistent competition.
- My experience was worse.
- You think that’s bad?
- That’s nothing. Here’s mine.
- You’re overreacting.
- What’s the big deal?
I’ve come across people who feel the need to one-up other people’s experiences. Once, I was talking to my friend about my mother. His response: “At least she’s not like my sister’s boyfriend. That guy’s a real douche.”
This experience stuck with me because I felt really invalidated by someone who I thought was a friend. I thought maybe he was trying to relate. But all I felt was like my experiences and feelings meant nothing.
I also knew someone who claimed their sister’s abuse wasn’t that bad or not as bad as theirs which implies their sister hasn’t suffered as much.
While there are severities to abuse and trauma, everyone’s experiences are valid. Telling someone their abuse or trauma wasn’t that bad or claiming it’s not abuse or traumatic is not just invalidating, but toxic.
Even if you believe that your experiences are worse or that the other person is overreacting, there’s no need to say it or try to one-up them.
Trying to give a bigger sob story doesn’t help the other person feel better. Not only does it invalidate their experiences and feelings, but it also shames them into thinking their feelings are wrong. Doing so also makes you seem less sympathetic.
Blowing problems out of proportion
When negative things happen, people with a victim mentality tend to see it as something worse than it actually is. This is known as catastrophizing – assuming or imagining that the worst possible outcome would happen.
When you often blow your problems out of proportion, it makes it much harder to solve any of them. Doing this overwhelms you and reinforces your belief that life is out to get you.
At times, when we’re so overwhelmed, one little thing might make it feel like our world is falling apart. While it’s normal to feel that from time to time when stress is getting the better of us, it’s not normal to feel that constantly.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed by something that happened, try to step back and look at it in regard to the bigger picture. Most of the time, the problem isn’t insurmountable or dooming.
Break problems into smaller problems and try to tackle them one by one. Give yourself time and compassion as you do this. And if the problem is out of your control, try looking beyond the present. Try to see how future circumstances may be better.
People who play the victim might tend to hold grudges. They might make other people feel bad about actions that have hurt or wronged them in the past. Or they may use these past grievances as reasons why they can’t make changes to their attitude, circumstances, or life.
I know how hard it is to forgive and forget someone who has hurt or wronged you. And you don’t necessarily have to. But you do have to achieve some kind of closure. Because until you do, you’re the one who continues to hurt.
The first person that comes to mind who has hurt you is likely your abusive parent or caregiver. And part of you might have trouble letting that go. You may have even gone through countless attempts to get them to feel remorse or apologize for what they’ve done.
Unfortunately, most abusers will never change and will never feel remorse. So to achieve closure, you can only do it from within. You have to learn to accept that they’ll never change and that you’ll never get any retribution for what they’ve done to you.
It sucks, but all you can really do is accept it, move on, and focus on healing. Shift the focus from them to yourself. Start giving yourself the attention and care you deserve.
Learning to let go doesn’t necessarily mean you forgive the person. And it definitely doesn’t mean you condone their hurtful behavior or treatment.
Letting go is meant to help you. When you learn to let go, you free yourself from the hatred, vengeance, and resentment that’s been holding you back. Only then can you truly heal and be able to live your life.
Thinking you’re “special” because of your experiences
Some people with a victim mentality might think their abuse is special or that they are special because of their abuse. They may believe that no one will ever understand them or what they’re going through. And I admit, I used to think this way, too.
To an extent, it’s true that no one will ever completely understand what you went through or are going through. And really, you might not fully understand it yourself either. I’m still learning new things about myself and my experiences every day.
Although I like to think that everyone is unique in their own way, no one is “special” because they faced abuse. Many people faced some form of abuse, neglect, or trauma in their lives. Everybody encountered something hard in their life at one point or another. And everyone has struggles.
People who think their abuse is special tend to play the victim. They might use their experiences to justify being entitled to special treatment or treating others badly. Or they may use it to dismiss other people’s experiences because they don’t think it’s as bad or “special” as what they went through.
What you went through was hard and it likely affected you in many ways that would take years to heal. But abuse and trauma are hard for anyone.
Thinking you’re special because of your abuse isolates you. You might continue to believe that no one will understand you or that no one will ever know what you’re going through. But there are people out there who had similar experiences as you that do understand what you’re going through.
Maybe they won’t know the exact details, because again, everyone is different. However, you are not alone in your experiences. Some people went through similar experiences and/or trained in helping those with those experiences to begin healing. You don’t have to be alone in your healing journey.
Believing nothing is ever your fault
People who play the victim might believe that nothing is ever their fault. And they might blame everything on their abuse, other people, or circumstances.
Believing that nothing is ever your fault reaches the point of toxic and narcissistic levels. Nothing ever being your fault is not just unrealistic, but impossible.
I know I say “it is not your fault” a lot. It’s in a lot of my posts. And that remains true regarding the abuse you faced or continue to face.
However, that doesn’t extend to how nothing is ever your fault. Things out of your control aren’t your fault. But anything in your control is your responsibility.
You can only blame your parents or trauma so much. At some point, it’s up to you to do something about your life if you’re not happy about it.
While you can argue that your trauma or abuse resulted in certain mental conditions that influence your thoughts and actions, you can’t abandon all responsibility with that as a justification. You still have control over yourself.
Ultimately, whatever you decide to do is on you. You have control over your behavior and what you choose to do with your life. It might not seem like it, and I admit that it’s harder for some people than others. But it is still up to you to try and work on it.
Wallowing in self-pity
One of the biggest signs of playing the victim or being stuck in a victim mentality is wallowing in self-pity.
People who play the victim are often stuck with a “woe is me” narrative. It’s as if they’re walking around constantly feeling sorry for themselves, believing the world is out to get them, and thinking they have it worse than everyone else.
First off, let me make this clear. You are allowed to sympathize with yourself. When something bad happens to you, it’s healthy to give yourself the time and attention needed to healthily process whatever it is so you can continue moving forward.
But there’s a difference between self-compassion and self-pity.
Self-compassion is being kind and patient with yourself during times of hardship. It’s giving yourself the attention and kindness you need to heal and work through something difficult.
Self-pity, on the other hand, is an exaggerated or self-absorbed dwelling of your troubles with no intention or effort to improve yourself or your situation.
Self-compassion can turn into self-pity when you continue to complain and dwell on your troubles without taking any initiative to change them.
So whenever something bad happens, remember that you have every right to feel bad for yourself and give yourself time and attention to process it. But it’s also important to remember that what you’re going through is temporary and that you have more control over your life than you think.
I hope this post can help you determine whether you or someone you know have been playing the victim. And once again, please note that someone playing the victim does not necessarily mean they are abusive or a bad person.
Many people play the victim or are stuck in a victim mentality because they don’t know how to get out of it. And as stated in my previous post, playing the victim does grant some power like being able to avoid responsibility and uncomfortable emotions as well as gain attention, sympathy, and special treatment.
But learning how to stop playing the victim will bring even better benefits.
You would feel less defeated and hopeless when something goes wrong. You can experience gratitude and even joy in times of hardship. And you can develop genuine relationships that might not otherwise be possible.
Learning how to stop will be difficult, but it can help you heal.
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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with a physically and emotionally abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.
I am always trying to better learn, understand, and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this healing journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda, a place where others who faced childhood abuse can hopefully find support, resources, and motivation to begin healing.
A lot of time and effort is put into this blog – for me and for you. If you enjoy my content or find it helpful, please consider sharing and/or making a donation. Thank you!