Most people don’t think that they have a victim mindset, yet it frequently pops up in relationships. When you approach things from the place of a victim, you give away any power you have to change things while also distancing yourself from your partner. If you are the victim, then they must be the enemy. That’s why it’s important to learn how to identify when a victim mindset is taking hold, and replace it with more growth-minded thoughts instead.
Signs of a Victim Mindset
A sure sign of having fallen down the hole of victimhood is to look at your language. Do any of these phrases seem familiar to you?
Why is this happening to me? Why can’t they change? Nothing I do is working.
This type of language resonates with a victim mindset, and we’ve all been there. This is your ego at work, trying to protect you from both real and perceived threats. It’s there to put on your armour and defend you, but it's instinct can be harmful to intimate relationships that need vulnerability to flourish. Your ego may have even become oversensitive, and you could be unaware of the traps that have led you down the victim hole.
From your ego’s point of view, when your partner triggers something inside to make you feel “unsafe”, your partner becomes the enemy and you go into survival mode. This is the place we go when we are guarded, and we become the person we think we need to be to cope with the situation.
Note: This is not meant to apply to any kind of emotional, physical, verbal, or sexual abuse. I’m speaking to the more common “threats” one feels in a relationship when their partner taps into our deep-rooted need to self protect.
There are various styles of coping when we feel triggered by our partner’s actions or words. You may become defensive and attack them back, or justify yourself, or perhaps stonewall and disconnect from them. There are lots of ways our ego attempts to protect us! Most likely, you learned your coping style as a child when certain needs weren’t being met; you became who you needed to be in that moment to get what you needed. As an adult, you will still react in a similar way to protect yourself, and to feel loved and enough in the moment.
An Empowering Alternative
Our instincts run deep and have the best of intentions, but allowing yourself to be a victim in the situation doesn’t solve anything. Your ego may be happy that you are “safe”, but are you happy feeling disconnected and at odds with your partner? What if you changed the story around who your partner is, what is happening, and what you have the power to do?
You have the ability to change what you tell yourself, which then opens you up to a myriad of constructive responses (rather than your ego’s reactions). The first step is to notice when you are triggered. Notice the “zap” and when the feeling to self-protect rolls in. This information is important! Turn your usual self-protecting reaction as alarm to signal that your needs are not being met.
When the alarm sounds, use the moment as an opportunity to stretch. Ask yourself, “why is this happening for me?” What is this moment calling me to do, and how can I show up in a more thoughtful, evolved version of myself?
Yes, this will be difficult at first. You won’t catch yourself every time, and you’ll need to stretch. But the alternative is to fall into that victim mindset hole again. It’s a disempowering place to be, and it will soon be much easier to catch yourself before you fall in.
Tips to Avoid Falling into a Victim Mindset
If you’ve been stuck playing victim for awhile, it will take some effort to climb out of the hole, but you can do it. Here are some ways you can start to catch yourself before you fall, and what to do instead of letting your ego take control.
Become aware of your triggers, and pause when you hear the “alarm” of your coping method (ie. anger, withdrawal, justification).
Ask a supportive friend to call you out on your excuses, such as: Nothing works. I don’t have time. I don’t have energy. I’m afraid. Nothing I do works. I’ll just create conflict.
Learn the difference between responding and reacting, and practice staying open, not guarded.
Ask yourself better questions surrounding the situation, like: What can I learn from this? What boundaries do I need to set for myself? Where can I step out of my comfort zone?
Once you allow yourself to step out of the victim mindset, you will have a myriad of options in front of you. You can change your reaction, set boundaries, ask for what you need, and begin creating the relationship you want - rather than letting one you don’t want just happen to you.