A frequent accusation that gets hurled at victims of emotional and spiritual abuse is this: “You’re just playing the victim card. You’ve got a victim mentality. Maybe instead of complaining about your husband, if you would be grateful for what you’ve got, you’d feel better about your marriage.”
So we’re going to learn what a victim is, what a victim mentality is, and what an emotional abuse target lives with on a regular basis. Then we can decide if she’s a victim or has a victim mentality.
What is a Victim?
A victim is “a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.” (Source)
A victim is someone who has experienced a factual event that has harmed them in some way. A person whose house is destroyed by a tornado is a victim. A group of people who happen to be in a bank when it gets robbed are victims. A young man mugged in the park is a victim. A child who is beaten by her parents is a victim. An elderly woman left alone in her house with nobody to care for her is a victim. A coronavirus patient is a victim.
Victims aren’t victims because of who they are or how they think. They are victims because of something that happens to them or is done to them. It is not a victim’s fault that they are a victim. Most people in the world are a victim in one way or another to something that has happened to them.
What Does it Mean to Have a Victim Mentality?
This is a real thing. Some people do live with a victim mentality. Having a victim mentality is choosing to live with a way of thinking or believing that causes a person to stay stuck. This means it is possible to be both a victim AND have a victim mentality. But not every victim has a victim mentality, and we need to stop assuming they do just because they need to talk about what happened to them (which is part of processing and healing and grieving.)
Folks with a real victim mentality have these characteristics:
- The belief that it’s always someone else’s fault when something goes wrong.
- A refusal to take personal responsibility for their life.
- Suspicion of others even when there is no reason to be suspicious.
- Believing they are special and deserve special treatment that others don’t typically get.
- Believing they are always right and everyone else is wrong and unfair.
- A refusal to be self-aware and to learn and grow.
- The expectation that others need to give to them but they have nothing to offer others.
- Believing that life should be good and fair and right all the time.
- Letting life happen to them instead of taking responsibility.
- Believing that they got the worst life has to offer.
Someone with a victim mentality refuses to exercise their power because it requires change, and change requires effort and pain. It’s easier to say that it’s someone else’s fault and out of their control.
Again, this doesn’t describe emotional abuse victims. This actually describes emotional abuse victimizers. They victimize themselves by not taking responsibility, and they victimize everyone around them by placing all the responsibility on them. And the ironic thing is that victimizers are the very first to point their fingers at real victims and say, “You just have a victim mentality.”
I think they do this out of their own sense of shame and need to blame someone else for their behavior. They likely were victims at one point in their life, but now they victimize others so they, themselves, don’t have to change and heal.
So an emotional abuse victim actually IS living with a victim mentality – but it’s not THEIR victim mentality. It’s the victim mentality of their abusive partner.
Does a Victim of Emotional Abuse Have a Victim Mentality?
No, that list doesn’t describe real victims. At least not the hundreds of victims I know. The victims I know are the opposite of that list. Real victims (who end up becoming survivors and then thrivers) tend to have the following characteristics:
- The belief that it’s probably their fault when something goes wrong.
- A propensity to take responsibility for themselves and everyone else.
- A trusting and forgiving attitude toward others.
- The belief that they aren’t worth much and owe service to everyone else.
- The belief that they need to learn how to be a better person.
- A strong desire and motivation to read and learn and grow.
- The belief that their life is all about dying to self and sacrificing for others.
- Believing that life is hard and will always be hard, but that’s okay.
- Taking responsibility to make life happy for others.
- Gratefulness for any scrap of kindness or goodness that is offered to them.
Now, some of theses things are areas to work on, for sure. I mean, we don’t want to walk around always believing that when something goes wrong it’s our fault. That means there is some childhood trauma or warped messages that got downloaded into our brains at some point in our life, and now that we are adults, we can rewire those messages.
BUT. Real victims of emotional abuse live with lies, gaslighting, criticism, yelling, threats, spiritual control, financial control, limited resources, limited exposure to the outside world, dirty looks, the silent treatment, snarls, passive aggressive manipulation, guilt-tripping, blame, and shame. This makes it more challenging for them to do this rewiring. It would be like hiring an electrician to come over and fix your electrical wiring, but every night someone goes around and reconnects things in the wrong way again. This is a reality for many women.
Sometimes women tell me they don’t see themselves as a victim. They don’t want to be a victim because that sounds weak and shameful. But is it a shameful thing to be a victim? Is it an elderly woman’s fault if she gets mugged in the park? Is it a child’s fault if he gets trafficked? Is it a man’s fault if a drunk driver hits his bike and paralyzes him?
Is it your fault if you unknowingly married an abusive partner and tried to make the best of it? What if your daughter did? Is it her fault?
You guys, bad things happen, sometimes because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes because someone decided to be cruel. Sometimes because nature took over and caused destruction. Sometimes because we made a mistake.
I agree that I would rather think of myself as a survivor than a victim, but the fact of the matter is that you can’t be a survivor if you haven’t survived anything.
The first step to being a survivor is acknowledging you were victimized in some way. There is no shame in that. It’s part of the human experience for most people. And when we admit it, we can heal from it and begin to make a LIFE in spite of it.
Pathology is rooted in a denial of reality, so we don’t want to deny what happened or act like it was no big deal. At the same time, admitting that you were a victim of something is not the same thing as giving up or being a doormat. We acknowledge reality, and then we dig in and do the messy business of creating something life-giving out of that reality.
That’s what it means to survive. That’s what it means to thrive.
How Can you Go From Victim to Survivor?
Here are the characteristics of someone who is an emotional abuse survivor who is healing:
- They believe sometimes things go wrong in life, and that’s okay.
- They take responsibility for themselves without taking on the responsibility of others.
- They trust those who have earned their trust, and they have learned to trust themselves.
- They wisely steward their emotional space.
- They believe they ARE a worthy and valuable human being.
- They continue to learn and grow and change as they accept the perspectives of others.
- They make their life about creating safe, healthy, life-giving spaces for themselves and others.
- They accept that everyone gets to make their own choices in life, and they take responsibility for theirs and nobody else’s.
- They take responsibility for their own well-being, inner peace, and joy without expecting anyone else to do this for them.
- They empower themselves by managing their own brain space and the thoughts they allow to live there.
If you read that list, and you think “Wow – I’ve got a long way to go,” don’t freak out. Growing in these areas takes a lifetime, and our opportunity is to make a little bit of progress each day. It starts with your brain space. Your brain is going to want to shut down and give up. That’s the easiest thing to do, and your brain, if left to itself, will always take the path of least resistance.
But your brain doesn’t get to control your life. You do. And the first step is introducing some brand new thoughts to your brain. This is like taking a four-wheeler and driving over a wilderness area that has never been driven over before. You’ll have to drive over the same area regularly and repetitively in order to create a new pathway.
So what are you waiting for? Pick something new from this article you’ve never offered your brain before and begin to make it part of your new way of thinking. And jeepers, I’d love to know what it is! Tell me in the comments below!
P.S. Join me and hundreds of women just like you who are learning how to be thrivers in the midst of emotional/spiritual abuse or post-abuse. Learn more HERE.