Victim Mentality

Is a Victim Mentality Affecting Your Recovery?

What Does it Mean to Have a Victim Mentality, and How Can it Contribute to a Substance Use Disorder?

Do you ever feel like you really don’t have any control over the things that happened in your life that have led to relapse? Do you think that, in reality, the game is rigged, and you just can’t win, so why bother trying? Do you believe that the negative experiences of your life are so serious that they justify the negative coping strategies that you have developed in order to live with them? 

If you say yes to any of these questions, you may be operating within the confines of a victim mentality, and it may be holding you back from full recovery. A victim mentality is very dangerous for someone battling a substance use disorder, because it can be a serious impediment to developing self-esteem and self-efficacy, which are important to maintaining sobriety. Psychologists suggest that victim mentality is a learned behavior and often occurs in people who have experienced trauma or victimization of some sort. 

(It’s important to note that being the victim of trauma, mistreatment, or abuse is not the same thing as having a victim mentality. Living with that trauma may be the root cause of a subsequent victim mentality, developed as a coping mechanism, but victimhood is not always associated with trauma.)     

A Victim Mentality Can Lead to the Justification of Substance Abuse

When bad stuff happens to you, in order to cope, you drink, or get high, or eat or gamble. Whatever the substance is, you use it to make the memory of the trauma and the pain go away. You use it to silence the thoughts, numb the anxiety, help you forget for just a little while the feelings of discomfort that you carry because of what was done to you. You may even feel you deserve latitude in your behavior because of the way you’ve been treated. 

Rather than confronting the trauma, processing it and working to develop healthy coping strategies, sometimes people hold on to the trauma and end up using it to validate self-destructive behaviors. Adopting the victim mindset is a way to justify continuing an addiction or a relapse without having to acknowledge the personal responsibility involved in the choice.

A Victim Mentality Can Lead to Blaming Others for Use and for Relapse

Were you on the right track, but then fell off when you ran into an old buddy from your days using? Maybe you were offended at work and unable to shake that feeling of anger at the person who slighted you, so you took a little something to calm down. Maybe you experienced a loss of some sort – the death of a beloved pet, a missed promotion, a breakup – and you decided it was a difficult enough situation that a little backslide was ok…just this once. 

When a person with a victim mentality experiences a hardship, it can lead to them believing that everyone – even life itself – is out to get them. Blaming other people or situations outside of one’s control is one way that having a victim mentality can derail recovery. When the reason for using exists outside of you, then the blame for the relapse lies out with that person or that situation rather than within. In this scenario, a substance abuser can justify their behavior by saying that it’s not their fault – if this thing or that thing hadn’t happened; if this person or that person hadn’t done or said that terrible thing, the relapse never would have occurred – their decision to relapse was, effectively, out of their control.  

Working your way out of a victim mentality requires understanding that even though you don’t have control over the things that happen to you, you do have control over how you respond.

A Victim Mentality Can Keep You from Taking Responsibility for Your Life Choices

If life is something that is done to us, and we don’t have control, then how can we be held responsible for the addiction? The relapses, the lying, the stealing…the violence that is often associated with addictive behavior is simply not our fault.

If our poor upbringing is to blame for the addiction, and the need to use is to blame for the subsequent bad behavior, then how do we ever recover? We don’t. By not taking responsibility for our actions, we are sentencing ourselves to a lifetime of making the same choices over and over again. It is only when we take ownership of our actions and put in the hard work to operate from a seat of personal responsibility – it is only when we acknowledge that we do have a choice that we begin to have more control over our behavior.

A Victim Mentality Can Lead to You Giving Up Your Power

Ultimately, one of the worst consequences of having a victim mentality is that it takes away our power. When we are victims, we have no control over ourselves or our circumstances. We exist at the mercy of other people, of random chance, of fate. We can never be different, we can never recover, we can never stop using. We don’t have a choice. 

But the victim mindset is just that – a mindset. It is a way of interpreting our life experiences – but it is not the only way. By adopting a more growth-oriented mindset – one in which we take responsibility for our actions and strive to better understand the scope of our own power, we can gain greater control over our behaviors and our decisions. 

Sometimes it is easier to give up our power than to admit to making decisions that were harmful to ourselves or to others. Taking on the weight of responsibility can be challenging and painful. But taking on that weight makes us stronger and more capable in the long run. We grow in wisdom, we become less selfish, and we make better choices for ourselves, our families and our communities. When bad things happen, we learn to understand the power in our response – for better or for worse.

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