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Stop Telling Real Victims They Have a Victim Mentality

Stop Telling Real Victims They Have a Victim Mentality

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 or victim syndrome. 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 complex. 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:

  1. The belief that it’s always someone else’s fault when something goes wrong.
  2. A refusal to take personal responsibility for their life.
  3. Suspicion of others even when there is no reason to be suspicious.
  4. Believing they are special and deserve special treatment that others don’t typically get.
  5. Believing they are always right and everyone else is wrong and unfair.
  6. A refusal to be self-aware and to learn and grow.
  7. The expectation that others need to give to them but they have nothing to offer others.
  8. Believing that life should be good and fair and right all the time.
  9. Letting life happen to them instead of taking responsibility.
  10. Believing that they got the worst life has to offer.

Someone with a victim complex 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.

Victimizers & Victim Complex

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 for their toxic behavior 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. This is called victim playing.

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:

  1. The belief that it’s probably their fault when something goes wrong.
  2. A propensity to take responsibility for themselves and everyone else.
  3. A trusting and forgiving attitude toward others.
  4. The belief that they aren’t worth much and owe service to everyone else.
  5. The belief that they need to learn how to be a better person.
  6. A strong desire and motivation to read and learn and grow.
  7. The belief that their life is all about dying to self and sacrificing for others.
  8. Believing that life is hard and will always be hard, but that’s okay.
  9. Taking responsibility to make life happy for others.
  10. 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:

  1. They believe sometimes things go wrong in life, and that’s okay.
  2. They take responsibility for themselves without taking on the responsibility of others.
  3. They trust those who have earned their trust, and they have learned to trust themselves.
  4. They  wisely steward their emotional space.
  5. They believe they ARE a worthy and valuable human being.
  6. They continue to learn and grow and change as they accept the perspectives of others.
  7. They make their life about creating safe, healthy, life-giving spaces for themselves and others.
  8. They accept that everyone gets to make their own choices in life, and they take responsibility for theirs and nobody else’s.
  9. They take responsibility for their own well-being, inner peace, and joy without expecting anyone else to do this for them.
  10. 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!

Fly Free,

Natalie Hoffman

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.

Flying Free Sisterhood

An online coaching, education, and support community for women of faith in destructive relationships.

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The Comments

  • Avatar
    Making Progress, finally
    March 9, 2024

    I keep coming back to the Flying Free site…because, you know…maybe it IS me and maybe I’m asking for too much?
    I just read this post, from quite a while ago, for the first time…and it was so encouraging to me.
    One of my husband’s refrains has been that I’m “ making up” or responsible for his behaviors, that I “ think I’m a victim”, when “ really”, he’s the victim because I won’t feel, think, and act “ the way he wants me to”.

    Reading the list of “ How can you go from victim to survivor?” I realized: with the help of this site and others (, good friends, and a good therapist, I have made progress on all of those points!

    Not perfectly, by a long shot, but real progress. It’s taken about 2 years to see and feel the measurable growth, but I’m 60 and have been with my husband (trying to manage his emotions, please him, and keep the peace while ignoring myself) for about 40 years……so proportionately, I find that encouraging.

    Last night in my digital journal (as opposed to the old written one that my husband read, drastically misinterpreted, then “ used” against me) I wrote things down as if I was listening to a friend:
    If a friend came to me, and said: “No matter how gently , and lovingly, and carefully I try to communicate, and show love, my husband repeatedly threatens divorce, belittles me, calls me names, gives me the silent treatment whenever he doesn’t get his way or get his “wants” fulfilled, expects me to listen, empathize, and validate him ( which I have willingly, intentionally, and continually done…because that’s who I choose to be), yet if he “ sits through” a few minutes of me trying to convey my feelings( like, “ I’m worried about having cancer again”, after a diagnosis), he then spends 10x as long “ telling” me what my “ real” thoughts, feelings, opinions, and desires are, and then what they “ should “ be, according to him, and thinks he gets to define what “ should be enough” for me to forget all these hurts, like giving me a card or a gift.. He expects me to be delighted with the idea of having sex with him. After all, I am a completely safe and supportive person for him, so why wouldn’t he want that? And why wouldn’t I feel exactly as he does? I just can’t feel close, safe, or want to be intimate, with someone who treats me that way. Am I being demanding, selfish, and unreasonable, as he says?”

    I would tell my friend: “No, of course not! Why in the world would you think you have to try to force yourself to feel emotionally and mentally safe with someone, to the point where sexual intimacy makes sense, when your experience has been the opposite for years?”

    So now I give myself permission to believe, respect, support, and love myself…regardless. I will continue to work toward being my best self, holding both myself and others (not just others) as valuable, worthy, equal individuals, uniquely created by God.

    And I’ll keep coming back to this site, and the rest of the support system I’ve discovered…because I finally realize…it really ISN’T me.

  • Avatar
    February 28, 2023

    This Article was amazing! I’m 51 years old, and what I would stereotypically call “The Black Sheep” of my family. I recently was called out by my cousin as “Playing the Victim” when I spoke up about not being invited/notified about my Uncle’s Memorial service. Which is kinda comical after reading this article. Why? Because I reached out to him the day his father died, and he said things were chaotic and he would be at touch at some point. Only to find out 5 weeks later that a memorial service was planned. And guess what? No notification, my cousin blamed the fact that I was not in touch on social media to see the notification. Which in my mind I find preposterous, because I don’t live on Facebook. I also find it comical as well because, my sister that is clearly a narcissist was notified and attended the service. So in my life because I have chosen not to be a part of her toxic behavior. She goes out of her way to convince or alienate other family members, that I have zero issues with to say such things to me.
    So I read this article and there are things from all three categories I can relate to. But I would have to definitely say I’m a survivor overall. At this age and point in my life, I just choose to surround myself with people that truly care about me and my feelings and vice versa. So in closing I say to anyone feeling unloved or less than. Only you have the power to change YOU. Sometimes you can bend yourself till you break to please the Heard/Flock. Or you can you choose to focus your time and energy on people that value you.

  • Avatar
    Brock Robertson
    February 20, 2023

    OMG! What a beautiful and thought provoking article that I found at the perfect time! The Holy Spirit has again provided me with something that I was in need of. My journey started two years ago when my wife 0f 30 years and partner for 35 left me the day after my father died. In this time, I have been wandering in the wilderness, metaphorically and sometimes literally, gathering data points to help me understand how I got here at the age of 62! Over Christmas, I hit bottom finally in a dark night of my sole. I am now connecting what to this point were seeming disparate dots! I am starting to come to grips with my childhood sexual, emotional and physical traumas that I never breathed a word of to anyone because I refused to acknowledge that they were even traumas. I see how I have been both victim and to my great shame a victimizer of my wife. Your article has helped me reconcile the issue of the difference of being a victim vs having a victim complex. To this point, I refused to even consider that I might be a victim because of the hurt that I’ve caused and that I take full ownership for it. I can now acknowledge that I am a victim without letting it attach to me. Going forward, I am on a journey to becoming a survivor while working to make amends with my former wife for all the hurt that I caused her. I am happy to say that when I look at your list of what a survivor looks like she checks every box, having started a spiritual journey 20 years ago that I unfortunately wasn’t ready to take. She has a new life in a new part of the country with a new love interest. I know how hard she’s worked to get there and only have respect and admiration for her journey.

  • Avatar
    Tanya Wheeler
    January 12, 2023

    I have learned that I can control my thoughts with God’s word of Bible to speak out and say I bring every thought captive to obedient to Jesus Christ and to also control my brain by allowing a lot of stuff to come out a lot of information junk I visualize that in my brain to have more space and freedom. I also put the information in different spaces of my brain to let it go in the back of me. So I don’t feel like I’m overwhelmed in my mind all the time but that I can process properly everything and have a lot of space in my brain and to rewire it since I have many wires not one negative thoughts but replace with positive attitude of my mind renewal. Thank you for this information to help me understand myself after I’ve gone through a lot of abuse and now I’m healing and healthy and better. Blessings!

  • Avatar
    August 8, 2022

    Thank you Natalie for this great article. It has clarified many things in my marriage. I plan to work on several of these areas, one at a time. Thank you Natalie for helping women an opportunity to learn, to grow and heal and to come out of being a survivor to a thriver. God Bless you

  • Avatar
    January 16, 2022

    Thank you Natalie for this article. I am going to share it in a private group I interact with for survivors of sexual exploitation. Give concepts apply so perfectly.


  • Avatar
    Susan Cooke
    April 7, 2020

    I am early in this process and am struggling with the “shame” part of being a victim as well as acting as if it is no big deal…I will be fine, really, no one needs to be concerned. Due to this site I am now realizing that it is a big deal and understand why my clergy person is concerned.

    Also Kelsea Ballerini has a song out called homecoming queen? Yes that is how it is spelled on her album. I believe most of us can relate to this song. I sent it to my clergy person who said it was powerful- which it is.

  • Avatar
    just ... K
    April 7, 2020

    Natalie, thank you for another excellent post!

    I’m sure there must be many women reading this who are still freshly wounded and suffering from C-PTSD, which can leave you feeling really helpless. Looking at the list of things to shoot for may feel like Mount Everest. (And then because it looks like Mount Everest, you may wonder if you have victim mentality … “Does the fact that I’m not raring to go mean that I refuse to take responsibility for my life???” – Well, I know my mind works this way!)

    I personally found your “30 Days to Healing” workbook so useful – it was scripted and gave me something to do every day, including a little bit of “accountability” to keep reading a book alongside it – and it was also a brain rewiring exercise. Very gentle. Really positive. Such a great start. I don’t see that it is still available – but it was a wonderful resource, and for those feeling overwhelmed, I wish they had access to it too! Have I just missed it?

    • Natalie Hoffman
      Natalie Hoffman
      → just … K
      April 7, 2020

      We do all of that (and more!) in the Flying Free sisterhood. It’s a long term healing/support solution. But maybe I’ll offer that workbook again to the public at some point!

  • Avatar
    Bethamy Carrig
    April 6, 2020

    My daughter has picked up where my STBX left off! She is spiritually manipulating and shaming me, and telling me that I have a hardened heart. Reading this article has bolstered my immunity to her behaviors. Thank you for so clearly communicating the difference between being a healing victim and playing the victim.

  • Avatar
    Wendy Oliver
    April 6, 2020

    Excellent article with much wisdom and direction for women in a abusive relationship or getting out of a abusive relationship.
    Knowledge is power and that is what you have done here.. given knowledge so women can EMPOWER their healing so they can survive and thrive which is what God desires each and every “victim” to obtain… OVERCOMING!
    Bless you for how you touch women’s lives!!

  • Avatar
    April 6, 2020

    I’m going to work on #7. I never felt safe in my marriage. I got rid of the wasbeen(not a typo lol) and now I’m going to make a home that is safe, healthy, loving, free to express your emotions, and lots of joy. I will focus on God so I have eyes to see & ears to hear, only letting in His promises. Plus adding a little wine to make things fun! .
    Thank you for this article. I didn’t know what emotion abuse was until I found your info 3 years ago. Thank you for listening to your heart & helping women. ❤️ My goal also.

  • Avatar
    April 6, 2020

    Thank you so much for this very validating . My husband tells me that me and my family have victim mentality to a extent he is right but the difference is my family will not change think they are ok , i have been reading and studying for years now trying to change in the mean time he still has this attitude towards me . I say nothing anymore there is no point in defending im just trying to make my life better between me and God . Thank you again for sharing .

  • Avatar
    Unhappily Ever After
    April 6, 2020

    Fantastic article, Natalie! I can’t count the times H pointed a finger at me and accused me of having a ‘victim mentality ‘

  • Avatar
    April 6, 2020

    I learned a ton from this article. Thank you Natalie. I am an emotional abuse survivor and I am starting to be a thriver. The last night my ex husband was in the house, I wouldn’t move out of the way and he threw me across the room in order to move me. He told me over and over for months that I was playing the victim card. I couldn’t understand how I wasn’t a victim and that I didn’t want to be one yet I knew I was. I had victim mentality. With a lot of therapy and amazing friends to walk me through this process, I am now thriving. Great article!