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Abstract

People who suffer from the victim syndrome are always complaining about the 'bad things that happen' in their lives. Because they believe they have no control over the way events unfold, they don’t feel a sense of responsibility for them. One moment, they present themselves dramatically as victims; the next, they morph into victimizers, hurting the people trying to help them and leaving would-be helpers with a sense of utter frustration. People with a victim mentality display passive-aggressive characteristics when interacting with others. Their behavior has a self-defeating, almost masochistic quality. The victim style becomes a relational mode - a life affirming activity: I am miserable therefore I am. In this article, I present three examples of people with this syndrome and a checklist that can be used to identify sufferers. I also discuss the concept of secondary gain - the 'benefits' people get from perpetuating a problem - and the developmental origins of the victim mind-set. The article ends with advice on how to help people who suffer from the victim syndrome.
Are
you
a
victim
of
the
victim
syndrome?
Manfred
F.R.
Kets
de
Vries
Take
your
life
in
your
own
hands,
and
what
happens?
A
terrible
thing:
no
one
to
blame.
—Erica
Jong
INTRODUCTION
Working
in
organizations
(or
for
that
matter
in
any
domain
of
life),
do
you
know
people
who
always
behave
like
victims?
People
who
blame
others
when
bad
things
happen
to
them?
And
do
they
blame
their
family,
partner,
people
at
work,
or
any
number
of
things
that
they
perceive
to
be
victimizing
them?
The
world
these
people
live
in
appears
to
be
peopled
by
victims,
victimizers,
and
occasional
rescuers.
And
if
you
have
ever
tried
helping
them,
have
you
discovered
that
‘rescuing’’
them
from
the
trouble
they
are
in
can
be
an
excruciating
process?
Do
you
resent
the
way
every
bit
of
advice
you
offer
is
brushed
aside
or
rejected,
often
con-
temptuously?
If
any
of
these
observations
apply,
you
may
be
dealing
with
people
who
suffer
from
the
victim
syndrome.
These
are
people
who
always
complain
about
the
‘bad
things
that
happen’
in
their
lives,
due
to
circumstances
beyond
their
control.
Nothing
feels
right
to
them.
Trouble
follows
them
wherever
they
go.
This
is
not
to
suggest
that
they
are
making
it
up.
On
the
contrary,
there
is
always
truth
in
their
stories.
Bad
things
happen
to
all
of
us;
that’s
life.
It’s
not
a
rose
garden.
But
there
are
many
different
ways
of
dealing
with
the
difficulties
that
come
our
way.
Most
of
us,
when
faced
with
life’s
obstacles,
do
something
about
them
and
get
on
with
it.
But
people
with
a
victim
mentality
are
incapable
of
doing
so.
Their
negative
outlook
on
life
transforms
every
setback
into
a
major
drama.
Even
their
way
of
absorbing
information
causes
chaos
and
stress.
To
complicate
this
already
difficult
equation,
people
suffering
from
the
victim
syndrome
are
prone
to
aggravate
the
mess
in
which
they
find
themselves.
Strange
as
it
may
sound,
they
are
often
victims
by
choice.
And
ironically,
they
are
frequently
successful
in
finding
willing
victimizers.
Worse,
people
with
a
victim
mentality
are
very
difficult
to
handle.
They
have
an
extremely
fatalistic
outlook
on
life.
Because
they
believe
they
have
no
control
over
the
way
events
unfold,
they
have
a
poor
sense
of
responsibility.
Every
negative
outcome
in
their
life
is
attributed
to
people
or
circumstances
beyond
their
control.
Every
effort
made
to
help
them,
or
to
present
a
solution
to
their
predicament,
is
met
by
a
huge
arsenal
of
reasons
why
it
will
not
work,
some
of
them
quite
ingenious.
Their
problems
are
apparently
unique
and
therefore
insoluble.
They
appear
always
to
be
trying
to
prove
the
helper
wrong.
Anyone
prepared
to
help
them
is
left
with
a
sense
of
utter
frustration.
PERSONALITY
STYLES
People
with
a
victim
mentality
are
passive-aggressive
in
their
interactions
with
others.
The
passive-aggressive
style
is
a
very
subtle,
indirect,
or
behind-the-scenes
way
of
getting
what
they
want
and
expressing
anger
without
openly
acknowledging
it,
or
directly
confronting
the
source
of
it.
People
who
feel
powerless
usually
resort
to
the
passive-
aggressive
mode.
Because
they
have
difficulty
acknowledging
their
anger
directly
(given
the
way
they
feel
about
them-
selves),
they
seem
superficially
compliant
to
others’
needs,
but
are
experts
in
passive
resistance.
The
blame
game
is
part
of
these
‘victims’’
repertoire.
Although
their
own
actions
are
responsible
for
whatever
situation
they
find
themselves
in,
they
are
very
talented
at
finding
excuses
why
things
don’t
work
out.
A
common
means
of
getting
their
way
is
to
lay
guilt
trips
on
others
through
various
kinds
of
emotional
blackmail.
They
will
sulk,
pout,
withdraw,
bungle,
make
excuses,
and
lie.
Their
talent
at
sending
mixed
messages
catches
others
off
guard.
With
these
people
we
can
never
be
entirely
sure
what
was
said
or
what
is
expected.
Organizational
Dynamics
(2014)
43,
130—137
Available
online
at
www.sciencedirect.com
ScienceDirect
jo
ur
n
al
h
o
mep
ag
e:
www
.elsevier
.co
m
/loc
ate/o
r
gd
yn
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.orgdyn.2014.03.007
0090-2616/#
2014
Elsevier
Inc.
All
rights
reserved.
This
behavior
has
a
self-defeating,
almost
masochistic,
quality.
It
is
as
if
people
in
the
grip
of
the
victim
syndrome
welcome
the
process
of
getting
hurt
and
are
attracted
to
problematic
situations
or
relationships.
They
fail
to
accom-
plish
tasks
crucial
to
their
wellbeing.
They
set
themselves
up
to
fail,
associating
with
people
and
situations
that
end
in
disappointment,
failure,
or
mistreatment,
even
when
better
options
are
clearly
available.
They
reject
opportunities
for
pleasure,
or
are
reluctant
to
acknowledge
that
they
are
enjoying
themselves.
Self-sacrifice
is
more
their
thing
even
if
unsolicited
by
the
intended
recipients
of
the
sacrifice.
They
have
a
persistent
and
detrimental
pattern
of
behavior
that,
in
its
extreme
expression,
includes
playing
Russian
roulette,
drunk
driving,
excessive
smoking,
drug
abuse,
obsessive
gambling,
risky
sex
addictions,
self-mutilation,
and
suicide.
THE
VICTIM,
VICTIMIZER,
RESCUER
CYCLE
The
world
is
a
dangerous
place
for
people
with
a
victim
mentality.
They
have
always
to
be
prepared
for
the
worst,
as
it
is
full
of
people
who
are
out
to
hurt
them.
To
them,
it
is
a
harsh
environment
of
victims,
victimizers,
and
occasional
rescuers.
Their
locus
of
control
is
likely
to
be
external,
that
is,
they
believe
that
what
happens
to
people
is
contingent
on
events
outside
their
control.
Powerful
others,
fate,
or
chance
primarily
determine
the
events
in
their
lives.
This
kind
of
belief
system
is
highly
congenial
to
a
victim
mentality.
To
compound
the
negativity
of
this
outlook,
people
with
a
victim
mentality
know
how
to
inflame
others
(although
this
may
not
be
a
conscious
process).
They
have
a
knack
for
dragging
others
into
the
emotional
maelstrom
they
create,
keeping
them
off-balance
with
their
talent
for
shape
shifting.
One
moment,
they
present
themselves
dramatically
as
vic-
tims;
the
next
they
are
morphing
into
victimizers,
hurting
the
people
who
are
trying
to
help
them.
Victim,
victimizer,
and
rescuer:
it
is
a
very
messy
and
very
fluid
process.
People
prone
to
the
victim
syndrome
are
also
masters
of
manipulation,
which
can
make
interactions
with
them
infuri-
ating.
It
is
almost
as
if
they
invite
people
to
help
them,
only
to
prove
subsequently
that
their
rescue
attempts
are
futile.
To
add
insult
to
injury,
they
are
very
good
turning
things
upside
down,
claiming
that
their
would-be
rescuers’
efforts
to
help
are
actually
damaging
them.
This
can
affect
their
behavior
in
such
a
manner
that
it
actually
causes
these
expectations
to
be
fulfilled.
When
asked
why
they
behave
in
this
way,
they
will
say
that
they
‘have
their
reasons.’
If
pressed
for
an
explanation,
the
‘reasons’’
for
their
(at
least
superficially)
non
sensible
beha-
vior,
often
appear
muddled
and
incomprehensible.
People
suffering
from
the
victim
syndrome
are
not
clear
why
they
do
what
they
do.
They
have
only
a
limited
insight
into
the
reasons
for
their
self-destructive
behavior.
And
even
when
the
reasons
are
clear
and
the
means
of
improvement
obvious
they
don’t
want
to
hear
what
is
being
said.
They
seem
to
prefer
being
stuck
in
their
muddle.
This
is
what
makes
their
behavior
so
puzzling
and
irritating.
Victims’
talent
for
high
drama
draws
people
to
them
like
moths
to
a
flame.
Their
permanent
dire
state
brings
out
the
altruistic
motives
in
others.
It
is
hard
to
ignore
constant
cries
for
help.
In
most
instances,
however,
the
help
given
is
of
short
duration.
And
like
moths
in
a
flame,
helpers
quickly
get
burned;
nothing
seems
to
work
to
alleviate
the
victims’
miserable
situation;
there
is
no
movement
for
the
better.
Any
efforts
rescuers
make
are
ignored,
belittled,
or
met
with
hostility.
No
wonder
that
the
rescuers
become
increasingly
frustrated
and
walk
away.
Of
course,
the
essential
question
is
why
these
‘victims’’
are
asking
for
help
in
the
first
place.
Do
they
really
want
to
be
helped?
Given
the
endless
holes
they
keep
on
digging
for
themselves,
they
may
just
be
looking
for
attention.
And
even
negative
attention
is
better
than
no
attention
at
all.
We
notice
how
the
victim
style
becomes
a
relational
mode
a
life-affirming
activity:
I
am
miserable,
therefore
I
am.
This
is
a
common
scenario
for
people
prone
to
the
victim
syndrome.
Let’s
look
at
an
example.
John,
the
CEO
(chief
executive
officer)
of
a
sustainable
energy
company,
was
wondering
about
the
best
way
to
deal
with
Amelia,
one
of
his
vice
presidents.
Although
she
had
many
positive
qualities,
Amelia
was
very
high
main-
tenance.
She
took
up
more
of
his
time
than
any
of
his
other
direct
reports
and
managing
her
was
far
from
being
a
pleasure
she
was
such
a
drama
queen,
making
scenes
if
things
didn’t
go
her
way.
And
it
didn’t
take
much
to
make
her
feel
wronged.
John
was
puzzled
why
such
a
highly
competent
profes-
sional
always
needed
to
play
the
role
of
victim.
How
was
it
possible
for
someone
so
bright
and
so
talented,
to
be
so
blind
about
her
inappropriate
behavior?
It
grated
on
John,
who
had
been
the
great
advocate
of
gender
diversity
in
the
firm,
that
whenever
Amelia
got
herself
into
trouble,
she
always
blamed
the
‘old
boy’
network.
John
knew
that
was
a
poor
argument.
None
of
the
other
women
in
the
company
had
ever
mentioned
it.
He
had
bent
over
back-
ward
to
increase
the
ratio
of
women
at
senior
manage-
ment
in
the
company.
The
idea
that
there
was
such
a
thing
as
an
old
boy’s
network
in
the
company
that
was
holding
back
women
was
ridiculous.
Meetings
with
Amelia
were
like
walking
on
eggshells.
Going
through
her
bi-annual
feedback
report
with
her
was
the
worst.
You
never
knew
how
she
was
going
to
react.
John
genuinely
dreaded
these
sessions.
Telling
her
how
she
could
have
handled
a
specific
situation
more
effectively
was
an
exercise
in
master
diplomacy.
And
now
it
was
time
for
Amelia’s
next
appraisal.
John
was
having
sleepless
nights.
He
still
had
vivid
memories
of
Amelia’s
overblown
reactions
the
last
time
when
he
gave
her
what
he
thought
was
constructive
feedback.
When
he
talked
about
how
a
specific
situation
could
have
been
handled
more
effectively,
she
went
into
overdrive,
start-
ing
a
heated
argument
about
his
input,
and
denying
any
responsibility
for
the
way
things
had
gotten
out
of
hand.
Couldn’t
she
see
how
remarkable
it
was
that
every
time
something
went
wrong,
it
was
always
somebody
else’s
fault?
When
John
persisted,
and
tried
to
show
her
that
she
had
not
just
been
an
innocent
bystander
in
the
example
he
had
given,
Amelia
lashed
out
at
him,
again
presenting
herself
as
a
victim.
After
these
exchanges,
John
would
feel
thoroughly
miserable,
wondering
why
he
had
bothered
to
go
through
the
exercise
in
the
first
place.
He
felt
as
if
he
had
victimized
her.
A
typical
feature
of
their
particular
pas
de
deux
was
that
he
would
end
up
feeling
sorry
for
her
and
try
to
calm
her
down.
John
wondered
how
effective
this
Are
you
a
victim
of
the
victim
syndrome?
131
approach
really
was,
as
the
same
scenario
kept
on
repeat-
ing
itself.
There
are
many
Amelias
professional
‘victims’’
who
act
out
a
great
variety
of
‘scripts’’
in
both
the
private
and
public
sphere.
Let’s
take
another
example.
In
an
hour’s
time,
Victor,
the
CEO
of
a
global
bank,
was
due
to
meet
Adam,
one
of
his
key
people
in
the
retail
side
of
the
business.
He
guessed
Adam
would
probably
want
to
talk
about
the
new
regional
vice
president
position
that
had
become
available,
as
the
present
incumbent
was
retiring.
Victor
didn’t
think
Adam
was
ready
for
the
job,
and
he
was
wondering
how
he
could
handle
the
issue
if
it
arose.
Victor
thought
Adam
was
psychologically
immature
and
lacked
the
emotional
intelligence
he’d
need
to
handle
the
various
stakeholders
with
whom
he
would
have
to
interact.
There
were
numerous
reasons
for
his
doubts.
Adam
was
always
making
excuses,
trying
to
weasel
out
of
mistakes
that
were
made
on
his
watch.
And
he
was
vindictive.
Peop le
who
had
‘done
him
wrong’
were
never
forgotten.
Adam
could
reel
off
a
list
of
them
a
list
that
never
got
shorter.
On
a
previous
occasion
when
Adam
hadn’t
received
a
promotion
he
was
expecting,
he
had
stormed
into
Victor’s
office
and
asked
him
point
blank
whether
it
was
because
a
colleague
had
badmouthed
him.
Victor
denied
it
and
explained
that
Adam
hadn’t
been
given
the
promotion
because
of
a
recent
foul-up
but
Adam
didn’t
want
to
hear
what
he
was
saying.
He
refused
to
recognize
that
it
was
his
own
mistake
that
had
‘put
him
on
ice,’
as
he
termed
it,
for
a
period.
It
was
not
the
first
time
that
Adam
had
handicapped
himself.
With
his
knack
for
putting
himself
in
situations
that
inhibited
his
capacity
to
succeed,
he
could
be
his
own
worst
enemy.
On
that
occasion,
Victor
had
managed
to
calm
him
down
a
little
by
convincing
him
that
the
setback
was
only
temporary.
But
he
was
at
a
loss
to
know
what
could
be
done
to
get
Adam
out
of
this
conspiracy
mindset
and
prevent
him
getting
involved
in
situations
that
led
to
difficult
consequences.
Adam’s
volatile
moods
were
a
real
problem
and
inappro-
priate
for
a
banker.
Emotionally,
he
had
a
lot
to
learn,
as
their
most
recent
interaction
had
proved.
Adam
had
mailed
Victor,
asking
to
have
lunch
with
him.
Victor
had
responded
immediately,
explaining
that
it
was
too
short
notice;
he
had
to
be
abroad
all
week
taking
care
of
some
personal
matters.
He
assumed
that
would
be
the
end
of
it,
but
he
was
much
mistaken.
On
his
return,
his
assistant
told
him
that
his
refusal
to
see
Adam
had
created
high
drama.
Apparently,
Adam
had
blamed
him
for
not
being
there
for
him,
convinced
(despite
all
assurances
to
the
contrary)
that
Victor
didn’t
really
care
for
him
when
it
mattered.
Adam
had
his
qualities,
but
Victor
was
frankly
tired
of
his
dramatics.
Why
were
things
always
exaggerated?
Why
was
he
being
subjected
to
this
emotional
blackmail?
He
felt
trapped.
Adam
had
a
victim
mentality;
he
radiated
nega-
tivity.
Could
his
mood
state
be
contagious,
and
affect
the
other
members
of
his
team?
The
world
is
full
of
genuine
victims.
But
without
negating
the
reality
of
victimhood,
being
a
victim
is
also
a
state
of
mind.
We
can
reframe
difficult
life
situations
positively
or
regress
to
a
victim
mindset.
There
is
always
the
option
to
make
difficult
situations
look
like
things
have
been
‘done
to’
us.
However,
whenever
we
refuse
to
take
responsibility
for
our
behavior
and
actions,
we
unconsciously
choose
to
act
as
a
victim.
We
have
lingering
sense
of
betrayal,
of
being
taken
advantage
of
by
others.
Although
the
positive
aspect
of
this
position
is
the
sense
of
being
absolved
from
responsibility,
the
negative
aspects
feelings
of
anger,
fear,
guilt
or
inadequacy
for
outweigh
it.
WHAT’S
SO
ATTRACTIVE
ABOUT
BEING
A
VICTIM?
How
does
the
victim
mindset
benefit
the
‘victim?’’
What
is
the
advantage
of
playing
the
victim
role?
And
what
makes
these
people
keep
on
doing
it,
despite
the
misery
involved?
ARE
YOU
SUFFERING
FROM
THE
VICTIM
SYNDROME?
Most
of
us
dislike
seeing
others
in
trouble
and
want
to
help.
But
when
our
desire
to
help
goes
unanswered
or
meets
with
contempt,
no
matter
what
efforts
we
make,
we
should
be
on
our
guard.
If
you
work
in
a
role
that
involves
coach-
ing
or
mentoring
people
who
are
struggling
with
personal
or
professional
issues,
you
should
re-
main
vigilant
for
the
warning
signs
of
the
victim
syndrome.
Use
this
checklist
to
see
where
the
person
you
are
trying
to
help
fits
on
the
victim
syndrome
scale.
The
more
affirmative
answers
you
can
give
to
these
questions,
the
more
likely
that
person
is
to
have
a
victim
mindset.
Are
you
dealing
with
people
for
whom
something
al-
ways
goes
wrong?
Does
every
conversation
end
up
centered
on
their
problems?
Do
they
have
a
tendency
to
play
the
‘poor
me’
card?
Do
they
engage
in
negative
talk
about
themselves?
Do
they
always
expect
the
worst?
Do
they
tend
to
act
like
a
martyr?
Do
they
feel
that
the
world
is
‘doing
it’
to
them
and
that
there
is
nothing
they
can
do
about
it?
Do
they
believe
that
everyone
else
has
an
easier
life?
Do
they
focus
solely
on
negative
events
and
disappoint-
ments?
Do
they
never
feel
responsible
for
their
negative
behav-
ior?
Is
their
misery
contagious,
affecting
the
mood
state
of
others?
Do
they
seem
to
be
addicted
to
misery,
chaos,
and
drama?
Do
they
feel
that
the
world
is
out
to
get
them?
Does
blaming
others
seem
to
improve
their
state
of
mind?
Do
they
have
a
tendency
to
make
others
take
responsi-
bility
for
them?
132
M.F.R.
Kets
de
Vries
To
answer
these
questions,
we
have
to
look
beyond
the
obvious.
A
considerable
amount
of
this
behavior
is
beyond
conscious
awareness.
But
just
as
every
cloud
has
a
silver
lining,
every
problem
has
its
upside
somewhere.
To
under-
stand
what
is
going
on,
we
need
to
consider
the
positive
aspects
of
being
a
victim.
The
apparent
pure
misery
notwith-
standing,
there
are
benefits
attached
to
playing
the
victim
role.
Secondary
Gain
With
victimhood,
there
is
always
the
question
of
‘secondary
gain,’
a
phenomenon
with
which
people
in
the
helping
professions
are
very
familiar.
Secondary
gains
are
the
exter-
nal
and
incidental
advantages
derived
from
a
victim’s
misery,
even
though
the
person
in
question
may
not
consciously
aware
of
them.
Secondary
gains
are
the
‘benefits’’
people
get
from
not
overcoming
a
problem.
They
occur
when
an
individual’s
problems
persist
because
of
the
advantageous
impact
of
the
attention,
affection,
remuneration,
access
to
medication,
and
other
incentives
that
accompany
them.
Sometimes
people
are
aware
of
these
sources
of
secondary
gain,
but
more
often
they
lack
the
insight
that
this
psycho-
logical
process
is
taking
place.
They
need
to
be
shown
the
ways
in
which
they
are
gaining
from
their
injury.
People
resort
to
secondary
gain
get
some
benefit
out
of
something
that
otherwise
appears
completely
irrational.
Although
objectively,
secondary
gain
doesn’t
advance
a
life
situation,
subjectively
it
may
do
so,
because
of
the
benefits
that
accrue.
Secondary
gain
is
an
important
mechanism
in
explaining
why
people
remain
stuck
in
dysfunctional
behavior
patterns,
why
they
persist
in
their
misery
and
do
not
change
things
for
the
better.
Some
people
get
a
perverse
pleasure
from
their
emotional
dysfunction.
However,
people
are
not
usually
aware
of
secondary
gain.
These
‘victims’’
are
not
being
consciously
manipulative
or
faking
their
distress.
Their
misery
feels
very
real
and
their
reasons
for
holding
on
to
it
are
hidden
from
them.
The
pull
of
the
unconscious
is
very
strong
and
prevents
them
from
realizing
that
the
cost
of
holding
onto
the
condition
is
far
greater
than
the
gain.
Secondary
gain
may
be
a
significant
perpetuating
factor
in
victimhood.
Unfortunately,
it
is
a
process
that
is
poorly
understood
and
can
be
confused
with
malingering.
Psychol-
ogy
101
tells
us
that
when
people
repeat
specific
behavior
patterns,
we
can
be
sure
that
they
are
getting
some
kind
of
payoff
from
them.
The
Benefits
Playing
the
victim
can
satisfy
a
variety
of
unconscious
needs.
The
‘poor
me’
card
elicits
others’
pity,
sympathy,
and
offers
of
help.
It’s
nice
to
be
noticed
and
validated;
it
feels
good
when
others
pay
us
attention;
and
it’s
pleasant
to
have
our
depen-
dency
needs
gratified.
Being
a
victim
is
a
great
excuse
for
not
questioning
difficult
life
issues.
We
can
remain
passive
and
not
take
responsibility
for
our
actions.
We
can
take
refuge
in
victimhood
to
accuse
others
of
the
behavior
for
which
we
are
really
responsible.
This
is
particularly
tempting
because
blaming
others
for
life’s
wrongs
can
have
a
cathartic
effect.
We
should
never
underestimate
the
sense
of
relief
that
comes
with
shifting
the
responsibility
for
our
misery
onto
someone
or
something
else.
Resorting
to
this
tactic
is
a
relatively
low-risk
proposition.
We
don’t
have
to
take
any
chances.
Assuming
martyrdom
is
also
a
highly
effective
cover
for
our
own
aggressive
inclinations.
The
blame
game
combines
helplessness
with
self-protection
passivity
and
activity.
As
the
world
is
perceived
as
a
dangerous
place
where
nasty
things
can
happen,
people
suffering
from
the
victim
syn-
drome
strike
out
in
this
surreptitious
way
in
order
to
defend
themselves
against
the
inevitable
aggression
of
others.
There
are
other
advantages
to
treading
water
in
a
sea
of
misery.
Misery
loves
company,
meaning
that
people
who
are
miserable
find
solace
in
others
who
share
their
feelings.
People
with
a
victim
mindset
attract
others.
The
feeling
we
are
not
alone
creates
a
sense
of
solidarity,
support,
and
interconnectedness.
Perhaps
we
are
also
nurturing
a
secret
desire
for
a
‘white
knight’
to
materialize,
and
help
us
out
of
our
misery
at
least
temporarily
until
the
victim,
victimizer,
rescuer
cycle
repeats
itself.
So
playing
the
victim
can
be
a
combination
of
coping
strategy,
form
of
manipulation,
and
attention-seeking
device.
Of
course,
there
are
limits
to
how
far
others
will
go
in
their
support
of
a
‘victim.’
Constant
complaining
can
be
very
tiresome.
Victims
will
eventually
lose
out
if
a
situation
con-
tinues
to
be
insoluble
whatever
solution
is
provided
and
otherwise
willing
helpers
fail
to
get
a
handle
on
victims’
behavior.
Where
Does
the
Victim
Mindset
Come
From?
Personality
development
can
be
as
diverse
as
grains
of
sand
on
a
beach.
Each
life
experience
is
unique,
although
as
we
are
all
human,
there
are
patterns
in
personality
development
that
largely
remain
the
same.
Character
development
is
always
an
outcome
of
the
interface
between
nature
and
nurture.
Within
the
context
of
our
genetic
matrix,
our
per-
sonality
evolves
through
developmental
processes.
Much
of
what
creates
a
victim
mindset
finds
its
foundation
within
the
family
of
origin.
Victimhood,
however,
is
not
the
natural
state
of
things.
It
is
taught.
If
bad
things
happen
to
people
while
they
grow
up,
they
will
have
a
pessimistic
outlook
on
life.
Depending
on
their
own
sense
of
victimhood,
parents
can
either
create
a
supportive,
trustful
environment
for
their
children,
or
do
exactly
the
opposite
and
perpetuate
a
bad
situation.
Thus
they
create
a
generational
problem
of
victim-
hood,
in
which
secondary
gain
gets
the
upper
hand.
For
children
growing
up
in
these
family
situations,
suffering
is
a
way
of
soliciting
attention
and
forestalling
parental
criti-
cism
and
indifference.
It
makes
for
a
paradoxical
relational
style
in
which
life
seems
to
improve
when
it
is
going
badly.
The
parents
become
kinder
when
the
child
feels
bad.
Pre-
senting
a
suffering
exterior
gives
the
child
respite
from
an
otherwise
hostile
and
neglectful
family
environment.
Unfortunately,
this
is
a
very
dysfunctional
form
of
relat-
ing.
Parents
in
these
families
do
not
recognize
the
harm
they
are
doing
to
their
children,
just
as
their
parents
were
una-
ware
of
what
they
were
doing
to
them.
But
that
is
no
excuse
for
bad
parenting.
The
continuation
of
a
dysfunctional
devel-
opmental
cycle
is
not
a
given.
Parenthood
comes
with
certain
obligations.
We
can’t
ignore
the
basic
needs
and
rights
of
our
children.
We
expect
adults
to
take
a
stand
against
abuse
and
create
a
different
developmental
cycle.
Are
you
a
victim
of
the
victim
syndrome?
133
What
gives
this
issue
urgency
is
that
many
people
with
a
victim
mentality
may
have
been
physically,
sexually,
and/or
emotionally
abused.
But
children
do
not
have
the
emotional
or
cognitive
capability
to
see
abuse
for
what
it
is,
and
get
out
of
an
abusive
system.
They
are
forced
to
remain
in
their
one-down
position
and
may
even
come
see
these
dysfunctional
forms
of
relating
as
the
norm,
perpetuating
such
self-defeating
patho-
logical
behavior.
Their
family
background
may
prompt
them
actively
and
repeatedly
to
look
for
situations
that
preserve
their
suffering.
The
script
in
their
head
runs,
‘‘See
how
much
I
am
suffering?
Yo u
must
love
me.’
This
pathological
way
of
relating
is
preferable
to
their
fear
of
abandonment.
A
common
‘solution’’
to
this
dysfunctional
equation
is
that
these
people
may
feel
loved
only
if
they
are
punished.
They
may
even
feel
insecure
if
punishment
is
missing
for
any
length
of
time.
Their
background
may
make
them
gravitate
toward
the
kind
of
people
who
are
prepared
to
inflict
some
form
of
punishment,
as
it
is
the
only
kind
of
intimacy
they
understand.
They
learn
to
seek
out
situations
that
recreate
their
early
experiences.
However
it
is
reinterpreted,
child
abuse
always
evokes
feelings
of
hurt
and
insult.
Because
children
are
essentially
powerless
to
stop
the
abuse
or
to
convince
anyone
to
help,
they
begin
to
perceive
the
whole
world
as
‘unfair’’
and
have
to
find
ways
to
cope
with
it.
One
logical
human
reaction
is
retaliation,
doing
to
others
what
has
been
done
to
them.
Although
they
may
find
it
hard
to
metabolize
these
unac-
ceptable
feelings,
the
remnants
of
these
hurts
contribute
to
feelings
of
hate
and
desire
for
revenge.
The
experience
of
feeling
wronged
may
also
lead
to
problems
of
anger
manage-
ment.
At
the
core,
however,
is
the
vindictive
drive
to
get
even
with
their
parents.
If
violent,
abusive
behavior
was
the
norm,
they
may
join
the
abusers,
and
behave
similarly.
Many
of
these
children
harbor
such
deep
anger
toward
their
parents
that
they
unconsciously
desire
to
remain
dys-
functional,
as
a
way
of
getting
back
at
them.
Dysfunction
is
their
way
of
showing
their
parents
how
they
have
messed
up.
It’s
a
self-destructive
way
of
dealing
with
the
issue,
but
they
have
no
conscious
awareness
of
the
defense
mechanism
at
work.
These
unconscious
feelings
of
revenge
permeate
all
their
behavior.
While
they
deny
that
things
are
not
well,
they
fail
to
acknowledge
their
unconscious
bitterness
about
their
fate,
refusing
to
see
how
much
they
have
been
hurt.
Children
who
find
themselves
in
destructive
situations
may
wonder
why
this
is
happening
to
them.
As
they
learn
that
blaming
the
world
does
not
provide
any
immediate
gratification,
some
of
them
learn
to
blame
themselves
for
not
being
‘good
enough.’
Blaming
and
punishing
the
self
can
provide
an
immediate,
controlled,
but
convoluted
form
of
satisfaction.
These
children
cannot
see,
let
alone
con-
sciously
accept,
that
they
are
now
causing
most
of
their
own
pain.
They
hope
that
by
acting
in
this
way
they
will
hurt
others.
However,
the
bad
feelings
about
being
wronged
are
still
there,
pushed
into
the
unconscious,
and
continue
to
have
an
effect.
Consequently,
these
people
create
filters
through
which
they
interpret
their
situations
and
circumstances
in
life,
each
time
reaffirming
their
sense
of
powerlessness.
These
unconscious
feelings,
no
matter
how
much
they
are
denied,
will
continue
to
color
all
their
interpersonal
relation-
ships.
So
the
mistreated
child
grows
into
an
adult
embittered
by
the
unfairness
of
the
world
(represented
by
its
caregivers).
Powerless
as
they
feel,
at
every
disappointment,
they
find
some
convenient,
secret
means
of
(unconscious)
self-sabo-
tage
and
will
then
say
triumphantly,
‘See,
they
did
it
again.
Life
is
unfair.’’
This
is
a
self-destructive
way
of
coping.
In
showing
the
world
the
wrongs
it
can
do,
they
mobilize
a
self-fulfilling
prophecy.
Self-sabotageurs
are
masters
at
snatching
defeat
out
of
the
jaws
of
victory,
provoking
the
failure,
humiliation,
or
punishment
they
feel
they
deserve,
and
undoing
any
good
luck
that
comes
their
way.
Their
only
sense
of
worth
comes
from
self-sacrifice.
Another
person’s
suffering
evokes
strong
natural
responses
of
wanting
to
help,
or
be
supportive
(at
least
initially).
People
suffering
from
the
victim
syndrome
are
likely
to
exaggerate
or
dramatize
their
misfortunes,
to
make
the
need
for
rescue
even
more
compelling.
Unfortunately,
satisfying
this
need
does
not
bring
a
‘cure.’’
Others’
sym-
pathy
is
precisely
the
reason
for
remaining
stuck
in
this
victim
mentality.
Worse,
as
I
suggested
earlier,
it
may
even
turn
into
a
self-fulfilling
prophecy,
as
people
with
this
mindset
will
eventually
begin
to
sabotage
their
own
success
and
happiness
after
all,
things
will
always
turn
out
badly
for
them,
so
why
try?
This
self-sabotage
becomes
a
form
of
protective
reaction
and
brings
with
it
the
unconscious
satisfaction
of
inflicting
guilt
on
others
that
is,
they
secretly
hope
their
self-
inflicted
suffering
will
make
others
realize
the
damage
they
have
done
to
them.
This
is
a
convoluted
way
of
inflicting
harm
on
the
people
who
have
harmed
them.
Whether
it’s
expressed
as
overt
social
aggression
or
silent
self-sabotage,
revenge
a
dark
and
cruel
wish
to
inflict
harm
on
the
people
who
have
been
hurting
them
is
at
the
core
of
these
processes.
Let’s
look
at
another
sample
case.
As
a
child,
Peter
was
forever
in
trouble
of
one
sort
or
another.
Some
of
his
problems
seemed
inevitable,
given
his
inauspicious
family
circumstances.
His
mother
had
a
hard
time
holding
on
to
the
men
in
her
life.
His
father,
a
hard-drinking,
abusive
man,
left
his
mother,
moved
to
another
country
and
remarried.
Peter
and
his
older
broth-
er,
who
had
borne
the
brunt
of
their
father’s
abuse,
were
glad
to
see
him
go.
Peter’s
mother
was
famously
a
drama
queen,
blowing
things
way
out
of
proportion
whenever
she
had
the
chance.
Chaos
and
drama
followed
her
wherever
she
went,
and
if
there
was
a
lack
of
drama,
she
knew
how
to
create
it.
She
was
often
the
author
of
her
own
misery,
good
at
playing
the
victim.
Most
of
the
people
who
dealt
with
her
ended
up
emotionally
exhausted.
Unsurprisingly,
she
found
it
difficult
to
hold
down
a
job
and
the
financial
situation
at
home
was
always
precarious.
Men
drifted
in
and
out
of
her
life,
leaving
Peter
and
his
brother
with
a
half-brother
and
half-sister.
Looking
back,
Peter
was
subliminally
aware
that
it
had
been
tough
growing
up
in
his
mother’s
household.
However,
some
of
his
friends
had
commented
on
how
like
his
mother
he
was.
Early
on,
Peter
had
serious
difficulties
at
school.
He
was
dyslexic,
had
poor
concentration,
and
was
easily
distract-
ed.
He
often
skipped
class,
claiming
he
didn’t
feel
well.
His
mother’s
gullibility
was
a
great
truancy
aid,
and
she
colluded
with
him.
Helping
him
find
excuses
for
his
ab-
sence
fed
into
her
sense
of
victimhood.
Whenever
Peter
found
himself
in
trouble,
his
mother
would
do
what
was
134
M.F.R.
Kets
de
Vries
necessary
to
bail
him
out.
Although
she
might
castigate
him
for
what
he
had
done
(or
not
done),
she
would
eventually
rescue
him.
But
by
constantly
alleviating
the
natural
consequences
of
his
choices,
his
mother
deprived
him
of
the
opportunity
to
learn
from
his
mistakes.
This
dysfunctional
way
of
dealing
with
life
made
Peter
increasingly
dependent
on
others.
His
mother’s
well-
intentioned
rescuing
sent
a
disempowering
message,
cre-
ating
the
foundation
of
a
victim
mentality.
As
time
went
on,
things
got
worse.
As
a
teenager,
Peter
discovered
drugs
and
his
school
record
worsened
with
his
new
dependency.
Apart
from
mathematics,
which
he
was
good
at,
he
couldn’t
see
the
point
of
school.
But
at
least
there
was
math.
Helped
by
his
teacher,
who
was
supportive,
he
managed
to
pull
himself
together
enough
to
graduate
form
high
school
and
get
into
a
local
college.
During
his
college
years,
Peter
discovered
women.
Ini-
tially,
he
seemed
to
seek
out
women
who
let
him
down,
but
eventually
he
moved
in
with
a
woman
who
seemed
really
to
care
for
him.
They
both
came
from
dysfunctional
families
and
like
their
parents
before
them,
their
rela-
tionship
quickly
became
very
difficult,
characterized
by
constant
shape
shifting:
victim,
victimizer,
and
rescuer.
Looking
back,
Peter
understood
that
they
were
both
unconsciously
validating
their
respective
childhood
dra-
mas
by
projecting
their
painful
beliefs
and
judgments
on
to
each
other.
He
would
blame
her,
and
she
him,
to
help
each
other
out
of
their
predicament.
Fighting
seemed
to
be
their
default
form
of
relating,
even
though
it
was
a
strange
kind
of
intimacy.
Later,
Peter
came
to
see
that
he
tended
to
reject
people
who
treated
him
well
making
the
help
others
provided
ineffective.
Growing
up
with
this
victim
mentality,
Peter
found
himself
becoming
angrier
as
time
went
by.
At
home,
he
expressed
his
anger
self-destructively
toward
his
own
children.
He
also
acted
it
out
at
work.
For
example,
when
he
was
promoted
to
a
more
senior
position
in
the
company,
he
became
extremely
anxious
and
his
poor
functioning
drew
others’
attention.
He
seemed
to
have
a
talent
for
self-
handicapping
and
creating
impediments
that
sabotaged
a
good
performance.
When
things
went
wrong,
it
was
always
other
people’s
fault,
not
his.
When
he
lost
his
job,
and
his
wife
asked
for
a
divorce,
he
realized
that
something
needed
to
be
done.
Things
couldn’t
go
on
like
this.
With
his
family
background,
Peter
had
grown
up
expecting
to
be
victimized.
To
fulfill
these
expectations,
he
re-
created
the
dysfunctional
patterns
and
feelings
of
help-
lessness
he
had
experienced
early
in
life.
That
was
how
he
thought
relationships
were
supposed
to
be.
He
anticipated
future
disappointments,
and
sabotaged
things
when
they
were
going
well.
As
a
defense
mechanism,
he
turned
the
passive
into
the
active.
He
encouraged
others
to
take
advantage
of
him,
almost
as
if
he
enjoyed
being
exploited.
At
the
same
time,
he
rendered
ineffective
all
attempts
to
help
him.
When
he
was
promoted,
he
went
into
self-
sabotage
overdrive.
After
he
was
fired
from
the
job,
and
took
a
less
visible
position,
he
felt
much
better.
Victims
of
childhood
abuse
may
become
victimizers,
vic-
tims,
or
both.
The
pain
and
rage
from
the
abuse
and
betrayal
may
turn
inward,
becoming
self-destructive,
or
turn
outward
toward
others,
manifested
in
passive-aggressive
behavior.
Blaming
everyone
and
everything
for
their
predicament
is
a
common
pattern.
Furthermore,
victims
are
drawn
to
one
another,
programmed
to
be
attracted
to
abusive
relationships.
There
is
an
element
of
learned
helplessness
in
their
behavior.
The
psychological
profile
of
victimization
includes
a
pervasive
sense
of
passivity,
loss
of
control,
pessimism,
negative
think-
ing,
and
strong
feelings
of
guilt,
shame,
self-blame
and
depres-
sion.
All
these
can
lead
to
hopelessness
and
despair.
Peter’s
story
shows
that
some
people
with
a
victim
mind-
set
may
have
inherited
a
chain
of
dysfunction
passed
down
from
generation
to
generation.
Some
parents
unconsciously
give
their
children
the
same
damaging
treatment
they
received
themselves.
LIVING
BY
DESIGN
Can
people
stuck
with
a
victim
mentality
break
out
of
this
self-destructive
cycle?
How
can
they
be
helped
to
transcend
their
mindset?
Are
there
ways
to
stop
them
sabotaging
themselves?
Can
they
start
living
by
design?
People
who
like
to
play
the
victim
must
challenge
their
ingrained
beliefs,
and
learn
to
assume
responsibility
and
care
for
themselves,
rather
than
look
elsewhere
for
a
savior.
In
helping
people
susceptible
to
the
victim
syndrome
to
live
by
their
own
design,
it
maybe
useful
to
ask
them
whether
they
derive
any
benefits
from
retaining
an
apparently
inso-
luble
problem.
What
would
they
lose
if
they
solved
it?
It
may
strike
them
as
a
strange
question
but
as
they
try
to
answer
it,
they
may
realize
that
suffering
has
become
an
essential
part
of
their
identity.
If
they
would
give
up
this
way
of
relating
to
others,
what
would
their
life
look
like?
Acknowledging
the
secondary
gains
attached
to
their
present
state
could
be
the
first
step
on
a
journey
of
greater
self-awareness.
People
who
suffer
from
the
victim
mindset
need
to
understand
that
they
own
their
misery.
They
are
rarely
aware
of
the
extent
to
which
they
contribute
to
it.
Have
they
ever
thought
why
they
naturally
assume
the
victim
role,
seek
out
abusers,
or
invite
abuse?
Very
often,
when
victims
recognize
secondary
gain
for
what
it
is
when
they
realize
why
these
forces
prevent
them
from
attaining
what
they
consciously
want
this
insidious
force
loses
its
value.
Helping
people
to
overcome
their
victim
mentality
neces-
sitates
a
careful
analysis
of
the
nature
and
quality
of
their
interpersonal
relations.
Once
victims
have
learned
to
under-
stand
and
be
upfront
about
the
secondary
gain
mechanisms
at
work,
they
may
find
it
easier
to
come
to
grips
with
the
fact
that
those
unconscious
mechanisms
have
been
at
the
core
of
their
problems.
Closer
scrutiny
will
enable
them
to
realize
that
secondary
gain
was
all
that
was
keeping
these
self-
defeating
patterns
in
place.
This
will
be
the
beginning
of
a
journey
in
which
they
learn
about
alternative
ways
of
coping
and
finding
other
paths
through
life,
rather
than
remaining
stuck
in
self-destructive
cycles.
However,
what
helps
victims
best
is
the
development
of
a
healthier
self-concept.
They
need
to
become
cognizant
of
their
victimized
self-image
and
exchange
it
for
something
more
constructive.
This
kind
of
transformation
necessitates
cognitive
and
emotional
re-orientation,
new
ways
of
thinking
about
themselves.
They
must
ditch
their
self-projection
as
a
martyr,
because
an
identity
based
on
helplessness
is
no
longer
acceptable.
They
need
to
learn
to
feel
good
about
Are
you
a
victim
of
the
victim
syndrome?
135
themselves.
However,
building
a
new
identity
and
attitudes
will
take
time.
Victims
also
need
to
learn
how
to
stop
attracting
people
who
cause
them
grief.
They
need
to
recognize
how
their
passive-aggressive,
manipulative
behavior
evokes
hostile
reactions
in
others.
They
have
to
stop
the
kind
of
behavior
that
perpetuates
victimization
and
find
new
ways
of
inter-
acting
that
include
space
for
their
self-respect.
They
need
to
learn
that
relational
experiences
do
not
have
to
be
exercises
in
victimization.
People
dealing
with
individuals
with
a
victim
mindset
should
recognize
that
there
is
a
difference
between
rescuing
and
helping.
With
rescuing
there
is
no
progress,
and
the
victim
remains
stuck
in
a
dependent
state.
Rescuing
perpe-
tuates
their
tendency
to
hand
over
control
and
responsibility
for
their
condition
to
others,
even
though
outsourcing
their
life
to
others
creates
this
sense
of
powerlessness
in
the
first
place.
It
is
not
difficulty
to
understand
why
they
behave
in
this
manner.
For
example,
Peter
had
been
exposed
to
so
many
unhealthy
injunctions
such
as
don’t
trust,
don’t
feel,
don’t
talk
about
anything
meaningful
that
he
questioned
his
own
competence.
He
was
caught
up
in
a
vicious
circle
of
help-
lessness
and
hopelessness.
If
people
are
haunted
by
these
feelings
it
is
hard
for
them
to
be
truly
authentic.
Anxiety,
fear,
and
lack
of
self-belief
all
contrive
to
make
them
feel
like
victims
until
they
take
control
of
their
feelings.
In
all
situations
of
change,
including
change
for
the
better,
adopting
a
different
outlook
on
life
is
hard.
Many
people
prefer
to
remain
victims
because
they
find
it
difficult
to
work
toward
healing
and
living
a
proactive
life.
If
victimhood
has
been
a
major
life
theme,
it
will
not
be
easy
to
put
aside.
It
might
feel
more
comfortable
to
carry
on
blaming
external
or
uncontrollable
factors
for
things
that
go
wrong.
This
is
an
effective
way
of
channeling
their
anger
about
their
fate
in
life
and
absolves
them
from
personal
responsibility.
But
this
just
perpetuates
the
mindset
that
nothing
can
be
done
to
control
their
lives.
To
tackle
this,
people
susceptible
to
the
victim
syndrome
need
to
practice
other
forms
of
dialog,
but
this
requires
a
solid
dose
of
awareness
about
their
predicament.
If
they
are
unable
to
think
differently
about
themselves,
they
will
fall
deeper
and
deeper
in
a
downward
spiral
of
despair
and
unworthiness.
They
must
give
up
the
benefits
of
using
victim-
hood
as
an
excuse
for
their
conscious
or
unconscious
blame
game
and
take
responsibility
for
their
own
actions.
They
need
to
identify
what
secondary
gain
does
to
them.
Basically,
they
need
to
own
their
own
life,
which
means
being
honest
about
how
they
manipulate
others,
put
themselves
in
the
victim
role,
and
use
self-deprecating
stories
about
their
own
inep-
titude
to
evoke
sympathy.
These
people
need
to
realize
that
they
are
no
longer
as
helpless
as
they
were
as
children.
They
must
learn
that
it
is
preferable
to
make
conscious
choices
rather
than
let
their
unconscious
decide
for
them.
However,
this
means
breaking
the
downward
spiral
of
helplessness
and
low
self-esteem
and
being
completely
honest
with
themselves.
They
need
to
do
away
with
learned
helplessness,
take
charge
of
their
lives
and
stop
being
dependent
on
other
people
for
their
security.
When
people
have
a
greater
sense
of
empowerment,
they
begin
to
accept
that
they
can
be
the
masters
of
their
own
destiny.
With
the
self-esteem
and
confidence
that
empower-
ment
brings
comes
the
courage
to
face
the
vicissitudes
of
life
head-on,
and
search
for
their
own
‘cure.’’
They
will
be
able
to
move
beyond
the
victim
mentality
and
out
of
their
funk
of
sadness
and
self-pity.
There
will
no
longer
be
any
need
for
self-sabotage
or
blame.
We
should
not
underestimate
the
challenge
of
letting
go
of
such
a
fundamental
part
of
their
identity.
Their
history
of
hurt
and
trauma
has
defined
who
they
are,
and
they
have
been
playing
the
victim
over
and
over
again
in
their
mind.
The
bitterness
of
a
grudge
works
like
a
mental
poison
that
harms
no
one
but
themselves.
The
desire
for
revenge
can
be
exhausting
and
in
its
worst
case
transform
people
into
victimizers
themselves.
But
it
can
be
equally
hard
work
getting
to
a
place
where
they
can
let
go
of
their
feelings
of
resentment
and
thoughts
of
revenge
and
develop