Always a victim? You’re likely the problem

Enya Eettickal, Staff Writer

A big part of friendship is sharing stories of hardship and seeking advice or support. Personally, I think there’s something special in the shared emotional reactions of a group when listening to one person’s stories. But it’s the same part of me that adores sharing my friends’ emotions that gets unsettled when certain patterns arise. There’s a building uncertainty when a friend tells story after story of them being “done dirty,” being misrepresented or misunderstood and being dropped or hated “for no good reason” by the people around them. Because, while I can understand that happening once in a while, or there being a crazy period in someone’s life, it doesn’t add up when it’s every single time. That person is likely victimizing themself. Watching someone constantly play the victim is tough, mainly because it feels like there’s no way to deal with it. So let’s look into the consequences of being around someone who constantly victimizes themself, as well as ways to deal with it.

Let’s start by defining the scope of what we’re talking about. I use the phrase “playing the victim” very particularly in this article. That’s because a victim complex or mentality refers to when a person believes that they are in no way responsible for any of the shortcomings or problems in their life. While this isn’t a diagnosable condition (in the DSM-5), it is a learned behavior and symptomatic of other conditions. A victim mentality often has roots in former experiences and trauma, making it difficult to escape the state of hopelessness. The individuals this column is referring to are those who argue that their suffering is never ending and unilaterally independent of their actions—not people who are actual victims reacting or responding to the hardships they’re facing. People who play victim rather than actually being one are also notably vocal about it. They complain about their suffering frequently, but do not care for advice that may alleviate their pain. From my personal experience, people who play victim have an inflated sense of superiority and/or an overwhelming amount of self-pity. They believe they’re too good to cause issues, or they are unable to perceive themselves as anything other than a victim. 

Playing the victim can come with some major drawbacks. For one, the statistical chances of one person always being wronged and never being in the wrong is highly unlikely. There’s probably a disconnect between observable fact and what they argue is occurring, meaning it’s hard to reason with them by guiding them to solutions or by pointing out their problematic role in the situation. As a result, their growth is likely inhibited. If they’re unwilling to recognize their actions as a problem, they’re likely to run into the same dilemma again, yielding similar outcomes. Even though friendships aren’t perfect, clashes require fair solutions. Therefore, it can be difficult to justify staying friends with someone who refuses to acknowledge the hurt they’ve instigated as time progresses. 

So the big question remains of how to solve these types of situations. Unfortunately, you can’t make someone stop playing the victim, no matter how much you try. What you can do is determine how you want to handle your friendship with them. I propose a series of steps to consider when dealing with someone with a victim mentality. 

Step one is to identify the pattern. It’d be far from fair to accuse someone of constantly playing victim unless you see it recur with frequency. As established, sometimes it can feel as though the world is fighting against you. Instead of being antagonistic, give your friends leeway and pose potential solutions or alternative mindsets to help them. If you identify someone who appears to be playing the victim, double down on your efforts to pose solutions to get them through the situation. If they continually resist the help and become defensive, weigh your next steps. If someone with that mindset isn’t open to change, their actions can actively affect your well-being. Therefore, don’t feel obligated to continue fighting with them. The reality is some people play the victim to avoid responsibility. But that doesn’t mean they have to be above the consequences. If they continue to refuse to grow, it’s not outlandish for someone to decide that they aren’t able to deal with the drama involved. Watching someone play the victim can be difficult, especially when you don’t know if it’s an active choice or uncontrolled instinct. But you do know how it’s affecting you, and you can decide when you want to draw your boundaries.