“You can either be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure. It all depends on how you view your life.”
Paulo Coelho (Author, The Alchemist)
“You cannot continue to victimize someone else just because you yourself were a victim once—there has to be a limit”
Edward W. Said (Professor and Author, Orientalism)
“Don’t let your struggle become your identity.”
Ralston Bowles (Songwriter, Carwreck Conversations)
I laid face down on the cold, hard table with my shirt off.
Ten people were circled around me.
I could feel the pressure of the gun against my lower back.
There’s something about having your first health crisis that makes you question the world.
It makes you question yourself too.
A handful of specialists just told me I developed a chronic kidney condition from stress.
They were going to have to do a biopsy.
You need a biopsy is a cute way of saying you’re about to be shot with a tiny gun that’s going to reach inside of you and pull out a chunk of one of your organs.
So there I was. Shirtless. Face down. A biopsy gun against my back. Terrified.
The next few months were awful. I slunk around at work and home telling people about what I was going through.
I had a lot of sympathetic phone conversations with people who really cared and told me that everything was going to be okay. These conversations were important and helpful …for a while.
Then they became a crutch.
I felt sorry for myself for so long and had so many boo hoo conversations that I started getting angry when other people didn’t feel sorry for me.
I started expecting people to treat me like a victim.
After all, I deserved it. I was a victim. I didn’t do anything to earn a disease—to have to go through dozens of painful and scary medical procedures. I didn’t ask for this.
A few people told me to buck up and get back to living my normal life. I hated them for it. “How dare you!” I thought. You have no idea what I’m going through.
Pity me damn it. Treat me like I’m special. Do what I say and what I want because I’m in pain.
It seems pathetic and shameful now but these are the actual thoughts that went through my head.
Finally, months later, I realized that my victim mentality wasn’t making me stronger.
It was making me weaker.
I also grew to respect the people who refuse to let me act like a sniveling baby.
I ended up thanking those who gave me a hard kick much more than those who tried to carry me.
Victim, Or Angry And Entitled?
Everyone is the victim of something. But not everyone chooses to behave with a victim mentality.
Those who do choose to be a victim, end up living angrier, more selfish, and more entitled lives than those who refuse to be a victim.
A Stanford University study reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that playing the victim leads to a sense of entitlement and to selfish behavior.
In one experiment, participants who were asked to remember a time when their lives were unfair were more likely to refuse helping someone complete a simple task than participants who were asked to recall a time when they were bored.
The same paper went on to review a collection of studies showing that all the things that make someone feel wronged, including disrespect, unequal treatment, disproportional income, diagnosis of a disease, and an unhappy childhood, make people feel more entitled to special treatment. And if they don’t get that special treatment—watch out.
They will lash out in anger, guilt you into obligation, and reverse bully you until you do what they want.
How To Deal With Toxic Victims
If someone starts playing the victim in your life, act quickly to diffuse the situation.
Listen to their problems—once.
Let them get it all out and externalize what just happened to them. This will help them process the situation.
Then, when they’re ready, turn their attention towards solutions. Work with them to create a positive vision for their future.
Help them focus on where they’re going to, not what they’re going through.
But, whatever you do, don’t empower their feelings of self-victimization. Don’t feed their problems with attention.
Let them externalize once, then cut them off.
Have a zero tolerance policy for self-pity.
Of course there are people with clinically diagnosed depression and other kinds of severe mental problems. I’m not talking about them.
I’m talking about your friends who get dumped and start blaming all of their problems on their “narcissistic” exes.
I’m talking about your colleagues who get fired and start wasting their time complaining about the bad economy or their “wrongful termination” instead of looking for a new job or starting a new business.
I’m talking about your relatives who get diagnosed with cancer and need you to kick them in the ass so they can get through chemo, not cry for them at night because it hurts you.
The hardest part of dealing with people who play the victim is the social pressure you’ll feel to let them play the victim.
You’ve been raised by society to encourage this kind of behavior. You’ve been told that letting people escape responsibility for overcoming the horrible things that can happen in life is a virtue.
This lie ends here.
From now on, when someone you know starts playing the victim, you’ll know exactly how to handle it. You’ll know how to either pull people who’ve become toxic victims back from the dark side, or how to cut them out of your life completely.
Here are 3 strategies for dealing with toxic people who always play the victim.
1. Don’t ignore the red flags.
Everyone shows warning signs of having a victim mentality before turning into a full-blown toxic person with a victim mentality.
They overreact to small daily obstacles. They blame you and the people around them for tiny setbacks in their day.
When something doesn’t go exactly to plan, they flip. Then they try to make you take responsibility for it.
Don’t make the mistake of glossing this over as just another bad day.
It’s a sign. Heed it. The worst thing you can do is continually ignore the fact that someone’s victim mentality is starting to negatively affect your life. Instead, take action.
Sit the other person down and talk to them directly. Work to fix the situation. Then, if they persist, cut them loose.
2. Keep your handouts to yourself.
Do nothing to empower other people’s victim mentality.
Never give value to people who have a record of using the value you give them in negative and unproductive ways.
Never give value to people who are going to use the value you give them as a crutch to continue to do nothing.
Instead, find a way to exchange value.
Find a way to make them take some kind of positive and productive action in order to get the value you’re offering.
Most importantly, exchange value in a way that shows them how to create value on their own.
Your end goal is to make them more self-reliant, not to make them rely on you more.
3. Refuse to put up with emotional blackmail.
People who are in the throws of playing the victim will blackmail you with your own emotions.
They will hold your guilt, your kindness, your time, your reputation, or your desire for their approval ransom until you give them what they want.
The only way to combat this is to never allow it.
Never negotiate with people who give you emotional ultimatums.
Refuse to change your behavior in any way for someone who attempts to force you into giving them your time, attention, or feelings.
Instead, put it back on them. Invite them to do whatever petty thing they’re going to do and then cut them out of your life forever.
In short, don’t worry about it.
You can find a way to use whatever they do to your advantage later because unlike them, you won’t wallow in it or waste time playing the victim.
And that’s the most important part of all of this—never play the victim in your own life.
Set a strong example by always accepting responsibility for your life. Your life is your fault. You may not be able to control everything that happens to you, but you can always control how you handle it. You don’t have to play the victim in your own life, nor do you have to suffer those who have a victim mentality.
If you do take responsibility for your life and if you pay attention to red flags, keep your handouts to yourself, and refuse to put up with emotional blackmail, you’ll keep toxic victims from negatively affecting your life. You’ll also help them stand on their own, which will help diffuse their victim-induced anger and sense of entitlement.
Check out my book of personal and professional advice, Black Hole Focus: How Intelligent People Create A Powerful Purpose For Their Lives.