“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams: who looks inside, awakens.” ~Carl Jung
Relationships should be a balance of independence and interdependence between a couple; one that fosters mature love. The problem is in reaching a place of autonomy while still being able to unconditionally rely on your partner — here is where the balancing act comes into play.
Too much independence, and you risk choosing yourself over the relationship; too much interdependence, and you risk losing yourself in the relationship.
On one hand, we don’t want to see whether our relationships are helping or hurting us because this requires us to look within and to be brutally honest with what we find. So, some choose to remain a creature of habit gravitating to what’s familiar, even if it’s keeping them chained to the same cycle by playing a victim of their own circumstances.
On the other hand, taking a leap of faith to step outside of your comfort zone in choosing healthier relationships and making psychologically and emotionally healthier choices for yourself can lead to feeling uncomfortable, anxious, unworthy, or triggering the old baggage you try to push away.
…which keeps you chained to a toxic, but familiar & viscous cycle.
We are hardwired to prefer what is comfortable and familiar over what is healthy; this is what keeps complacency and a victim mentality in play.
More often than not, “familiarity” is seen in the same habits and patterns that play out from one relationship to the next, often subtly at first, and gaining momentum as complacency kicks in, which locks the cycle into play.
The longer the subtleties are in play, the more overt they become. Here is where we can start feeling trapped by the very things that are “familiar”. What starts out as “comfortable” is what is actually lulling us into a false sense of security where complacency is hiding under the mask.
First, let me make this clear: anyone who has been victimized, my heart goes out to you and you’re not alone. We are heroes for our bravery and inner strength in conquering what we’ve been handed, by empowering ourselves for healthier, and in recognizing we deserve better. It’s not an easy road and growth is not for the weak.
Overcoming victimization requires a ridiculous amount of inner strength and self-awarenes in order to stop the codependency trap so no effort is wasted on trying to “save” those who don’t care about being saved. By choosing inner strength, we’re looking within ourselves and figuring out where our boundaries need tightening and why there’s a need to “rescue” others. And, more often than not, the answer is found in our earliest experiences.
Those who have a need to rescue or save others often battle codependency; building our inner strength is about stopping the cycle and overcoming that dependency.
Then, on the flipside, there’s those who have a victim mentality…
Those with a victim mentality covertly victimize others while playing a codependent “victim” — and sabotaging themselves in the process. The person who engages in a victim mentality is using others to be “rescued” or saved by them, so they can continue denying their own behavior that placed them in a “victim” mentality in the first place.
Here is where you see the same toxic habits and patterns repeating from one relationship to the next.
By projecting their behavior outward as other peoples’ fault, they’re dodging responsibility for their habits, which keeps them locked into playing a victim.
According to Carl Jung, here is where the ‘shadow’ resides — by projecting onto others what they are unwilling to face about themselves, they not only victimize their current target, they villainize others to keep themselves as playing the victim. As Jung suggests, it is too painful and shameful for the Ego to accept that it victimizes and villainizes others, so denial and projection “protect” the Ego, by playing a victim.
Those who use a victim mentality deny anything wrong with their behavior; they literally believe they’re the victim. It’s only until someone calls them out on their bullshit and refuses to continue being victimized that they will discard that relationship for a “fresh start” with someone new in order to keep their cycle in play.
For example, those who play a victim will often shower you with praise (i.e. lovebombing) for ‘rescuing’ them from being at a bad place in their life until they met you. You may be told stories of a horrible childhood while villainizing their family and exes, or how they had nothing but television and games to keep them company while their life fell apart.
So, it’s natural to want to offer them support or a hand up when hearing stories that tug on our heartstrings.
Offering a hand up is about pushing them to recognize that they’re better than childhood conditioning, toxic habits and unhealthy patterns that are keeping them chained to a victim mentality.
Offering a hand up is also about challenging them to recognize their own inner strength, to establish their own boundaries, and to respect our boundaries in not taking advantage of us.
Offering a hand out…keeps the game in play.
When it’s about a victim mentality, it’s about opportunism — using people to gain benefits or using others as the fall guy so they can sabotage themselves. If they’re looking at a relationship as an opportunity to numb or play a victim, they aren’t concerned about healing or growth, or a hand up.
They’re replaying the same lines on you that they played on others.
Going back to the television example above, if they’re telling you that the only entertainment they had was a television while they were at the lowest point in their life, you may be excited to introduce them to a world outside of Hallmark movies or videogames — such as hiking, travel, jujitsu, education, or conquering the world together while falling deeper in love — with the goal of helping them live, to recognize their value and to experience life.
When a person plays a victim, they don’t care if you tried to “save” them. Their goal is self-serving. It was never about love or being “saved”. They use people to get their own needs met…this identifies the core of narcissism.
While you likely had good intentions in trying to show them a life outside of chick flicks or video games, their next victim is buying them a television because they’re being told a different version of the same story.
Only this time their story pins you as the villain who wouldn’t let then watch television or relive what they’ve now spun into a ‘happy’ childhood from a horrible one.
Because having a victim mentality requires both a victim and a victimizer, enabling is also in play — where many times the actual victim is unaware they’re enabling the other person to continue victimizing them. For example, that same television the new victim bought may be used against them where the person playing a victim may tell others that they’re now being scolded for watching the T.V. that was bought for them.
It’s Not Love, It’s Manipulation
One of the bitterest pills for the actual victim (enabler) to accept is that they were fed lies, used and manipulated. Those who play a victim mentality often learned this mindset earlier in life as survival.
For example, if as a kid you see a family member playing a victim and they’re receiving benefits from it — bills are getting paid, “love” interests are showering them with gifts or praise, or they’re getting a handout from a local charity, then it can become a learned behavior.
What is taught…is learned.
Unfortunately, what’s not being taught is that this habit is toxic as fuck.
Adding another layer to the game is how “love” is used by those who play a victim, often sealing the deal.
For example, if you “save” them or help pull them out of a low point in their lives, then they see you as “loving” them which keeps them playing a victim to continue receiving your love — which in itself becomes a toxic cycle.
Many recycle the same agenda from one victim to the next where they look to be “saved” or “rescued” from a horrible experience (that they usually caused themselves).
If you don’t “save” them, then you’re seen as “all bad” and unworthy of their time or “love”. If you do “rescue” them, it kicks a cycle into gear where the real victim is enabling a toxic cycle.
When “love” is about playing a victim to manipulate, gain sympathy, attention, to get back at an ex or family member, or to get what they want out of someone — it’s victimizing the other person.
And, it’s about using love to get their needs met.
But, it’s not love.
The Victim Mentality Prevents Growth
Harsh truth #1: it’s easier to play a victim than to look within and examine the parts of themselves that keep them chained to a victim mentality.
Harsh truth #2: those who choose a victim mentality are abusing themselves by refusing to stop a toxic cycle, often sabotaging themselves worse than those they victimize and villainize.
Harsh truth #3: a victim mentality is a behavior learned earlier in life where at one time (often in childhood) they were usually victimized themselves.
Harsh truth #4: the cycle of victim mentality is often the cycle of abused → abuser in action. There has to be both a “victim” and an enabler (the actual victim) to keep the cycle alive. It’s not uncommon for the “victim mentality” to have once been a victim, usually in childhood.
The fact is, if we grew up in a toxic environment, then toxic will feel familiar — even comfortable.
Sure, we may want to step outside of complacency, but with stepping outside of what’s familiar, comes growth, and with growth comes responsibility.
You Can’t Change Them
And most won’t change themselves. Ironically, or not, the same things they’re pointing fingers at others about or claiming they hate about their family, are often the same things they’re doing.
Accepting that this type of cycle is in play is a brutal kick to the Ego because they’re now presented with two choices: do something to heal themselves or do something to keep the cycle in play.
By choosing to heal themselves, it’s about digging really deep — unboxing childhood pain, family skeletons and toxic shame. It’s about being honest and comfortable enough with you, to be vulnerable that they’re not going to be judged, that their choices and habits may be screwed up, that they may be screwed up (who’s not), and that they’re willing to take the long, sometimes painful, and always empowering road to growth.
These actions require a ridiculous amount of inner strength to arrive at this place of wanting help and recognizing that they’re worthy of happiness and the chance of learning about authentic love, too.
Unfortunately, more common is simply discarding one relationship for another to keep the victim mentality and the cycle in play.
But…you can’t change them.
You can however, use this experience to empower yourself for growth. There’s truth to the research that suggests those who use a “victim mentality” often look for a specific victim to unload their agenda onto, which typically repeats from one relationship to their next.
By empowering yourself, you’re taking the steps in learning what draws that type of person to kindhearted and empathetic people. By empowering yourself, you’re learning how to tighten your boundaries so you can walk away accepting that you can’t change them, that they may not want to change themselves….
….and that you’re value is much higher than to settle for that kind of pain.
Hymer, S. M. (2004). The imprisoned self. Psychoanalytic Review, 91(5), 683 - 697.
Jung, C. G. (1969). Four archetypes: Mother, rebirth, spirit, trickster. Princeton: University Press.
Kohut, H., Goldberg, A., & Stepansky, P. E. (1984). How does analysis cure? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.