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Breaking Free from Victim Mentality: How to Discover Choices and Get Freedom

Part 2 of 5: What Victim Mentality Is and How to Overcome It

If you have the mentality of victimhood, you likely got it from being victimized in some way. For me, it was from growing up with the dysfunction of my childhood. It wasn’t something egregious like being kidnapped; it was the continual drip-drip-drip of emotional invalidation and abandonment I experienced. When you internalize victim mentality, it permeates every area of your life and just about every decision you make.
There’s a difference between actually being victimized and internalizing the mindset of victimhood or victim mentality. This is not a value judgment. It’s a description of what happens to us and its effects. Below, I’ll share about how to get out of that mentality.
Even if you were egregiously victimized, you don’t necessarily internalize victim mentality. Two notable examples of people who were horribly victimized but didn’t take on victim mentality were Nelson Mandela and Victor Frankl. It didn’t define who they were.

Someone who has victim mentality is stuck in victimhood, it’s like an identity they’ve internalized. I know because I had victim mentality and didn’t realize it until I was in my 50s!! I didn't appear like, or act like the kind of person that you probably think of when you think of someone stuck in victimhood. The most telling sign of my victim mentality was that there were many areas of my life where I didn't recognize I had choices.

Here's why that matters: when you believe you have no choices, you will not see the choices available to you. You’ll truly believe, “I have no options.”

The choices you have available to you may all be shitty, but you still have choices. So often when we say, “I don't have a choice” what we really mean is that if we don’t do the thing that we feel is the only option then something bad will happen.
The belief that we have no choice can have far-reaching effects on the future. One of my clients was reflecting on when her children were little. She was divorced, had her own business, and worked constantly. She told me, “I worked constantly because I didn't have a choice.”

I challenged her on that. It may have felt like she didn’t have a choice back then, but she did. There may have been really shitty options to choose from, but she did have choices. While we were talking, I rattled off some choices she could have made. Mind you, I did this with no forethought:

  • close the business and work elsewhere
  • partner with someone else on her business
  • hire someone to grow the business to cover their salary and take over some of her responsibilities

Now, if I spent zero time thinking about it and came up with those options, imagine what she could have come up with back then if she’d put some time and effort into it. But she didn’t. Because that’s what victim mentality does to us - we devote ZERO time to thinking about other options.

That client grew up in a family that owned that same kind of business, so she watched her dad run his business and work constantly. This was modeled for her as “what you do” so she was taught, “There are no other options.”

It was bad enough that back then, she felt like she had no choice. But the fact is that now, decades later, she still feels that she didn't have any other choice but to work so much back then. That mentality is affecting her now and will continue to affect her future if she truly believes she had no other choices back then.

This is why I’m doing this series  - look at the untold years this woman spent believing she had no choice. And all the possibilities she could have created with her children if she’d spent more time with them when they were young.

Victims use language that implies no choice, (e.g., never, always, everyone). They think things like, “I will never be able to do to X” or “Bad things always happen to me” or “Everybody hates me.

So, how do you move past this mentality?

What we need when we have victim mentality is a new perspective, so start to actively look for choices. When you find yourself in a situation that feels like you have no choice, force yourself to brainstorm a bunch of options. Then evaluate the choices. You can also talk to others to get their perspective on the choices they suggest.

Even if you don’t choose any of those new options, there’s a relief, a freedom, that comes from having choices.  When we feel like we’re being forced to do something (i.e., have no choices) it can be very hard to take. But when you feel like you have a choice, it changes how you experience that thing.

One of the greatest freedoms of my recovery has been the freedom of choice. And for me, by far, the greatest is the freedom to choose what to think.

I choose to believe I have choices.

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