Victim psychology is a frequently heard term in modern discussions of mental health. The term generally refers not to a person who is the victim of a terrible act, such as a natural disaster, but rather to someone who avoids personal responsibility or bad feelings by blaming others. Many therapists and mental health professionals see victim psychology as a destructive mechanism that can inhibit personal relationships and a happy life.
The psychological journey of a person prone to victimized thinking is complex, and may begin in early childhood. Some people who have abusive or highly critical parents develop strong feelings of shame and guilt in early life. If these problems are not dealt with and managed, it is easy for them to be carried into adulthood and manifest as a victim psychology; rather than deal with the shame or guilt that reminds them of past trauma, a person thinking like a victim will blame others for the situation.
A person displaying victim psychology may be obsessed with fairness or morality. Generally, he or she believes that good things that occur are deserved, and bad things that occur are because someone else is being cruel, thoughtless, or unfair. It is difficult for a person with victim mentality to take responsibility for his or her part in a problem, because that may leave him or her vulnerable to the painful feelings of shame, guilt, or fear of rejection for being wrong. While the behavior of a person with victim mentality may seem illogically selfish or narcissistic, it is important to bear in mind that it is actually an unfortunate and often unhealthy reaction to traumatic pain, not necessarily an inherent arrogance.
Like a deer in the headlights, victim psychology can paralyze a person and prevent him or her from making logical decisions. Being so caught up in how unfair a situation is, a person may be unable to think of ways or actions that could solve the problem. Instead of determining how to fix an issue, arguments or problems can quickly dissolve into accusations of blame, which is generally helpful to no one.
Dysfunctional relationships can cause a tendency toward victim psychology, even without an early trauma of affections. A person in a relationship with an alcoholic partner has a legitimate complaint against the addiction, yet may instead begin to use the addiction as a means of justifying his or her own passivity or actions. For instance, if the spouse of an addict began having affairs and blaming them on his or her partner's refusal to stay clean, this is an example of victim psychology. Even in a situation where there is a legitimate complaint, a person is responsible for his or her own actions.
Therapy for a person caught in victim psychology can take many forms. Generally, the person must confront the underlying feelings of shame, guilt, and poor self-esteem in order to recognize the problem. The work then becomes in learning to accept responsibility for personal actions and feelings, and channeling efforts into taking action rather than assigning blame.