I’ve observed many trends come into popular practice and go out of fashion since I began coaching people in the ‘90s. The seemingly endless fad I’ve noticed over the past couple decades or so has related to victimhood.
In particular, there appears to be a tendency of people claiming the label of victimhood in regards to virtually every imaginable event. The worker at a fast food drive-thru forgets your condiments? You’re a victim of capitalism.
A daydreaming male coworker stares in your direction for too long? You’re a victim of the male gaze. Someone in an online forum misgenders you? You’re not only a victim; you’re at risk of existential erasure!
While I realize that anecdotal evidence doesn’t in and of itself represent a legitimate cause for concern, I think the swing from the self-help movement of the ‘90s to victimhood of today may be worth examining.
It may be useful to explore what victimhood is, as I will briefly assess elements related to victims, how one becomes a victim, and what occurs when seeking sympathy for the status of victimization.
What is victimhood?
To begin my examination, I start by asking, “What is victimhood?” Victimhood has varying descriptions and meanings, depending on the person or source one uses.
For instance, Merriam-Webster defines victim as “one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent,” “one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions,” and, “one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment.”
Turning to the Cambridge Dictionary, victimhood is defined as “the condition of having been hurt, damaged, or made to suffer, especially when you want people to feel sorry for you because of this or use it as an excuse for something.”
Per my understanding, enduring an adverse event, sustaining injury, or being mistreated can result in one being a victim. On the other hand, using the condition of having been victimized to elicit sympathy relates to victimhood.
This seems simple enough. Still, I press further. As I’ve come to understand that some people prefer sciencey sources, I now turn to the Scientific American to expound upon victimhood. This source states:
“Based on clinical observations and research, the researchers found that the tendency for interpersonal victimhood consists of four main dimensions: (a) constantly seeking recognition for one’s victimhood, (b) moral elitism, (c) lack of empathy for the pain and suffering of others, and (d) frequently ruminating about past victimization.”
A reasonable synthesis of the definitions learned so far is that a person who endures mistreatment is a victim. Victimhood occurs when a person seeks sympathy for the status of being a victim. This process can then result in continual recognition-seeking behavior.
Not one to leave well enough alone, I pursue additional resources. I think it may be helpful to consider whether or not my synthesized understanding comports with what others suggest of victimhood. Per one source:
“Do you constantly feel as though you have no control over situations or that other people are out to get you? Or do you feel as though bad things keep happening to you no matter what you do? If you find yourself blaming other people for events or situations in your life, you may be struggling with what is known as a victim mentality.”
A separate source states of the victim mentality, “It can involve feeling like the world is out to get you or having difficulty taking personal responsibility for what happens in your life.” I take umbrage with misuse of the word “feeling,” though I understand it to mean thinking.
I’ve considered what it means to be a victim. I’ve also sought to understand what victimhood is. Now, I turn to what victimization is.
Per one source, victimization “refers to the outcome of an intentional action taken by a person to cause harm, exploit, or destroy another person's property.” A separate source states that victimization is “the process of being victimized, either from a physical or a psychological or a moral or a sexual point of view.”
It would appear as though anyone could be a victim at any point in life, though not everyone who is victimized develops a victim mentality or what is colloquially known as victimhood.
Observed trend related to victim status
Some people take issue with the term “victim.” Therefore, the terms “survivor” and “thriver” have begun being used. I found one source that clarifies each of these terms, as they relate to trauma, and I’ll add commentary to the lengthy citations.
Per the source:
“An individual in the victim stage feels as though he or she is still in the trauma—no matter how long ago the actual traumatic incident(s) occurred. The sense of being in that moment of time permeates the person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors and even his or her sense of self. It is common for an individual in this stage to avoid many emotions while experiencing in abundance feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, fragility, self-pity, numbness, defeat, shame, self-hatred, and discouragement.”
The difference from a victim in this scenario to the definitions I’ve referenced elsewhere in this post is that the component of trauma is said to play a causal role to the suffering. Something like experiencing a plane crash with a limited number of survivors comes to mind.
Using Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) I would work with a crash victim using both the ABC Model and unconditional acceptance. Still, it may be useful to know there are many different psychotherapeutic modalities that would address treatment of trauma differently.
According to the source:
“Once a person has grown through the victim stage, he or she enters into the survivor stage, which is the time when one begins to feel strong and confident and to truly believe that there are resources and choices. A key realization of this stage is that an individual has gotten through the trauma intact, or mostly intact, and is indeed outside of it. This understanding allows the person to begin integrating the trauma into his or her life story, to take control of life, and to recognize potential for change and growth.”
I would invite others to understand that when the source references a “victim stage,” there is no exact period of time this process covers. In fact, this is true of each of the stages referenced by the source.
Aside from this matter, the differentiation between victim and survivor in the source scenarios essentially relates to one’s perspective. The person who experiences a plane crash and subsequently starts to believe there is potential for healing is considered to be a survivor.
I imagine it would be quite difficult to have been stranded in the Andes as a result of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash. Each person affected by the event was a victim, though not all survived.
For what I suspect was a lengthy time following their rescue, those individuals who lived through the event probably had their identities closely associated with the crash. 50 years following their rescue some people only reductively remember that cannibalism occurred.
Nonetheless, 72 days after the crash, victims endured harsh conditions and I presume there was some hope for survival. Perhaps long after the rescue survivors did what was necessary to understand the event and take control over their lives despite the trauma.
The source continues:
“The thriver stage crystallizes the growth of the survivor stage and takes one’s healing to the point where he or she has general satisfaction with life as well as a sense that ordinary life is both interesting and enjoyable. Commitment to moving forward, to taking care of one’s physical health, to investing in one’s career, relationships, and love and life allow these gains to occur. On an emotional level, feelings of strength, empowerment, compassion, resilience, and self-determination eclipse the emotions experienced within the victim stage. In addition a renewed sense of joy, peace, and happiness arises because one has grown, despite the traumatic experience, and is living well.”
I’ve heard of the thriver stage that one is able to maintain an identity unrelated to trauma. A victim may say, “This happened to me and it’s awful!”
A survivor may say, “That happened to me, though I dealing with it.” A thriver may say, “Hi, my name is John Doe and I like fishing.”
In essence, the trauma isn’t a focal point of one’s life in the “thriver stage.” Personally, it makes no difference to me how one refers to oneself.
Likewise, I don’t maintain a conceptualized vision of stages associated with trauma. When working with client, I simply meet Joe Doe where he is mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally; and we go from there.
When we arrive at a future destination where John is ready to go it alone with the tools learned in our sessions and practiced outside of my presence, I encourage John to do his thing. If one chooses to call this a “survivor” or “thriver” stage, so be it.
To summarize my findings, a victim is virtually anyone who experiences mistreatment. Victimization is simply the act of being victimized. Victimhood results through recognition-seeking behavior.
I have no interest in telling people it’s good, bad, right, wrong, or otherwise to use victimhood as a strategy for garnering sympathy. Similarly, it’s not up to me to inform others about how they should, must, or ought to behave.
When working with clients who’ve experienced trauma—whether or not they consider themselves victims, survivors, or thrivers—I invite them to consider how victimhood behavior serves their goals or interests. In other words, is perpetual victimhood useful?
If a victim mentality isn’t appropriate, we can work to discover what may be more helpful or healthy. Using REBT, even if a fast food worker forgets the ketchup while piercing your soul with the male gaze and somehow manages to misgender you, you’ll be able to tolerate the event.
Would you like to know more about how not to fall for the allure of victimhood? Would you like to experience a higher level of functioning while improving your quality of life through self-empowerment?
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Different approaches to psychotherapy. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy/approaches
Blizard, S. (2015, December 28). The real victims of victimhood. Steve Blizard’s Blog. Retrieved from https://steveblizard.wordpress.com/2015/12/28/the-real-victims-of-victimhood/
Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). Victimhood. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/victimhood
Cuncic, A. (2021, May 28). What is a victim mentality? Verywell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-victim-mentality-5120615
Dillmann, S. M. (2011, January 7). From victim to survivor to thriver. GoodTherapy. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/victim-survivor-thriver-trauma-stages/
Enriquez, A. (2021, October 25). Q. How does fair use work for book covers, album covers, and movie posters? Penn State. Retrieved from https://psu.libanswers.com/faq/336502
Hollings, D. (2022, November 18). Big t, little t. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/big-t-little-t
Hollings, D. (2022, March 15). Disclaimer. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/disclaimer
Hollings, D. (n.d.). Hollings Therapy, LLC [Official website]. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/
Hollings, D. (2022, November 10). Labeling. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/labeling
Hollings, D. (2022, March 25). Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/rational-emotive-behavior-therapy-rebt
Hollings, D. (2022, October 7). Should, must, and ought. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/should-must-and-ought
Hollings, D. (2022, November 9). The ABC model. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/the-abc-model
Hollings, D. (2022, November 15). To don a hat. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/to-don-a-hat
Hollings, D. (2022, July 11). Unconditional acceptance. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/unconditional-acceptance
Kaufman, S. B. (2020, June 29). Unraveling the mindset of victimhood. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/unraveling-the-mindset-of-victimhood/
Langford, L. (2022, April 8). Victimization | Concept, cost, & examples. Study.com. Retrieved from https://study.com/learn/lesson/victimization-concept-cost-examples.html
Lebow, H. I. (2022, September 6). What are the signs of a victim mentality? Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/health/victim-mentality
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Victim. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/victim
Muratore, M. G. (2014). Victimization. In: Michalos, A.C. (eds) Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-Being Research. Springer, Dordrecht. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-94-007-0753-5_3156
Nash, S. (1999). The self help movement in the 1990s. Collective of Self Help Groups Victoria. Retrieved from https://www.coshg.org.au/resources/what-is-self-help/
Reyes, R. (2022, October 16). ‘They were the first organ donors’: ‘Alive’ survivors of Andes plane crash say they don't regret resorting to cannibalism as they meet in Uruguay on 50th anniversary of disaster - and reveal they got ‘used to’ eating human flesh. Daily Mail. Retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11320251/Alive-survivors-recall-struggle-survive-Andes-plane-crash-forced-cannibalism.html
Wiktionary. (n.d.). Sciencey. Retrieved from https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sciencey
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uruguayan_Air_Force_Flight_571