How to Deal with Someone Who Plays the Victim?

Last Updated on September 20, 2021 by Alexander Burgemeester

Have you ever met someone that’s always down on their luck? Do they complain that they’re under-appreciated and overlooked? Do you feel like they’ve brought at least some of these misfortunes on themselves? You’ve likely encountered someone with a victim mentality.

Dealing with someone who plays the victim is taxing, to say the least. Not only are they brimming with negativity, but there’s always something new that they need to rant about or ask for your help with.

In their mind, nothing is ever their fault, even though the same problems keep coming up again and again. You know they’ll never take responsibility and you’ll be hearing about the same problem arising very soon. So how to deal with someone who plays the victim ALL THE TIME?

It’s a one-way relationship in which you’re always giving more and getting very little in return. 

Why Would Someone Play the Victim?

It’s something we all do from time to time. None of us are perfect in taking responsibility for our actions, and it can feel good to think that our problems are due to outside forces instead of arising from within us.

It’s only when this becomes a habit, a way of dealing with every slight in life, that someone develops a victim mentality.

Is Victim Mentality a Mental Illness?

It’s fairly easy to identify someone as playing the victim, but much harder to understand why they’re doing it.

Many of us have a tendency to label any undesirable behavior as a mental illness, but since we all play the victim at some point, it’s not so clear when doing so would become a disorder.

Playing the victim doesn’t have its own DSM category, so it’s not a mental illness per se. However, someone who always plays the victim may have a separate disorder that the victim mentality is a symptom of. 

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What Personality Disorder Plays the Victim?

A victim mentality is more of a symptom than a diagnosis and is often a sign of an overarching personality disorder. It can also be a reaction to certain life events.

In either case, someone with a victim mentality can benefit from working with a licensed therapist. Not only can they work to curb the behaviors of a victim mentality, but can also suss out the root cause that leads to it in the first place.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

We usually think of narcissists as powerful people that wouldn’t be anyone’s victim, but there a several different types of narcissism and it can’t manage in a myriad of ways.

Vulnerable narcissists are the complete opposite of what we’d normally think of as a narcissistic personality, coming offer as rather shy.

They crave attention and are always telling people that they’re under-appreciated. A vulnerable narcissist is someone who always plays the victim.

Borderline Personality Disorder

It’s one of the most difficult to diagnose mental illnesses, as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can have a wide range of symptoms.

Some of the more common symptoms include impulsive risk taking, highly-variable moods, anger, depression, and anxiety.

However, feelings of powerlessness and an external loci of control are two of the defining ones, and both can cause a victim mentality. BPD is best treated as a whole though, instead of focusing on just one symptom.

Abuse Survivors

Instead of asking “why do people play the victim”, figure out how this person might have been victimized in the past.

More often than not, those with a victim personality have experienced severe trauma, whether it be physical, sexual, or emotional.

If that trauma isn’t fully dealt with, the person is likely to see everyone as a potential abuser that’s out to destroy them.

Codependents

Someone that is codependent sacrifices everything for the benefit of their partner/friend/relative.

That kind of sacrifice seems noble on its face, but it leaves them unable to regulate their own emotions; their happiness only comes from their codependent partner’s happiness.

This creates a dynamic of learned helplessness, where their emotions are entirely regulated by their partner. 

How Can You Tell If Someone is Playing the Victim?

They Don’t Trust Anyone

A lack of trust is a tell-tale sign of someone who always plays the victim. In their world, everyone is out to hurt them, but pushing people away has its own set of consequences.

Without anyone to confide in or ask for help, they’re likely to become even more bitter and distrustful. 

They Can’t Make Their Own Decisions

Someone with a victim mentality can avoid taking responsibility by putting their decision-making power in someone else’s hands. Rather than asking for advice, they want someone else to tell them what to do.

When things don’t work out, they can blame that person instead of themselves.

They’re Never Progressing in Life

People that are always playing the victim often have a form of learned helplessness, believing that external factors are always dictating their life, rather than their own actions.

They’re also dismissive when presented with solutions to their problems, preferring to shift the blame to others instead of taking responsibility for their situation in life. 

They Hold on to Past

Have you ever known someone that complains about a minor slight that happened to them months or even years ago?

Those with a victim mindset catalog these events and trot them out whenever they need to put someone down or show how the world is consistently wronging them.

These grudges create a mythology for their life, where they are always doing the right thing and everyone else is out to harm them. 

They’re Incredibly Argumentative

Most of us know when it will be useful to argue with someone. If there’s no chance the other person will change their mind, why even bother?

If someone has a victim mentality though, an argument isn’t a means to an end, it’s the primary goal. It’s a chance to dwell on their own misfortunes and blame others for them. 

They’re Self Destructive

Having your perceptions validating, even when those perceptions are negative ones about yourself, can be very satisfying.

If someone feels the world is victimizing them, they’ll put themselves in situations where that is more likely. This downward spiral of self-destructive behaviors can be incredibly harmful to their health and their relationships with others.

They Have Very High Self-Esteem

It’s counter-intuitive that someone who is always playing the victim would think highly of themselves since all they ever talk about is how awful the world has treated them.

In their mind though, they don’t make mistakes and never get the credit they deserve. This doesn’t apply to everyone that plays the victim either; someone that’s experienced extreme trauma is much less likely to have high self-esteem compared to a narcissist with a victim mentality. 

How Do You Help Someone in a Victim Mentality?

Breaking through to someone that’s playing the victim can be a colossal undertaking; their knee-jerk response is to blame everyone around them, which makes it very difficult to help them see how they are their own worst enemy.

To maintain a relationship with this person, you’ll need to learn how to deal with someone who plays the victim, and it is possible with some gentle nudging and a kind heart.

10 Ways to Deal with Someone Who Always Plays the Victim

Figuring out how to handle a victim’s personality is tough, it’s a delicate balance of empathy for them and a healthy amount of self-compassion for yourself.

They’re hurting, which can make you might think that their mental well-being trumps yours, but you can’t help them until you’ve helped yourself.

These are some of the best ways to improve your relationship with someone who has a victim personality while helping them help themselves.

#1 Take It Slow

Someone with victim syndrome feels that they’re constantly under attack. If all of a sudden you treat them differently, they’ll react with fear and anger.

To maintain their trust, take it slow and make gradual changes in your approach to them.

#2 Maintain Your Boundaries

You may not be able to change their victim mentality, but you can change how they treat you. Be there for them when they need someone to rant to, but for your own sanity, limit their access to you.

Setting boundaries let them know that you won’t always answer their text one minute after receiving it.

#3 Help Them Share Their Feelings

When someone is ranting, they’ll usually say what everyone around them has done wrong. What they won’t say is how everyone’s actions made them feel.

Redirect the conversation, ask questions, and help them express those feelings. It’ll feel much better than blaming everyone for their problems.

#4 Don’t Question Their Feelings 

It doesn’t matter whether their feelings are justified by the situation, this is how they feel. Later on, you can discuss the problems that caused these feelings, right now you want to make them feel validated.

#5 Don’t Validate the Victim Mentality

You can validate the feelings without encouraging the victim mentality. Focus the conversation on expressing feelings instead of letting them justify them.

It’s a difficult line to walk and is where so many interactions with someone that’s playing the victim can go wrong.

#6 Never Apologize for What is Not Your Fault 

Obviously, if you’ve done wrong, you should apologize, but some people apologize out of habit or just to make others feel more comfortable.

People with a victim mentality love this, and if they can, will surround themselves with habitual apologizers.

#7 Help Them See Where Things Went Wrong

This is one of the more difficult steps for how to handle a victim personality. You need to discuss what they’re doing wrong that’s leading to all of their problems.

It’s hard for them to accept responsibility and you’ll need to be gentle in how you bring it up. Be indirect if you can, asking questions like “has this problem come up with other people too?”

Help them see that they are the common denominator in these situations.

#8 Acknowledge Their Past

Their mental health issues didn’t appear out of thin air, there’s likely serious trauma in their past.

If you’re familiar with their past pain and it seems to be related to the events at hand, let them know that you understand why they might feel like the victim.

#9 Don’t Forget About Self Care

One of the worst things you can do is lose yourself in someone else’s victim mentality. You need to have other connections, people who aren’t involved with the victim personality, people that can pull you back to the real world.

Make time for yourself, think about how you’re feeling, and what you need to stay sane. Don’t let the victim mentality dominate your life.

#10 Evaluate the Relationship

Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is cut ties with the victim mentality. They may not be ready to change and if everything you do just reinforces their victimhood, the relationship isn’t helping them either.

This doesn’t mean you need to have a grand breakup (unless you’re in a romantic relationship with the victim mentality), simply limit your time and conversations with them.

Eventually, they’ll find someone else to reinforce their victim mindset.

FInal Thoughts

Playing the victim is a common coping strategy that most of use occasionally. It lets us deflect blame away from ourselves and maintain our self-esteem.

However, it becomes a problem when it’s someone’s only way of coping with negative life events. This is common after severe trauma and with certain personality disorders. 

Dealing with a person that’s always playing the victim can be difficult as they project their own negativity onto everyone around them.

Though with clear boundaries and gentle encouragement to take responsibility for their actions, you can help a friend, relative, or colleague to stop playing the victim.

Written by Alexander Burgemeester on

Alexander Burgemeester has a Master in Neuropsychology. He studied at the University of Amsterdam and has a bachelor's in Clinical Psychology. Want to know more? Read my author bio page.

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