Connor walked into the kitchen where his mother was making supper. She turned from the boiling potatoes on the stove and looked at him with concern.
“I got an email from your English teacher today,” she said with a tone of irritation. “She said you are getting a D in her class because you haven’t turned in four assignments and are not paying attention. She asked me to give her a call.”
Connor looked at her for a second. “I thought I turned everything in. She must’ve lost those assignments. Besides, some of them are really stupid.”
“Yeah, she isn’t organized. She doesn’t tell us what’s expected or how to do it.” He paused. “She just contacted you today? The quarter is almost over!”
“Well, I’m not happy. You sure you turned them in? I don’t know why she didn’t notify me sooner. This is awfully late. How can you get all this done now?”
“Yeah. Besides, she doesn’t like me. She plays favorites.”
Teachers shake their heads at the excuses students make for their performance in school, and why some parents are so willing to accept their stories. Unfortunately, these narratives occur more frequently today than teachers and parents like. The “it’s not my fault” attitude may imply something more serious if it is occurring regularly.
This behavior exists at home and school, and certainly in the workplace. We hear it in our communication. Listen to children: “the milk spilled”, “the toy broke”, and, especially if there are brothers or sisters at home, “he/she made me do it.” Young children say these things to avoid discipline.
Older students’ language also betrays an attitude geared to deflecting responsibility. How often do we hear: “the class is boring!”, “my teacher just criticizes me”, “they are biased”, “the situation is rigged”, “no one cares about what I think”, “or “the teacher plays favorites”.
Generally these responses carry one of three themes. One is a victim story: I am innocent and I am not at fault for what happened. The second line is “it is all your fault”: I am innocent at the hands of a villain or perpetrator. Or, the third storyline: I am helpless and there is nothing I could do. I have no options are alternatives to the action.
People become frustrated with individuals with a victim mentality and the non-productive and aggravating drama they create. These conversations are filled with stories of blaming someone else for their state of affairs.
Self-identified victims play the ‘poor me’ card and never feel answerable for their situations or behavior. They always expect the worst. Conversations are centered on the unfairness of their problems and the people who are to blame. The implication always is that they were not in any way culpable for the situation and were powerless to address them.
Victim mentality is a self-defeating quality. The upshot of this attitude is giving up, asserting that actions are futile, and believing that, as victims, they are not able or simply not willing to put forth effort. Doing nothing is a pattern that becomes inappropriately passive-aggressive causing events to be exacerbated and spiral out of control. This mentality moves the locus of control of their life from internal to external — outside of their sphere and not within their influence.
Unconditional blamers relinquish credibility over time. Self-defined victims try to hide under a veil of innocence and eventually lose trustworthiness and authenticity. For children in a social context, this can be severely destructive, just as it is immensely destructive in the adult workplace.
This passive-aggressive position makes them bystanders in life and events. Sitting on the sidelines, they criticize, second-guess or condemn those who are actively involved. Life is not always easy: difficulties are inevitable. But people have the freedom to act responsibly and manage their lives or they can choose to become a victim, which exacerbates a bad situation. Finding comfort in victimhood and carping and complaining is resignation to a life empty of satisfaction.
Fred Kofman in his book Conscious Business asserts that blamers think their behavior protects their self-esteem and innocence. “We have the ability to respond to our circumstances and influence how they affect us. In contrast, the unconditional blamer defines his victim-identity by his helplessness, disowning any power to manage his life and assigning causality only to that which is beyond his control. Unconditional blamers believe that their problems are always someone else’s fault, and that there’s nothing they could have done to prevent them.”
Pity and sympathy for the victim creates a sense of validation and results in a continuation of that behavior. Shifting a sense of misery onto others may feel cathartic at first, but it is also destructive to relationships, and generates more difficult conditions and destroys growth and ambitions.
Victim mentality is a result of ‘learned helplessness,’ which is disempowering. Everyone, from time-to-time, has uncomfortable feelings about their abilities. The stigma of failure and shirking responsibility prevents the opportunity to learn and improve.
On a broader sense, Norman Cousins stated, “The enemy is a man who not only believes in his own helplessness but actually worships it. His main article of faith is that there are mammoth forces at work, which the individual cannot possibly comprehend, much less alter or direct. And so he expends vast energies in attempting to convince other people that there is nothing they can do. He is an enemy because of the proximity of helplessness to hopelessness.”
Children have to learn that they are response-able and not engage in self-destructive behavior. They need to perceive the world around them, understand situations, and learn how to manage circumstances so they behave in ways that ensure they meet their needs and goals. The ‘poor me’ victim attitude is a recipe for failure.
Victim mentality impedes self-discovery, continued learning, and mature adaptation to life. Facing reality and making choices requires courage and character, essential for children to meet their potential and find meaning in their individual lives.