Victim Mentality Revisited

What is a “victim mentality”? I have heard many people throw this term around loosely and there are all sorts of definitions floating around.

Some say that a victim mentality is one where you say that the abuse you suffered has affected your life and you have to go through a healing process to overcome the results of it. This is not a true definition of a victim mentality. Anyone who has not been through abuse can easily sit on the sideline and say, “Well, abuse may have happened to you, but suck it up and get over it!” They have no mercy or compassion of the true pain that the person is feeling. These types often say the wounded person has a “victim mentality”, perhaps to avoid the sadness that the truth brings. No, my friend, this is not a victim mentality.

Abuse hurts. It wounds. It cripples. It leaves scars that may never fully go away. A person who has experienced abuse, especially from someone who had authority over them, will have scars, wounds, and emotional hurdles to overcome. It takes a long time to heal, and there is no clock that can say when the person has had enough time to heal. It depends on the scars, the person’s emotional makeup and personality to begin with, as well as who did the abusing, and what type of abuse it was. It is healthy for a person to acknowledge these scars and pain, because that is the first step to healing.
Others say that a “victim mentality” is a thought process where the abused individual focuses on trying to go to counseling, psychiatrists, gets labeled with a mental disorder, or takes medications. This is not a victim mentality. The person who does these things is honestly seeking healing. While labels and medication cannot heal a person, they are sometimes a step along the path to the healing process.

Many people do not understand that there are actual physical changes in the brain that happen when a person is subjected to abuse, especially for prolonged periods of time. Stress hormones are made by the body normally, but in cases where the person has to live with constant threats, the hormones are created in abundance that is far above normal. Once the person is removed from the crisis, the body continues to make these hormones. Different areas of the brain are enlarged or shrunken, from living in these unhealthy atmospheres. Because the purpose of this page is not to be medically accurate, I will not go into all the details, but you can study them for yourself. The point is, a person sometimes needs help to recover. That help often comes in the form of medications, therapies, and counseling. No one who is seeking help in this fashion is actively displaying a victim mentality by seeking help.
Still others claim that a “victim mentality” is in place when a person in authority uses a more gentle or researched approach to dealing with people who have experienced abuse. This is not a victim mentality. It is true and needful for people who have suffered through abuse to be in an atmosphere that is safe and healthy. In this new atmosphere, they can learn to be more healthy themselves, and to grow and learn proper relationships.  They can try new coping methods, and fail in a safe environment where the stakes are not life threatening.  Authority figures who refuse to be gentle with these people, and instead insist on a tough approach, often stifle their growth and healing. These leaders actually become unsafe for the recovering person, because they are more interested in proving a point than in the person’s healing and growth.

Unfortunately, many environments are not safe and healthy for people who have suffered abuse. There are many people who are in some position of authority who do not have either the education or the will to learn about properly dealing with people in general. Thus, they become power hungry, controlling, and sometimes even abusive in their leadership roles. If you have been abused, you should avoid these environments as much as possible.
A true “victim mentality” is when a person (whether having been abused or not) has the feeling that they cannot change and that they are doomed to always be the same, so they do not try to overcome the scars. In these cases, everything that happens to them in life is entirely someone else’s fault. (That is not to say that a healthy person without a victim mentality might sometime see another’s guilt in a conflict). However, where a healthy person can see that they have been wronged, and can admit they themselves have also reacted wrongly at times, a person who truly has a victim mentality will blame EVERYTHING on others and take NONE of the blame, habitually.  This is not only in reference to the initial abuse, but in everyday life happenings.
Those who are against psychology often use the argument that the counselors promote a “victim mentality.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Most counselors are very watchful of clients who truly have a victim mentality. These people come and talk about conflicts or other situations and NEVER take ANY of the blame. They do not hold themselves responsible for anything. The counselor will usually work with that individual until he or she comes to a place where they can first share their feelings and explain why they behaved the way they did, and then eventually come to be able to state that they personally are responsible for their own reactions to situations.

While you should NOT have a victim mentality, neither should you allow yourself to remain in an environment where you are made to feel guilty for taking steps to heal from the abuse you have suffered. You should not allow anyone to convince you that seeking help is equivalent to having a victim mentality.
If you are bleeding heavily from a wound,  and you insist that you are okay and you continue to fight or drive or whatever it is you are doing, without receiving medical attention, you will die. You may reach into your first aid kit and put a bandaid over the wound, but it is not enough, and you will surely die.
The same is true for emotional wounds. You will experience an emotional death if you do not acknowledge that you have been wounded and seek professional skilled help to recover from the wound. Just as it is not always pleasant to have the doctor poking and proding a bullet out of you, sewing you up, or medicating you for a physical wound, it is not always pleasant to go through counseling, to see a psychiatrist, or have to take medication. However, if you become a healthy individual because of it, it is worth the trouble.

While I am a firm advocate of the healing power of Jesus Christ, over every wound, I also acknowledge that He has given us skilled physicians and he sometimes chooses to use their hands to heal us.  The same is true for psychological wounds.  Though the power of the Holy Ghost is able to instantly heal our wounds, sometimes God chooses to use professionals to facilitate that healing.

Most people would not think of looking at a gunshot wound and insisting the person not seek medical help, but only pray for healing.  Yet, often good churches with sincere people in them will insist that those suffering from psychological wounds just “give it to God” and let Him heal them, while demonizing psychological help.  Just because the wound is invisible to the human eye does not mean that it is not fatal.  I believe that a person recovering from abuse absolutely must have God’s healing hand involved to truly recover fully, but I also believe that God uses professionals to aid in that recovery.  When anyone minimizes the seriousness of these wounds, giving you a pat on the back and a memorized answer to just “yeild to God”, beware of that person’s advice.
The first step to healing is admitting that you have a deep wound and you need help. This is NOT equivalent with a victim mentality!
It is healthy for a person who has been abused to understand that he or she has been abused, to seek help with emotional scars and pain from that abuse, and to acknowledge that they need to be in a safe environment where they can be treated with respect, grace and compassion.
It is unhealthy for an abused person to continue to seek out abusers and abusive environments in which to exist. It is unhealthy when an abused person always blames everyone else for his or her problems instead of realizing that he or she has the power to do something to change the situation. This is a true victim mentality.