For most of my adult life I lived in a city I hated. I created a range of psychological excuses as to why I had to stay there, the most prominent of which was, “I don’t have enough money to move.”
One day I spent a few hours catching up with an old friend. I told her my situation, and her immediate response was to shout at me: “What on Earth are you doing there?!” A friendly lecture ensued, in which she informed me that I was wasting away and there was no real reason I had to stay.
She was right. I realized later that I was stuck in a victim mindset. Things outside of my control “forced” me to stay in that town, whether it was money or relationships or minor health issues.
In reality, all of these things were totally within my realm of influence. I was simply afraid to take responsibility for my own life. It was much easier to say the rest of the world was the cause of my problems and I was the hapless victim.
The Victimhood Trap
There are certain social advantages to thinking of yourself as a victim. You can get addicted to getting sympathy from other people, for example. They won’t be so hard on you if you screw something up. After all, what kind of teacher would fail a student whose dog ate every piece of homework the entire semester? (Not a very competent one.)
This victim mindset doesn’t get you anything useful or lasting, though. It makes you dependent on other people for even the small victories in life. Over time this erodes your ability to accomplish things on your own, so you double down on the excuses just to get by.
Instead of taking responsibility or trying to improve your life, you take the easy way out. You dive deeper into your own psychology of excuses and rely on emotional manipulation to make it in the world. This is similar to passive-aggressive behavior, and both are harmful to ourselves and others.
A particular risk of the victim mindset is falling into the drama triangle. If you’re stuck in the drama triangle, you likely see yourself as either a victim, a rescuer or a persecutor. Perhaps you even move between these roles interchangeably. This pattern is as damaging as it is drama-filled. Check out the following video to see what I mean:
Excuses and Responsibility
A psychology dominated by excuse-making is one way the victim mindset can manifest in our lives. Another is the avoiding of responsibility. Both are linked to a way of thinking that says that life happens to us, we have no control over it, and the only way we can stay safe is to adopt a self-protective, defensive attitude.
Here are some examples of how the victim mindset might manifest in your life:
- I need to lose some weight. Too bad I can’t because of terrible genetics.
- There’s this business I would love to start, but I just don’t have the money.
- I keep getting sick because nobody washes their hands anymore.
You might see some of these and think, “Hey, can’t those be real reasons, too?” And yes, they certainly can. There’s a point where valid reasons turn into excuses, though, and this point is what defines the victim mindset.
You may actually have the genetic makeup that makes it harder to lose weight. That’s not a reason why you can’t shed a few pounds, though; it just means you have to try something different or maybe work harder at it than other people. Just because there’s an original cause of something doesn’t mean that cause extends indefinitely or to every area of life. And just because something might be harder for you than for others, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
The original reason I stayed in that city I hated was because I genuinely had no money. I had recently finished college and was just getting established in the job market — starting from scratch, as it were. I certainly couldn’t have moved then, but I really didn’t want to, either.
Fast forward nine years. Moving would have required that I examine my reasons for living there in the first place. I might have learned I had made a mistake, and I might have realized I was making excuses, which would make me feel sad. I didn’t want to feel sad, so instead, I made up another excuse.
The easy way out was to cling to my original reason instead of looking at the situation and deciding to take action. I needed to ditch the excuses, get rid of the external blame, and finally take responsibility for my life and my happiness.
Destroying the Psychology of Excuses
Remember that the victim mindset is just that: a mindset. It’s not a single moment of victimhood; it’s a state of mind that affects most of your decisions.
Making a single excuse doesn’t mean you’ve fallen into this mindset, but relying on those excuses as you move into the future does.
It can be difficult to recognize a victim mindset in yourself. We all fall into it from time to time. The key to breaking free isn’t necessarily just recognizing it, though; it’s about preventing it and dissolving it through responsible action.
If you suspect you’re clinging to excuses out of a victim mindset, ask yourself this question:
- Is it possible for me to change this situation?
Don’t ask if you’re capable of doing it, as that might trigger the victim mindset to generate an excuse. Instead, ask if it’s logically possible for you to change your situation. Only in a few rare circumstances will you be able to answer in the negative.
Is it logically possible for you to lose weight? Of course it is. It may not be easy or fun, but it’s possible. How about starting up that business? Yes, you can raise the money; just find a way. How about me moving from that city? Despite all of the excuses I made over the years, yes, it was always possible to leave.
Now take this and apply it to your own life. Are you refusing to take action because you think you’re a perennial victim? Are you backing away from a life well-lived because the world is out to get you? No matter what, I’m sure there’s a way out. And that way is entirely within your power.
Don’t confuse what’s easy with what’s possible. If you really want to do something you can make it happen. Obstacles will appear and failures will stand in the way, but they don’t control you, you’re not the victim. No, you’re the active, responsible, heroic person you’ve always imagined yourself to be.
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