May 28, 2024 by Dymphna

T-Bomb: Why you can’t fix victims

Truth Bomb Tuesday: Time to stop banging your head against that wall

It took me a while to figure out how to work with people stuck in a victimhood mentality.

People would come to me looking to turn their financial life around, but life was always screwing them over. Ask them about how things are going, and you get a shopping list of people and inanimate objects who had treated them unfairly in the past week – their partners, their children, their boss, their car that keeps breaking down, the printer.

All these things had thrown them into pitiful helplessness.

My first instinct – which is always the first misplaced instinct for most people – is to try to help them with the specific problems.

“Tell me about your partner. Let me give you the number of a good mechanic. Let me take a look at your printer.”

But like a hydra, for every problem that was resolved, two would grow in its place. The bucket of problems was never ending.

And so my second misplaced instinct was to look at the mindset behind the posture of victimhood.

“Yes, you have some challenges, but your life is also full of blessings if you count them. And we all have challenges – it’s a choice to let them bring us down and make us feel helpless. You have so much more power than you currently allow.”

But this doesn’t work either. As sorry as they feel for themselves – and as much as they might say they want to change – they remain wedded to victimhood, and will affirm that victimhood narrative whenever they get the chance. They don’t really want to let it go.


Because victimhood is a survival strategy.

We all learn different survival strategies when we are younger – strategies that make us feel safe. For some it’s hyper self-reliance. For some its hyper-vigilance. For some its fawning and people pleasing.

And for others, it’s victimhood. It’s a posture of helplessness and an expectation that the world will step in and sort your problems out for you.

And it feels good, not because it always works, but because it allows you to refuse the burden of responsibility. “I can’t do anything about it, so I don’t have to do anything about it. Poor me.”

But the point is, if it has been adopted as a survival strategy, it becomes very hard to let go of because, well, it’s about survival now.

The survival strategies we adopt at a young age are how we feel safe in the world. Without them we feel very vulnerable.   

And so if you try to take away a victim’s victimhood (by fixing their problems or trying to shift their mindset), you’re taking away something that makes them feel safe, and the frightened mind will fight you hard on it.

All I think you can do is to help them see that this has become a default strategy (and there’s no shame here. You can’t blame a four year old for how they learnt to navigate the world), and then help them get ‘disenchanted’ with it as a strategy.

That is, help them see how it doesn’t truly serve them. Help them see how it’s holding them back.

And then, (and really this work should be done with the support of professional therapists), help them find new strategies for feeling safe.

They can’t ‘not’ feel safe. Nobody can. You can’t remove a strategy for safety without having something in its place.

So this is where the work is, and it’s more I can really cover in a blog.

But I guess the thing I want to highlight is that if someone has adopted victimhood as a survival strategy, all the problem solving in the world is not going to change that.

You’re beating your head against a wall.