Dr Judith Orloff's Blog

How to Deal with a Victim Mentality

Judith Orloff - Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s NY Times bestseller, “Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life” (Three Rivers Press, 2011)

As a psychiatrist I teach my patients the importance of learning how to deal effectively with draining people. In “Emotional Freedom”, I discuss one of these types which I call “The Victim Mentality.”

The victim grates on you with a poor-me attitude, and is allergic to taking responsibility for their actions. People are always against them, the reason for their unhappiness. They portray themselves as unfortunates who demand rescuing, and they will make you into their therapist. As a friend, you want to help, but you become overwhelmed by their endless tales of woe: A boyfriend stormed out…again; a mother doesn’t understand; a diva-boss was ungrateful. When you suggest how to put an end to the pity party, they’ll say, “Yes…but,” then launch into more unsolvable gripes. These vampires may be so clingy they stick to you like flypaper.


If you typically get drawn into fixing other people’s problems, chances are, you’ve attracted numerous victims into your life. To identify if you are in relationship with a victim mark Yes or No to the following characteristics:

  • Is there anyone in your life who often appears inconsolably oppressed or depressed? Yes/No
  • Are you burned out by their neediness? Yes/No
  • Do these people always blame “bad luck” or the unfairness of others for their problems? Yes/No
  • Do you screen your calls or say you’re busy in order to dodge their litany of complaints? Yes/No
  • Does their unrelenting negativity compromise your positive attitude? Yes/No
  • Give each “Yes” response one point and count your score. If your score is three or more then you are probably in relationship with at victim. Interacting with this type of person can cause you to be irritated or drained and will make you want to avoid them.

    Strategies to Deal with a Victim Mentality:

    Set Limits with an Iron Hand and a Velvet Glove
    I love what Mahatma Gandhi says: “A 'No' uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or, what is worse, to avoid trouble.” Kind but firm limit setting is healthy. People must take responsibility for their own lives. You’re not in the business of fixing anyone. Enabling always backfires. Without limits, a relationship isn’t on equal ground; and no one wins. You might well feel, “I’m sick and tired of your complaints.” But instead, using a more measured tone, here’s how to address some common situations.

    Use these methods to deter victims

  • With a friend or relative
    Smile and say kindly, “Our relationship is important to me, but it’s not helpful to keep feeling sorry for yourself. I can only listen for five minutes unless you’re ready to discuss solutions.” Get ready to be guilt-tripped. If the victim, irate, comes back with, “What kind of friend are you?” don’t succumb to that ploy. Just reply, “I’m a great friend and I love you, but this is all I can offer.”

  • With a coworker
    Sincerely respond, “I’m really sorry that’s happening to you.” Then, after listening briefly, smile and say, “I’ll keep good thoughts for things to work out. I hope you understand, I’m on deadline and I must return to work.” Simultaneously employ this-isn’t-a-good-time body language--crossing your arms, breaking eye contact, or even turning your back. The less you engage this victim, the better. (Studies reveal that most workers can barely focus for eleven minutes without being disturbed by an office mate!)

  • With yourself
    The way I snap out of victim mentality is by remembering how blessed my life is compared with much of our global family. I’m not fighting to survive genocide, poverty, or daily street violence from an insurgency militia. I have the luxury to feel lonely when I’m without a romantic partner or to get irked by an annoying person. I have the gift of time to surmount negative emotions. Seeing things this way stops me from wallowing, an imprisoning indulgence. So, when you think you’re having a bad day, try to keep this kind of perspective.
  • Whether you’re confronting a drainer or transforming your own negativity, being empathic is vital. Elevating you to the realm of the heart, empathy allows you to non-defensively understand, even have mercy on antagonizers. Also, you’ll better intuit the feelings behind someone’s words. If a friend complains that you’re being selfish, the deeper meaning could be, “I’m hurt because we’re not spending enough time together.” With empathy, you’re privy to hidden motives. Seeing people’s frailties with compassion doesn’t make you a door mat. Though you may not choose to subject yourself to them, you need not hold this suffering against them. Labeling someone “the enemy” is a spiritual wrong turn.


    Judith Orloff, MD is author of The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, upon which her articles are based. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. She is a New York Times best-selling author of Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing. Connect with Judith on  Facebook and  Twitter. To learn more about empaths and her free empath support newsletter as well as Dr. Orloff's books and workshop schedule, visit her website.

    Betsy commented on 13-Sep-2012 12:17 PM
    I seem to be surrounded by either victims or the people who enable victims and get angry because they can't say no. It's so draining. I have culled as many of them from my life as possible but the ones left are family so I can't totally eliminate them.
    I am also a people pleaser and am trying to change that. When I do anything for just me I'm called selfish. Doesn't matter that I gave everything g I could to them and just think at62 it's my turn.
    Lisa Lyle commented on 13-Sep-2012 01:35 PM
    The perfect time to receive this in my inbox! I just got "dumped" by my victim friend of 12 years. We had an incident months ago and I was not ready to talk to her about it. She kept trying to push her way back into my life by inviting herself over, leaving
    "gifts" at my house etc. When I finally confronted her and told her I was still not ready to receive her back as we had many issues to talk about she played the "poor me" person, left and facebooked me to say our relationship was over and she was very disappointed
    at how I treated her. It's interesting that I had the realization that she reminded me so much of my father when he was in his drinking years. Even after 29 years of sobriety there were behaviours that did not disappear and my friend exhibits many of them.
    I do feel that she has a severe drinking problem and it affects how I deal with her. I initially just told her that I could not support her destructive behaviour (she is also a compulsive eater and morbidly obese) and that I was going to step back so she could
    focus on her healing (I also did not want to be that close to the situation any longer). I have stood my ground and will have to continue to do so and hope that my friend finds help. I reassured her that she was a good person and deserved more but I could
    not help her with that part of her healing, she would have to believe it for herself. Thanks for the well timed article that reassured me I am doing the right thing whether we continue our friendship or we move on.
    Anonymous commented on 13-Sep-2012 02:05 PM
    After going through a big fight with a family member, I decided to re-read the Emotional Freedom book. I listed out all the things that grate on me with this person. I then read the vampire section and was stunned to realize that 90% of these things are
    victim mentality, with about 5% narcissist and 5% controlling. I was relieved to know, but also overwhelmed to realize that I had been putting up with it all my life (pretty much everyday). I could even see that it rubbed off on me and I would sometimes do
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    this person, but it will save my emotional health. Thank you so much!
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    Anonymous commented on 02-Jun-2014 10:55 AM
    I have a comment, does anyone relate to this one? If When I would take them out of my life they would blame me for the problem totally in denial for being part. Worse I constantly feel like I need to own up but since I am the assertive one the blame is on my husban which makes me feel horrible. The person blames my husband that I am not listening but likely I am being assertive. Assertive is not a word in the dictionary it comes accross as if I am attacking the person.
    Linda May commented on 09-Jul-2014 11:48 AM
    i write to you as had been a vitim of many prombles from other such as rape, bulling, put down, it was hard to talk to people as there thought i was complaining about my lot. i was asking for help, and no-one want to hear a cry for help. i now deal with thing for my self and dont expect any one to listen any more.
    i work out and try ways of coping with my own troubles,i cannot alway resolve some of them, so i let go and see what happens
    Anonymous commented on 11-Oct-2014 08:09 AM
    I have a couple of friends, who, being big hearts have freely given and helped people, only for those people to turn against them. We're talking decades. I've been sympathetic and empathetic. But obviously I haven't really helped either one of them. I always try and point out their blessings and they agree, but the mentality lives on. Any suggestions?
    Anonymous commented on 05-Nov-2014 12:39 PM
    My boyfriend of two years has a severe case of victim mentality. He has worked in over five years "because my mom sabotaged my life" he doesn't discipline his children because "my mom ruined their behavior" he is 35 and has never moved out of his mother's home until last month and I still had to help him clean the new place, buy his curtains, move his furniture, etc. Every time I don't do it his way I get screamed at and cussed because I am trying to ruin his life, never mind the fact that he dumped me over a month ago and I'm still taking care of him because he won't grow up and do it himself. So sick of it, ready to cut him off entirely but I have a child with him.
    gigi commented on 20-Nov-2015 11:40 AM
    My mother has a serious issue with victim mentality. I did not speak to her because of it. I recently reunited with her only to find out she is still playing the victim card. I am trying to be supportive but I find it incredibly draining. Since I've been around her my stress level is through the roof. I'm sick everyday. I don't know what to do.

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