6 Signs Your Child Has a Victim Mindset

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A victim mentality—or victim mindset, as it's sometimes called—is a self-destructive attitude that can develop for a variety of reasons. A child who is bullied by peers may start to see themselves as completely helpless, for example. Or, a child with a sense of entitlement may insist they deserve better when they don’t get their way. 

"A victim mentality relates to the way an individual perceives their relationship with the world and circumstances," says Julia M. Chamberlain, MS, INHC, LMHC, a holistic therapist and private practitioner in Massachusetts. "[It] refers to the state of believing that one is a victim and they have no control over their circumstances."

Having a victim mindset won’t serve your child well in life and can lead to a negative self-image, self-sabotage, resentment, and a lack of accountability, says Chamberlain. It’s important to be on the lookout for the signs that your child is developing this type of victim thinking. Here are the warning signs that could indicate your child has a victim mindset, the consequences of victim thinking, and what you can do to help.

Signs of a Victim Mindset

There are a number of telltale signs that indicate a child is engaging in victim thinking. These include feeling powerless, having a negative outlook, blaming others, and more. Most of the time, victim thinking is the result of some type of trauma, such as bullying or abuse.

It's also important to note that a child who was bullied, abused, or victimized in some way is not at fault for the treatment they endured. They have no control over another person's choices. That said, they do have a choice about their thought patterns; and if they are displaying a victim mindset, they need to be taught how to respond in a healthier way. Here are six signs a child is engaging in victim thinking.

Feeling Powerless

A child who sees themselves as a victim will usually not do anything to try to change their situation. They assume there’s nothing they can do about the obstacles they encounter, or they believe their efforts to create change won’t be effective, says Kristin Rhinehart, MSW, LISW-S, TTS, owner of Changing Minds LLC and a psychotherapist for InnovaTel Telepsychiatry.

Your child may refuse to ask for help when they don't know how to do their homework or when they're confused about a teacher’s instructions. They may also remain passive when their peers treat them unkindly rather than being assertive or setting boundaries. This helpless attitude also increases the chances that a child will become victimized by others.

Having a Negative Outlook

Self-pity, self-sabotage, and a victim mindset all go hand-in-hand. Rather than look for solutions to their problems, a child who feels like a victim may invest their energy into trying to gain sympathy instead.

They may complain rather than take steps to boost their mood or improve their situation. And they may sabotage anything good that happens in their life—sometimes without even realizing they are doing it.

"Self-sabotage is typically a learned maladaptive habit resulting from trauma and adversity," says Chamberlain. "Self-sabotage and all maladaptive coping tactics are utilized because 'they worked once' to accommodate a need."

Focusing on the Negative

If nine good things happen, and one bad thing, a child with a victim mindset will focus on the negative. Even when something positive happens, they may dismiss their good fortune by saying something like, “Well that won’t ever happen again,” or “They were just being nice because you were there.”

A victim mindset causes kids to overlook the good things in life. And the more they focus on the negative, the worse they feel. It's a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. For this reason, it is really important to teach kids how to be more positive or to find the good in challenging situations.

Predicting Doom and Gloom

A child with a victim mentality is likely to make catastrophic predictions. They may say things like: “I’m going to fail that test tomorrow,” or “Everyone is going to laugh at me in the spelling bee.”

Your child may also be afraid to get their hopes up. Even when told that they're going to do something fun, they might predict that it’s not going to work out. Their negative thinking will create unnecessary stress and make it more difficult for them to do their best or enjoy their time.

Blaming Everyone Else

A child with a "poor me" attitude blames everyone else for their unfortunate circumstances. They insist that everyone is out to get them. They may even provoke others on purpose, so they can evoke a negative reaction that will reinforce their notion that everyone is mean to them.

They may also struggle to accept personal responsibility for their behavior. Rather than acknowledge the role they played in a squabble, for example, they will likely blame everyone else and insist there was nothing they could do about it.

Exaggerating Misfortune

A child who sees themselves as a victim will likely use words like "always" and "never" when describing their circumstances. You’ll likely hear things like, “I never get to do anything fun,” or, “The other kids are always mean to me.”

This type of all-or-nothing thinking means that a child will struggle to recognize exceptions to the rule. Even when someone points out evidence to the contrary, a child with a victim mindset is likely to insist that their perception is accurate.

Consequences of Victim Thinking

More often than not, a victim mindset is rooted in some sort of victimization like abuse or bullying that leads to feelings of trauma, distress, and pain, says Rhinehart. When kids experience a traumatic situation like bullying, they may begin to believe that they are helpless and that nothing they do in the future is going to make any difference.

These beliefs also can create a number of consequences like a negative attitude and low self-esteem, Rhinehart says. It also can cause kids to sabotage the good things in their life. Or, they may start to struggle with anxiety and depression.

"Having a victim mindset is just like it sounds—having a thought system that looks at the negative," says Rhinehart. "Kids often feel helpless and genuinely believe that nothing will go right."

Common Beliefs or Thoughts

According to Rhinehart, here are some common thoughts or beliefs kids with a victim mindset might believe or say:

  • Why try?
  • I can't do anything right.
  • No one likes me.
  • I don't have any friends.
  • There's no use.
  • Nothing ever goes my way.

At its core, having a victim mindset is an unhealthy coping mechanism that is rooted in feeling powerless when the trauma occurred. Kids who who see themselves as victims most of the time often struggle with a lack of self-confidence and negative self-perception, says Rhinehart. These characteristics can make feelings of victimization worse.

How You Can Help

While all kids likely think they're a victim of a cruel world sometimes, for some kids, a victim mindset becomes pervasive. And without help from an adult, they may carry their "poor me" attitude into adulthood.  

A few small changes to the way you respond may successfully curb your child's victim mentality. Respond in a supportive manner, but make it clear that striking out in the baseball game or failing a math test doesn't mean they're a victim. 

If your child’s negative view of the world interferes with their daily life—school, friendships, and other activities—seek help from a mental health professional, says Chamberlain. A victim mentality can also be a sign of a mental health problem, like depression or anxiety.

One method a therapist may choose to implement in their sessions is cognitive reframing. As a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) technique, cognitive reframing is useful in combatting victim thinking, says Chamberlain.

"This is a process where practitioners can assist clients in assessing circumstances outside their mindset by offering alternative motives or interpretations," she explains.

Parents may also want to seek out family therapy or parent coaching in order to remedy the root cause of the victim mindset, which sometimes has ties to childhood adversity and parent modeling, she adds.

If your child is struggling with depression or anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

When a child has a victim mindset or engages in victim thinking, they are at risk for a number of negative consequences. If you see the signs of victim thinking in your child's everyday communications, take steps to help change the way they see the world.

It also might be a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider or a mental health professional. They can evaluate your child and help determine if their thinking is rooted in depression, anxiety, or another mental health concern. They also can provide tips on helping your child build healthier coping strategies, improve self-esteem, and see the world in a more positive light.

 

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2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Goens GA. It's Not My Fault: Victim Mentality and Becoming Response-able. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

  2. Cole DA, Maxwell MA, Dukewich TL, Yosick R. Targeted peer victimization and the construction of positive and negative self-cognitions: connections to depressive symptoms in children. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2010;(39)3:421-35.  doi:10.1080/15374411003691776

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