Poor me, pour me… or: The victim mentality

One of the many valuable insights I gained working in addiction treatment as a chaplain/spiritual director is that addiction, when it has fully taken hold, has succeeded in changing the addict’s view of reality into a delusion. Addiction rewires one’s thinking to be focused on finding a reason to call yourself a victim, to feel sorry for yourself aka “self-pity.” They call it “poor me, pour me a drink.” That is the moment of victory for whatever the addiction is, because when you believe you are a victim, you can ‘self-medicate’ or ‘mood alter’ with the activity or substance you use as a crutch. When a person has sunk that far, they ‘need’ to be a victim, and become very creative and intelligent in convincing themselves and others of this reality. So, when a high end lawyer, or a sports figure, is delivered into treatment, they will maintain for some time that they are a victim of ‘office politics’ or of ‘team envy’ completely dismissing the list of incidents we have been told of that got their colleagues and friends to the point of an intervention and a dropping off at treatment. The person best suited to expose their delusion is a person in recovery from addiction. Us non-recovery sympathetic pastor-types are too ready to believe a sob-story.

From learning that, I began to see in myself and in life, how I and others can have this same approach to life, but not necessarily with an addiction to go with it. We can have a tendency to see ourselves as victims, and to empower ourselves by proclaiming our victimhood to any and all.

The most ironic thing about this is that it works in this day and age. To my (limited) knowledge, we are the first civilization in history in which by claiming you were a victim you can get respect and power. In most of history, people would have said “so? Get over it!” I could write much about that, but for now I will point out that in fact Christianity is what has made this a part of our culture today, because Christianity is the only religion where God became a victim in order to gain victory.

The person with a victim mentality tends to tell their stories with an angle, a slant, that consistently paints them as innocent and faultless and with a strong implication that people and systems are picking on them, and maybe even God is, or the Devil. Over time, listeners find themselves repeatedly asking things like “Well, were you paying attention to the fuel gauge?” or other questions where you feel a need to check how proactive the person was in preventing the mechanical problem, or if they are willing to take any significant responsibility for the problem situation. If they repeatedly cannot see that, you are likely dealing with a person in a victim mentality.

On Sunday  night we looked at how Jonah had a version of it, where he saw God’s showing mercy to Nineveh as somehow an insult to him. Jonah and Israel had more of a “We’re God’s favourite” mentality, but it created the behaviour of a victim when Jonah realized God was not going to destroy them. It’s similar to the cup half full or half empty mentality as well.

Seeing it in Jonah, we all recognized how ridiculous it was. But the thing is, a victim mentality is very hard to show to a person who is stuck in it. In fact, they will soon begin to accuse you of victimizing them if you are simply trying to show them how they are stuck in it. And they will then quickly move on, trying to find someone else who will respond to their “Poor me, pour me some sympathy” stories. So it is a huge challenge to help people who are stuck in a Victim Mentality (and many other “character flaws”).

The best approach is similar to God’s with Jonah. Asking “Do you have a right to feel like a victim? is a good approach, particularly if you can point to other things, for example, like this: “Do you have a right to feel like a victim and be angry about the car breaking down when there was a new squealing sound for a week and you never checked it out?” In other words, gently holding the mirror of reality before those with delusions of victimhood can lead to a breakthrough. But it is better for us to start watching for it in ourselves. Start listening to how you talk, and listen for how you yourself paint your situation. You can even ask someone you trust to partner with you in this, asking them to point out if and when you are showing this mentality.

Beyond that, it helps to remember that the one person who could truly claim to be an innocent victim did not live with a victim mentality. He in fact went to his victimhood like a sheep going to the slaughterhouse, without a wimper of complaint. And in that action, and in returning after death, he became a victor instead, right when Satan may have thought he made a victim out of him. So lets resolve to live as victors in Christ, not victims.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Tom Albaugh
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 07:00:30

    Nice blog. Would you please contact me about upcoming visit to Nobleford later on this month. Blessings PT


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