What Is Victim Thinking?

January 26, 2015 Becky Oberg

One book every person with a trauma-related mental illness should have is, I Can't Get Over It by Dr. Aphrodite Matsakis. In the book, Matsakis talks about "victim thinking," a common reaction for trauma survivors. "Victim thinking reflects the feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, defilement, and betrayal often experienced during trauma and afterwards," she writes. "It can include the low self-esteem that often results from self-blame, survivor guilt, and societal stigmatization."

Examples of Victim Thinking

Victim thinking keeps us trapped in our nightmares. Some examples, according to Matsakis, are:

  • "I have to accept bad situations because they are part of life and I can do nothing to make them better."
  • "I don't expect much good to happen in my life."
  • "Nobody could ever love me."
  • "I am always going to feel sad, angry, depressed, and confused."
  • "There are situations at work and at home that I could do something about, but I don't have the motivation to do so."
  • "Life overwhelms me, so I prefer to be alone whenever possible."
  • "You can't trust anyone except a very few people."
  • "I feel I have to be extra good, competent, and attractive in order to compensate for my many defects."
  • "I feel guilty for many things, even things I know are not my fault."
  • "I feel I have to explain myself to people so they will understand me. But sometimes I get tired of explaining, conclude it's not worth the effort, and stay alone."
  • "I'm often afraid to do something new for fear I will make a mistake."
  • "I can't afford to be wrong."
  • "I feel that when people look at me, they know right away that I'm different."
  • "Sometimes I think that those who died during the traumatic event I experienced were better off than me. At least they don't have to live with the memories."
  • "I am afraid of the future."
  • "Most times I think things will never get better. There is not much I can do to make my life better."
  • "I can be either a perfectionist or a total slob depending on my mood."
  • "I tend to see people as either for me or against me."
  • "I feel pressure to go along with others, even when I don't want to. To avoid such pressures, I avoid people."
  • "I am never going to get over what happened to me."
  • "I find myself apologizing for myself to others."
  • "I have very few choices in life."

Sound familiar? Such victim thinking may have helped during the traumatic event or during secondary wounding experiences, but in present life, it often hinders. So how can we change our victim thinking?

Ditching the Victim Thinking

Victim thinking is common in those who have trauma-related mental illnesses. Learn what victim thinking is and how to defeat victim thinking.Matsakis gives suggestions as to how to cut off victim thinking:

  1. Recognize it. Tell yourself that while it was helpful during the experiences that created your need for victim thinking, it is not helpful now. Determine how and why you acquired this kind of thinking.
  2. Remind yourself that you're not there now. A victim mentality rarely fits the present. It rarely helps in the here and now. Tell yourself that the negative consequences of victim thinking rarely outweigh the positives.
  3. Your victim thinking can be traced to one of the following mindsets: intolerance of mistakes in self or others, denial of personal difficulties, black-and-white thinking, continuation of survival tactics. Examine your victim thinking to determine which one it is.
  4. Write about it in a journal. Seeing the words on paper often help give insight into one's current conduct.

You can overcome victim thinking by recognizing it, understanding why you have it, and working it out with a therapist.

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APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2015, January 26). What Is Victim Thinking?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Becky Oberg

July, 23 2015 at 8:59 pm

Hello.This article was really remarkable, especially because I was browsing for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

July, 16 2015 at 2:43 pm

Suffering from a moderate to severe at times while under the influence of alcohol/street drugs/medications were the old me. I still believe that there is no one for me in the universe as a single male of 52 years it has began to be a Asexual attitude. I have been diagnosed treated and released from psych wards as hospitals and still battle this when my guards are down. College and working as a drug/alcohol councilor and studying the alcohol/drug related symptoms have allowed for some understanding although mental illness is real and i have a layer upon layer of testimonies to bring reality to this topic....God Bless

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