As a psychiatrist I teach my patients the importance of learning how to deal effectively with draining people. In my new book, 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.
Take the AM I IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH A “VICTIM” Quiz
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:
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.
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!)
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, M.D., is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and the author of Emotional Freedom.