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Trauma

3 Victim Mentalities That Can Impede Progress

Your own thoughts may be keeping you stuck in the past.

Key points

  • Trauma can lead to deep-rooted beliefs that prevent individuals from moving forward.
  • Belief patterns known as victim mentalities set individuals up to fail and take away their empowerment.
  • Recognizing common victim mentalities can help someone overcome them.

A victim mentality—or a belief that one is a victim of external circumstances, generalized across a wide variety of situations and relationships—is a relatively common socioemotional problem. Among the most devastating aspects of this issue is its potential to prevent true recovery after adversity and to stop healthy relationships from developing. While many people in the world will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, an eternal sense of victimhood can bring any subsequent resolution to a grinding halt.

The Harmful Effects of Having a Victim Mentality

Though it's not always a popular or comfortable topic, challenging a victim mentality is often crucial to trauma recovery. Individuals who are overly focused on how they have been victimized may eventually find themselves reliving their trauma, destroying even healthy relationships, and stagnating from any forward movement. In order to produce a long-term resolution of past trauma, individuals who have been victimized need to change the way they think about their past and their future.

Thoughts are often our most powerful change agents; they can not only directly alter behaviors, but they can also change our perception of emotions. There are several beliefs that individuals who have been victims of trauma often fall prey to, including the three listed below. Recognizing them can help someone make long-lasting, meaningful changes through analyzing and adjusting these thought patterns.

1. Believing that the world is out to get you.

If you have been hurt by others, particularly repeatedly and over an extended period of time, it is very common to become fixated on the ill intentions of the world. Experiences that occurred with a specific person (or multiple people, depending on your situation) can produce deep-rooted beliefs that can eventually impact every single interaction you have. Many of these beliefs are subtle enough to go completely unnoticed.

This particular victim mentality tends to strengthen over time. The thoughts occur subconsciously, without effort, and amplify distrust exponentially. Small moments of distrust can, in turn, transform into generalized interaction patterns with others. It only takes a handful of experiences for the world to "prove" it can be threatening. When combined with past trauma situations, these experiences very easily morph into a new belief system: Hurt in the past, when merged with hurt in the present, leads us to predict hurt in the future.

Although this belief often feels incontestable, it is simply not accurate. It is always possible to identify instances where trust was not violated—and even if those times seem unimportant in comparison to a past trauma, they can give you a starting point: a place to begin gaining back a sense of personal power.

2. Believing that everyone else is to blame for your current pain.

When you have experienced trauma, it is essential to healing that you recognize the traumatic incidents and understand their cause. Trauma occurs when a person or situation takes away your personal power in a threatening manner. The first step to healing is acknowledging what trauma is really about.

To move beyond the initial phase of trauma recovery, individuals have to differentiate past experiences from the present. No, trauma is never your fault. Yes, you can choose to live a different life than what trauma may have elected for you. The key lies in your ability to take ownership of your current emotions, thoughts, and reactions to events outside of your control.

We cannot always predict what will happen to us, but we can learn to predict how we will react to stressful, dangerous, and damaging situations. Placing the blame onto others for your current reactions only serves one purpose: keeping you stuck in the past and repeating your cycle of trauma over and over.

Care about yourself enough to bluntly confront how you are blaming others for your present choices or your reactions to outside events. Once you recognize you have the power to change these perceptions, you will be able to seek solutions to the challenges you are currently facing. The reality is that you do have the capacity to direct and guide your thoughts, and your emotions will eventually fall into line with those thoughts—or, at the very least, become more manageable.

3. Believing that your future is predetermined.

Some people who have experienced serious trauma struggle with a perception that their future is a dead end because of their past circumstances, as well as the internal (and often external) repercussions from those situations. This erroneous belief strips your ability to work through and overcome your past.

One of the most telling signs that this belief is plaguing your thought process is internalizing negative messages, namely being convinced that you deserve bad things to happen to you and can do nothing about it. This often leads down a road of self-sabotage, where you purposefully engage in behaviors that will guarantee a distressing outcome.

Since this belief functions as a catalyst for unhealthy cycles in your life, it is essential to recognize it and confront it. Reframe your self-talk and acknowledge that your current reactions and behaviors do have an impact on your future. They may not produce the exact outcomes you desire, but they still exert influence nonetheless.

The Power of Your Mind In Trauma Recovery

Your perceptions of the world around you are formed from your experiences, but you can intervene and train your mind to alter its course for the future. In fact, you can do this while still empowering yourself to not fall into the same traps that may have slowed your recovery in the past.

Though trauma is never your fault, you can take steps right now, regardless of your situation, to jettison out of a victim mindset and into self-empowerment. There is no greater tool than your own mind when it comes to resilience.

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