You’re likely here because you are at your wits’ end with someone who always plays the victim.
The soul-sucking, mood-dampening, eye-roll-inducing behavior impacts your personal and professional life and can chip away at your own self-esteem.
If you try to help, you’re attacking a victim.
If you passively accept it, you’re stuck in their rut.
If you try to cut them off, you’ve victimized a victim.
Allow yourself one good scream at the top of your lungs, and let’s dive into some strategies to help you and them.
What Does Playing Victim Mean?
For a person who plays the victim, it means they always perceive the world as being against them.
Almost every action or reaction around them triggers a victim response.
It usually starts with a “You aren’t going to believe this” and ends with you feeling worse than you did before.
People who play the victim believe:
- They are pre-destined to have bad things happen to them.
- They lack any power to control bad things.
- Any effort to stop bad things will elicit more bad things.
This mental health issue manifests itself in several ways:
- “It’s not my fault.”: The person will never take responsibility for their actions or reactions.
- “It is what it is.”: This definitive and defeating statement insists there are no solutions.
- “Nobody cares anyway.”: From madness to misery, someone who always plays the victim believes they are fighting this intergalactic battle alone.
What Causes People to Play the Victim?
We promise you, nobody wakes up and says, “I can’t WAIT to play the victim today. Boy, am I gonna level up my victim game.”
The sad truth is that people who play the victim most likely have some trauma, tragedy, or neglect in their past that caused a lack of coping ability and accountability.
It is as much part of who they are as the hair on their head.
Several things can trigger this:
- Childhood Neglect: Those who didn’t get basic needs met as a child will find dynamic yet dramatic ways to get the attention they never got in those formative years.
- Betrayal: It doesn’t take more than one or two massive betrayals in someone’s life for them to build a wall of mistrust against everyone, always assuming someone is about to hurt them again.
- Nature vs. Nurture: A child might see a parent or sibling get a lot of attention for this behavior. People who play the victim replicate the behavior for the rewards of attention and compassion.
- Manipulation: Manipulation can also go hand-in-hand with co-dependency. When we are at the mercy of another person, we lose sight of who we are and how to love ourselves. This issue fosters feelings of being unappreciated and invisible. These people actually ARE victims – but they are also victims of their own decisions.
How to Deal with Someone Who Plays the Victim: 13 Strategies to Try
Do you genuinely want to know how to get someone to stop playing the victim?
Or do you want to know how to escape from someone who always resorts to this conduct?
Either way, simple actions can save your sanity and maybe improve the victim player’s life.
1. Picture Eeyore
“I’d say thistles, but nobody listens to me, anyway” – Eeyore
One of the most famous “victim mentality” characters comes from Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh fame. Yet, we love him, right? He even made us laugh as kids (ok, as adults too).
When dealing with someone who always plays the victim, don’t picture the devil incarnate you see them as. Picture Eeyore and remember how resilient and relentless his friends were in helping him.
Respond as if you were dealing with that self-loathing donkey.
2. Nip It In the Bud Early
We must set ourselves up to avoid being the victim’s human diary. Trying to be nice and helpful to someone you have just met is so natural.
It’s empowering to feel like, of all the people in the world, they came to us for advice. Only they didn’t come to you for advice. They found a willing listener to absorb verbal expulsions.
Approach every problem someone brings you with a “Don’t bring it up if you don’t want to fix it” boundary.
3. Don’t Be Passive
Even if we’re playing Wordle on our phones while the pity-seeker drones on about their latest tale of woe, we are still part of the problem.
Sitting in silence passively agrees to all the ways the person feels mistreated. Would you sit through a movie you don’t want to see? No. Don’t sit through this drama, either.
4. Offer Solutions
Depending on how much or little this person has self-awareness, you might need to be blunt with them.
When someone starts with, “Can you talk?” you reply, “Only if I can help you solve a problem. It mentally stresses me out when people just complain.”
To further the boundaries, when offering solutions, ban the person from saying “but.” It will eat away at their ability to tell you all the reasons your solutions won’t work.
5. Give Perspective
You can detour a negative conversation with someone with a victim mentality by adding logic to their nonsensical thinking.
For example, let’s say Sally was upset because she walked by the boss, and the boss didn’t say hello. Sally is now convinced the boss is mad at her and will fire her by the end of the week.
Offer a logical perspective, like the fact that the boss is working on budgets so everyone can get their year-end bonus.
NOTE: Do not violate other confidences using this tactic. Avoid saying things like, “Nobody knows this, but the boss is going through a divorce, and she was in court this morning to talk about custody. But that’s just between us.”
6. Re-Think Using the Word “Victim”
The phrase “victim mentality” in itself can generate negative connotations. Since there’s not a word or phrase that softens the noun, just avoid it altogether.
As much as you want to say, “Stop playing the victim!” you are making a bad situation worse. Instead, use phrases like, “I know you feel unhappy about this turn of events, but there are times in everyone’s life that are challenging.”
7. Find Motivational Moments
“There are no victims in this classroom.” When Michelle Pfifer yelled that statement to a class of high schoolers in the movie “Dangerous Minds,” everyone took notice.
Use motivational moments like that to help inspire someone who has had a rough go of it. Another great line from that dialogue is, “It may not be a choice you like, but it is a choice.”
You can schedule movie nights with people who play victim and hope for inspiration to sink in.
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8. Don’t Play Psychiatrist
There are so many wonderful resources to research how to help people, but someone who always plays the victim is – at a minimum – dealing with a mental health challenge.
At its worst, you could be dealing with someone with a feeder personality disorder that creates the victim mentality.
Be a friend, but don’t be a counselor. Openly admit you aren’t able to help with the mental health support this person needs, but offer to go with them to a session to get some guidance.
9. Don’t Gossip About It
Look at the bigger picture here. A person who plays the victim feels the world is out to get them, and everyone is against them.
If you go to other friends to talk, laugh, or joke about it, you risk enforcing that belief and pushing the person into a darker state of mind.
10. Set Rules of Engagement
Sometimes we are forced to be around people who play victim, possibly in the workplace or class group projects.
Once a person with a victim mentality thinks you’re a shoulder to cry on, they will approach you often. Set a boundary, and even come up with a script if necessary.
Tell the person, “I really want to be a good friend, but I have to protect my mental health, too, with the things I have going on. Let’s agree that before we talk to each other about struggles, we make sure the other person is in a good mental space to have the discussion. Agreed?”
11. Point Out Habits
GENTLY. Do this GENTLY. Believe it or not, people who play victim might not know they are doing it.
It’s just so much part of their personality that they don’t notice a different way of life. They lack situational awareness to see that others sometimes handle the same challenges with better outcomes.
Have this conversation in a safe place, ideally on their territory, in case they get mad.
“I want to talk to you about something that worries me. We’ve had very negative conversations for the past five days, and I’m worried about you. I care about you enough to bring this up, and I won’t discuss this with anyone else. Is there something you’d like to discuss so I can help you find more positive outcomes?”
Then run. No, seriously, stay and listen.
12. Don’t Set Yourself on Fire…
… to keep others warm. Empaths are people who have their own mental health history, defined by always wanting to help people.
They will give so much of themselves to help others they are hurting inside. Martyrs and victims make great buddies.
Don’t be a martyr to your friend or think you must cancel your date because your friend is upset.
13. When It’s Time to Cut the Cord
I know this advice all seems “in a perfect world” realm. There will be times you simply can’t do it anymore.
Remember how we started with the question, “How do you get someone to stop playing the victim”? You can’t, in 99.9% of all cases. If you decide to cut someone off, don’t do it in a long rant about how awful they make you feel.
You have the option of “ghosting” and never responding to them until they get the point, but you can also add some grace to this decision.
“I feel like I’ve tried to be honest with my feelings about your need to share your unhappiness and dissatisfaction, and I can’t make space anymore for this in my life. I wish you the best, and I hope you take my advice about (A. B. C.), but I think it serves us both if we stop communicating.” Leave it at that. Stick to your guns. No contact means no contact.
What Kind of Person Always Plays the Victim?
Here’s the rub on this topic: narcissists love to play the victim about situations they create through bad choices or indifference to other people’s emotions.
You will never fix a narcissist, and it’s futile to try. People with Histrionic Personality Disorder also have a flair for drama and engage in attention-seeking behavior. There’s another one you can’t fix.
While those disorders all stem from trauma or tragedy, there are people who would otherwise be great friends or co-workers, but they simply never learned appropriate coping skills when something triggers them.
They are not trying to make your life hell. They just don’t know any other way to perceive the world around them, but they aren’t a lost cause. They can have self-awareness with maturity.
Many people who play the victim need help. Not everyone who acts victimized is wrong. People can go through a really bad series of events. Can you tell the difference?
Should you have a history of always being a toxic sounding board, you should get counseling to learn better boundaries and coping skills for this unique challenge.