The Victim Personality

I have been writing a personality column for Natural Health, where each month I provide some insight into different personalities. Here is some insight into The Victim. Does this sound like anyone you know?


Individuals who habitually indulge in self-victimisation (also known as playing the victim) do so for various reasons: to control or influence other people’s thoughts, feelings and actions; to justify their abuse of others; to seek attention; or, as a way of coping with situations. Although they can actually change circumstances to avoid being victimised, they won’t seize the opportunity because they want to play the role and appear as victims to others and themselves. The main identifying traits of those who choose to play the victim role include:


  • They tend to manipulate or abuse others verbally or physically, but then blame the other person (i.e. the real victim) for provoking the abuse.

  • They influence or control other people’ sympathy to gain compassion or support.

  • They form friendships or intimate relationships with those who disrespect, mistreat or abuse them to convince themselves and the world of their unfortunate status.

  • They tend to avoid taking responsibility for their life, instead blaming others for their mistreatment or unfortunate circumstances.

  • They think and talk a lot about how others take advantage of their kindness.




When in the company of the victim personality, be on the lookout for the following:


  • Their crippling dependency on friends or co-workers for support and sympathy can be draining, and you cannot be sure if they actually appreciate your sympathetic responses and efforts.

  • They can evoke anger and aggression in you, especially after you realise you have been duped into giving them sympathy when it should have gone to the real victim of their abuse.

  • They instinctively draw out the caring, nurturing, and protective qualities in people, only to set them up for manipulation or abuse.

  • Sometimes they will take extreme measures to get attention, like emptying a spouse’s bank account because they feel neglected or sending hate emails to themselves and then accusing others of sending them.




There aren’t many positives to the victim personality, but two ways in which you might benefit from the victim are:


  • They can make us feel important and valuable. Since they believe they are incapable of taking care of their own needs, they will always need your support with something.

  • They long to be trustworthy and will make every effort to stick to their promises or complete any tasks you ask of them.



Do you Play the Victim?


You are playing the victim when you often:


  • Justify your aggression against others by believing they deserve it.

  • Refuse to take responsibility for your own happiness or misery – it’s the world that’s a bad place, and no one can truly be trusted.

  • Find yourself in relationships where others mistreat you, so you can feel justified in your victim role.

  • Nag, complain, harass, and beseech others until they give in to your demands.

  • Commonly turn to the phrase, “You’re the only one who can help me.”

  • Sometimes go to extremes to get revenge for perceived or actual abuse, like destroying your own property and falsely accusing someone else of being responsible.

  • Provoking aggressive behaviour from others, but downplaying or ignoring your role in it.

  • Feel anxious about the very idea that you can exert a positive influence over your own life without the support of others.


How do I Deal with a Victim?


Initially, it will feel good playing a part in their happiness and joy, but after a while, you will start to avoid their child-like dependency. When you do cut ties with them, they will feel victimised and the cycle will continue. Remember that self- victimisers play a role that has always worked for them. By empathically and consistently challenging them, as well as emphasising those non-victim aspects of them that you like, a victim can be helped to change. An example of empathically challenging a victim would be to ask a question that makes them reconsider their situation, such as, “You say he became aggressive. What happened just before he became aggressive?”  An example of valuing the non-victim traits of the individual include statements such as, “I like it when you show this positive attitude. It suits you.”


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17 replies

  1. I have found that people that play the victim very often are usually people that suffer from serious insecurity issues. Which in turn causes them to indulge in self-pity fulltime. Like you say: the constant self-pity makes the way they treat others okay, because: “You don’t know how hard my life is!”

  2. That sounds an awful person to have around. I think I’ve met one or two. Great post Nicola.

    • thats my mother for you. Its drivinge insane. she does it everysecond of everyday and any arfgumebt we have revolves around how ahe does it. I cannot wait to move out

  3. I find this article a bit myopic to be frank – granted, it is short and not intended to be academic, but 80 % of the word count focuses on the negative and just 20% on how to solve the problem. And even some of that is reiterating other points. Having studied Health Psychology in University (not an entire degrees worth but a component of Public Health) I would have thought this fits more into a general psychology or other niche such as counselling to help people with this issue. There are times in everyone’s lives when they have ups and downs and I imagine your intention here is to focus on chronic ‘victims’ and their methods of manipulation etc.
    Pardon me for being devils advocate – no offense intended – but you have many categories and emphasize the health psychology aspects, even in the title of your website,. Why not just be a psychologist if you are going to comment on cognitive distortions and the like – I do realise this is a blog but what a professional puts on the web reflects who they are – after all the whole world can read it. Of course emotional health is a component of overall health as per the WHO definition but in the world of the psychologist is there not a requirement to be specific, on a level, to a field ?
    I say this because perhaps I have been guilty of being a victim myself but under certain circumstances – divorce, family tragedy etc. an acute situation victim is actually going through a form of trauma and often snaps out of it and the co existent issues. I just read the article and felt weight should have been added to the ‘how to help section’ rather then the 4/1 ratio of negatives and descriptors to actually dealing with the problem. Again, no offense intended,
    Regards WIlliam

    • Thank you William for your response. I have been taking the Landmark forum classes and have been able to see who I am being in my life. I looked on the web to see more in-depth what the Victim act is. I am 45 and honestly didn’t even realize how I was acting to others. I see it so vividly now. I chose to not play a victim playing in the drama of my life for attention, but instead to see just what is “so” in my life and instead live in to the beautiful future I am creating.
      I felt hopeless for so long, because I lost so much in such a short period of time and unfortunately kept living in the loss. I also chose to not make everyone wrong, something I realized I do.
      This was very insightful. Nicola and William I invite you to look into the Landmark Forum. They have a location in San Francisco.

  4. Hi William, Thank you for your feedback; no offence taken. While I do agree with you in some aspects, I would say that there is a huge difference between a victim personality and someone who is a victim. Therefore, this post is not to about belittling people who have had a traumatic experience, but to help those who are the victims of the victim personality by helping them spot the signs. The victim personality can be extremely destructive to other people.

    I do agree that perhaps more weight should be given to the ‘help’ section, but while I am a Psychologist I am also a writer – I cover the areas my clients want with the weight that they want. With this in mind, I did my job for this particular client and have merely shared it on my blog :)

  5. I’m unsure about the positives here. Having recognised that you are dealing with a victim personality it is surely an abuse of that trait to use it to make yourself feel important? Surely there should be a move to helping and supporting them towards independence and working around their dependence on you, rather than feeling important and valuable. I would feel more valuable if I helped someone overcome the feelings of victimisation rather than “encouraging” those feelings for my own self-esteem.

  6. Good point, Tony. I think if you manipulate the Victim Personality for your own means, this suggests you might have just a big a problem as them. What do you think?

    • My immediate feeling is that by using anyone else’s frailties to increase your own self-esteem is an abuse of that person. Where the person has a recognised personality “disorder” they are already in the position where they can (or mabe already have been) be abused. After 26 years in the care industry I have seen far too many carers who have created situations where the client has become dependant on them to the point of being comtrolled. The resultant loss of valuable and valid input from other staff members has led to a definite negative outcome. Any “carer”, at whatever level, that wishes to excercise this method of “caring” to satisfy their own need should look at their own personality and be asking a few relevent questions about their own motivation and whether they are suited to the position that they hold.
      In a nutshell- their problem is far greater!

  7. I wonder if co-dependency plays a role in your description of ‘carers’, Tony?

  8. This article describes my mother to a tee. I spent a lot of my childhood feeling responsible for her happiness against my ‘nasty, domineering’ dad. As I got older I could see that she was being quite unfair but still I supported her as she really isolated herself and there was no one else except me, my dad and brother.

    Eventually my brother walked away from her. Then my dad died. Now he was the best thing since sliced bread and she has placed him on a pedestal and she turned on my husband and I. We have now moved across the other side of the world, not mainly to escape her, but the distance is certainly welcome. She now refuses to let me phone her ‘it hurts too much’, or have skype chats with the kids. But complains of being lonely and abandoned. We have been gone 2 months and I have spoken to her on the phone once, where she hung up on me when I told her she has to take some responsibility for how the situation unravelled when we moved (a long horrible story involving her kicking out her 19w pregnant daughter and two grandkids). This was after she said we should have responded differently to her saying nasty hurtful stuff and behaving the way she did.

    This morning I received an email saying she has to accept I was right and that she must be a really horrible person although all she has tried to do is help people (!!!). Which led me here.

    How the hell do I get her to take charge of her own life? She suffers with depression too and will sit at home wallowing in her own self-pity, and I don’t know how to tell her to get out there without hurting her or driving her deeper into depression. More info on how to deal with someone with this personality in a sensitive manner would be so helpful.

    • OMG! You are almost telling my story. The only problem is that I moved to the other side of the world not only to be followed my mother. As her only child I cannot even get help or try to get a sibling to help out. She is now constantly asking for me to do everything for her because she doesn’t understand the language to be able to do it herself (which we know she does) I feel like telling her to just move back and leave me and my family alone as it’s destroying the relationship with my husband. She has blamed so many people for being the bad people and to top it off she has included my husband in this group. She has said several times how she hates him. I just feel so guilty turning my back on my mother even how horrible and unhappy she makes me. I so want to be free from it

  9. Leanne, thank you so much for sharing all of this. You are certainly in a mind, and I do have some more to say. In the meantime, you might find some of these tips helpful:

    • Thank you so much for this little article. It really helped me with better understanding of what is happening in my family. My stepson has been well taught how to play a victim and I’m the ‘evil step-dad.’ I would like to share the events, like they can be extremely violent (I am lucky to be alive) and find a way to blame the one they are violent against. I have a lot more to learn in this area and I really hope my wife sees and can understand her role in enabling him. My own brother is very similar. It’s very harmful to a family when this game playing is going on.

  10. One of my old friends plays the victim. She accuses everyone else, including me, of bullying her or harassing her. It has come to the point that she has even started to harass me and still acting like the victim.

    • As odd as it is, I have just had my brother hang up on me after I wouldn’t offer to take him into my home and care for him. He had other words for it. He then sent a scathing text that I expected 100%. The problem with it is that he is 100% wrong in his accusations of me. I said all kinds of positive things to him. I simply didn’t tell him to come live with me and my family. That is why he was so nasty to me. But at 50 years of age, I see though his games and am not manipulated like our mother was until she dies. Now he has no one to mooch off of. I’m not buying into his guilt trips.


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