Does Your Child Have a Victim Mentality? 4 Steps to Turn It Around

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“It’s not fair! You’re always yelling at me, even when it’s not my fault!”

Sound familiar? The minute you say no, or set limits, or try to enforce the rules, your child immediately says that you’re not being fair and that you always pick on him. He overreacts constantly to routine requests and takes no responsibility for his behavior. No matter the circumstances, he is always the one who has been wronged or unfairly put-upon—in other words, the victim.

If this is a pattern—your child’s typical response—she is displaying a victim mentality. And she does so because it gives her an excuse for her bad behavior that works for her.

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When your child thinks like a victim, he will begin to feel and act like a victim. If left unchanged, the victim mentality can eventually impact your child’s ability to have healthy relationships and to adequately function as an adult.

When children take on a victim mentality, it becomes a form of defiance, used to avoid taking appropriate responsibility and being held accountable. And when it plays on our emotions as parents—getting us to question whether, maybe, we have been too tough or unfair, or making us feel guilty about any limit we try to set—rules are forgotten, limits ignored, and we lower our expectations.

If left unchanged, the victim mentality can eventually impact your child’s ability to have healthy relationships and to adequately function as an adult. It is vital that your child learns new skills in order to manage responsibility in the real world. To start that process, it’s helpful to look at the behaviors that lead to the victim mentality.

Thinking Errors That Support a Victim Mentality

Thinking errors, simply put, are patterns of thinking that are inaccurate or irrational; they influence our feelings and behavior, often in negative ways. In other words, when your child thinks like a victim, he will begin to feel and act like a victim. Below are some of the common thinking errors that fuel your child’s victim mentality and its related behaviors.

  • Victim Stance sounds like: “Why are you always on my back about the lawn? I work at a job after school and never have any time for myself! I don’t have any time to mow the lawn!” Its related behaviors include:
    • Blaming others (often you, the parent) when he doesn’t meet his responsibility
    • Always having an excuse ready
    • Fighting for the right to be a victim
  • Injustice sounds like: “You never made my older brother clean his room when he was my age. It’s because he’s a boy and I’m a girl. You always treat me worse than him. It’s not fair!” Its related behaviors include:
    • Viewing normal expectations as unfair
    • Refusing to follow what are perceived as unfair directions
    • Complaining that consequences for misbehavior are unfair
  • Uniqueness sounds like: “You don’t understand, and you never will because you don’t care about me as much as you care about my sister! Just because I don’t like the same things you do!” Its related behaviors include:
    • Claiming that she is different and thus needs different rules
    • Accusing others of not understanding her
    • Focusing on that “lack of understanding” rather than the real issue
  • Anger with an Angle sounds like:You started screaming at me for no reason so I went crazy and smashed the vase. You need to stop screaming!” Its related behaviors include:
    • Losing control of behavior and claiming he couldn’t help himself
    • Training others to avoid making him take responsibility
    • Using anger to have power over people and things
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Over time, parents hear these excuses, see these behaviors and get pulled into believing that it must be true. Then you start responding to your child’s unhealthy behavior in unhealthy ways. You tiptoe around your child because you can anticipate the response you’re going to get. You know your daughter is going to start yelling the minute you remind her she needs to babysit. You wonder if you should just stay home; it might even be easier than having the big fight and the risk that she’ll take out her anger on her little brother.

These thinking errors can also lead to a sense of fatalism on your child’s part: he actually begins to believe he can’t change, that your expectations are beyond him, and that he is unable to take responsibility for his actions. He then becomes unable to see his role in making things better. It’s important to avoid this fatalistic trap by reminding yourself that change can happen at any time.

4 Steps You Can Take to Help Your Child Change

  1. Start with targeting one behavior at a time. Identify something that is making life difficult for you, but also something that you think can really change. For example, you could start with a reasonable wake-up time and morning routine, or follow through on a chore, or expectations that meals will be civil, with no screaming allowed.
  2. Sit down and talk with your child when you’re both calm. Fill them in on the change you want to focus on. “I’d like to have a discussion about following through on your chores. This is a problem for me, as I need you to do your part around the house. We all have our responsibilities in this family and doing the dishes is yours. If you want to continue to use the car, you will need to do the dishes each night. If you can’t or won’t do that, you’ll need to take the bus.”
  3. Be calm and matter-of-fact in your delivery, as your child is so used to overreacting to any expectations or limits. Think of what you’re doing as all business. The limit setting parent role works best when you are non-emotional. Don’t expect that your child will take kindly to this, though. In fact, they may be quite resistant, but stay calm and focused through the initial challenges.

  4. Don’t give up on expectations and consequences—and don’t give in to bad behavior. It takes a long time to relinquish the victim mentality and replace it with a more responsible way of thinking and behaving. It’s become a habit for your child, and parents often develop habits in response. It’s easy to fall back into these habits and to think that rather than setting this limit and dealing with my child’s defiance, I’ll back off this one time and let it go. This is natural. We all try to avoid things that feel like work, but in this case the work is worth it.
  5. Provide positive reinforcement when your child takes responsibility and makes good choices. The changes may be subtle at first, but the minute your child starts taking responsibility for his actions, he’s beginning to shed the victim mentality. He’ll need encouragement to keep changing his thinking and taking on healthier problem-solving skills, and you can provide this.

Remember: change doesn’t happen overnight. Once your child realizes that there is really going to be a change in expectations, they will slowly begin to meet those expectations. And once the change begins, additional behaviors can be addressed and expectations added.

Keep in mind the goal of all this work: to raise our kids to be responsible adults, able to function in life and to solve the problems that come up along the way. Feeling and acting like a victim will not lead to the kind of adult life we want for our kids. But once your child has learned to take responsibility for their behavior, they will feel better about themselves, be better able to solve problems and make the most of their life.

About

Janet Lehman, MSW, has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years. A veteran social worker, she specializes in child behavior issues — ranging from anger management and oppositional defiance to more serious criminal behavior in teens. She is co-creator of The Total Transformation® Program, The Complete Guide To Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™.

Comments (26)
  • Hanna
    My 13 year old daughter plays the victim. Thinks we don't want her around and we love our son better. She thinks her friends don't really like her either. This negative mind set is very alarming to me. She never tells us this, I only know cause I've read herMore journal. She is very moody and holds alot of anger - which I think is anxiety about a lot of things in her life. How can I bring this topic up to discuss it? We need to talk about these things or if left unchecked she will start believing all these lies her inner voice is telling her!
    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach

      Hi, Kari. I can understand your concern. It can be alarming as a parent to discover your teen child has these types of negative thoughts. Your situation does create a dilemma however. Unless your daughter has shared her private journal with you, you really can;t bring up what you've read as this could cause a serious breach of trust. I would keep an eye on her behavior and if you notice any red flags, contact her doctor for an appointment. Her doctor would be able to help you determine whether or not further evaluation would be necessary. You may find these articles helpful as well: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article-categories/conditions-diagnoses/anxiety-depression/.

      We appreciate you reaching out. Take care.

  • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

    frightenedmother 

    We speak with many parents who are concerned about their

    child’s apparent lack of direction and progress toward adulthood, so you are

    not alone.  It can be helpful to separate what is, and is not, your

    responsibility.  You are responsible for clearly stating your expectations

    for your son’s behavior, and for holding him accountable if he is not following

    your house rules.  Your son is ultimately in charge of his behavior, as

    well as his attitude and feelings.  It is your son’s choice whether he

    will accept his life as it is, and if he will be happy or negative about

    that.  While some people are naturally http://www.empoweringparents.com/how-to-handle-your-negative-complaining-child-or-teen.php, we do recommend that you take any talk of suicide

    or ending his life seriously.  It may be useful to contact your http://www.suicide.org/hotlines/international/belgium-suicide-hotlines.html to help you develop a plan for how you can respond effectively

    if your son is making these kinds of statements.  I also encourage you to

    develop a plan with his sister for how she can keep herself safe if her brother

    is trying to bully her.  I recognize that this is a tough situation to be

    in, and I hope that you will write back and let us know how things are

    going.  Take care.

  • hockeymama

    Good morning!  I purchased your TOTAL TRANSFORMATION, I love everything about it!  Unfortunately, things are getting worse.  My son is now on medication, which, I'm not sure does much.  He is O.D.D. and 13.  We need help!  And I don't know what to do.  We have tried everything.  Your posts and blogs help tremendously but I'm afraid he's going to leave home before he's 16 because we don't have a handle on this.  We no longer yell, that was our initial reactions but now we just talk quietly but with force when needed.  He is not able to "talk", he yells as a normal conversation about anything.  He is defiant and blames everyone for everything.  He takes no responsibility for his own actions.  He is very dramatic, stomps his feet and slams everything in his site, usually breaking something or throwing something.  He hates us and thinks we all hate him.  Sibling rivalry is strong because my other son is organized , does his homework and things he doesn't need to be asked to do , like put his plate away.  He is not treated differently, he simply does what he's asked and therefor no consequence is needed.  I could go on for days and bore you with my problems, but I don't know what else to do?  I want to ship him away to a behaviour camp to help him feel better about himself and to help his self esteem but I know that is just an easy way out and will not actually help him.

    Please help me help him!

    Janet

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      hockeymama 

      I’m pleased that you have found our resources offered here helpful

      for you and your family.  We speak with many families who feel overwhelmed

      with their child’s behavior, and concerned that the behavior seems to be

      getting worse.  Keep in mind that it is normal for most kids to resist the

      changes parents are trying to implement because the way things have been going

      has been working for the child.  When that child has ODD, it’s even more

      common that he will resist any perceived effort to take away the power and

      control he currently has.  Something we frequently advise parents to do is

      to http://www.empoweringparents.com/how-to-improve-your-childs-behavior-and-regain-control-as-a-parent.php at a time.  Based on what you have described, it might

      be useful to look at how he can manage his anger and frustration without http://www.empoweringparents.com/is-your-defiant-child-destroying-or-damaging-property.php.  In addition, as a customer of the Total

      Transformation program, you have access to our 1-on-1 Coaching service. 

      Our professional parenting coaches can help you to develop a personalized plan

      to effectively implement the tools of the program to address your son’s

      behavior.  If you do not currently have access to the service, I am happy

      to extend a one-time courtesy call so you can try the service out.  You

      can find the contact information in your program materials.  Thank you so

      much for writing in; please be sure to check back to let us know how things are

      going.  Take care.

  • ChavaB
    So, so much of life depends on being calm! It's so hard sometimes!
  • Flustered Mama
    Our 11 yr. Old son consistantly blames and degrades his 15 yr. Old sister. This has been going on several years. She gets frustrated and goes off on him. If she feels she is right aboit something she will not drop the subject saying it is giving in and itMore Does matter. This all seems to be rooted to her not wanting anything to do with brother when they were very young and he wanted to do and be just like her. All that my husband and I have tried has failed miserably. It is creating a strong resentment towards our son from our daughter. It doesn't help that he is ADHD and does have some behavior issues. We never use this as a "scape goat" though.
  • Cup0fJoy
    My 11 yr old daughter uses a lot of phrases suchs as "always" and "never" saying I always make her clean, never take her any where ever. NOT TRUE! I feel like I have to walk on egg shells around her lately.... She says we hate her only care aboutMore ourselves. Would it be appropriate to document when she has to do chores, we we do this with her and so on so she has a visual and cannot throw in our face always and never. After she hit her sister with her hair brush this morning I told her she needs to wait and take turns in the bathroom because hitting is unacceptable and she went off about how we all hate her and everything. She says she stays in her room thinking about it all the time.
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      Cup0fJoy

      Parenting adolescents certainly can be a difficult journey.

      It’s not unusual for them to take a victim stance when being asked to do

      something or being held accountable for their behavior. As Janet points out,

      the behavior is normal for this age. So, too, is the black and white, http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Stop-Victim-Mentality-Thinking-Kids.php

      thinking you describe. In the moment when the behavior is happening, it’s

      probably going to be best to set the limit and walk away. You can say something

      like “Talking that way isn’t going to solve your problem” and then take some

      space to calm down. It’s also important not to personalize the behavior, as

      Carole Banks suggests in her article  http://www.empoweringparents.com/do-you-personalize-your-childs-behavior-when-he-disobeys-you.php. The behavior you are seeing

      really is more about your daughter’s lack of coping skills and the

      developmental stage she is in.  Some parents do find it helpful to have a

      written chart of expectations that outlines chores as well as the daily schedule.

      Keep in mind, your daughter most likely knows what you expect from her. She

      simply doesn’t want to do it. So, she tries to deal with that problem by

      putting herself in the victim role and making it about everyone else but her.

      The most effective way to help her with that is by having a http://www.empoweringparents.com/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior.php with her, as Janet explains in the above article. I

      hope this helps to answer your question. Please let us know if we can be of

      further assistance. Take care.

  • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

    average mom

    It can be tough to know what to do  when a

    child’s victim mentality carries over into her adult life. From what you have

    written, it sounds like both you and your daughter have suffered through some

    difficult situations. Finding ways of dealing with the aftermath of trauma can

    be hard for anyone. It may be helpful to find out what types of local supports

    are available for you and your daughter. Many areas have community resources to

    help people move past traumatic experiences and also develop skills to be

    successful and productive. The 211 Helpline can give you information on support

    groups, counselors, and other community programs in your area. You can reach

    the Helpline 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-273-6222. You can also visit them

    online at http://www.211.org/. We appreciate you writing

    in and wish you and your daughter the best of luck moving forward. Take care

  • annie
    Found this site to late for me as my 15 yr old son has gone with people that are helping him to continue terrible behaviors even with constant abuse toward myself,family,friends and home, there is no help  CYFS nor the police can do anything as it is his choice toMore were he lives.  We can not move forward from this and my family don't want to know my son anymore it has now moved to a new level onto Cyber attacks, which I hope the police are taking serious I feel my son is so out of control with the help of these people and I believe my son has no ability to get himself out even if he wanted to now, he is in too far.
  • Aggie Mae

    Hi there

    Tell me please, how to deal with two very sullen, selfish and disrespectful step daughters. They are aged 14 turning 15 and 12 turning 13.

    Examples of their behavior include:

    Not greeting me and other adults. They will walk into a room and not greet or say good morning or good night. They recently walked into the sunroom where, my mom, my sister, their father and I were sitting have coffee. They walked in sat down and that was that. No greeting of elders, no greeting their father and of course they never greet me. Their father does not check their behavior.

    They spend every second weekend at OUR house and from the minute they arrive, till they leave it's just a horrible weekend. They make no effort to make conversation, I USED to be the one to always ask questions, to create conversation, and there was little or no response, maybe a monosyllabic answer. Now I do not engage. They are super sullen and extremely selfish children. My daughter of 8 is always making gifts for them, drawing pictures for them, giving them her sweets or sharing anything of hers. They have not ever returned the gesture. For instance they came to visit their father on Easter Saturday , and I say visit their father because they arrived with Easter chocolates only for him, not for my daughter or their half sister or me. I am not so worried about myself but it hurt my 8 year old so much. They did not wish me, my daughter or their half sister happy Easter.

    Asking them to clean the bathroom after they have used it is a no no. They leave the sponges and face cloths in the bath with the old bubbles and dirt and grit. They throw their hair from their brushes on the floors.

    If I try to talk to my partner about any of this he says they are just children and have been through so much. I disagree, four years down the line and four years of therapy and all is more than enough time to be responsible and polite. And start pulling themselves to themselves.

    Your thoughts?

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      Aggie Mae 

      It can be difficult to address stepchildren’s behavior in

      your home when they are not there full-time.  In addition, it sounds like

      your partner not only disagrees with you about how to address their behavior,

      but whether to address it at all.  This certainly sounds like a

      frustrating situation.  One step to take is to talk with your partner, and

      http://www.empoweringparents.com/My-Blended-Family-Wont-Blend-Help-Part1-How-to-get-on-the-same-page-with-your-spouse.php about basic house rules for everyone to follow.  Once

      you are able to develop these, we recommend that your partner communicate those

      rules to his daughters before their next visit so they know what to

      expect.  While it is normal to feel frustrated and annoyed when kids

      ignore you, we find that it is most effective if you do not give an emotional

      response to their lack of acknowledgement.  Instead, focus on taking care

      of yourself during those moments so that you are not inadvertently reinforcing

      their behavior by letting them know that they are pushing your buttons. 

      You can also talk with your children about a plan for themselves when your

      stepdaughters ignore them during their visits.  James Lehman outlines more

      tips in his article http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Respond-When-Your-Child-Ignores-You.php. 

      I understand how challenging this can be, and I appreciate your reaching out

      for help.  Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are

      going for you and your family.  Take care.

  • Sooo worried Mom
    I love this article.
  • jewel4
    I made a huge mistake at the age of 18 and right after I had my son( 15 now ) I went to prison for the next 12 1/2 years and now if I try to talk with him about any bad behaviors or discipline in any way, I alwaysMore get, you were never there for me my whole life! in which I guess is part true because I did go to prison which he didnt deserve. so now I dont know what to do cause he really lays the guilt on me.
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      jewel4 

      We talk with other parents who describe similar situations

      with their child after they have been absent from their child’s life for an

      extended time, so you are not alone.  Something to keep in mind is that it

      is normal for you to feel guilty for your actions, and your resulting absence

      from your son’s life; it’s also normal for him to feel hurt and angry. 

      While these emotions are common and acceptable, that does not excuse his

      behavior, nor is it effective to parent from this highly emotional place. 

      The fact is, your son is responsible for his choices, no matter what his life

      experiences might have been to this point.  To start, we would recommend

      developing a http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Create-a-Culture-of-Accountability-in-Your-Home.php with your son, and to only focus on 1-2 troublesome

      behaviors.  It could also be useful to work with local resources, such as

      a counselor or a support group, to help you to develop your parenting skills,

      and also to assist you and your son to work through your emotions in an

      appropriate, effective way.  If you are not currently working with anyone,

      try contacting the http://www.211.org/ at

      1-800-273-6222.  211 is an information and referral service which can help

      you locate available resources in your community.  I understand how difficult this situation can be,

      and I appreciate your writing in to share your experiences.  Please be

      sure to write back and let us know how you and your son are doing; I wish all

      the best as you both continue to move forward.

  • Lisa
    I wish I would have read this yesterday.  This exact same thing happened with my 14 year-old son.  He said that he "had the right to do wrong" because I yelled at him and on his case all the time.  Can you imagine that?  He thinks he had the rightMore to do wrong?  Oh my word!  That was a new one if ever I heard one!  However, after reading this article I can understand what my son meant and now I know how NOT TO REACT and how to respond.  Thank you Empowering Parents!
  • Kelly
    This is such a problem with my 16 year old step son! The problem is it works really well for manipulating his mother, so it's a habit he learned very quickly. It doesn't fly here with his father and I though, and we struggle with it a lot. Thanks forMore the tips!
  • dapunk
    I wish it was 1990 and I was reading this. how do I as a mother now gain contol of the victim and help him now that he is 32 yrs old.
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      dapunk

      We hear very similar comments from parents we work with as

      Empowering Parents coaches, so, you’re not alone. It can be easy to look back

      and see all the ways we could have parented differently. http://www.empoweringparents.com/perfect-parents-dont-exist-forgive-yourself-for-these-6-parenting-mistakes.php?utm_medium=email&utm_source=email11122013NX and we all make mistakes when raising our children. I

      think it’s helpful to remember that different doesn’t always mean better, and,

      even if you had responded more effectively to your son’s behavior in the past,

      it doesn’t necessarily mean he wouldn’t still be seeing himself as a victim

      today. As a parent, your part in guiding and directing your child as he grows

      is pretty substantial, yet, you’re not the only person who has influence on him

      and the direction of his life.  Quite frankly, your son continues to take

      the victim stance because it continues to work for him. You’re not going to be

      able to control that behavior. You do have control over how you respond to it

      though. You might consider developing some ways of responding that don’t

      reinforce his current view, whether by setting a limit on how much complaining

      about others you’re willing to listen to or by redirecting the conversation to

      ways he could start taking accountability for his own life.  We appreciate

      you writing in and hope you will continue to check back if you have any other

      questions. Take care.

  • MelCar
    I was wondering if when your child says these comments if you should say anything back? I know that I should follow through on what the consequences are but what about saying something? Are there different technics to use depending on the type of victim stance?
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      MelCar

      You bring up a great question. Whether or not you respond to the

      comment is probably going to depend on your child and the situation. There are

      times when responding only serves to prolong the argument. Other

      times, a response helps to set the limit before you walk away. For example, you

      might say something to your child like “Yelling at me isn’t going to solve your

      problem. You still have to mow the lawn” before walking away from the

      situation. The most important thing to keep in mind is that when responding to

      the victim stance, you want to be sure you’re setting a limit and http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Avoid-Power-Struggles-with-Defiant-Children.php. You know your child better than

      anyone, so, you would be in the best position to determine whether or not

      making a statement will serve to set the limit or only escalate him/her

      further. I hope this helps to answer your question. Be sure to check back if we

      can be of further assistance. Take care.

  • Ms80s
    I needed to read this post! My pre-teen daughter has been playing the victim a lot lately. Now I have the proper strategy to handle her. Thanks Janet!
    • jenjedihh
      Ms80s Hey the pre-teen and teen years are tough. But the years grow one into another.  Every stage is built on what went on previously. I found it hard to accept my daughter's changes, her moods and rudeness and falling grades - but I realised she was pretty scared andMore confused herself! That helped me stay clam and be there for her. Being available to listen also helped. It gave her a secure base; that i will be there for her. Things are stabilising now!
      • Ms80s
        jenjedihh Thanks for responding to my comment. Your struggle with your daughter has opened my eyes to that of my own. I want to be there for my daughter as much as possible without becoming a helicopter parent, but it's been difficult since she's becoming a young lady. It's niceMore to know that I'm not the only one going through this. Thanks again! :-)
  • ol'school
    I totally agree with this post and we work hard with our two young boys to be accountable for their actions and choices but my husband and I (like with many parents) make sure that we help mentor and parent them to learn these skills and if needed, pay theMore natural consequence such as bad grade for procrastinating.  Sometimes it takes once to teach a lesson.  Also, I think schools play a role and  need to watch how quick they are at labeling kids with ADHD and ADD.  Having two boys and knowing a lot of parents (with boys) , this is a big problem happening to children who display regular child behavior but led to believe that their actions are "not their fault".    They tried that with both of my boys but funny enough, when they want something bad enough they are very much in control on their bahavior.  I refuse to go that route and rather teacher the skills they need so they have it into adulthood.    My boys know other children who have been diagonsed because a teacher said so.  And these are the same kids who have a reason and excuse for a lot and are not held to the same consequence in school as other non-diagnosed students.    So,  many schools are teaching kids from a very young age that acting out, not paying attention, not completing work, etc.  is not their fault and then parents may believe it.   While it may exist is small numbers, it's over diagnosed and now my boys go to school with other kids who have an excuse for smashing my kid's lunch, can't finish their homework, etc. and get let off the hook a lot.  Taking meds gets them off the hook for many reasons in school.    I think the entire system of child rearing and schooling needs to be revamped so these kids grow up knowing they have the capability, skills and tools of being in control of their actions and need to learn to be held accountable.
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