A victim mindset is unhealthy for you and everyone in your life. The transition from victim to survivor is a big step. It takes a lot of inner work. But it’s worth the effort. However, the goal is not just surviving. It’s learning how to thrive.
Going From Victim to Survivor
We know specific roles can dominate our psyche. Stay in a mindset long enough, and it alters the psychic structure of the brain. That’s the reason harmful perspectives are hard to break. The path from victim to the mindset of survivor is an essential step in our wellbeing. The goal is thriving, not just surviving and certainly not acting out our lives as a victim.
There are three prominent roles in our culture, the victim, the survivor, and those who thrive. Think of these three mindsets as points on a continuum. The least healthy is the victim. The most beneficial is thriving, and the survivor role is the middle-ground.
Each of these mindsets has particular characteristics, which define its boundaries. To go from one to the next requires you to go beyond the limits of any role. It’s possible to get stuck in a pattern of thinking and not realize it. These roles have nothing to do with your socioeconomic situation. You can have a lot of material wealth and have a victim mindset.
It is unfortunate, but many people live out their entire lives with a victim mindset. Going from victim to survivor never becomes a reality. Some make it to a survivor’s position when they learn healthy ways to deal with the underlying issues. The real victors are those that can learn to thrive. They are not just survivors but thrivers. Let’s look a little more closely at each of these mindsets and roles.
What is a Victim Mindset?
A victim mindset uses unhealthy coping strategies to deal with underlying issues causing pain and fear. These coping strategies of the Ego are harmful because they harm others while masking the underlying issues. The fear and pain of the unresolved problems leak through these unhealthy coping mechanisms.
These strategies manifest as harmful behaviors and harmful repercussions on their lives. It also has an impact on everyone in their circle of influence. It differs from someone who suffers harm. People can be victims of a crime or injustice without taking on a victim mindset.
Moving beyond your limits, reaching beyond the victim and survivor’s roles, requires dealing with fear and pain that keeps us locked into these roles. If we can face and deal with the underlying issues, we can move from victim to survivor. It’s a big transition.
What is a Survivor Mindset?
The survivor mindset is the frame of reference when is someone is learning to overcome unhealthy coping mechanisms. It takes some people years to reach this point, but the work is worth the effort. It is easy to slip back into these bad habitual coping strategies when under stress.
What does it mean to Thrive?
Our culture defines thriving as accumulating wealth, but having more money and stuff does not make us happy. You can thrive when you have very few possessions and material wealth. Thriving is flourishing, which means to grow or develop healthily or vigorously. It results from a positive mindset, not our surroundings or circumstances.
People who thrive are usually those who have made the journey going from victim to survivor. Thriving means we live by intent and can better handle our current situation, no matter what. The Ego has the least amount of control when we reach this point.
Moving Beyond Your Limits
Both the victim and survivor mindsets result from adopting strategies to deal with unresolved issues or trauma. The Ego adopts coping strategies to remain in control. Most times, we do not choose these strategies on a conscious level. It’s the mechanism of the Ego that grasps something handy it can use. Going from victim to survivor is a huge step.
The first step is finding out if you use one or more of these strategies. We need to do the inner work to deal with issues; it’s the only way to go from victim to survivor. The goal is moving beyond your limits, going beyond the fears that hold you back. These fears keep us from learning to thrive.
Confronting your fears takes courage, but the goal is worth the effort not only for you but for everyone in your sphere of life. This path involves all levels of your mind, body, and spirit. The approach from victim to survivor is only possible if you can do the inner work.
Victim mentality topologies are nearly impossible to see when looking from the inside out. Others may observe them more readily because our Ego does an excellent job of hiding them and justifying our actions. The term for being under the influence of the unhealthy aspect is fixation.
The Enneagram of Personality system has an accurate way of identifying this situation. There isn’t a correlation between our central personality triad and a particular victim strategy or mindset. There are three primary schools of thought regarding how someone fixates on a specific victim mindset.
A. The Fixation Relates to their dominant personality type
If this is the case, it means they are at the lowest mental health level. So they identify with the typology of their dominant personality type because it is the most comfortable or familiar.
B. The Fixation Occurs at the point of disintegration
If this case applies, then the Riso/Hudson interpretation would apply. Below is a graph showing directions at which each personality disintegrates. For example, if your dominant personality type is an Achiever at point 3, you would move to point 9. If your dominant personality type is 7, you disintegrate at point 1.
C. The Ego Selects One or More Strategies by Random
Here, the Ego picks one or more strategies without regard for personality type. It could relate to the specific trauma. Sometimes, it is a strategy they know because of family or social exposure. They observe it, so the Ego adopts a way to cope. It’s the case over 50% of the time. It sees something it thinks will work and grabs it.
Because of the above situation, we can’t use our personality type to identify the fixation source. It may not be in your primary personality triad at all. Our research over the 30 years shows the strategies for victim mentality are more likely a random choice.
Regardless of the reasons for adopting the strategy, the antidote identifies the victim’s underlying fear. It means you can find the victim typology below and use it as a starting point, going from victim to survivor.
The best way to approach this is to review the typologies below and find those that seem familiar. Then look at your Enneagram Personality Profile to see if it aligns with either your dominant personality type or the type in the direction of disintegration. To do this, you must know your Enneagram type.
Chances are, the unhealthy coping strategies you are using are things you’ve picked by observing others use them. Your family history is the most likely source for learning about these mechanisms. However, you can pick them up from any social interaction. Even if the strategy doesn’t align with your personality type, you use it because it is familiar.
If someone has a lengthy history in the victim role, they become masters at many of these tactics. A long pattern of use can make it hard to identify the primary strategy. However, it’s most often the one they began using first.
Nine Unhealthy Coping Strategies
Below are the nine main unhealthy coping mechanisms of the victim. These are the basic typologies. These types exist in several variations. Here’s how to use this list. First, scan them all. Then go back over the titles and see which one seems too familiar. Use your spiritual journal to talk about it. Ask yourself how you use it. Find examples of when you have used it, then list the consequences.
It’s important to remember these typologies may or may not correspond with your dominant personality type or the type at the point of disintegration. Although this is possible, it is not always the case. However, you can’t use these victim typologies to identify your dominant personality type.
Read through them with an open mind. Determine if one or more are familiar. If you use more than one of these strategies, select the one you use the most. If you have a long history of using a victim mindset, you’ll likely use more than one method. These are the signs of fixation, the wake-up call for those ready to start reaching beyond unhealthy coping mechanisms of Ego.
You must know your Enneagram Personality Profile type and instinctual stack. We recommend “The Wisdom of the Enneagram, by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.”
Then find the Enneagram personality type that corresponds with your victim typology. Compare this to your Enneagram profile. Is this your dominant type or the type at the point of disintegration? If so, you a possible starting point for your inner work. These unhealthy coping mechanisms can overlap or be used together with others so that you may find your variation on these themes.
1. Decision Paralysis
You give in or refuse to contribute to making the big decisions. If the significant decision is wrong, you didn’t make it. If it was correct, you didn’t get to let your opinion be a part of the winning formula. It’s giving up control to be the victim.
So, if you are a type 8 challenger, this would be the least likely thing for you to do. You are generally decisive. So, by not deciding, it turns you into the victim. If you are a type 2 helper, your “direction of disintegration” is at type 8. When this occurs, you take control and become domineering, even hostile.
If you are a personality type 8, the antidote is allowing others to decide. It isn’t all or nothing, and you don’t have to choose or refuse. There is a middle ground. For instance, if you are a 2, this translates to needy self-seeking behavior.
2. Excuse Maker
You are the master of excuses. You have such a deep and diverse catalog that people often believe you, and you think it too. You are a master of circular logic. So, you can find a reason not to try or fail and then explain it away.
So, it also has a lot to do with denial. Your excuses help you deny your genuine desires. As long as you can keep spinning the reasons, it works, but eventually, you realize it makes you the victim. It robs you of your “personal power.” This unhealthy coping mechanism is a favorite of all personalities, primarily type 1.
3. Self-Doubt and Self-Pitty
You seem like you are half-asleep. You purposely run yourself down emotionally and physically. This way, others need to feel sorry for you. If you aren’t having a significant crisis of some sort, you’ll relive the ones from your past.
It’s more than a lack of self-confidence. You break things to make sure they don’t work. You ruin everything from machines to relationships. Self-doubt becomes self-destruction. The worst part is you find a sense of fulfillment in being inept.
If self-doubt isn’t painful enough, you resort to self-destructive behaviors. It’s the crown achievement of the victim mentality.
4. The Blamer
It’s all about not taking responsibility and shifting it to others. Almost everyone with the victim mentality uses this one to some extent. Refusing to accept accountability and commitment leads to blaming others. It is one of the classic unhealthy coping mechanisms that are easy to spot. If you’re around one for any length of time, you will likely be the blame for something. It is easy to pick up because it is prevalent in our popular culture. Politicians use it so blatantly we don’t recognize it.
These tactics can be overt or covert and hidden. For example, a subtle way to blame is allowing others to make significant decisions. This way, if things don’t work out, you can blame them. You find enjoyment in placing blame. It makes them responsible if things go wrong. But, if things go okay, you can jump in and take credit.
An overt external example would be for those with extremist religious beliefs. It gives the “chosen ones” special privileges to blame. Now you can blame in the name of your imaginary friend. Now your enjoyment is righteous. You blame people for being poor or born of any other ethnic group but yours.
Another more overt aspect of the inward focus is punishing yourself. You find creative ways to blame yourself for things you can’t control, like the weather. All the better if you make a mistake. But some people find fault by looking in the mirror. They don’t like what they see based on some unattainable cultural standards. Then they engage in self-harming behavior to punish themselves.
5. Energy Vampire
You emotionally drain yourself. Then you become so needy that you suck the emotional energy out of others. The Ego dominates your thoughts. It doesn’t matter which personality type you are; the inner critic turns up negative self-talk volume. You feel entitled to anything that you want because you want it.
Here you focus on negativity, so you seek positive people to bring them down to your level. No one knows where the energy goes; you siphon off because it does not satisfy you.
The victim purposely lives in the past. The pick the events where they were a victim, then pull that negative energy with them into the present.
7. Resentment Deluxe
If someone else has something else, you resent them even if you don’t want what they have. Read that again. You resent people who have or achieve things you don’t want. But if they have something you want, you resent them all the more. This negativity is palpable. Many victims use this to support their attitudes of resentment.
They will drive through neighborhoods looking and houses and cars. All the while, feeling resentment and scorn for everything. The Ego enjoys it. If you are an Enneagram type 7, this can be destructive. That’s because type sevens live for variety. So, they find more things to resent.
8. Worry Addict
Your outlook is beyond pessimistic. You are always talking about worst-case scenarios. Because of this, you empathize with every disaster. What’s worse, you look for crises and disasters. Because you expect bad things to happen, worrying about things dominates your time. This thinking makes you a victim of things that haven’t happened.
This unhealthy coping mechanism leads to the use of other unhealthy strategies. Worrying becomes addictive to the mind. It triggers the fight, flight, or freeze reaction, leading to poor decision-making.
The worst thing you can do during an actual disaster is to fixate on the negative. You’ll need to look for solutions.
Many physical and emotional triggers push people to self-destructive behavior. The pain of any kind drives people to seek a way out. Drinking and drugs provide a temporary oasis from pain. But cause other health problems that start a vicious cycle. You seek relief but don’t or can’t face what is causing it.
When you don’t feel good about yourself, you engage in behavior to punish yourself. Sometimes this is conscious and deliberate. Other times it is subconscious sabotage. It triggers physical and mental addictions, risky behavior, affairs, or other self-defeating behaviors.
You end up destroying yourself and ruining your life by running away from the pain that started the cycle. You must face the pain. It may never go away, but you can keep it from holding you in a victim mindset.
Holding Onto the Victim Mindset
Many people in Western developed countries identify with the role of a victim. When asked, the majority acknowledge being taken advantage of, lied to, abused, or betrayed. It becomes one of the significant aspects of their identity.
We hold on to these roles because they are comfortable. The dominant cultural narrative reinforces it to dominate our thoughts and values. Religions control half of the population. So, they have a critical mass effect on our modern societies.
The main cultural narrative fosters competition above compassion. It promotes a caste system of race, ethnicity, social and economic status. It is easy to become a victim in a society like this. Rather than a bastion of equality and health, it is a culture that allows corporations greater privileges than people.
There are also people in the world who are even more unfortunate. They are refugees of war, climate change, and economic despair. People in this group are seeking refuge and struggling for their very lives. So, you’d think they would be the ones who be the most likely to have a victim mentality, but they don’t. They are often more grateful just to be alive. They do not perceive themselves as victims. Instead, they see themselves as survivors. We hear stories of the survivors of World War II concentration camps. Those who lived took on the survivor’s role, and later they learned to thrive.
So, circumstances aren’t necessarily the determining factor for people to fixate on the victim role. The primary reason is your Ego. It wants to maintain control. So, it takes any opportunity to move along the path of disintegration to its unhealthy type, and it puts the Ego firmly in control. It doesn’t care how unhappy you are or what pain you experience. It will do anything to maintain control. When this happens, it manifests in one of the typologies listed above.
Reaching Beyond — Learning to Thrive
The misconception is those who thrive have an abundance of material things and resources. But, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most people who see themselves as thriving are not financially wealthy, and they are simply content. To thrive is to live with conscious intent. To feel fulfilled and satisfied.
So, thriving, it’s not about money or possessions but peace of mind. Chances are, we will need to deal with the programming from the cultural narrative. Learning to thrive is different for everyone. One thing is common, and they can accept new ideas more readily. You might call them freethinkers or healthy skeptics.
It raises several questions. How does this fixation occur? What thinking or behaviors do we associate with them?
When we fixate, we become stuck in a particular mindset that affects our lives. It shows up in our self-talk, values, and behaviors. Think of victim and survivor as points on the path to thriving. Here’s is a process you can use to move beyond the victim mindset:
1) Identify the Coping Strategy of the Victim Mindset
Our first step on this journey is to identify the coping strategies. Read the nine main unhealthy coping strategies’ descriptions and find those you use. If there is a favorite, this is likely your primary strategy.
2) Find How this Strategy Fits with Our Personality
Then we learn how this corresponds to two significant aspects of our personality using the Enneagram of Personality Profile. It will more than likely be our dominant personality type and the personality type at the point of disintegration.
3) Deal with the Original Fear and Pain
Dealing with your fear is the hard part of the whole process. The best strategy is to use the Enneagram and find the self-talk scripts hiding the pain point or points. These are the issues we need to face. Facing your pain points is where the real inner work begins.
You need to use the proper approach to dealing with the underlying pain and fear. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all process to do this. Many people need help in this process.
Any tool that helps you get below the superficial is helpful. Another process we recommend for people on this journey is a comparative analysis. It helps you see your cultural programming by seeing its reflection in other belief systems. It’s the most non-threatening approach to examining beliefs.
Identifying Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
The transition from victim to survivor is a significant step. It’s possible to slide back and forth from the survivor back to the victim mentality. Be mindful of your self-talk and habitual behaviors. The Enneagram of Personality profile can help you see how you leverage these coping mechanisms.
The movement along the path of disintegration happens for two reasons. First, something threatens the control of the Ego. Or, second, when we are under mental or physical stress. So, learning about default personality and its tendencies is an excellent way to find emotional equilibrium.
If you only identify with one of the above victim typologies, you will have a good idea of your default personality type. However, many victims identify with more than one. So, although you initially disintegrate within your basic triad, your Ego will continue around the circle adopting tactics to ensure it maintains control of our awareness.
Enneagram of Personality Directions of Disintegration
To do this, you will need to know your Enneagram default personality type. Then you can research to find out how your Ego is using unhealthy coping strategies to compensate. You can find a free online Enneagram Test, but the more accurate versions aren’t free. The more precise versions have between 140 and 150 questions to cross-reference the nine types.
Beyond Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
Going from a victim to a survivor is a significant step, but it’s not the goal. Learning to thrive, no matter your life situation, is possible. First, you must identify where you are on the continuum of mindsets and then identify any unhealthy coping strategies you use. The last step is the hard part. Now, you must face the fear and pain behind your mindset.
No one has a perfect life. Things happen which are out of our control. Sometimes we compound this by making the wrong choices. So, we can pick up unhealthy coping mechanisms to get by. When we realize this isn’t working, it’s time to start the path from victim to survivor and eventually thrive. Reaching beyond your current role can be scary, but it is worth the effort.
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(1) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia