Illsutration von einem Mann mit Angstzuständen

In this article, the word “victim” expressly does not refer to people who have been physically or psychologically harmed by an offence or crime, catastrophic events, persecution, acts of war or accidents. I, therefore, use the term “victim” in the following exclusively as an expression of a certain attitude of healthy people who are basically able to autonomously change something about a situation that is stressful for them. 

Once one has taken up the role of the victim, it is tough to get out of it. Thus, some people remain in this position their entire lives – expecting everyone else to finally change.

If there is no awareness of one’s own behaviour, there is, of course, no awareness of the need for change. It’s like most patterns and behaviours: Often, we don’t even know we are living with them. Whether we’re professionals or not, we are all essentially “operationally blind” regarding ourselves. We are so deeply stuck in our system, in the routine of “being yourself”, that we miss the proverbial wood for the trees. Or, more literal here: our own person for the habits.

The classic example is the egoist, who is rarely aware of his behaviour patterns and would never consider himself an egoist. He does not understand why he often encounters rejection with his behaviour. And even supposedly good qualities can develop into unhealthy patterns: For example, a very generous person may constantly overstep their own boundaries without noticing it. They would put their own needs second – just to be there for others. Although they might suffer from the situation and the associated stress, they do not initially recognize their behaviour as negative.

The victim is similar to the egoist or the overly helpful person. Because, just like the self-centred egoist or the person who derives their happiness from helping others, there also is a benefit in being a victim – even if it is unconscious.

It's like most patterns and behaviours: Often, we don't even know we are living with them.

The benefits of living as a victim? Are actually quite obvious:


As with many patterns, habit plays a significant role in victimhood. This can go back to early childhood: Those who were taken extra care of as children, who were overly protected, have learned that others will take over responsibility. Perhaps they never had to cope with difficulties on their own; someone was always there to catch them and pick up the pieces behind them. An upbringing that may have been perceived as helpful can lead to a lack of self-reflection and maturity in adulthood. Those who have always been deprived of responsibility tend to look for it in others throughout their lives. They blame their surroundings and external circumstances for their happiness and unhappiness. This motive of habit is also often not recognized by the affected person due to a lack of self-reflection.


It is simple: If we are not to blame for anything, we cannot do anything wrong. By putting ourselves in the victim role and placing responsibility in someone else’s hands, we protect ourselves from defeat, fear of failure and dissatisfaction. Many push all responsibility as far away as possible to be able to point the finger at someone else in case of failure. A desire for moral superiority also plays a role: If I never make mistakes, I am a better person than those who do. This usually doesn’t happen with the conscious intent of harming others but rather to protect oneself: By absolving oneself of the guilt from “moral lapses”. This behaviour follows from the illusion that taking responsibility for a certain situation is equivalent to guilt. The shame about one’s own position is often so immense that it is relieving to look for (and, if necessary, find) the blame for it in others. Taking responsibility, however, does not mean admitting that one is to blame for a situation. It only means accepting that no matter through whose (supposed) fault we suffer, only we can liberate ourselves again.

Identity and recognition

People who have gone through difficult situations and experienced a lot of adversity usually receive recognition and helpfulness. Our pain, which no one can empathize with and our grief, which would tear anyone to the ground – they make us unique and give us a certain superiority and admiration from others. The desire for recognition is often so great that people in the victim role identify with these events that supposedly make them unique. Being a victim becomes a sustaining quality without which we would not be able to recognize ourselves. Once we project all our strength, and all attention, into the strokes of fate we have overcome – we are no longer ourselves without them. At least that’s how it feels to the victim, which is why they make their own pain their identity. Thus, they don’t let go of this pain for fear of the perceived loss of identity.


Other people’s reactions to our suffering also play a meaningful role in us remaining in the role of the victim. We claim attention and, of course, receive it – resulting in a close bond with the people who care for us. Interestingly, in a scenario where Anna asks Bella for help, Anna does not, as expected, feel a closer bond with helping Bella afterwards. In fact, it is often the other way around: If we help someone, we subsequently feel responsible and thus emotionally connected to their fate.

By remaining in the victim role, we ensure that our friends, family, or colleagues, in turn, keep the part of the helper. Unfortunately, this common motive holds an unpleasant truth: the victim often turns his situation into a means of emotional blackmail and continually demands the help of those around them. They have no genuine interest in leaving their needy position but prefer to steadily accept further support from various people, thus tying them ever closer. They feel like the help is only guaranteed as long they remain in the role of the victim. For instance, anyone no longer living up to this claim becomes a perpetrator in the victim’s mind. This way, the victim repeatedly reinforces themself by taking power over others and turning their miserable situation into an act of revenge against those who have wronged them.

By remaining in the victim role, we ensure that our friends, family, or colleagues, in turn, keep the part of the helper.

These are all often learned structures for which we cannot be held responsible in childhood. As adults, however, it is well within our capabilities to outgrow ourselves and the patterns we have learned, to break these old habits, and to adopt new behaviours.

And, of course, as always in life, it is impossible to generalize or pin down truths. There are countless other motives, mostly unrecognized and running in the background.

What can be said for sure: most of us in certain life situations will recognize ourselves in one of these motives. The behaviour does not always turn out as extreme and explicit as described, and it never clearly indicates a lousy character, insufficiency or cowardice. What defines us is how we deal with such realizations. Whether we accept being a victim to achieve the (negative) benefits or prefer to regard the newly gained awareness of the problem as an opportunity to fight our way out of it.