How to Overcome a Victim Mentality

Boundaries with KidsA woman complained to me (Dr. Cloud) about a coworker who would always interrupt her while she was trying to get her job done. She acted as if her tendency to be behind in her work was her coworker’s fault.

“Why do you talk to her?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“When she comes in and interrupts, why do you get into a conversation with her?”

“Well, I have to. She is standing there talking.”

“Why don’t you just tell her that you have work to do, or close your door and put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign?”

The woman looked at me with a blank stare. To have choices and to have control of her own behavior was a concept that hadn’t occurred to her. She felt that if something happened “to her,” then that was the way it had to be. There was nothing she could do to change it.

When I suggested that she had many choices, she quizzed me about them. I gave her five or six suggestions, from talking to the woman about the problem, to talking to a supervisor, to asking to be moved to another area. This was a totally new way of thinking for her; she had never learned that she was free to make choices in relationships and in life.

Have you ever been in a relationship with a “victim”? Victims feel as if they have no choices in life. Life is something that happens to them, and whatever comes their way is their lot.


Click to Tweet: Children raised with good boundaries learn that they are responsible for their lives and free to live them as they choose, as long as they take responsibility for their choices.


Joe was such a victim. His company was imposing some new policies that he found difficult to handle, and he was very depressed about the changes.

“What are you going to do about it?” I asked him.

“What do you mean, do about it?” Joe asked.

“I mean what are you going to do about your being stuck in something you don’t like?”

He just looked at me. It took a long time before he realized that he could choose to get his resume out to some other firms and not be a victim to the fifty-hour workweek he hated.

Adults and children raised with good boundaries learn that they are not only responsible for their lives, but also free to live their lives any way they choose, as long as they take responsibility for their choices. For the responsible adult, the sky is the limit.

We live in a society of people-pleasers and victims. People today act as if they have no choices in life and that everything should be done for them. If it’s not, they can’t do it themselves or make changes. This presents a big opportunity for the future: If you learn to take control of your own life, you will be so far ahead of everyone else that success in life is all but guaranteed!


From Boundaries with Kids by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Learn more about this amazingly helpful resource.

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  1. Linda says

    Great article. Thanks for sharing that. I really needed to hear that, especially the part about “Adults and children raised with good boundaries learn that they are not only responsible for their lives, but also free to live their lives any way they choose, as long as they take responsibility for their choices. For the responsible adult, the sky is the limit.” I really needed that. Time to let go of my magical thinking that Jesus will take care of everything in my life and just magically “fix” me.

  2. DJ says

    Yes it’s about brainstorming different ways to deal with a situation (other than what is immediately obvious) and trying them out to see which is the best way that works for you.

  3. Ann says

    After experiencing plenty of unethical situations where I worked, I stood up to two owners of a business who expected me to do what I was told. I am a so called Senior Citizen and after applying to over 50 different jobs, I can not find another job – even part time. I can not collect Social Security for a few years yet and it does not look good for me.

    • Shelley says

      Yes, it really is not always as easy as “setting boundaries.” The world is not a respectful place full of people who respect others who respect themselves. Many supervisors would take this as a challenge. There are always costs to speaking up. Some are well worth bearing, some not. I do WISH it were this simple. But it is far, far better to have boundaries than not. God will take care of you. I believe and have seen that personally. Sometimes He leads to speak up, others not. We have to cultivate listening and following His lead.

  4. Logan says

    What’s the difference between this and entitlement? Sometimes you feel like you have to put up with certain things – out of love or preservance.

  5. Beth says

    What’s the difference between this and entitlement? Sometimes you feel like you gotta put up with certain things out of love or perseverance. I used to be on the opposite end and refuse to put up with anything and I’m now on the end where I tolerate too much. So you’re either intolerant and insensitive or being walked over. What’s the balance?

  6. Anon says

    although you can be back to Square One with others who are unwilling to accept or respect or acknowledge your boundaries….

  7. Christine John says

    I really just finally understood what one part of taking responsibility for myself means. My mom has been a victim all of her life and this helped me understand her more. Such a blessing.

  8. Tanya says

    I was a victim because of abuse from a very young age. And then I was raised in a family that was very authoritarian with few choices. I took it all to new levels of victim mentality in my youth and then married an alcoholic who was also a victim/ abuser. Through a complete physical breakdown I surrendering everything to Jesus and He began helping me find my worth and my voice. It was very very hard, but seven years later I am actually walking out what it’s like to have boundaries. And more importantly that it is the most loving way to live. My friends are mostly receptive. I’ve had some walk away. Some even for a season as they were victims themselves. But I truly feel I have endless possibilities and hope for my future.
    Sometimes old habits may try to creep in. But I pretty quickly see the issue and deal with it quickly.
    For those beginning to be free Of victim thinking- it will feel ‘harsh’ at first. But keep inviting the Holy Spirit to teach you how to be in healthy relationships. And you will see that boundaries help you. But for those that want to learn- it helps them too!!!

  9. Pam says

    I am not happy in my job and have over a period of two years applied for three jobs. One just last week ….. Nothing yet. I have no control over the endless gossiping, taunting and nosiness that is triggered from outside my place of work that finds its way unbelievably into my place of work. In the meantime I have tried to be a valuable contributing part of the team. Having no control over a situation does NOT imply that you are a victim or that you are not exploring choices/ possibilities because sometimes there really is nothing one can do and sometimes you just have to learn to create something within the situation …… so I have found this post distressingly condemning. “Success in life is all but guaranteed “ ….. well I guess you would have to define what you mean by success ? In the Bible I have come to understand that success is ‘another’ word for wisdom …… knowing the best thing to do within a situation. I have found myself creating relationships with the very people that have caused me so much pain. I know what they are …..but I know too that God has said that all He has created is good ….. to see His face in theirs has become less painful, less hurtful but it still hurts. If there has been any “success” then it’s change can be felt in my heart and certainly not in any outward “success”. To create something with them and not against them, to let go of the hurt and the sometimes anger ….. perhaps that would be success. Sometimes just a little bit of encouragement would be so life giving instead of this death that happens inside at every ‘lecture’. Encouragement is not ‘false hope’.

    • Sherri says

      Even in feeling like you have no choices in an impossible situation, you too have realized you can choose your attitude towards people and how you view them through Christ. If anything, this alone is incredibly freeing even though you may literally be ‘stuck’ physically in the situation you are in. When you change your thoughts about the people or situation you are in, it opens new doors to ways to cope with what often seems unbearable and also gives each of us potential for growth spiritually, which is sometimes exactly what God is looking for before He opens another door.

      I have experienced this personally in my own life and know that even when we are hurting, God is still listening and healing us and growing us into our new potential. Just because we don’t see what He has for us on the other side does not mean it isn’t there. Patience while He prepares the best for us is imperative to fulfilling everything He has in store for us. The important thing to know is that sometimes we might do everything in our own power to improve our situation by setting boundaries and still He says ‘wait, you aren’t ready my child, but when you are I will let you know’. And in the mean time He is busy preparing everything for us to bless us and make us happy. All He asks is for us to listen, be patient and wait, AND while we wait, to do our best for Him right where we are. When God trusts us with something small like a job we think is worthless or demeaning or difficult, He may just be testing us to see if we are faithful to follow Him and be trusted with the small blessings before He rewards us with the bigger ones. Like the servant who was trusted with his master’s money….do you bury it or invest it and help it to grow? If He can trust us with a ‘little’ then will He trust us with much.

      Also, sometimes God asks us to be willing to be in unbearable circumstances so that we can be a witness to His saving grace. His love makes the worst situations that much more bearable, because when we show His love through those bad situations our witness for Him grows that much stronger as we can point to Him for our faith and endurance even under persecution and difficulties. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, good or bad, we should be able to point people to Christ for His glory and not our own. Our job is to be humble so that He may be glorified. God wants us to be happy and to bless us. He wants us to set boundaries and do what is right, but He also wants us to learn to lean not on our own understanding and simply trust in Him. To Christ be the glory forever and ever regardless of where we might be.

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