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'Playing The Victim' Manifests In These 11 Different Ways

Kelly McNelis
October 5, 2017
Kelly McNelis
Founder of Women For One
By Kelly McNelis
Founder of Women For One
Kelly McNelis is the founder of Women For One, a destination for women ready and willing to make life happen. Her work has been featured in O! Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, The Huffington Post, and more.
Photo by Ryan Tuttle
October 5, 2017

If you’re like every other person alive and kicking, you’ve probably asked the question, "Why me?" Maybe you’ve been down on your luck or worried that a dark cloud of misfortune was hanging exclusively over your head. Or maybe you’ve had lonely nights curled up with a pint of ice cream and spending way too much time on social media, only to walk away feeling overwhelmed by the apparent "fact" that your life is nowhere near as easy, glamorous, or abundant as those of other people you know.

We’re all human, and it’s hard to avoid letting yourself fall into despair from time to time. We all have some inherent level of victimhood inside us—subtly ingrained tendencies to blame the outside world—other people, our childhood, the "system"—for our experience.

Wherever you are in your life, you can always gain awareness of how this subconscious victim outlook has robbed you of your freedom. It's never too late.

I define victimhood as the tendency to point fingers to avoid self-responsibility and, ultimately, refute our own power. And while there are oppressive social and cultural forces that are hard to deny, we need to get real. We need to take responsibility for choosing to play the victim as an excuse not to claim our full power.

The victim mindset is stagnant and heavy. It keeps us paralyzed, small, and inadequate. It makes us believe that we are at the mercy of circumstances beyond our capacity to change. Most of all, it allows us only a small number of possible reactions to life situations. Deceptively, this victim response can look like strength or soldiering through a difficult time—when in reality, it’s just a coping mechanism to numb out from our pain. Victimhood robs us of our true power, which is our ability to feel everything and use it as fuel.

There are several common victim archetypes that prevail in our society. Sometimes they're obvious (like the people who always act like damsels in distress), and other times they're so sneaky we can't recognize them (for example, the people who are always looking to "fix" the problem). Notice which of the types stand out to you. Do you recognize any of them within the people in your life, or more importantly, in yourself?

Let's get more specific. Here are the 11 types of victims. Which one are you?

1. The Savior:

This person believes it’s their mission to "save" the world. They may be genuinely motivated by the desire to be of service, but the do-gooder tendency can also be a way to hide behind a role that keeps them from feeling powerless. They constantly project victimhood onto others and take up a thousand different causes, not from pure love, but from fear and reactivity. These victims would rather focus on others than look at themselves.

2. The Eeyore:

This person walks around with a perpetual rain cloud over their head. The world hasn’t given them their due, and they’ll say so to anyone who is willing to listen. For such a victim, the glass is always half-empty, and anyone who dares to suggest otherwise has obviously not experienced the amount of strife and misfortune that has been the "Why Me?" guy’s unhappy lot.

3. The Blissful Naif:

He or she might walk around with flowy clothing, a serene smile, and a Sanskrit mantra on their lips—or their denial might simply manifest as a tendency to avoid anything dark, like the nightly news report or a violent movie. While the desire to keep a positive spirit is laudable, when it stems from fear, you'll see the person cling to a fantasy world, running from any ugly emotions or unpleasant aspect of reality.

4. The Busy Bee:

This is the person who powers ahead at any cost. They can’t slow down, and relaxation time has to be penciled into their calendar. They are constantly multitasking, working after hours, and complaining about what a busy day, month, year, or lifetime it’s been. Their busyness, in fact, is avoidance—a numbing mechanism and a convenient excuse to dodge aspects of their lives that might be troublesome or difficult.

5. The Screw-Up:

This is the one who can never seem to get their act together. Their screwing up might look like perpetual unemployment, depending on loved ones to bail them out, or making poor decisions that have long-term consequences. They might even be apologetic about their inability to function in the world, but mostly, the lamentation, "I can’t ever seem to do anything right," keeps them spinning in the hamster wheel of their hopelessness, especially if there’s a Savior or Caretaker ready to come to the rescue.

6. The Escape Artist:

"Anywhere but here" is the Escape Artist's personal mantra. This tendency can show up in tons of different ways—in the hopeless addict (of love, sex, drugs, money, food, video games—you name it), the daydreamer who can never seem to get her great ideas off the ground, the devoted spouse who pours all their free time and energy into their partner, or the restless friend who is on to the next thing before you can finish your sentence. Escape Artists typically operate from a sense of self-abandonment and have the fundamental belief that they are flawed. Escapism is perhaps the most common of all the victim types, as it emerges from a wound that every single one of us carries.

7. The Limelight Lover:

This victim requires constant validation and attention. If they aren’t taking center stage, something is obviously wrong. This tendency comes from a deep insecurity—maybe even self-loathing—as their worth is derived from external validation. The Limelight Lover is often clingy and needy, and they tend to drain others of their energy. They further exercise their victimhood by guilt-tripping loved ones: "You don’t want to spend time with me? Obviously, that means you don’t care about me."

8. The Storyteller:

Something of a spinoff of The Limelight Lover, The Storyteller is the type of victim who constantly feels the need to one-up others by telling stories that are bigger and better and wilder. It doesn’t matter if they’re true stories, because the name of the game is embellishment and exaggeration. The Storyteller’s sense of self-worth is based on the notion that if they aren’t special, other people won’t notice them; therefore, they are "always on."

9. The High and Mighty:

An example of The High and Mighty victim might be a boss who treats her employees poorly—privileging the people at the top of the heap and demeaning the ones at the bottom. The High and Mighty victim constantly finds others in the wrong and sees himself as better than just about everyone else. This tendency to disconnect keeps them from feeling empathy or compassion for others—which would be way too dangerous, as it might bring them face to face with their own pain.

10. The Caretaker:

This is a common form of victimhood, particularly among women who are indoctrinated with the "virtues" of self-sacrifice and martyrdom. The Caretaker has little time and energy to spend on herself, as she’s too busy tending to the needs of others—which may make her feel in control and valued in the world. Taken too far, caretaking can breed resentment as well as the sometimes-hidden belief that nobody else is capable of giving her what she wants or needs. Instead of making her needs clearly known, she usually chooses to wallow in a long-suffering, passive-aggressive way.

11. The "I Am Not a Victim" Victim:

This particular victim tends to be so triggered by the notion of her victimhood that she immediately loses control when faced with someone who is displaying anything that could be construed as weakness. Because she hasn’t integrated the parts of herself that have been hurt and wounded, she is hard on those whom she perceives as wallowers. Terrified of her own vulnerability, she is a proponent of people sucking it up and just "getting over it." Her lack of empathy, similar to that of The High and Mighty Victim's, comes from an unwillingness to get real with herself about her own pain.

Do any of these archetypes sound familiar to you? Do some resonate? Are there other ways that victimhood shows up in your life? Remember, every single one of us has played the victim in our lives—and while many of us have, in fact, had some truly painful experiences, we all have the opportunity to choose how we are going to react—now and for the rest of our days. And the power of our choice makes all the difference between a safe but mediocre life and one that is deeply felt and lived.

Want more insights on how to level up your life? Check out your love horoscope, then find out why holding on to past relationships is the worst thing you can do for yourself.

This post was adapted from Kelly McNenis’ new book, Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman, available for pre-order here.

Kelly McNelis author page.
Kelly McNelis
Founder of Women For One

Kelly McNelis is the founder of Women For One, a destination for women ready and willing to make life happen. With over 20 years of experience as a nonprofit and small-business consultant, McNelis empowers generations of women around the world to build the relationships, community, and confidence they need to achieve their wildest dreams. She is also the author of Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman. She finds daily inspiration in spending time with her husband and children in her home outside of Seattle, and her work has been featured in O! Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, The Huffington Post, and more. McNelis received her bachelor's in sociology and anthropology from North Carolina State University.