Victim Mentality

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[Psalm 44:22]
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8:35-37

Notice in the verse above that the apostle Paul has been through some things. We know he was imprisoned multiple times. He was beaten and almost killed. He faced hunger and famine. He faced poverty and ridicule. He endured severe persecution. Yet, when it came time to make a statement about his identity in Christ, he used the phrase, “more than conquerors.” Though in many ways Paul was a victim, he did not use that label to define his identity. “More than conquerors” is a label given to the victorious, not victims. Paul was able to look beyond his victimization and to the victory that he had in Christ.

There are a couple phrases floating around out there that we need to clarify when it comes to victimhood.

Playing the Victim: when someone is “playing the victim” they are acting like they have been victimized when they really haven’t been. They are attempting to gain victim status to garner people’s sympathy. This is a manipulation tactic that some people use to get the upper hand in their workplace or in a conversation.

According to an article in Psychology Today, a new study led by Ekin Ok at the University of British Columbia has found people who signal virtue and victimhood are more likely to have dark triad personality traits (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy). The study states, “contemporary Western democracies have become particularly hospitable environments for victim signalers to execute a strategy of nonreciprocal resource extraction.” In other words, if you play the victim–in particular a virtuous victim–you can get social and material resources.

Victim Mentality: when someone has a victim mentality, they view their entire identity through the lens of being a victim. Someone with a victim mentality could just be “playing the victim” (see above) or they could have been legitimately victimized. A person with a victim mentality tends to immediately view themselves as a victim in nearly all of their interactions with others. As we see with the apostle Paul, being legitimately victimized doesn’t have to lead to a victim mentality. Though we may have been victimized, we don’t have to let that reality control our identity and how we view ourselves.

At Araminta Freedom Initiative, a nonprofit that fights child trafficking in the Baltimore area, we intentionally didn’t call young girls who had been trafficked “victims.” Clearly they had been victimized, but we wanted them to know that they were so much more than a victim. We didn’t want them living with a victim mentality because it is so disempowering. We wanted language that empowered them to live full lives. So instead of “trafficking victim” we called them what they really were, “trafficking survivors.”

No one will get through this life without some level of victimization. Some people will experience severe victimization and others will experience more mild forms. This world is broken and sinful. People are broken and sinful. The question is not whether we will be hurt or harmed in some way. Of course we will. This should not surprise us. Jesus warned us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The question is whether we will allow these hardships to establish a victim mentality within us, or whether we will choose to see ourselves not only as “survivors” but as “more than conquerors through Him who loves us.”

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

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