There are two very common mindsets that will leave you powerless in the face of life’s challenges and depression and stop you from ever creating change in your life. I’m talking about the victim mindset and the martyr mindset.
I say ‘creating change’ because a lot of people, I am (still from time to time) one of them, allow external forces to have complete power over their emotional well-being. They wait for circumstances or other people to change instead of taking matters into their own hands and change themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that you should go with the flow, accept things the way they are and not try to constantly control everything around you. That being said, there is a difference between doing everything that is within your power to change what can be changed, and sitting around waiting for things to go your way.
Related article: The one mindset shift that helped me get rid of depression.
And in case you couldn’t tell, I don’t think the second option is the best one when it comes to healing from depression or changing your life.
The victim mindset and the martyr in you feed this permanent state of waiting and stop you from even considering that you could have the power to change things.
But how exactly do these mindsets manifest themselves, how are they hurting you and what can you do about it?
What is a victim mindset?
The victim endures life, believes that everything happens to them and not for them, and perpetually feels mistreated or oppressed.
The victim’s favorite song goes something like this:
- My life is so hard!
- Why is this happening to me, again!?
- Managers/banks/rich people/the Government (…) are taking advantage of poor people like me;
- My ex, that heartless, lying, conniving, cheating monster who abused me;
The victim has probably had a hard life. Maybe they’ve had to fight for everything, but now they are tired and perhaps even scared of the world. They are also resentful of others, especially when they feel these people are getting more than what they (the victim) are getting. They may have endured a lot of injustice in their life, but now they see injustice everywhere.
What is a martyr mindset?
The martyr pretends to accept a burden but deep down they reject it and blame others for putting them in this situation.
The martyr’s litany goes something like this:
- I have to do everything around here;
- If I don’t do it, who will?
- He/she/they leave me alone to do it all;
- No one cares except me;
- It’s all my fault: I allowed myself to trust you;
I find the martyr mindset fascinating in its complexity. It’s so subtly deceitful, and yet so damaging for both the martyr and the people around them.
When you are playing martyr, it’s hard to see that you are doing something “wrong” because this kind of behavior is, to some extent, “valued” by (some) society(ies). Maybe it has to do with Christianism (although I will not get into this in this post) and the way we raise girls (?)
I feel like girls are always expected to carry burdens without complaining or revolting. They have to be “good” at all times: good daughters, good students, good mothers, good employees. This basically means: shut up and do what is expected of you.
FYI, I speak about girls here because I am a girl. Men probably deal with the same thing but I don’t feel comfortable speaking about it.
Girls, and later women, cannot make waves or reject a role that makes them unhappy. If they do, they are considered difficult, unaccommodating, temperamental; they need to be taught how to behave.
In this context, they are not free to remove themselves from a situation without consequences, but at the same time, they are unhappy about it. Enters the martyr mode.
A person who adopted a martyr mindset pretends to accept a role or responsibility, but deep down they reject it. Beyond that, I think the martyr might even take some pleasure in thinking they are indispensable, which encourages them to keep assuming that role they hate.
The martyr mindset is a tricky one.
What do you think?
Marty and Victim mindsets: two faces of the same coin
Both the victim and the martyr represent two different lenses for looking at the same problem and that problem is that you do not want to take ownership of your life.
When you adopt a victim mindset, you completely reject your responsibility for the way things are, and in the martyr mindset, you pretend to resign yourself to your fate when in fact, what you are doing is blame others for putting you in this situation: you are not responsible; they are.
In both cases, you completely reject your own responsibility in the matter.
What’s the problem?
Both the victim and the martyr mindsets are tactics to avoid facing the consequences of your actions.
When you do not take responsibility for your life it makes things (appear) easier for you because you do not have to do anything to change them. It’s also easier to blame others for what is wrong in your life than it is to blame yourself.
The victim acts as if they had no choice in the way things are, and the martyr behaves as if they were coerced by others into doing something they don’t want to do.
Even when the martyr blames themselves for something (ex. “it’s my fault, I should have never trusted you”), what they are really doing is blame others: it’s called passive-aggressive behavior, btw (Source: Mayo Clinic).
Paradoxically, the martyr derives some pleasure from feeling indispensable which makes it a form of self-centredness.
These mindsets and beliefs are that much appealing because they appear to make things easier, but that’s an illusion. Their role is to maintain a status quo because our brains like the status quo: what your brain knows is safer, and the unknown is dangerous and scary.
In short, you are the one actively perpetuating a situation that is hurting you.
The danger of carrying limiting beliefs and mindsets
Your mindset and limiting beliefs hurt you
The victim and martyr mindsets both stop you from taking any action that could potentially change your life because you believe that you are utterly powerless.
They are the very definition of a limiting belief.
In both instances, there are only two solutions to your problem:
- The first one would be for others to change or make the necessary changes for you;
- The second would be to wait for your circumstances to change, aka leave everything to chance or fate.
In both cases, you don’t do anything other than sitting around waiting and complaining. That sounds pretty limiting to me, and to be honest, quite dangerous.
Not only do you relinquish the power you have over your own life, but you quite literally give that power away to someone else.
Victim or martyr mindsets are the equivalent of gift-wrapping your life and abandoning it on someone else’s doorstep, hoping they will do something good with it.
Do you honestly think that is an intelligent way of living your life?
Your mindset and limiting beliefs also hurt others:
These two mindsets not only hinder your chances of ever creating change in your life, but they are also damaging for your relationships.
Blame alienates people
Constant blaming of another person puts a strain on your relationships. They eventually associate negative feelings to their interactions with you, like shame, guilt, anger, resentment, etc.
You stop others from learning and growing
Other people’s problems are not yours to solve. It’s very likely that no one asked you to do it all; your mind did.
By constantly assuming the role of the martyr who has to do it all for everyone, you rob others of the opportunity to learn something, grow and gain valuable life experience.
Allow others to make (what you think are) mistakes and stop trying to control everything.
You are trying to control the wrong things
The real problem is that you cannot accept that you and other people see and do things differently. Therefore, instead of managing your own expectations or behavior, you try to control the other person’s.
But think about it for a moment: you can probably already attest how difficult it is to change yourself; do you honestly believe changing other people is easier?
And let’s assume for a moment you could change another person: do you honestly think other people know you (I mean, really know you) well enough to decide for you how you should or should not behave? What makes you think you are equipped to know what is best for them?
Focus on what you can control: yourself, and learn how to master that.
How do you change these mindsets?
If you don’t like a situation, change it. If you can’t change it, change yourself. And if you still can’t tolerate it, then leave.
You have more power than you think
Right now, your mental state is the product of external circumstances. But once you accept that you have the answers, you can finally reclaim power over your life and start moving it in the direction you want.
Ask better questions
You never think you have any power over a situation because you never look at it from a problem-solving perspective.
You are perpetually asking yourself “victim” questions (ex. “why are bad things always happening to me”?), therefore you get victim answers. Similarly, if you ask “martyr” questions, you come up with martyr answers.
Another way to look at the situation would be to ask yourself better questions such as: what am I doing to perpetuate this situation that is not working for me? How can I change it?
The point of this exercise is not to do it in a self-flagellating, “boohoo I’m a victim” way, but to detach yourself from the situation as much as possible and analyze it objectively; like a problem, you are trying to solve.
Once you look at it from a different angle, you start finding different solutions, better ones.
Figure out what you really want
You keep blaming other people because you don’t know what you want or are not sure how to get there. And figuring this out is hard. Very hard. It can take months (or even longer) of deep soul-searching, sweat and tears, uncertainty, trial and error, and lots of self-doubt before maybe getting there.
But try anyway. If you make a few wrong turns along the way but still dust yourself off and keep getting back up, you will figure it out. It’s hard but not impossible. What is stopping you is fear and self-doubt.
That being said, I’m not sure it’s about finding an “end-point” but rather developing a different attitude towards life in general.
Once you’ve figured out what you want, RESPECT that. Stick to it. Hold your ground.
You are afraid to act on your beliefs, i.e., enforcing, that’s why you prefer to stay in a situation that hurts you while still finding some sort of release in complaining or blaming others.
Making a choice is scary because you are afraid of making the wrong one and having to carry that responsibility. But do it anyway. Staying a victim or a martyr is worst. Act.
Forgive your mistakes
There are no wrong choices. There are choices and there are consequences.
If you make a mistake, don’t step into the blame game. What’s the point of criticizing yourself or others again and again? Is it changing anything?
Related post: Don’t beat yourself up. Do this instead.
One way to get past that is to understand that it’s very likely that you made the choice you thought was the best one at that time. You didn’t try to hurt yourself or others on purpose. The same logic applies to forgiving other people who have hurt you too. Very rarely do people actually want to hurt another person on purpose.
Forgive yourself. Learn. And keep moving.
Limiting beliefs are dangerous and insidious. A victim mindset and a martyr mindset might get you some attention and perhaps even sympathy from others, but they sabotage your chances of creating any significant change in your life.
Quit giving your power away to other people. If you want to start changing your life for good, start paying attention to your mindsets and take responsibility for your life, your actions, and your beliefs.
What limiting beliefs are currently stopping you from transforming your life?