Unraveling the Mindset of Victimhood - Deepstash
Social ambiguity

Social life can be full of uncertainty. Friends don't always smile back at you. Strangers sometimes look upset. The question is how you interpret these situations. Do you take everything personally or do you think there are reasons they behave that way that has nothing to do with you?

While most people tend to overcome socially ambiguity with ease, knowing it is unavoidable, other people tend to see themselves as perpetual victims. They believe that one's life is entirely under the control of forces outside one's self.

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Researchers found the tendency for interpersonal victimhood consists of four main dimensions:

  • Always seeking recognition for one's victimhood: Those who score high on this dimension have a constant need to have their suffering acknowledged. It is also normal for victims to want the perpetrators to take responsibility for their wrongdoing.
  • Moral elitism: Those who score high on this dimension perceive themselves as having perfect morality while viewing everyone else as immoral. They view themselves as persecuted, vulnerable and morally superior.
  • Lack of empathy for the pain and suffering of others: People who score high on this dimension are so preoccupied with their own victimhood that they are unaware of the pain and suffering of others.
  • Frequently thinking of past victimization: Those scoring high on this dimension continuously think about their interpersonal offences and their causes and consequences rather than about possible solutions.

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In interpersonal conflict, all parties are motivated to maintain a positive moral self-image. However, different parties are likely to create very different subjective realities. Offenders tend to downplay the severity of the transgression, and victims tend to perceive the offenders' motivations as immoral.

The mindset one develops - as a victim or a perpetrator - affects the way the situation is perceived and remembered.

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Three main cognitive biases characterize the tendency for interpersonal victimhood and contribute to a lack of willingness to forgive others for their perceived wrongdoings.

  • Interpretation bias: People with a higher tendency of interpersonal victimhood perceive low offences, such as lack of help, as more severe. They also anticipate hurt in ambiguous situations.
  • Attribution of hurtful behaviours: Those with a tendency for interpersonal victimhood were more likely to think an offender had harmful intentions. They were also more likely to feel a greater intensity and duration of negative emotions after a hurtful event.
  • Negative memory bias: Those with a greater tendency for interpersonal victimhood recalled more words representing offensive behaviours and feelings of hurt ("anger," "betrayal") and remembering negative emotions more easily.

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Researchers found those with a tendency for interpersonal victimhood were most likely to have an anxious attachment style.

Anxiously attached individuals tend to doubt their own social value and seek reassurance continually. They feel dependent on others to validate their self-esteem and worth, and at the same time, they experience complicated negative feelings.

At a group level, a collective victimhood belief can be learned through channels such as education, TV programs, and social media.

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If socialization processes can form a victimhood mindset, then the same processes can instil a personal growth mindset in people.

We could learn that we are not entitled but are worthy of being treated as human. We could learn that its possible to grow from trauma and become a better person. We could shed the victimhood mindset for something more productive, constructive, and hopeful to build positive relationships with others.

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