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Victim vs. Survivor Mindset

Victim vs Survivor Mindset: Heal from trauma

I am seeing a growing trend in the mental health community to nurture a victim mindset in kids, and it is not good. Not good at all. I don’t believe it is due to bad intentions or willfully harming kids, yet it is leading to destructive outcomes. It usually begins with a deep sense of sympathy resulting in trying to create a protective barrier around the victim. The victim then is inoculated from the pressures of the world, able to tap out and not press through difficulties. This may be helpful for a short time after a traumatic event but is destructive in the long term.

A victim mindset embraces the idea that victims are deeply wounded and unable to do the things they were once able to do. They are provided with an escape from the daily pressures of life due to their emotional burdens. As people pour out pity on them, they learn to nurture their wounds and hold on to the pain. They nurse their wounds, clinging to the trauma like a friend. The trauma becomes a weapon they can use against anyone who tries to pull them out of the pit. The adults in their lives indicate that they are too wounded to move forward and are justified in unhealthy outlets for their pain. While there is justification for strong emotion, it is not healthy or beneficial to stay in that emotional state for an extended period of time.


Love is the center of our purpose of counseling children.

Eventually, they seem to fall into a victim club where they band together against the world rather than engage in the world around them. They feel entitled to self-destruct and blame their emotional pain on others. Every emotional outburst begins to divide them from those that they love, reinforcing the emotional prison they build up around themselves. They fail to thrive emotionally because they are imprisoned by their trauma.

A survivor’s mindset is different. Survivors push past the pain to get to the other side so that they can live. They go through the same trauma and pain but do not allow the trauma to steal their lives away. They learn to cope with the pain and move on. They view the trauma as an event that happened but do not view it as altering who they are as a person. It does not define them. They grieve the trauma and then learn to live meaningful lives despite the trauma.

The adults in a child’s life are instrumental in how the child responds to the pain. We either create an atmosphere of growth and healing or make the child feel hopeless. First of all, let’s explore sympathy vs. empathy. Sympathy is more of a sense of pity and sorrow for the other person. Empathy connects in a different way. It is a compassionate, loving response with a sense of curiosity. Instead of assuming how the person feels, empathy is inquisitive. Sympathy is more like entering the pain with the person while empathy is compassionately understanding but not being swallowed up by it.

Secondly, people who foster a victim mindset make excuses for the victim rather than preparing the victim for victory. There may be a brief period of time when the person with trauma may need a reprieve. However, people tend to choose the path of least resistance. By nature, we don’t like to do hard things. But life is hard. Survivors learn how to push through the pain and difficulties of life to get back on track. Avoiding triggers typically reinforces them rather than heals them. Adults need to find a balance between being responsive to the needs of the child and still expecting them to take on real-world responsibilities.


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The third hallmark of nurturing a victim mindset is the overidentification in other people’s pain. People with a victim mindset tend to project their own experiences on others. For instance, two people may experience the same thing but have different perspectives on what happened and different emotional responses. The victim mindset person may try to convince the other person that they should be more upset and emotional about the experience. People’s prior experiences, personal beliefs, support structures, personality, and many other factors influence how we respond to situations. It is not empathic to project your own feelings on others. It can create a burden that was not there in the first place.

A fourth aspect of fostering the victim mindset is not offering a way out. As the child processes the pain and grief of their trauma, a person with the victim mentality may give sympathetic responses and validate the feelings, but not offer healthy coping mechanisms and paths towards healing to break free from the pain. Survivors learn to stop intrusive thoughts, process their trauma narrative in a meaningful way, and focus on growth. They look at trauma as a learning opportunity and not a barrier to life.

Children need to hear that their lives are still meaningful and purposeful. As long as there is breath in their lungs, they have reason to be here. Their lives bring meaning to those around them. As they overcome the challenges they have experienced, they grow stronger and more powerful than they were before. On the other hand, when adults show sympathy with no track toward healing, the child feels powerless and defeated. It leads to a weak mindset and feelings of hopelessness. Kids need to know that we believe that they can heal and thrive again.

A final hallmark of the victim mentality is embracing anger. Bitterness arises when you nurture the anger and resentment of what has happened. Many adults champion the cause of advocating for trauma victims by lashing out in rage at others and engaging in destructive behaviors. Advocacy from a victim mindset leads to creating an environment that fosters more division. Survivors are able to advocate from place of strength. They are no longer ruled by their emotions and are able to respectfully debate and advocate for others in a non-defensive manner. They are well-received because they are able to manage their emotions and communicate respectfully.

The way to combat anger is to choose to forgive. Forgiveness is freeing and healing. Holding on to the anger allows the trauma (and the abuser) to continue to wreak havoc. They will continue to hold power and pain over the person. On the other hand, forgiveness sets the person free from pain so they can once again live. It also changes the perspective. Many people find that they develop a sense of empathy for their abuser after they forgive. It gives them the ability to see the situation in a different light to understand the whole picture.

In conclusion, let’s do better. Let’s make sure that we heal from our own wounds so that we can come in from a place of empathy instead of sympathy. Let’s be armed with effective tools and resources so that we don’t just identify and connect with kids, but are prepared to pull them out of a place of despair and bring hope for the future. Our goal is to do no harm. We must be aware of the harm done when we foster the victim mindset in our clients instead of helping them to be survivors.


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