Parents are the most powerful source in making their children learn and unlearn the victim mindset
Do you think that somebody else or some unfortunate events in your life are responsible for your miseries and for preventing you from being your best self? Do you think that other people are luckier than you? Do you think that your life problems are rare and exceptional and the majority of the people around you are having the best time of their lives? Do you spend most of your time complaining about others’ unfair behaviors towards you? Do you think that nothing ever goes right in your life? Moreover, do you think that your child is helpless? Have you ever felt sorry for your child? Do you make excuses for your child’s failures and weaknesses? If you agree with most of these questions then it indicates that you grew up believing that you have been victimized in life and you are going to raise your children with a victim mentality. Parents are the major source of influence in a child’s life, especially in his early years. Children keenly observe and imitate what their parents practice and believe. If they see their parents in a victim role then it is quite natural for the children to adopt a victim mindset. A person with a victim mentality believes that he has no control over his life, he is completely helpless, he can’t do anything for himself, he is the victim of people’s unfairness, he waits for others to take some action to improve the situation for him and blames others for his failures.
There are four ways the parents can instill a victim mentality in their children without even being fully aware of it. Firstly, if the parents are habitual of saying things like “Why does it always happen to me?” whenever they are faced with a challenge or crisis then such kind of defeatist attitude of a parent can set a negative example for the child and he will learn through modeling that, like his parents, he too has little control over his life and circumstances. Secondly, if the parents tend to feel sorry for their child all the time for his disabilities, failures, or some past traumatic experiences without any efforts to empower the child, then he will automatically learn that he is a victim. Thirdly, if the parents underestimate their child’s capabilities, strengths, or potential by doubting his abilities in general or by focusing on what he can’t do instead of what he can, then it can induce a victim mindset in a child and he will also learn to doubt his capabilities and will always expect someone else to rescue him during life’s challenges instead of standing up for himself. Lastly, if the parents find it difficult to see their child’s struggle and they always make haste in rescuing the child immediately whenever they see him struggling for something in life, then it can make the child highly dependent and can make him feel that he will have to depend on someone to get things for himself.
Sometimes, parents get too involved in rescuing their child and feeling sorry for his shortcomings that they fail to recognize that a victim mentality can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Children with a victim mindset live a reactive life. They don’t take responsibility to improve their challenging circumstances, they keep on tolerating their miseries and passively wait for others to come and save them. Consequently, their victim mindset puts them at a greater risk of further victimization in life. Nobody is blessed with a perfect life, every child can likely have some kind of hardship to deal with. It can be bullying, educational challenges, peer pressure, having lesser money or belongings than his friends, broken family, or any kind of disability. But if a child learns from his parents’ victim mindset that he can’t handle his hardships then it can add more damage to his life situation. What the parents need to learn is that it’s not the tough circumstances in your child’s life that will make him a victim, but your attitude about those circumstances that can impact your child’s attitude. If parents think and consider that their child is a victim of misfortune, he is incapable to improve his situation or he is completely helpless then it can shape up the child’s attitude too that he is a victim and can’t do anything to fix his situation. This phenomenon is called learned helplessness. A child who learns that there is nothing he can do to make his life better, he will eventually give up even trying to improve his circumstances. His suffering and misery will continue, and his victim mindset will get strengthened.
Parents can learn to teach their children to be proactive and avoid victim mentality in the following ways:
1. Identify the warning signs of a victim mentality by noticing what your child says or does such as hosting pity parties for himself by saying that nobody likes him, he will be going to be failed in his exams, feeling sorry for himself, or always complaining that life has been unfair to him; always focusing on the single negative aspect of life while ignoring all the positive ones; being suspicious about the nice intentions of others while labeling it as some hidden agenda; acting as helpless and clueless about how to improve the situation and hopelessly rejecting all the solutions, and always seeking sympathies from others by calling himself as a victim of the unfair circumstances.
2. Be a proactive role model for your child. Don’t use such words for yourself that can make you appear to be as helpless and the victim as “poor me” or “I can’t do anything”. Avoid constantly complaining about your miseries in front of your child in the name of catharsis or venting out as it will simply induce negative vibes in your child on daily basis. Show your child that you are capable to contribute and make a difference in your surroundings by helping others or performing acts of kindness to others while empowering your child that he can do it too within his capacity. Stand up for your rights assertively or speak up if you are being violated as it will teach your child that he doesn’t have to be a passive recipient of unjust or violations.
3. Teach the child to look for the silver lining in a dark cloud by focusing more on the positive aspects of life and looking for opportunities in crises.
4. Teach the child to differentiate between what he can control and what he can’t. Encourage him to work on the things he has control over instead of getting frustrated over the things he has no or little control over. Teach him that when he can’t control or change his environment, he can at least control or change his attitude, thoughts, actions, choices, and efforts.
5. Teach him to identify his irrational and negative thoughts such as blaming others, always looking for the bad news, making catastrophic predictions, “should” thinking, and using exaggerated words like “always” or “never”. Teach the child to replace his irrational negative thoughts with rational and realistic ones. Teach him to take personal responsibility for his actions, help him to see that good thing do happen even in worse situations, empower him to come up with possible solutions for his problems or negative predictions, and help him think in grey shades instead of black or white thinking.
6. Teach your child to be assertive in life and avoid being fiercely aggressive in proclaiming that his rights are violated or being overly passive and allowing others to violate his rights. Help him find a reasonable balance between defending his rights and being respectful at the same time.
7. Avoid too much adult intervention during your child’s interaction with his playmates or peers. Don’t jump in to instantly rescue him when there is a hint of trouble while he is playing with his friends. Give him at least a small opportunity first to practice how to resolve conflict on his own within the scope of his capacities.
8. Don’t reject or trivialize your child’s miseries right away when he shares about his troubles by saying “You should not feel bad about it”, “You are making a mountain out of a mole” or “There is nothing to feel bad about it, you are just over-reacting”. Validate his feelings first by saying “I know this is tough for you right now”, “I can see that you are upset”, or “This must be hard for you”. And then encourage him to understand that he still has a choice of how to respond to his hardships. Help him have faith in his abilities and a kind and loving God whom he can seek strength from to deal with tough situations.
As they say that life is not always a bed of roses, it’s recommended to teach this to your child early on to have a more realistic approach towards life. Also, teach him that though life is tough it’s your response towards the tough situations that matter the most. Mentally strong parents don’t raise children with a victim mentality, rather they teach their children to be the driver of their life and help them learn the life skills that are required to be mentally tough when faced with challenges
Written By: Miss Amna Nawaz
Director Murree Sadaqat Clinic