The Perils of “Victim Think”

People who haven’t been in psychotherapy often ask: ‘What does a psychotherapist do? What happens in psychotherapy?

The answer to this question is that we help people identify what’s bothering them about other people in their lives, and help them figure out how to change the situation.

The key is to fight ‘victim-think.’ ‘Victim-think’ means assuming that because you are helpless and powerless to force other people to change their behaviors and choices, that you are equally helpless and powerless to do anythingabout people who annoy you. This simply isn’t true.

Here are some examples. It’s a little list I call: ‘Things to Say to Yourself to Combat ‘Victim-Think.”

1. What am I allowing him to do to annoy me?

2. How did I convey the impression to her that it would be acceptable and tolerable for her to act this way?

3. What in my thinking is causing me to feel upset and angry, rather than saying he ‘made’ me upset and angry?

4. What past actions of mine have encouraged or enabled this behavior that I now am sick and tired of?

5. What is she counting on, in my attitude or behavior, when she treats me this way?

6. I can choose to have nothing at all to do with him from now on. I can also choose to have less to do with him than I currently do. How much is up to me.

7. What do I gain out of allowing this behavior to continue without protest or comment on my part?

8. What do I currently do for her that I can stop doing if she refuses to change the behavior I don’t like?

9. What am I able and willing to do for her that I don’t currently do, provided she stops the behavior I don’t like?


Another list of mine, some examples of ‘Things to Not Say to Yourself, Lest You Fall into ‘Victim-Think.”

1. He makes me so angry!
Correction: Nobody makes you angry. Your thoughts make you angry. Emotions, like anger, are the result of thoughts you have and beliefs you hold. The thoughts and beliefs can be rationally valid, or not.

2. I’m sick of being treated this way!
Correction: You probably tolerated the behavior too long, at least in front of him. You have to show intolerance rather than tolerance if you want there to be change.

3. Why does she act this way?
Correction: This question cannot usually be answered. Even if it is answered, so what? Understanding a person’s irrational, mistaken or contradictory motives can be interesting, and can also lead to insight if you are hired or otherwise desired by this person to counsel them. Beyond that, it’s of little or no value to you. Energy is better spent identifying your own role in the problem and correcting behaviors on your own part that may be encouraging or enabling the behavior you dislike.

Unless someone is holding a gun to your head, or is outright lying to you, you are never really a victim. Most of the time, if not always, you are—intentionally or not—doing or conveying something to enable, encourage, foster or otherwise keep in your life the very behavior you don’t want other people to display.

Ironically, most of these people would willingly change their behavior, at least around you, if you only conveyed the right thing to them. I’m not blaming you for other people’s choices or irrationality, but I am holding you responsible for getting that irrationality out of your life. And you have the power to do this. Give it a try.