Poor Me
December 19, 2009 10:00 AM   Subscribe

I think I may have a victim mentality and I'm not sure how to fix it.

I've known people with victim mentalities. They are always making excuses and think everybody is out to get them. They always have somebody to blame for their problems. I don't complain outwardly. I'm good-natured, don't blame others, and I'm not a "whiner" I'm aware of my shortcomings and take responsibility for them.

In dark moments I have a lot of negative self-talk and most of it rings of a victim mentality. I have thoughts like these:

If I lost weight it wouldn't matter because my husband wouldn't notice anyway. I'm not really attractive, so what is the point of trying to shed the extra pounds? I can't lose all of the weight I want to lose, so why bother? (Could holding onto extra weight be a form of rebellion?)

Why clean this house when it's in a crappy neighborhood? Nobody comes over anyway. If I clean the house I'll still have this crappy furniture.

Nobody has a fucked up family like mine. Why do I have to have a family like this?

I have made so many mistakes in my marriage/parenting/friendships. I'll never repair them and I'll never have fulfilling relationships.

And so on. As I write these out I realize how ridiculous they sound. These are the thoughts that are in my head and I repeat them often when I am feeling down. I have had these thoughts to varying degrees for years. How can I stop?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
What you're describing does sound like completely normal thinking for someone suffering from depression and anxiety. It's extremely easy, when you're feeling so unhappy and helpless, to keep things at that unhappy level. It's what you're used to, mentally.

You also seem to focus on things outside yourself, outside of your control, that you think are making you unhappy, creating a sort of argument as to why helping yourself would be futile.

You're not alone in thinking this way. Talking to a trained counselor will make a world of difference to help you deal with what's making you bop yourself in the head like this.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:21 AM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can definitely relate to this. No matter how well things are going for me, I sometimes can't get rid of the nagging feeling like I could be doing more to better my life. I'm also a very happy, positive person. Remember - EVERYBODY has these moments of self-doubt.

I find thinking about the big picture really helps me ignore the more trivial things. Yeah, I'd like to lose that last 20 pounds, get that book written, get along better with Mom. I counter that by thinking about the fact that I'm damn lucky to have this healthy body, a roof over my head, food in the fridge, a loving partner, a good job, awesome family, etc. Fixate on the good stuff. Might sound cheesy, but it works for me. I also find that keeping busy and active helps a lot - leaves me a lot less time to spend inside my own head overthinking things.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:31 AM on December 19, 2009

And yes, if this is causing you constant grief and affecting your daily life, then get thee to a therapist. Good luck!
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:34 AM on December 19, 2009

Well, people are going to tell you to read that cognitive behavorial Feeling Good book. And it is a good book. And a lot of people buy that book because they are having negative thoughts.

I believe most people have these kinds of thoughts and it is part of being human, but we are trained in this society to put on a front like we are fine and everything is OK and families, relationships, houses, etc. are just wonderful. Which kind of makes it worse because it is isolating and leads to situations like yours, where you think you are the only one with this 'mentality' and sound ashamed of it. But if we could talk to each other somewhat honestly, we'd see that other people are thinking the same things. Do you have people in real life you can talk to about this? Trusted friends? I bet you all would get to talking and realize you all feel like your families and relationships have problems and that's OK and if things are bad they don't have to stay that way.

If this is tough, why not start with the weight? There are weight watchers type of groups to join, lots of people will talk freely about losing weight and how hard it is and how they too feel like, well, I'll never do it, what's the point, and once they say that, others will explain how to successfully make changes.
posted by citron at 10:36 AM on December 19, 2009

I agree with the poster above, this sounds like the "learned helplessness" that's common in depression. You sound like a nice person who's going through a rough patch - there's no shame in sometimes having negative thoughts about the people you love. It might be a good idea to write these thoughts down if that makes you look at them and think "that's ridiculous". Then maybe write down some good things about yourself and your family.

My GP showed me MoodGYM, which is an online cognitive behavioural therapy program (I can't afford a therapist!). You go through it at your own pace and it has exercises like the one I talked about above. I've found it really helpful in dealing with "warpy thoughts" and the like. I wish you the best of luck, it sounds like you're having a hard time.
posted by teraspawn at 10:38 AM on December 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

That doesn't sound like a victim mentality to me, because you aren't blaming your problems on everyone else or forces beyond your control. For instance, about your weight, you think this way:

If I lost weight it wouldn't matter because my husband wouldn't notice anyway. I'm not really attractive, so what is the point of trying to shed the extra pounds? I can't lose all of the weight I want to lose, so why bother?

Someone who sees themselves as a victim might think this way:

I can't lose weight because my husband keeps bringing home take out and junk food and gyms are too expensive for me to join, and anyway once you've had a baby it's impossible to lose those extra pounds.

I'd call your cast of thought negative and self-defeatist, and say that perhaps you also depend too much on other people's reactions/approval to motivate yourself. And as other people in this thread have pointed out, there are ways to work on overcoming that and transforming your thinking. Then perhaps you can think this way:

I'm losing weight because I'll feel so much better and it will affect my energy levels, and it'll be so nice to get into that favourite dress of mine again. Maybe I'm no supermodel, but when I look around at the women I know in real life, I see what a big difference exercise and good grooming and a healthy diet can make to even plain women, and I really want to look the best I can. My husband might be kind of oblivious, but he'll definitely notice the difference between me being an unhappy couch potato and me being active, energetic, and happy.
posted by orange swan at 10:57 AM on December 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

Keep in mind too that there is a very large difference between negative self-thoughts [which I feel that most people with depression/anxiety at some level have to grapple with from time to time] and expecting other people to validate those thoughts.

So, just picking the one I can relate to... having a crappy family. It's totally one thing to be like "Oh my fucking GOD my drunken dad is invading my personal space again; this is embarassing and horrible and I'll never be able to have a normal relationship with him or anyone else because I have suck stupid coping skills as a result of being raised by wolves! GRAR!" and it's totally another thing to monopolize the next reading group meeting with your spillover anxiety about your stupid family. Expecting other people to validate and support your negative mental construct [or accomodate it... "we can never have book group at my house because my house is SO MESSY"] is where it starts not only getting problematic but also a little self-fulfilling as people have a harder time interacting with someone who is constantly needing that sort of feedback. So, the first thing you can do is say "this stops with me"

The first step, to my mind, from not having the victim mentality is being able to compartmentalize negative thoughts to something that is your own thing to deal with and not everyone else in your life's bad time. It's okay to reality-check with your close friends and spouse from time to time, but it's a very good idea to be able to make clear distinctions between what's really happening ["man that phone call SUCKED"] and what's a sort of worst-case extrapolation based on a bad event ["having crappy parents is making me unable to have realistic realtionships with other adults and there's NOTHING I CAN DO"].

At the most basic level, you know there are things you can do and the trick for my life was finding small enough steps to take that at the end of the day I could look and see I did one small thing to making whatever my "hopeless" situation was a little better, and hopefully nothing to make it worse [and that didnt' always work, some weeks, I'd just aim for four days out of seven]. And in the long run, I lost some weight, moved to a more decent place to live, got out of a crappy relationship and lo 2-3 years later I feel like I'm a totally different and happier person. It's really hard to wait years for things to slowly change, but knowing that you're slowly, almost unnoticably moving in that direction.

So some of this comes from AA mentality but knowing there are some things you may not be able to change, and be realistic [you can change your weirght/fitness but it may take a long time. you maybe can't change where you life, or can you? maybe later? could you get better furniture? one nice chair?] and try to not beat yourself up over the things that are harder to change, but try to make small changes towards the things you can change. Try to forgive yourself as you'd forgive a friend going through a bad time, and check with yourself in a few weeks to see how you're doing. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 11:05 AM on December 19, 2009 [12 favorites]

Seconding jessamyn.

Also, whether or not you are saying these things out loud, the damage to you is the same.

Just deliberately writing these thoughts down for a while to "see" what you're actually saying to yourself (as you said above: "ridiculous") might make you stop.
posted by marimeko at 3:06 PM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

OK, I'll be the guy citron predicted. Get Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Do this at least as an introduction to the issue. The worst case is you're out a few dollars and you have to find room for another small paperpack somewhere.

What the book will do even if it does nothing else is to show you that what you're doing is very common. That alone is a sort of comfort. Secondly it will, with logic not new-age blather, give you some very useful perspective. It will help you challenge the negative assumptions you're making. The example statements you list could have been lifted straight out of that book. Nobody has a messed up family like mine, I'll never have fulfilling relationships, etc. These feel real but are fairly easily discredited by facts, by showing how you are making the worst possible interpretation of something when so many others that are healthier could more appropriately describe the situation, and by a frank assessment of your ability to do things like tell the future.

Ultimately what it will help you see is that you're not being fair to yourself. It will help you be a better friend to yourself and help you remove the lead weights from your pockets. You have choices in terms of how you want to view things. You're already aware that you're making some choices to see things negatively, so you're starting off a bit ahead. What you may not be able to come up with intuitively is the technique to counter these patterns and the method for making more realistic and more positive interpretations. This book is a user's manual for that. A healthier outlook is yours for the choosing if you want it and it's the more realistic one, not some glossing-over.

If you like what you find there, but could use a little guidance, you can always go do a series of visits with a pro. There may be more going on than just some negative self talk, and they can help you determine that, but I bet anything that they'd support your choice to work on your internal monologue in addition to whatever else you all address. Then again maybe there's not much more than that going on and you'd just like to do a little self maintenance. That's great - give the book a try and see what you think.
posted by kookoobirdz at 4:39 PM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

The book (Regardless of What You Were Taught to Believe) There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by American Zen teacher Cheri Huber might be helpful. The awareness practice techniques she teaches have helped me learn to deal with the severe depression I've been struggling with most of my life and go from being suicidally depressed a couple of years back to being basically content — and even happy — most of the time now.

If it clicks for you, there's a lot more support available, from her other books to the weekly call-in podcast she does to the in-person retreats and email classes offered by Living Compassion.

Best wishes. It sounds like the voices of self-hate are talking to you loud and clear right now. Just because they sound believable, that doesn't mean they're true.
posted by Lexica at 5:54 PM on December 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

« Older "Sweatshops"?   |   Finding work after you've been aged out Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.