In life, bad things happen to all of us. Adversity knocks on all doors. However, there are people who respond with resilience and try to take charge of their destiny by focusing on what they can change while others embark on the path of victimization.
The problem is that interpreting the role of victims leads us to assume a passive stance supported by a locus of control external. Believing that we have no power and simply regretting what happened will leave us completely at the mercy of circumstances, causing us to lose confidence in our ability to move forward.
Psychologists from Tel Aviv University consider the tendency to victimization to be a personality characteristic that influences the way people make sense of the world. They called it Tendency for Interpersonal Victimism (TIV).
What is the Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood?
We can all feel like victims in certain circumstances, especially when we go through situations that we consider unfair. However, when it comes to a recurring interpretation, often unrelated to what actually happened, it can refer to a pattern of thought or personality trait.
These researchers define TIV as “A continuous feeling that one is a victim, which is generalized to different types of relationships”, which is why it ends up determining the way in which we respond to the world and, especially, to interpersonal relationships .
This personality trait influences in a special way the feelings, thoughts and behaviors that we assume when faced with painful situations in life. A person with a tendency for victimhood will feel powerless to react to adversity and will have a tendency to seek external culprits.
How are people with a tendency to victimhood?
Without a doubt, interpersonal transgressions are unpleasant and sometimes even unjustified. But some people are able to ignore or process them and move on while others continually spin around, assuming the role of victims.
Through a series of studies, these psychologists discovered that the tendency to victimize is related to other personality characteristics:
1. Lack of empathy. Although people with a tendency to victimize claim for themselves the recognition of their pain and suffering, they have difficulties to put themselves in the place of others. That little empathy prevents them from realizing that they are not the only ones suffering and from understanding the possible reasons that others have for behaving in a certain way.
2. Need for recognition. The victim needs his or her role to be recognized. For this reason, they are often people who proclaim their pain and bad luck in life, with the objective, often unconscious, of validating the self-image they have formed of themselves.
3. Ruminations. People with a tendency to victimhood also tend to ruminate on their problems. They think about it over and over again, in such a way that they fail to turn the page, but instead increase their pain and remain in a loop of suffering.
4. Anxious attachment. It is characterized by the fact that the person feels insecure in his or her interpersonal relationships, which may be a sign that this tendency to victimization may have developed early in life, from the relationship with the parents.
5. Moral elitism. People with a tendency to victimize believe that their discomfort and pain places them above the others, so they can develop a moral superiority.
In one of the experiments, the participants had to assess scenarios that involved another person treating them in an unpleasant way, either by reading a vignette in which a classmate was described by giving them a negative criticism or by having them participate in a game in which his or her opponent took most of the winnings.
Interestingly, in both experiments, people with a higher tendency to interpersonal victimization were more likely to want revenge against whoever hurt them. In the case of gambling, that desire for revenge was translated into aggressive behaviors as people were more likely to take money from their opponent when they had the opportunity, although they were aware that this decision would not increase their own profits.
Participants with a high level of TIV also reported experiencing stronger negative emotions, which reveals that they tend to experience problems more intensely than others. In addition, they believed they had a greater right to behave in an unmoral way. In practice, the greater the tendency to victimization, the more negative emotions they experienced and the more they felt entitled to behave immorally with others.
In a general sense, these people have a tendency to interpret social situations as if they were an offense or a personal attack. They suffer from what is known as interpretation bias, which also has a projective character because they apply it before the events occur, which gives rise to a self-fulfilling prophecy. In practice, they assume in advance that the others will misbehave towards them, which leads them to put into practice a defensive behavior that ends up, effectively, generating friction that can cause emotional wounds.
Obviously, getting out of that vicious circle is essential if we want to regain control of our life. We all experience negative events and are exposed to injustices, but if we fall into self chronic complaint mode, we will not be able to overcome those experiences and they will continue to exert their unhealthy influence on us. To stop being victims is, after all, a commitment to personal empowerment and a new opportunity that we give ourselves to overcome what has marked our lives until now.
Gabay, R. et. Al. (2020) The tendency for interpersonal victimhood: The personality construct and its consequences. Personality and Individual Differences; 165: 110134.