Victim Signaling

Dear E & V,

In the course of your life you will encounter a special kind of person that’s regularly nicknamed “The One-Upper”. These are people who, consciously or unconsciously, feel the need to out-do your accomplishments and experiences. Just go on a vacation to Ireland? They went to Ireland AND Scotland. Just bag a 150 lb buck during deer season? They landed a 175 lb buck. Did you just finish your first marathon? They just completed their second.

These kinds of people are annoying, but generally harmless. You’ll notice them by their decreased social awareness skills and rather obvious insecurities. No one likes engaging in conversation with them, and if they have to they’ll steer the conversation away from themselves as to keep the one-upmanship at bay.

Within this class of one-uppers is an even rarer but even more annoying specimen: the professional victim. These people have a “the world is out to get me” mentality, though to be fair all of us have this to some extent. What makes professional victims unique is that they make no effort to analyze their situations nor do they attempt to make any actions that might alleviate the situations. Anyone who is better off than them is lucky or privileged in someway and anyone who is worse of than them simply doesn’t exist. They magnify their sufferings and blame others or some external circumstance for their inability to overcome the obstacles that block their way to leading the life they want to live. Perhaps they were born poor, or they had an overbearing mother, or they picked the wrong career 16 years ago. The can’t figure out how to move on from those obstacles, instead turning them from speed bumps into speed walls.

The fact is they may have obstacles in their way that other people don’t have to worry about. But instead of working to overcome those obstacles they become paralyzed by focusing on their suffering and want others or the world to change without working to make that change happen. They engage in generalizations about people they believe are holding them back or that are more successful than they are. They attribute that persons success to luck or privilege or some other circumstance that is normally outside of that person’s control while at the same time attributing their own inability to take action to a similar set of external circumstances. They don’t stop and think that a successful person has had their own demons to battle because the professional victim has a psychological need to be more of a victim than anybody else.

What separates the professional victim from a normal person is in how they view the world. Victim-hood is a mindset. You can literally be terrorized by anything: an innocuous comment, an ignorant remark, your past regrets, a hurricane that’s 1000 miles away. The victim-hood mindset is driven by the fear of the loss of control. You fear that you can’t control external circumstances so you lash out at the world and other people by blaming them for your misfortunes. It’s always somebody or something else’s fault, and your life won’t get better until those other things get better.

Contrast that to the adaptive mindset, in which you take extreme responsibility for your situation. Everything is your “fault”. When you start to take responsibility for everything in your life, you start to have more control over everything in your life. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t external circumstances that make it harder for you to reach your goal, rather you take the responsibility to overcome those obstacles or fail while trying. You don’t harp on your failures, rather you accept the fact that you failed and you learn from it, as you’re not just responsible for your past, but for your present and future as well. You embrace the fact that your life may be crappy at times, whether due to other people or just plain old circumstances. But you take responsibility to adapt to those crappy circumstances and overcome them.

These people love to complain on social media, as it feeds their need to be recognized as worse off than others. They get attention from good people who only want to help or virtue signalers who aren’t much better than the professional complainers. But the fact is these people may be beyond help.

I want to say that there is help for professional victims, that it’s as simple as changing their mindset. I HOPE that they can be helped, because it’s not a pleasant way to live. Can you imagine what kind of hell their life is as they feel like they’re surrounded by a world that is out to get them? Or that they subconsciously crave attention so much that they can only focus on the negative aspects of their lives?

Whether or not they can be helped, you should be aware of their existence and not let them get to you. Don’t seek their empathy, as they’ll always find a way to be worse off than you. They are only going to change when they can fix the pathology that causes them self-pity and seek the pity of others. Whether that requires psychological help or simply an intentional effort to change their mindset is beyond my ability to answer.

But at the very least, like everybody else in your life, you can learn from them (even if it’s what NOT to do).




Ken View All →

I am a Father, Husband, Cowboy Philosopher, Volunteer Firefighter, and Professional Dilettante. I am nothing and I am everything. But when it comes to our relationship: I only wish you wonder and happiness.

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