Recently I read two news stories that left me stunned. One young man from India chose to sue his parents for giving birth to him. He argued that he never asked to be born into this crazy world and he wants some cash for having to endure it. I am not kidding.
Another news story reported that a set of parents chose to sue their adult children for not giving them any grandchildren. They felt they had reached an age where they deserved to enjoy this benefit and their kids had failed to come through. Again, I am not kidding.
So, why do we hear more and more of these kinds of accounts?
An Expanding Victim Mentality
I argue that a growing number of people today feel overwhelmed and are looking for relief. Along the way, they accrue a “victim mentality” and feel life has dealt them a bad hand of cards. A victim mentality is a state of mind in which a person feels helpless, as if the world is against them. Someone with a victim mentality can feel pleasure when they receive attention or pity as a result of their misfortune. They may also get a perverse “thrill” from showing off the injury caused by others and creating a sense of guilt. They feel liberated by refusing to accept responsibility for a problem. Someone with a victim mentality frequently carries a sense of moral elitism, feeling superior to others who enjoy good fortune. The term is also used in reference to the tendency to blame one’s misfortunes on somebody else.
Often, teens can pick up a victim mindset because they actually have been victims. A study from the Barna Group reveals that 82 percent of Generation Z believes they’ve experienced at least one trauma, and for many, it has been the COVID-19 pandemic. Imagine growing up in our world today. Just look around you and you could accurately describe society as:
- Divided. Children see adults as polarized by many issues and unable to compromise.
- Depressed. Children see older peers and parents suffering from poor mental health.
- Diseased. U.S. kids have seen millions infected and one million people die from COVID.
- Destructive. Kids have witnessed more mass shootings than we’ve had days in 2022.
- Doubtful. Our culture and economy are so volatile, kids feel uncertain about the future.
A victim mentality is an acquired personality trait: the person considers themselves a victim of the negative actions of others even when there is contrary evidence. It develops from a clear thought process and attribution. My concern is that due to the difficult period in which we live coupled with an adult population misunderstanding how to lead young people out of this victim mentality, we could see three entire generations (Millennials, Gen Z and the Gen Alpha) maturing into adulthood with this kind of mindset. Political psychologists Bar-Tal and Chernyak-Hai write that collective victim mentality develops from a progression of self-realization, social recognition, and eventual attempts to maintain victimhood status.
I don’t get scared easily, but this frightens me.
What can we do?
Let me reiterate that I’m not suggesting teens are lying about being a victim. Many of them have, indeed, been victims. What I’m fighting is the mindset that can follow which leaves them in a state of helplessness, with an external locus of control, always needing someone else to solve their problems. When a student espouses a victim mentality they feel that:
- their lives are a series of challenges directly aimed at them;
- most aspects of life are negative and beyond their control;
- because of the challenges in their lives, they deserve sympathy;
- they have little power to change things or responsibility to solve their problems.
The following are some steps we can take when we encounter friends/family who feel this way:
1. LISTEN FIRST AND SPEAK ONLY WHEN YOU’VE EARNED THE RIGHT TO SPEAK.
Too often, we jump to conclusions and accuse them of having no grit. While it may be true, we’ll have more success if we listen and empathize first. Once they feel heard, we have a better chance at collaborating on a game plan for them to improve. Listen, empathize and then guide is the right sequence. Listening is almost equal to loving.
2. HELP THEM FORGIVE THEMSELVES AND OTHERS.
A teen with a victim mindset usually chooses labels for themselves or others. To rid them of this handicap, lead them in a process of identifying who they need to release and forgive, starting with themselves. I have little doubt that victim mentalities begin with a kernel of truth. Forgiveness can lead to significant breakthroughs.
3. HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE TO ASSUME OWNERSHIP OF THEIR PROGRESS.
Next, I often tell a story of someone who’s been victimized but who took responsibility for their outcome. Timothy Alexander is a friend who’s a paraplegic, having suffered a tragic car accident. He has the best attitude in the world. I then translate what this kind of attitude could look like in the teen today. Finally, I hold them accountable for this mindset.
4. IDENTIFY ONE STEP THEY CAN TAKE TOWARD IMPROVEMENT TODAY.
Finally, we decide together on the best, single step they can take in a new direction. What would it look like to embrace a “creator mindset” instead of a “victim mindset” right now?
1. Focuses on my weaknesses.
2. Sees all I have missed out on.
3. Makes excuses for my problems.
4. Blames others.
5. Fixed mindset.
6. Repeats ineffective cycles.
1. Focuses on what I can improve.
2. Sees what I could be grateful for.
3. Makes plans to solve my problems.
4. Accepts responsibility.
5. Growth mindset.
6. Attempts new approaches.
Dr. Steve Maraboli said, “Your complaints, your drama, your whining, your blaming and all your excuses have never gotten you even a single step closer to your goals and dreams. Let go of your nonsense. Let go of the delusion that you deserve better and go earn it.”
Wondering how else you can set up the next generation for success?
It helps when you know how to speak their language – how they’re thinking – what they value. Tim Elmore is the country’s leading expert in the emerging generation, and his book A New Kind of Diversity contains everything you need to know about connecting with – and influencing – the young leaders in your life. Pick up a copy here today.