Have you ever met someone who complained about their circumstances but wasn’t willing to do anything to change them?
In fact, if you were to suggest a possible solution to them, they would come up with an excuse or valid-sounding reason for why your suggestion wouldn’t work. And the more you tried to help, the more flaws they’d find in your logic.
The hard truth is that some people don’t want to change, nor do they want others around them to help them change. People like this refuse to acknowledge the role they play in their misery and often blame others for their suffering.
If you are intertwined with someone like this, you might have to be careful that you are not helping to enable this behavior. This type of person may find comfort in your attention to their misery. And as long as they are getting their needs met, they may not mind if you become miserable along with them as you try to help them.
I teach people how to accept themselves as they are and live as authentically as possible. I also teach you how to honor your boundaries and not let others dishonor and disrespect you. However, I don’t teach that you have no control over your circumstances and to accept things as they are when you’re miserable. There is no power in misery.
The more you realize that you have power over many of the circumstances in your life, the less often you will be victimized by what you might consider to be unavoidable circumstances.
Empowered people take responsibility for their decisions and can identify the role they played in the results they got. These people bounce back from challenges quicker than those who give up their power, thinking they have no choice but to suffer.
Disempowered people, however, are miserable because they act like victims to the world. It’s true that the world can throw punch after punch at you, and you can and will go down, but how long you stay down after the punches stop determines if you will stay a victim or not.
Staying down highlights the key difference between a true victim and a dramatic victim. A true victim is one who is presented with circumstances beyond their control that hurt them in some way. You will witness first-hand the true victim’s proverbial bruises while they continue to get beaten, even when they’re clearly trying to stay away from the person or entity hurting them.
A dramatic victim is one who is presented with circumstances brought on by their own choices but blames others for ending up where they are. The dramatic victim creates their own misery and then broadcasts that misery to everyone who will listen. They’re not looking for a solution. They’re looking for commiseration.
There are many examples of true victims. Anyone under abusive control, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional and verbal abuse, I would certainly consider a true victim. There are also those with chronic physical pain who can’t find the right treatment to stop it. True victims really have little to no control over their circumstances. They’ve often been drained of so much of their power that it’s hard for them to find the strength or resources to get out of the situation they are in.
Dramatic victims, however, do have control; they just don’t believe it. They become a vortex of misery and unhappiness, and anyone they’re around becomes unhappy, too. They’ll complain and tell you stories, trying to get you on their side of the misery. When you get drawn in, that’s when your misery starts. Whether you believe they are a true victim or not, they end up bringing you and everyone around them down.
Dramatic victims also take no responsibility for the results of their own behavior and believe others are at fault for all the bad stuff that happens in their life. They also believe the world owes them something – like everyone should acknowledge their suffering and feel sorry for them. They believe they should get a free pass regardless of the choices they’ve made to reach the place they’re in now.
When one believes nothing is their fault and that the world owes them, they tend to take no responsibility for the bad results they get in their life. So they usually don’t get what they want in life. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy that comes true over and over again because the dramatic victim can show you the totality of their suffering.
What they fail to express, however, are the choices they made that played a role in their results. They are usually so focused on what someone did to them that they choose to neglect the role they played that led to the outcome they got.
I remember when I was younger, my dad was upset that he got caught speeding. The police sat on the side of the road, clocked him going over the speed limit, and pulled him over. He was furious when he got home. He griped to me about how the police had nothing better to do than to “entrap people.” After all, “They should be going after drug dealers and murderers!”
However, he never once acknowledged his own behavior. He never said, “I messed up. I was speeding, and they caught me doing it. It was a stupid mistake.” Instead, he blamed the police for wasting his time and ruining his day.
The reality was he knew he was speeding, which meant he knew there was a chance that he could get caught. But instead of taking responsibility for his behavior, he blamed others. This event, and others like it, caused him to have a bad attitude toward law enforcement and other authority figures. And he became more and more miserable, believing that other people were causing his suffering.
He knew the law but broke it. That was his choice, whether he agreed with the law or not. By complaining and blaming, he was really just pushing the inner anger he had toward himself (for blatantly ignoring the law when he shouldn’t have) outward onto the people who made him accountable for his behavior.
I suppose if the police pulled him over, then yanked him out of his car and started beating him with their batons without provocation, he would have a justifiable reason to complain. One might look at something like that as something beyond his control.
But he was in control of his driving behavior and made the conscious choice to speed. Whether he believed the law was fair or not was inconsequential. He was still responsible for his behavior.
When you know there are repercussions to certain behaviors, you can’t blame others for the repercussions when you do those behaviors. Knowing the repercussions exist makes you responsible for your behaviors and your outcomes.
A dramatic victim will blame the person who made them accountable because they don’t want to take responsibility for their own choices in life. It’s like kicking a dog and then blaming the dog for biting you. I hate to use that analogy, but it paints the picture perfectly. It describes the circumstances with my dad pretty well:
When you know it’s illegal to go 70 MPH in a 50 MPH zone, don’t blame the police for making you accountable for breaking the law.
The dramatic victim pushes blame onto others so that they don’t have to work on their own healing and growth. They don’t want to accept that they are broken in any way. They look at the world and believe it to be what is broken. Any acceptance of their own faults leads them to feel bad about themselves. They prefer others to feel bad for them, which allows them to stay who they are. It’s like giving drugs to an addict. The addict will always feel better if they have the drug, but will never heal as long as they keep getting supplied. A dramatic victim’s drug is our sympathy.
That’s unfortunate because sympathy is about caring for someone going through a difficult time. It’s supposed to be positive and supportive. But when sympathy is exploited to allow someone to continue unhealthy behavior (such as those who use it as an excuse to stay a victim), it feeds the drama machine.
Dramatic victims have healing to do, but they usually choose not to. They want to keep their misery and make sure you know how miserable they are. They usually get an odd satisfaction when people around them agree that the world is to blame for their problems.
Believing you have no control over your results is a very powerless place to be. When I run across a dramatic victim myself, I like to ask them the question:
“So what are you going to do about it?”
This is a great question because it forces the person playing the role of dramatic victim to consider that they might actually have some power over their destiny.
It also puts them in the driver’s seat of responsibility for their behaviors. They may not take responsibility for what has already happened, but if they do something about what happened, at least it’s a step toward being more responsible in the future.
But they must first consider doing something about what happened. After all, most dramatic victims will say something like, “I can’t do anything!” and then tell you all the reasons why. However, if you consistently ask them what they are going to do about their own suffering, they’ll start to learn that you won’t play the game anymore. They’ll either start changing their life or they’ll stop sharing the drama with you. Either way can be a healthy step forward for everyone involved.
Of course, dramatic victims will almost always tell you there’s nothing they can do about their situation. My response to that is, “Then why complain?”
You’ll get all kinds of stories from them then. But if they continue to complain after that, I suggest reading the article How To Deal With Irrational People. That article perfectly describes how to respond to people who simply will not consider logic. It’s a great guide, and you’ll learn some unorthodox but useful methods of dealing with irrational behavior.
Dramatic victims feel like they have no power. The way they gain power is by getting you to listen to and agree with their complaints. However, you can sometimes turn the tables and hold them accountable for what they’re complaining about by using the questions I mentioned previously.
But just remember that when you start to counter their behavior with questions designed to make them take responsibility, you may open up a bigger can of worms than you can handle. Some dramatic victims have been complaining for a long time and know how to handle most objections and arguments. In fact, they may like nothing more than for you to come up with an argument so they can wear you down with their endless faulty logic on how the world is working against them. It could be very difficult to convince a dramatic victim that their own choices led to the results they see today.
When you know you can’t win the argument, it’s best to ask them if they plan on making any changes or doing anything at all to resolve their problems. If they answer no to both, it may be time to accept that they will never change. At least when you accept that they will never, ever change, you can let go of hope and come to terms with the fact that they’re comfortable being miserable.
You may not like that they’re miserable (because it makes you miserable), but knowing they won’t change can give you some closure. It can help you stop trying to help them. It may feel like defeat, knowing they’ll never change, but the elimination of hope opens the door to new ways of thinking. It frees you from obsessing over why they are who they are and lets you go on with life.
Hoping someone will change can last a lifetime.
Knowing they won’t frees you from waiting for them so you can focus on more important things in life.
The best gift you can give to the dramatic victim is to stop feeling sorry for them. When you stop getting sucked into their stories and start asking questions about what they’re going to do about their situation, you’re going to give them a chance to feel empowered. After all, when any victim takes action to change their circumstances, it shows that they want to improve their life.
If the dramatic victim were to improve their life, they may lose the attention they get from those who feel bad for them. The true victim deserves compassion and support. But the dramatic victim uses your compassion and kindness as a free pass to stay exactly where they are.
Most dramatic victims will find a way to avoid taking action to improve their lives. After all, if they improve, they may believe they’ll lose the support of those who care about them.
Playing and staying a victim is sometimes the only way some people think they can get kindness from others. But what they fail to realize is that when those around them no longer feel obligated to feel sorry for them, they may actually create real connections with those people.
Most true victims want to become survivors and thrivers, where they persevere regardless of the difficulties in their life.
Most dramatic victims want to make everyone believe they won’t survive while advertising all of their difficulties to anyone who’ll listen.
When a dramatic victim is finally aware of their own patterns and is willing to start taking some responsibility for their results, they will walk a completely different path that lifts them up as opposed to the path that keeps them down.
Most of them can’t be convinced that their patterns are unhealthy. They have to see their life unfold in a way that shows them that choosing to be a victim doesn’t work anymore.
And when those that enabled their behavior before stop doing it, the dramatic victim will have no choice but to change their behavior because they won’t feel fulfilled. When the dramatic victim is no longer enabled, it’s the perfect opportunity for them to look deeper within themselves and decide to do something different with their life.
As I mentioned before, the best gift you can give to a dramatic victim is to stop feeling sorry for them. When you stop responding to their unhealthy behavior, it may be just what they need to realize: they have the power to change their life.