Victory Over the Victim Mentality
A story is told of baby elephants in the circus world coming under the “chain of control.” Immediately after birth, the baby elephant’s leg is chained to a stake. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot tug free. Soon the young elephant stops pulling against the stake. He accepts as fact that he has no power to become free. Over time, the elephant matures in his body, but not in his mind. Although he possesses the physical power to free himself with ease, he is mentally and emotionally powerless … he doesn’t even try! Adults who were abused as children often live with this same false sense of reality. They perceive themselves as powerless. They don’t realize that God can pull up the chains of past abuse and set them free!
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
A. What Is a Victim?
• A victim is a person who is adversely treated.
(a victim of neglect due to an alcoholic spouse or workaholic parents)
• A victim is a person who is tricked or duped.
(a victim of robbery and other dishonest schemes)
• A victim is a person who is injured, destroyed or sacrificed.
(a victim of incest, domestic violence, rape or satanic ritual abuse)
• A victim is a person who is subjected to oppression, hardship or mistreatment.
(a victim of any emotional, sexual or physical abuse)
Q “Does God even see the grief in my heart?”
Yes, He sees your grief, and He takes it seriously.
“You, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” (Psalm 10:14)
B. Who Are Victims in the Bible?
• A Hebrew word in the Old Testament that refers to a victim is chelekah, which means “hapless, unfortunate, the unlucky.”
“He [the wicked man] lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent, watching in secret for his victims.”
• Old Testament translations of victim are …
“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
2 Samuel chapter 13
Tamar, King David’s daughter, was the victim of a horrendous rape by her own brother. She was the innocent victim of Amnon’s selfish, unbridled desire. In this tragic account, Tamar was doubly victimized in that Amnon was not punished—David did not take action on her behalf. David’s sins of lust, adultery and murder had come back to haunt him through the actions of his own son.
God has given every person the free will to choose right or wrong. Often God allows great suffering and sorrow so that many will turn to Him and turn from sin. Yet, in the midst of all the storms of life, God’s enduring promise is the offer of grace, growth and goodness for the victim.
“[The Lord said to Paul] ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9)
C. What Is the Victim Mentality?
• The victim mentality is a mindset in which a person who was once a victim continues in old thought patterns of feeling powerless, even when the victimization has ended.
• People with a victim mentality tend to see others as powerful, but themselves as powerless.
• Victimized children are genuinely powerless to stop abuse from occurring, but as adults they needlessly assume the same powerless state. This faulty assumption needs to be replaced with God’s truth in order to embrace the future that the Lord has planned for them.
Q “What will help me overcome a victim mentality?”
You can overcome a victim mentality by changing the way you see yourself. As a child, you were defenseless, but as an adult you are no longer without power.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
D. The Victim’s Broken Boundaries
• Because of past physical and emotional abuse, victims continue to have difficulty establishing and maintaining personal boundaries.
• Adults who relate to others out of a victim mentality have difficulty being appropriately honest and assertive.
Test for Broken Boundaries
q Do you find it difficult to make decisions and stick with them when opposed?
q Do you feel you must seek opinions of others before acting on a decision?
q Do you feel hesitant to give your opinion when asked?
q Do you fear expressing what you really feel?
q Do you lack confidence in your own convictions?
q Do you avoid certain people because you fear embarrassment?
q Do you find it difficult to maintain eye contact with another person?
q Do you find it difficult to ask others for help?
q Do you do favors for others even when you know you shouldn’t?
q Do you avoid asking people to return overdue items they have borrowed?
q Do you have difficulty receiving sincere compliments?
q Do you need a great deal of assurance from others?
q Do you do more than your share of work on a project?
q Do you have difficulty pointing out situations that are unfair?
q Do you ever say yes when you want to say no?
Q “How can I change from being a people pleaser?”
Begin by knowing the truth about yourself by studying God’s Word. Ask God to open your eyes and mind to His truth. Start living for God’s approval by studying His Word, and stop looking to people for acceptance.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
II. Characteristics of the Victim Mentality
At the heart of the victim’s wounded emotions is the feeling of powerlessness … feeling unable to make healthy choices over circumstances and relationships. Left with a damaged sense of self-worth, unhealed victims of abuse develop unhealthy behaviors. And because of a past lack of control, victims often have a hidden fear of being controlled and therefore become overcontrolling. These unresolved emotional difficulties can even produce physical side effects.
“Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony.”
A. What Are the Emotional Difficulties?
• Low self-worth
— accepting abuse
— accepting blame
— accepting condemnation
— of abandonment
— of affection
— of authority figures
— in control
— in seriousness
— in work
— on food
— on drugs/alcohol
— on people
— repeated victimization
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
B. What Are the Physical Side Effects?
• Sexual difficulties
• Sleeping disruptions
• Eating disorders
• Memory disturbances
— memory blocks
Q “After being victimized, is healing really possible?”
Yes, through the power of the Lord. It may take time, but healing can be a positive process through which you will experience spiritual growth.
“Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14)
C. What Is the Heart Cry of the Victim?
|Where Are You, God?
Why have You hidden in times of trouble?
Why do You let the godless rule?
Victims are ambushed, crushed and downtrodden,
Wicked men care not … they’re prideful and cruel.
“God has forgotten!” I say to myself,
I feel He’s absent … He never sees.
Yet You encourage and lift the afflicted,
Breaking the strong arm of evil siege.
Since You do hear the cry of the wounded,
Cradling my heart in angel’s wings,
You help me gaze upon heaven’s glory.
You, O God, are my Father, my King!
—Based on Psalm 10
“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.”
III. Causes Of a Victim Mentality
Sensitive children who are overwhelmed with trauma often come to distorted conclusions about themselves and their world. These incorrect beliefs lead young hearts to adopt behaviors that hide their intense hurt. Unknowingly, victims often allow their immature attitudes to become walls that block intimacy with God. Yet the Lord lovingly uses failures and problem relationships in adulthood to reveal unresolved childhood emotional problems. As God calls each one of us to account, His desire is to break down these old walls in order to … set the prisoner free!
“Their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
A. Spiritual Walls
Prisoner of the Past
|• Blaming God
|— “This is God’s fault.”
— “God is not fair!”
|“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)
|• Anger toward God
|— “How could God let this happen to me?”
— “God doesn’t care about me.”
|“The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.” (Psalm 145:17)
|• Distrust of God
|— “I can’t depend on God.”
— “I don’t believe in God.”
|“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)
|• Fear of God
|— “I’m afraid of God.”
— “I want to hide from God.”
|“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
|• Doubt of God’s Love
|— “God certainly doesn’t love me.”
— “I don’t deserve God’s love.”
|“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
B. Emotional Walls
Prisoner of the Past
|— “I wish I didn’t live in this family.”
— “I wish I were someone else.”
|“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15)
|• False Guilt
|— “This is my fault.”
— “I must not tell, I’ll get in trouble.”
|“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” (Psalm 51:6)
|— “Something must be wrong with me.”
— “I am a bad person
|“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14)
|— “I’ll never forgive them.”
— “I wish they were dead.”
|“If you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25)
|— “What will happen to me if someone finds out?”
— “What if someone hurts me again?”
|“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)
|— “Things have never been good.”
— “Life will never get better.”
|“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)
|— “I never have fun or enjoy life like others.”
— “It’s hard to think of anything but my unhappiness.”
|“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11)
As victims in childhood advance toward adulthood, many outgrow their innocent ways of thinking about life. They put away the past and begin to seek fulfillment through achieving personal goals such as service to the Lord, marriage, children, career, financial success and other personal accomplishments. Unfortunately, the patterns they developed in order to survive remain part of their personalities. These patterns may become ironclad protective walls around any emotional pain or hurt and keep self-awareness, vulnerability and true intimacy in relationships at bay. Although mature love is yearned for … a journey back into their silenced hearts is too threatening!
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
C. Root Cause
Victims who remain imprisoned by a victim mentality do so because of a belief system that keeps them locked into feeling powerless to change. They tend to resist accepting responsibility for personal healing and growth.
“My past is so painful, I am powerless to change. Besides, I am not as adequate as others, and the fear of being discovered as a failure overwhelms me.”
As a child of God, I have Christ living in me, giving me His power to change. I give Him my fears of failure and accept the responsibility to overcome my past because God is faithful. He will do it!
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)
“The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:24)
IV. Steps to Solution
A. Key Verse to Memorize
“You, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.”
B. Key Passage to Read and Reread
Read Psalm 91.
“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”
His Guardian Angels Have Watchcare Over You
|• Rest in the presence of Almighty God.
|• Trust in the defense of your loving God.
|• Believe in the faithfulness of your God.
|• See your vindication as coming from God.
|• Live in the safety of your sheltering God.
|• Know you are guarded by angels sent from God.
|• Rely on the protection of your loving God.
|• Call on deliverance by your Savior and God.
C. Self-Defeating Survival Skills
All of us have a few tricks up our sleeve when it comes to avoiding unpleasant situations and responsibilities, but the individual operating out of a victim mentality has become a grand magician of self-protection. Developed early in life through modeling or sheer creativity, these skills are learned responses and ways of relating that were necessary for survival. Often operating on the subconscious level, these behaviors undermine relationships and sabotage the healing process.
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”
• The Dependent … gives up personal responsibility in many areas of life and uses helplessness to get support from others. This disguise for protection sends the message “I need you” and in adulthood becomes a powerful means of controlling and manipulating others.
• The Pleaser … has the motto “peace at any price.” By constant compliance with the wishes or desires of others, this individual pays a high price for approval and acceptance. As an adult, the Pleaser has lost a great deal of personal identity.
• The Fixer … has low self-worth and attempts to fix it by becoming responsible for and fixing others. Fixers are seen as very loving, self-sacrificing and spiritual—though often these traits are window dressing used to avoid seriously addressing their own needs.
• The Performer … as an adult, appears highly competent and seems to have it all together. A perfect performance for every act is the performer’s unattainable goal. Although there is a certain amount of personal satisfaction in doing so much so well, this person is inwardly paralyzed by the fear of being found to have inadequacies.
• The Controller … feels secure only when in control. As an adult, the controller comes across as thinking he/she is always right and, for the most part, looking good. A fear of vulnerability is what makes this wounded lamb act like a lion.
• The Martyr … is a great and constant sufferer. Anyone who has been abused needs and deserves the compassion of others. The martyr, however, controls others by continuing to elicit compassion for a childhood sacrificed to devastating abuse.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
D. Pulling Away from Your Ball and Chain
Healing is a process that takes time and has periods of regression. You may have seasons when it seems no progress is being made. The first step is deciding that you want to heal and believing that healing is possible with God. As you place your hope in Him and seek His plan for you, wait patiently for the Lord to lovingly show you the way.
“No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths.”
Q “How can I be healed?”
Believe in and trust in the promises of God’s Word.
“He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.” (Psalm 107:20)
Face the Prison
• Do I feel there is no way out of my problems?
• Do I feel powerless in my relationships?
• Do I have a lack of trust in others?
Q “Is it possible for me to recover?”
Yes! “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Q “Who can I trust to help me?”
God knows how to make sense out of your confusion, and He is completely trustworthy.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6)
Face the Past
• Remembering is the first step toward healing.
To induce memory, God often uses …
|—victory over an addiction
|—dreams and nightmares
|—a significant death
|—testimony of others
• Journaling helps you to move through the stages of remembering.
Writing down your thoughts and feelings helps you …
— face the fact of the abuse
— recall the feelings associated with the abuse
— uncover hidden fury associated with the abuse
Q “What if I’m having trouble remembering?”
Ask the Lord to bring to your mind anything He wants you to remember. Pray, “Lord, I’m willing to face whatever painful situations that occurred years ago. I know that I don’t have to remember everything in order to be emotionally whole. Enable me to remember what You want me to remember.”
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” (Psalm 51:6)
Face the Patterns of Your Behavior
• “What am I doing to get my inner needs met?”
— Am I compromising my values … in order to feel loved?
— Am I a perfectionist, workaholic, a fixer … in order to feel significant?
— Am I a clinging dependent … in order to feel secure?
Q “How do I overcome negative patterns of behavior?”
Know that in Christ you are set free from old patterns of sin.
“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” (Romans 6:6)
Face the Private Secret
• Talking about the past brings it into reality.
• Telling someone else gives your past credibility.
Q “Why tell anyone? It’s too embarrassing.”
The power of “the secret” keeps you in bondage and must be broken.
“Let God weigh me in honest scales and he will know that I am blameless.” (Job 31:6)
Face the Pain
• Pain confirms your abuse.
• Pain expressed is pain released.
Q “How can I bear to recall such painful memories?”
The Lord will help you, and He will bear your burdens. Take one day at a time, depending on the Lord.
“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” (Psalm 68:19)
Face the Perpetrator—if it is safe
• Pray for God’s timing and the preparation of your heart and the preparation of the heart of your perpetrator.
• When the time is appropriate, talk with your perpetrator one on one, or take someone you trust with you if you think it necessary.
• Identify realistic goals you hope to accomplish through the confrontation.
• Write down what you plan to say and rehearse it with someone beforehand.
• Be prepared for the offender to deny having abused you.
• Let go of secret hopes and expectations—just know that your confrontation is Biblical.
Q “Is confrontation appropriate for a Christian?”
Yes. Confrontation is a Biblical principle. Matthew 18:15–17 gives you specific guidelines.
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault.” (Matthew 18:15)
Q “When do I confront?”
When it is safe and when you can confront positively and in strength.
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)
Face the Pardon
• Forgive yourself.
• Forgive the offender.
• Forgiveness gives God freedom to avenge.
Q “Do I have to forgive when the offense was so wrong?”
You are asked to forgive not the offense but the offender.
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14–15)
Q “Does forgiving mean I must continue to be a victim?”
No. Forgiveness of others frees you from the false guilt that is keeping you in bondage.
“If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15)
Face the Fact—God Permitted It
• Separate man’s free will from God’s will.
• Allowing sin is not causing or agreeing with sinful actions.
• God will judge all sin.
Q “Where was God when my abuse was happening?”
Two attributes of God are omniscience (all-knowing) and omnipresence (present everywhere). Though God never wills evil, He is with us when we suffer.
“The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3)
“He [God] does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” (Lamentations 3:33)
Q “Why doesn’t God punish the offender?”
He will punish the wicked and lift up the innocent in His own time.
“For the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous.” (Psalm 37:17)
Q “How could a loving God allow this?”
Just as with His own Son, Jesus, our heavenly Father has meaning and purpose in the suffering He allows.
“For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.” (1 Peter 2:19)
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
E. Find the Promise
Was there an isolated event or a series of painful experiences in your past that dampens your heart … diminishes your joy … dominates and controls your life today? Everyone has wounds from the past—some more than others—but only the child of God has hope and promise for a new life.
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”
Q “How do I receive a ‘new life’ from God?”
A new life is a gift from God. It is yours for the asking. All who sincerely open their hearts to Him will not be turned away.
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
• Recognize and confess your own sin of anger and unforgiveness.
• Rely on Christ’s death on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins.
• Relinquish ownership of your life to the God who created you.
• Receive and trust in Christ as Savior and Lord of your life.
|Prayer for a New Life
Heavenly Father, I feel powerless to deal with all the guilt and pain I am living with. Thank You for Your promise to love me no matter what has happened in my past. I want to have a new life through a genuine relationship with You. I choose to trust You now with my life and accept Your forgiveness for all my sins. I’m asking Jesus Christ to come into my life to be the Lord of my life. Thank You for the gift of Your Son, Jesus, to live in me and be my power source for a new life that is pleasing and acceptable to You! In Jesus’ name. Amen.
|God can break your “chain of control.” Allow His healing power to pull up the stakes that are keeping you … Bound to the past!
|A New Chain Of Events
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”
As God begins to free us from the old chains of bondage, we begin to see His grace operating in our lives through new channels of personal support and exciting opportunities for service. The final step to healing is not continuing to look inward, reliving past pain and sorrow, but looking outward for occasions to help others. Survivors of abuse are especially sensitive and empathetic toward other wounded hearts who need someone to show them the way. While you’re reaching out, God is reaching in … touching your heart with the miracle of healing!
Links of the Chain
Link 1: Place all your trust and confidence in God to complete the good work He has begun in you.
Link 2: Make your relationship with God your first priority.
Link 3: Respond to the opportunities for personal support and continued spiritual growth that God will place in your path.
— Attend a church that preaches and honors the Word of God.
— Get involved in Bible study and growth seminars.
— Develop a few healthy relationships and establish accountability.
Link 4: Be prepared for God to open the door of opportunity for you to share small portions of your experience with someone … even before you think you are ready.
— Trust Christ to give you wisdom and appropriate words to say.
— Focus on the hope you have found in Jesus Christ for true healing.
Link 5: Consider your personal prayer life to be foundational.
Link 6: Realize your own family is the first field of ministry opportunity.
Link 7: Seek God’s leading when new avenues of ministry open up.
Link 8: See new people who come into your life as “divine appointments” from your Lord.
Link 9: Begin to see your life as a whole new way that God can bring “beauty out of ashes.”
Link 10: Recognize the tremendous value in service to others.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
(2 Corinthians 1:3–4)
Symptomsof the Victim Mentality
Realize, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Pray this promise:
“Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”
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Buhler, Rich. Pain and Pretending. rev and expanded ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991.
Bulkley, Ed. Only God Can Heal the Wounded Heart. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1995.
Dobson, James C. When God Doesn’t Make Sense. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993.
Elliott, Lynda D., and Vicki L. Tanner. My Father’s Child: Help and Healing for the Victims of Emotional, Sexual, and Physical Abuse. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1988.
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