Adults with a victim mentality

Bullying in school is a real problem, and one of its long-term symptoms I have noticed is for the victims of bullying to grow accustomed to feeling ‘helpless’ in situations.

While some people seem to eventually be able to rise above ridicule, others don’t. They end up getting so used to feeling like they are the victim that later in life, when they encounter difficult or unfair situations, they automatically assume people are being mean to them. They aren’t able to distinguish the difference between mean-spiritedness and indifference.

This seems to trigger a cycle. A person is teased in school, which erodes their self-confidence. Maybe they don’t have many friends or people that they can trust. Because they are lonely and feel like many people are out to get them, when people are kind to them they have this tendency to latch on way too much. This makes the friendly well-intentioned people creeped out and the formerly bullied person comes off as needy and clingy. When the sympathetic person tries to give them constructive advice, this is often taken as some kind of betrayal and the person feels like it is coming at their expense.

Perhaps due to the bullying in the past, the person is never able to properly learn personal boundaries or challenge themselves socially. They see people in very black and white terms. You’re either their BFF or someone out to get them. They fail to see their own faults; maybe they were absolutely insufferable in High School and people were directly pointing it out to them, but they interpreted it as people Bullying them. or maybe they really did get bullied but developed annoying traits later that didn’t have anything to do with what they were getting teased over. Unfortunately by the time they are adults a lot of their attitudes can get rather cemented in place and it seems like its very hard for them to be confident enough to admit, “Yeah, I was pretty annoying” or “Roger gave me a lot of good advice in High School, and I didnt let myself really listen”.

I wonder if some of our more annoying co-workers, friends, or family members had this happen. I’ll admit I used to be like that- I was bullied in school, but convinced myself the people making fun of me were just mean and cruel, I wasn’t doing anything wrong whatsoever. In hindsight, I was really annoying to people :frowning: I talked way too loud when I was excited, was clingy around people, overemotional, etc. Because I wasn’t self aware about it, I simply blamed others for it. Now, I am much more self aware, and realize just how hard it is to get people to both trust you and listen to constructive feedback.

What you’re talking about sounds like it is, or is related to, learned helplessness.

I had a co-worker like that. I don’t know too much about her back story except that she had a child while she was still in high school (he was an adult and in college at the time I knew her) and had done some stints in prison as had her husband.

Anyway, she was mostly competent at her job but if anything** went wrong, even the smallest thing that we had to say “Hey, do differently next time” she would flip out, say we were racists, and on and on. She couldn’t take any constructive criticism whatsoever. She also could not handle any situations that were outside the norm, she would always expect me or someone else to take care of it for her.

Toward the end she started writing emails to herself about how horrible we all were. We could see the emails though because she was sending them to her personal email from a work email address that several people had access to. She was finally let go due to perpetual tardiness. Of course she threatened to sue, but that never happened.

The only good advice I got growing up was from adults–teachers–who would take me to side and gently point out areas of improvement. I had one teacher who told me that I was really really beautiful, but no one could see it because I walked funny. And then mimicked me so I could see how funny I looked. I had another teacher comb my hair for me, and another who gave me instructions on how to cuss someone out. All of them told me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me…that I was just as smart and kind as anyone else.

Meanwhile, the kids all had me believing I was a retarded lunatic. That was the kind of feedback I got from them. Um, how is that helpful?

I wasn’t made a better person because I was harrassed growing up. I don’t weep over my Frosted Flakes over what happened to me. But I have stopped telling myself that I deserved it. Because I didn’t. Yes, I was a weird kid, but I was a harmless weird kid. I didn’t inject myself in situations where I wasn’t wanted. I minded my own business and let others mind their own. No, what made me a better person was having my teachers tell me to keep doing me, no matter what the idiots may think or say. THAT was constructive and it is advice that I have continued to hold onto. Perhaps if bullied kids could be counseled as I was, then bullying wouldn’t be all that bad. Too bad most kids are expected to handle shit on their own.

Yeah, thats what I was thinking of, but I forgot the term. There’s a couple of types of it:

-A person traumatized in the past, who immediately associates other low-grade situations with their prior trauma (kind of like PTSD I guess)

-A person who never learned how to do X, and because they feel so behind the curve, never feel confident they will be able to do X competently or ‘keep up’. Since well-meaning people helped them initiallly, they come to depend on those people for help (“I can’t learn how to fish! EVER! Give me the god damn fish you selfish bastard! I’m hungry! Why are you so mean!”). Elderly, computer-illiterate parents often fall into this category.

I have a few co-workers who are convinced our managers are out to get them. It usually progresses like this:

1.) Co-worker does a minor screw up, gets punished.
2.) Co worker disagrees he deserved to get in trouble, gets convinced he’s being harassed.
3.) Supervisor wants to talk to Co-worker about something benign and not at all related to discipline.
4.) Co-worker gets incredibly defensive, refuses to talk, makes the whole thing a colossal pain in the ass.
5.) Supervisor is now convinced Co-worker is an obstructive pain in the ass, goes out of his way to look for things he thinks Co-worker is hiding/doing wrong.
6.) Co-worker gets caught talking on his cell phone in the bus, gets fired, calls everybody a bunch of Nazis :stuck_out_tongue:

I was like this, thanks for the accurate bio :D, and it took extensive treatment to realign my perspective and reaction to the world. No one’s just going to snap out of it.

Yup. I was treated for PTSD, even though the trauma was basically “normal childhood.”

I don’t agree with your premise, though. I was bullied extensively, physically, but that had nothing to do with my self-perception. That was ingrained at a far earlier age than playing with schoolchildren. Having parents or teachers that didn’t intervene, as monstro, probably prolonged my mis-alignment, though.

Is it learned helplessness, or is it the opposite? Could it be that a child victim develops a defense mechanism appropriate for a helpless child, but then inappropriately continues to use this mechanism when she becomes an adult?

I think the term “learned helplessness” might be inappropriate for the OP because it can lead someone to ignore the fact that a child is actively defending herself.

The way children react to abuse can look like “learned helplessness” because their options are limited. If a parent or teacher doesn’t do anything, what else is a child supposed to do?

There are some in psychology that categorize personality disorders based on defense mechanisms people used as children to deal with abuse. (As one example, read the table of contents for this book. One chapter is titled “The Used Child: The Narcissistic Experience.” I’m not saying this is the correct way to categorize personality disorders, but only that some psychologists use this method.)

As an example, imagine a child who does not get affection from a parent and responds by behaving inappropriately to gain attention. This could develop into histrionic personality disorder when that child grows up. Part of the definition of HPD is “a pattern of excessive emotions and attention-seeking, including inappropriately seductive behavior and an excessive need for approval…” The child grows into an adult who thinks behaving inappropriately is the only way she can gain attention because the only time her parents acknowledged her was when she behaved inappropriately.

A child who experiences physical abuse might protect himself by trying to control other people. The child might grow up into an adult who is still scared to death of what happens if he loses control over people, and as a result becomes an abusive and controlling person himself.

I think this is also the plot of Mad Men. No one loved Don Draper when he was a child, so he went ahead and created a new personality and spent his days lying, controlling, manipulating in order to get people to buy into the new personality. Not because he wanted to be successful, but because he was afraid no one would love him if he told them the truth.

To summarize, the shit that happens to a child can lead to the child developing defense mechanisms that turn into personality disorders when the child grows up. It’s not learned helplessness because the child is actively engaging in behavior in order to prevent further abuse.

I was never bullied by one or two kids at a time in grade school. Some of the bigger clicks would get together to try. That was so obvious to the teachers that I never got into trouble for my reaction to any physical assault.
Verbal abuse never meant much to me as a kid because
a) I am from a large family
& b) lies could not hurt me then as they can as an adult if others believe them. Like a boss or a cop, etc.

I also learned that a verbal bully never in my experience had the stones to actually try to hurt or even touch me.

For small statured kids, it seemed to be different more often.

Looking back on it, it seems to me the girls actually did a lot more long term damage being bullies than the boys did. IMO

I think that perhaps you are drawing a line of causality where none exists. The story sounds good and all of us can doubtless confirm it with someone we know, but that is exactly why I find it suspicious. Children who are bullied often already have many of the socialization problems you point to in adults and while being bullied certainly did not help the situation, it was not necessarily the cause. Furthermore, I know people (adults) who talk and act as if they are being bullied but in my opinion are not being bullied. What makes you think that their tales of being bullied as a child hold any more weight?

I am sure that being bullied causes consequences, but I am not sure that those consequences are the ones you describe.

I find your analysis interesting.

One thing I think childhood harrassment did to me was to toughen me up in some regards and make me highly sensitive in others. Like, because I wasn’t socially accepted as a youth, I don’t care about finding it now. Don’t care about being popular or well-liked. Don’t care about looking like everyone else or doing what everyone else is doing. I know that the world is going to keep turning even if everyone in the room absolutely hates me. Being teased innoculated me against certain forms of social pressure.

However, being teased also helped to create sensitive areas in my psyche. Like, because I was teased about my speech as a kid, I am now very sensitive whenever someone remarks about it, even in a joking manner. A few weeks ago a coworker teased me about the way I talk and I kind of blew up at him. He hasn’t spoken to me since. He punched one of my buttons and now he knows never to do it again. I have a couple of other ones. I’m not proud that I’m sensitive about certain things. But hey, 99.9% of the time, I’m as cool as a cucumber. If it’s something I can fix and it’s clearly a problem, I’m fine with someone pointing it out to me so I can improve.

Something I don’t think can be underestimated is the homelife and personal circumstances of those that become bullied children, and are sensitized to those issues later.

Speaking from personal experience I was in the unfortunate position of growing up in an abusive home environment, was bullied through school and ended up in a similar situation at a previous workplace.

My take on this is that this is a much more multidimensional issue and that these tend to interact in quite complex ways;

Looking back being victimized in my family already sensitized me to this sort of treatment from others, while simultaneously cut me off from building a protective self esteem.

Getting into a school situation my vulnerability was highlighted, and then made me a target for other kids, but already having had my sense of self damaged and being cut off by my family situation I essentially was unable to resist this in any way and this just continued and continued and being shown to be the “nominated victim” this just grew and grew to the extent of being protectively excluded from school due to bullies threatening to kill me. Not fun!

Fast forward fifteen years and a few personal issues later, drop me in a highly dysfunctional work environment with an unhappy, negative and less than entirely competent manager and the same situation reasserts itself , though being wise to this I actively resist this pursue an internal complaint and after years of wrangling and clear documentary evidence am pushed out of the company.

As a kid I left school, went to college, made better friends and rebuilt myself, though unlearning the habits of a lifetime took a very long time, and even then with a long legacy of sensitivity to hostility, aggression and violence and unequal power relations.

While I understand what the poser is saying about there being a certain dynamic in play with adults bullied in childhood its rather disingenuous to see it as a “bullying mentality” as much as as recognition of poor relationships and the assertion of the right not to put up with shitty behavior and situations that other people might otherwise ignore or even fail to recongise. Couple that awareness with the willingness and ability of an adult to fight back against shitty behavior, and the drama that ensues is fascinating to watch.

In answer to the theory stated in my experience; Victims never asked to be victimised, and never “encouraged” or condone it, and endure it only because they have no better option. Peer violence works by isolating people and drawing attention to their difference / relative weakness, so its unsurprising that they “act weird” and may have “strange boundaries” this is how they are marked out and a feature of the violence against them; not a function of who they are or their natural inferiority or signalling. This shit hurts and many people carry this with them into their adult lives, and make the positive decision not to take this shit anymore when other people try it, though this is often misspercieved by other people who haven’t had the same experience who compound the problem of attribution by attributing it back to the victim, and thus unwittingly siding with the bully!

Sorry if this is answer seems long and convoluted, but having lived through this, and thought about this a lot the social / organisational dynamics of this are really fascinating to me! I’m watching this post with interest!

Some of the things I see from people who talk about being bullied as a child and have problems into adulthood is the belief that they did not do anything to warrant the reactions of others in the past. In their own mind, they are acting ‘normal’; its other people who are ‘abormally’ cruel to them. While in some cases this might be true, I think people really overstate their innocence. Like I said, the person grows up always being the victim, its what they are used to.

People who are violent/cruel as a result of being the victims of violence/cruelty seldom own up to their behavior. Its so normal to them it doesn’t occur what they are doing. If you were picked on/excluded in school, as an adult its really easy to blame getting passed over for a job on the interviewer, not your own performance.

One thing I hear parents telling their bullied kids that drives me nuts is, “They just treat you that way because they’re jealous of you.”. I think this is a terrible thing to say to a bullied kid- it gives them a sense that they are a special snowflake and don’t need to alter their behavior. They grow up, and when they are taken aside by someone who tells them their personal hygene is an issue/its not ok to touch women inappropriately/please use your inside voice, they immediately go back to thinking how anybody that has a problem with them is just ‘jealous’.

Its true that many kids didn’t do anything to deserve to be bullied. But there are also many other kids who are acting annoying and are just really thin-skinned when people call them out on it. Some of them later define themselves by their victimhood and it becomes nearly impossible to empower them enough to rise above the behavior.

It’s not a popular opinion, but I think sometimes, kids who get picked on are kids who come to the classroom with poor social skills for whatever reason. When I say that, I usually get people who jump on me with “Kids don’t deserve or ask to get bullied,” but that’s not what I’m saying. Social skills, like reading and math, or being able to throw a ball, happen on a continuum, and the kids at the lower end (but not so poor that they get a special ed. diagnosis, and either get removed from the classroom, or have an aide accompanying them) don’t make friends well. It’s something a lot of teachers don’t “get,” because they keep advising these kids to “first, be a friend,” without cluing into the fact that the kids don’t really know how.

Since they get ostracized, they fall further and further behind in development of social skills.

I think schools could go a long way to ending bullying by having classes or workshops in social skills.

I remember when I worked at my son’s preschool, there was a kid who got picked on, even though the teachers put a stop to it whenever we saw it, but she would often start in on a behavior that had royally failed the day before, and clearly had not learned anything from the other kids’ reaction.

This kid had a weird home life, I don’t want to go into now, but suffice to say, she never heard the word “No,” except when it came to food-- her mother had all kinds of bizarre ideas about diet and well-being (she believed in homeopathy, and that should be all I need to say about the mother). The kid was forbidden to have sugar, so she got left out of birthday celebrations, and such, and every time the principal would speak to the mother about the kid’s difficulties, instead of telling the kid there was a problem with her behavior, the mother would remove something else from the kid’s diet to see if that would magically change the behavior on its own.

The kid was very immature, and had lots of crying jags and tantrums, which embarrassed and upset the other kids, because we’re talking about five-year-olds, not two-year-olds.

I still think about this kid, and worry about her.

You know, RivkahChaya, your story reminds me of something that happened when I was a substitute teacher.

I was subbing for a week in this middle school. Every day this one 7th grader in class got picked on. The first couple days I felt bad for him because it ‘seemed’ like he wasn’t doing anything wrong. I would discipline the kids who teased/harassed him but it kept happening. Finally a couple days into it I found out what was happening:

When his ‘neighbor’ wasn’t looking, he would side up next to him and lick the back of his arm :eek: Not a big ole doggy slurp, just touch the other kid with his tongue. He’d also lick his finger and touch their arm that way, or moisten the end of his pencil. Not surprisngly, the other kid didn’t appeciate it, and call him ‘fag’ faglicker’ and every other creative combination of ‘homosexual’ and ‘canine’ that a 7th grader could think of.

After class I took the kid aside and asked him if kids called him names. All the time, he said. I asked if it made him upset, and he agreed. He said people were always making fun of him, nobody wanted to be his friend. I asked him if he thought there was any reason they were calling him names- “I think they are afraid of gay people…but I’m not gay”. I pointed out that I caught him licking some kid’s arm, and that other students had complained to me about his behavior that day as well. He claimed he was doing it in response to them calling him names.

He couldn’t make the distinction between his actions and the reactions of others. To him, they were just a bunch of homophobes, he was just ‘fighting back’ :rolleyes: . I tried to explain that what he was doing was backfiring, and that when people are annoying you its always good to try to eliminate anything you might be doing on your own end to make them justify their behavior.

Then there was the elementary school 6th grader whose mom would actually come to class near the end of recess to tie his shoes for him :eek: Keep in mind the kid was perfectly capable of tying his own shoes, the mom just didn’t think he did it ‘right’ and felt she had to do it ‘properly’. She would also verbally berate him in front of other kids and I’m not shocked the kid wasn’t very popular in class.

I hope kids like this can rise above their problems, but I worry that some people that have BS like this as kids never learn how to cope. Then they are in ‘safe’ settings (caring friends/relatives, kind co workers) but have all these issues that it makes them hard to have normal relationships.

I think a point to be clearly made is that there are key distinctions here for me in victimisation, vitimhood and victim claiming.

I think that for a lot of bullying victims most would go the other way and turn that around in the opposite direction as to do otherwise just continues a negative cycle which is the last thing one would want to do.

Its interesting to me what you say about people’s response to being victims of peer violence is to take that out on other people and to develop a negative attitude would be a natural result but to make that a blanket statement is a reach in my opinion as most people want to get over this rather than wallow in it.

Some people are just arses who don’t like to be told, and will claim offense or victim status when called on their shit, but the fact they draw attention to this shows them up in my opinion.

I agree with you.

But you know what? I think it would also be good if kids could be taught to ignore the little weirdo in their midst. If you don’t like him, don’t make friends with him. Avoid him. But if he’s not messing with you (like the weird licker kid), leave him the hell alone.

A lot of drama that grown people deal with could be prevented if people learned to leave others alone and focus more on their own shortcomings.

Same thing happened to me. This is what happened: At first I was ridiculed and I was openly sensitive about it. Then around middle school I started to pretend I did not care about it, but deep down inside I still felt ashamed. Sometime after college went to therapy and finally learned not to be ashamed about being ridiculed. (I was never ridiculed in college, but was still afraid of possibly being ridiculed.)

Unfortunately, I did not see the difference between not being liked by a few assholes and not being liked by anyone. After therapy I ended up not caring if I had no friends at all. Now I’m realizing that I should care about making social connections.

How about you, monstro, did you end up not caring if you had any friends at all?

I can write a fucking book about all the shit that I’m sensitive about. Though it’s been a while since I blew up at someone. Therapy has helped a lot.

Teaching social skills does have it’s benefits. Getting someone to like you is one of the best ways of preventing them from hurting you. But I don’t know if this is a good way to stop bullying.

First off, poor social skills in children are usually not the children’s fault. Like I wrote above, it could be their defense mechanism for dealing with abuse. Or it could come from terrible parenting.

Second, middle school teachers aren’t qualified to teach social skills.

Finally, I can’t help but think this will be used as a way to excuse bullying of weird people.

I have never wanted friends. Even before the teasing/bullying/harrassment started, I was content with being alone and doing my own thing.

But I do think bullying confirmed to me that people are highly overrated. :slight_smile: It is easy (maybe too easy) for me to bail out on people whenever they show the slightest cruelty or pettiness. I’ve got low tolerance for shitty behavior. Perhaps if I had had a different experience in childhood, I wouldn’t be like this so much. But I do think being aloof is just my nature.

I agree. Sure, there are kids with crappy social skills who are teased and bullied.

But it would be a mistake to equate being an outsider to possessing poor social skills. Adolescent cliques aren’t known for being bastions of social etiquette and functionality. And kids have inane social rules just like any society does. Kids get made teased for all kinds of stupid reasons.

I got teased because I talked slowly, sometimes slurring my words. Even if I could have controlled this, why should I have? What’s wrong with having a distinctive voice? Just like there’s nothing wrong with a boy choosing to wear bright red shoes or a girl deciding she’d rather play softball instead of sitting on the bleachers, giggling with the other girls. Not every sign of “deviancy” is deserving of intervention.

Yeah, reading this part of the OP:

I thought that this doesn’t sound like the behavior of an adult who was bullied as a child, it sounds like the behavior of an adult who was spoiled as a child and never learned to deal with not getting what they want or not being the center of attention. I think there are also people who just have this sort of personality, regardless of what their childhood was like.