How Victim Mentality works in Relation to Family Secrets


understanding victim mentality and famiily secretsWe are conditioned not to talk about family secrets. I was taught in so many ways that ‘some things are not talked about’ and I was so afraid of the consequences of bringing shame on my family that I ignored the solution to overcoming the mental health issues that I had. Rejection from my family when I was a little child would have meant death. I believed as an adult that it STILL meant death.  I had to overcome that fear.

Even when the family members are dead, the victims of dysfunctional family situations are very often STILL just as afraid to reveal the family secrets, which is very telling about just how deep this fear goes when it comes to the belief system.

People told me that they didn’t have a choice about keeping the secrets even when they became adults. I agreed with them because not taking my choice about telling enabled me to have an excuse to not have to do the work that it took to take my life back. I had to look more closely at what it meant for me to believe that I didn’t have a choice. I had to see that it wasn’t that I DIDN’T have a choice as much as it was just that I didn’t KNOW I had a choice.

This belief that I could not, must not tell was rooted in victim mentality and I had to keep in mind that this “victim mentality” is how I survived a childhood of abuse and emotional neglect. Victim mentality was my friend when I was a kid. It saved me. It was hard to understand that victim mentality was not my friend anymore. My mind warned me constantly NOT to see things differently, believing with all my heart that the only way to survive this life was to operate in that same child mindset that kept me “safe” from further harm.  Telling would have made things so much worse and I could not accept that telling (at least someone) was part of the answer now.

Victim mentality taught me to FEAR the consequences of honoring my choice to reveal those secrets. Victim mentality tells me that I am safer to keep the secrets and protect the perpetrator.  Victim mentality taught me to protect the person who covered up for the perpetrator, believing that I am less deserving than the perpetrator, BECAUSE that is what I was taught about myself through the actions of those who were in charge of me.  

When I first started this website I would have a fear related adrenalin rush when I clicked the publish button on certain articles especially if they revealed anything about toxic and dysfunctional family relationships. That was my childhood fear of going public with my past. It was not fear for what others would then know about me but fear of what the consequences would be if I “told” on the abusers and those that didn’t protect me or if I revealed the family secrets. I didn’t understand that fear based adrenalin rush then as well as I do now. I had to reassure myself that the consequences for talking would not kill me that I was no longer that helpless child anymore. I had to remind myself that hundreds of times.

Another huge fear that I had was that deep down I was sure that if I could love my mother the way she needed me to love her, then everything would be fine. Telling the family secrets was like giving up on the last thread of hope because I knew that if I told the truth about what had gone on in my life, I would burn my last bridge and ruin my only chance that my mother and possibly even my whole family would love me. “Telling” represented the death of that hope.  

I had to be willing to face the possibility of that rejection.

Today I see this so differently. Why was I willing to protect the people who never protected me? They taught me to believe that I didn’t have enough worth to have equal value to the perpetrators, the neglectors, the abusers, the withholders, the teachers and all the other adult gods in my childhood.  

I no longer care if the truth hurts someone else’s feelings. When I decided to heal and move forward with MY life, I had to stop taking care of other people’s feelings and finally validate MY feelings. When I finally put my own healing first, I began to see the dysfunction more clearly. I finally saw that I was contributing to the sick dysfunctional cycle by going along with it.

As I took those baby steps in the beginning and started to look at the dysfunctional family conditions that I had been raised with, I started to realize that in many ways I had in fact always been rejected. Not being heard is a rejection.  I had not been protected is a rejection. Not being valued and not having my human rights validated is a rejection.

When I began to see things through new eyes, I started to get a glimmer of hope that perhaps I could be good enough for me, and that if I could achieve that status, then others opinions including my own families’ opinions, would no longer matter. I began to realize that I had been agreeing with their rejection of me because I didn’t know anything else.  As I grew stronger I began to stop rejecting myself.

Perhaps the truth hurts, but does that mean that we should stifle the truth? I don’t think so anymore. It was important for me to look at who I was protecting and the truth about why I thought that they were more important than I was.

Please share your thoughts or feedback. I look forward to the discussion here.

Darlene Ouimet

NOTE: I did not reveal anything publically when it came to family secrets until I had several years of healing and I am not suggesting that you reveal your family secrets before you are ready. It would not have helped me to push myself too quickly and very few people choose to write as publically as I do. Please feel free to use a screen name. Only the name you use in the comment form will be seen by others.

The Emerging from Broken book is ready for download! If you find that the subject matter I am writing about resonates with you, get this book today! This 197 page, downloadable, printable, live linked e-book will put you on the fast track to healing.  Get yours here through the upper right side bar or click this link~ Emerging from Broken The Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing


Related Posts ~ Overcoming that Nasty Self Blame in Dysfunctional Relationships

140 response to "How Victim Mentality works in Relation to Family Secrets"

  1. By: Ellie Posted: 18th March 2016

    Yes, yes, yes! I can see where you are coming from with this…

    Still, I am somewhat inclined to agree with the comment from “Anonymous” who writes that we should be careful using the term “victim mentality” as it can come across as perjorative. WE do need to remember that people can be in total no-win situations when facing abuse. That abusers may manipulate matters at all times to make the victim look bad, unbelievable, or even crazy. That victims are in a double-bind where NOT speaking out results in perpetuation of the abuse, but if they DO speak out, they face abuse of a different kind – the ridicule, hatred and ostracism by their family that they have always dreaded.

    It is VERY important to remember that victims of abuse have been “groomed” by their abusive family members from a very young age. They are made to believe that they are worthless, useless, powerless, that nobody will believe them, that everything is their fault, that they are bad, that if they changed things would get better, and that if they tell on the abuser they will be punished.

    It is VERY important to understand that the fear victims feel is VERY real, and that their fears are NOT unfounded. Many victims of abuse end up with a so-called “victim mentality” as a consequence of the cumulative effects of YEARS of abuse. We should note that a child who is being abused CANNOT escape abusive parents on his/her own. Children must legally live with their parents until the age of majority (in most countries 16-18 years old). By then, severe damage has been done. In cases where a child DOES manage to speak out about abuse, unless the authorities, or the person to whom the abuse was reported to, know just how to handle matters, the child remains at risk. Even children who end up fostered or adopted to remove them from an abusive family home are NOT getting the best of solutions. Yes, they may be away from the abusers; but now they are in the care system, and have to live for life with the potential stigma of being a foster child, or being adopted. They have to face the fact that they COULD NOT stay in their parental home.

    Suffice it to say that for a child who is under the legal age to leave home, escaping parental abuse is near impossible. Children who DO manage to escape by being fostered or adopted end up having to face a different type of problem – one that may be just as traumatic as abuse. THEY have to live with the fact that they were fostered or adopted! Which kind of serves to highlight the fact that they WERE abused in the first place!

    Even when an abused young person reaches a legal age to leave home, escaping the abusers is far from simple. Abusers deliberately chip away at the victim’s self-confidence, and lead the victim to believe that he/she is no good at anything. So… if the victim tries to get a job, the abuser will remind them just how hopeless their job search is. If the victim gets offered a place at College, or University, the abuser may try to prevent them taking this. Or, the abuser may try to control where a victim is allowed to study, or what they are allowed to study. Or, the abuser may allow the victim to study, BUT only if he/she stays living at home, or remains financially dependent on the abuser (who will, of course, withdraw financial support at the first suspicion that the victim may be speaking out about the abuse). If a victim seeks to leave home via marriage or being in a long-term romantic relationship, the abuser will try to sabotage this. maybe refusing to condone a marriage. Maybe spreading rumours that the victim is unfaithful, has affairs, is sexually promiscuous, or conversely is frigid, or hates the idea of settling down and having kids – ANYTHING that may put the victim’s romantic partner off.

    If the victim manages to secure a job, or a relationship/marriage, or a home of his/her own which means that he/she can finally leave the household of the abusive parent, the abuser will do everything possible to sabotage this. EVERY time the victims sees the abuser, he/she will be reminded of past mistakes, or of past failings – anything to remind the victim that the victim is worthless. Also, the abuser may spread malicious gossip about the victim to anyone they come into contact with; this gossip may be complete lies, or else it may be a true event, but only the abuser’s version of the truth. The victim may find that the extended family (e.g. aunts and uncles, cousins, in-laws) are drawn into the abuse. The abuser will go to as many family members as possible to spread misinformation, or nasty gossip, about the victim; this represents the abuser’s attempt to ensure that the victim has nobody to turn to, and that the whole family believe only the abuser’s point of view. Also, an abuser may try to spread malicious gossip around the community in which the victim now resides, in the hope that such bad rumours may reach the ears of the victim’s romantic partner, in-laws, boss, colleagues, teachers, bank manager, etc… Indeed, the abuser hopes to be able to negatively influence the opinions of anyone that the abusers hears that the victim has come into contact with.

    This can continue well into a victim’s adulthood, and makes it extremely difficult for a victim to speak out in safety about abuse.

    I say this, because I have personal experience of it. EVERY time I have attempted to rebuild my life, my abuser(s) have ramped up their abuse. It is as though they cannot let go. As a result, I am now complete no-contact. Still, this does not make me feel secure – it simply leaves me concerned as to when the abuse will recur. I NEVER feel safe from the abusers, despite having spoken out. I attempted to tell the Police, to tell a Therapist, to tell Social Services… each time I attempted to get support, the abuse escalated. I even wrote blog pages online about my abuse. I so much NEEDED to feel heard, and validated. In my case, this merely caused a severe escalation of the abuse.

    We ought to be aware of the fact that some abusers also engage in what can only be termed STALKING behaviours, so that even when a victim no longer resides in the same property (or even same area) as the abuser, the abuser does everything possible to keep tabs on the victim. To know their whereabouts, their career choices, the people they associate with. Such abusers are, in my eyes, the VERY WORST as they refuse ever to let victims go. A victim of such an abuser can make every attempt possible to move on, and to build a life following the abuse, and the abuser will simply do all the is possible to break back into that life, and to begin the abuse all over again.

    I’d really LOVE to know what anyone has to say about how a victim (such as myself) might deal with former (and sometimes still current) abuser(s) who are family members, and also STALKERS? Someone who even though I am no longer in physical contact, tracks my whereabouts and activities via the Internet, Social Media, and via pretending to “chat innocently” to people who know me, whilst actually fishing for information? Am I to limit all my activities and live a restricted life? How do I live a regular life, and do all the things I want to do, when my abuser(s) are still out there, still eager to abuse me if they come into contact with me, and still actively trying to track the things that I do on a daily basis so that they have a chance to continue the abuse?

    By the way, I use the word abuser(s) to show that more than one family member is/was abusive. However, I suspect that only one may be the stalker.

  2. By: Anonymous Posted: 2nd March 2015

    I think it is very important to be careful using the term “victim mentality” and make sure it is used in the right way. I like how you treated this phrase by pointing out it is self protection. I never though of it that way. But it is.

    The term can also be condemning for people who have been in total no win situations with abusers. That is the language my mother uses to define me when I don’t maintain a perfectly compliant mindset to hers. Which means I have no needs other than the one to fulfill what she wants from me. If I complain about how this affects me or that I am not feeling good about the family system (which she created to support this) I have a “victim mentality”. And she will unleash other family members to remind me they also think I do. See how that works? She wanted more than anything for me to cram my feelings down as far as they could possibly go. And be nice all the time and never complain. Then to bootstrap my way to being productive with no help from her on how to get along in the world. And still allow her the right to undermine my success at any point in time. In every way possible.

    She victimized me. And did not allow me to have original thoughts, because then she might lose control of me. She had an iron fist of control over me and used my entire family to make sure I would be a broken person my whole life.

    So how do you talk to a person like me when they have been taunted and accused of having a victim mindset?

    Ordinarily when I read those words they are extremely negative to me. But I found your treatment of it was kind. It puts the blame where it belongs. Not on the victim. But on abusers. So I thank you for that.

    I think it is very important that the world at large be able to distinguish this. I feel like “victim conditioning” is a better term. It makes people wonder who did the conditioning. And that is exactly where this belongs. On the shoulders of the people who hurt others.

    At the same time, there needs to be a way for victims to reclaim their power. Like you have. It is very hard. And I think there are a lot of people who never overcome that in life.

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