CONNOR WALKED INTO
the kitchen where his mother was making supper. She turned from the stove and looked at him with frustration.
“I got an e-mail from your English teacher today. She said you are getting a D because you haven’t turned in five assignments. She asked me to call her.”
Connor looked at her for a second. “I thought I turned everything in,” he muttered. “She must’ve lost those assignments. Besides, some of them were stupid.”
“Yeah, she isn’t organized. She doesn’t tell us what’s expected” He paused, then added, “She just contacted you today? The quarter is almost over!”
“Well, I’m not happy!” Connor’s mom said. “You sure you turned them in? Why didn’t she notify me sooner?”
“Yeah. Besides, she doesn’t like me.”
Teachers shake their heads at the excuses students make for their performance in school and why some parents are willing to accept them. Unfortunately, these narratives occur frequently. The “it’s not my fault” attitude may imply something more serious if it occurs regularly.
This behavior shows up at home and school. We hear it in the way children talk: “the milk spilled,” “the toy broke” and, if there are siblings at home, “he/she made me do it.”
Older students’ language is geared to deflecting responsibility: “the class is boring!” “she’s not prepared” or “he plays favorites.”
Generally, these responses carry one of three themes. One is a victim story: I am innocent and I am not at fault for what happened. The second is my behavior is someone else’s fault: I am innocent at the hands of a villain or perpetrator. The third: I am helpless and there was nothing I could do.
Refusal to accept personal responsibility is the common thread in all.
Individuals with a victim mentality and the nonproductive drama they create frustrates others. They play the “poor me” card and never feel answerable for their behavior or experiences. Blame and the alleged actions of others are the focus, implying they were not in any way culpable for the situation or they were powerless to address it.
Victim mentality is a self-defeating quality. They are passive-aggressive exacerbating events that spiral out of control. This mentality moves the locus of control of their life from internal to external — outside of their sphere of responsibility and not within their influence. They reject any accountability for their responses or situations they face.
Self-defined victims lose credibility over time as they hide under a veil of innocence. For children, this can be severely destructive, just as it is in the adult workplace. This passive-aggressive position makes them irresponsible bystanders in life and events.
Capacity to Act
Adults and children have the ability to respond — they have choices. Life is not always easy. Difficulties are inevitable. All people have the freedom to act and manage their lives. They choose to become a victim and find comfort in victimhood. The stigma of failure and shirking responsibility prevents the opportunity to learn and improve.
A victim mentality is a result of learned helplessness, which is disempowering. Everyone on occasion has uncomfortable feelings about his or her abilities. Pity and sympathy for the victim in these cases creates a sense of validation and results in a continuation of that behavior.
Children must learn from parents and others that they are response-able
and not engage in self-destructive behavior. They need to perceive the world around them, understand situations and manage circumstances to ensure they meet their responsibilities.
The “poor me” victim attitude is a recipe for failure. Victim mentality impedes self-discovery, continued learning and mature adaptation to life. Facing reality and making choices requires courage and character. Making excuses for children does them no favors.
a retired superintendent, is an education consultant in Litchfield, Conn., and author of It’s Not My Fault: Victim Mentality and Becoming Response-able
. Twitter: @georgegoens