Culture: Do people have a victim complex?

In culture we hear a lot about the concept of a “victim mentality”. But this is a deeply loaded term. It’s also very politicized, mostly used by people who fall into the general internet style Right Wing circles and the “culture war”.

It usually is used in the context of those who belonged to a marginalized group and talks about struggles minorities experience or victims of sexual and domestic violence. It acts as a way to blame people for their struggles, the only reason you experience the assault and abuse is you let yourself become a “victim”. The only reason X marginalized community still has struggles is pathology never external or historical factors.

There is some truth in the idea that being constantly under abuse can change how we react to things. But using the framing of “victim complex” it’s not only inaccurate but demeaning and used to hurt people. In the context of marginalized people, the better phrase would be Intergenerational and Systemic Trauma. In the cases of abuse, it’s better termed as Learned Helplessness. The phrase “victim complex” or similar really connects it as a choice or a falling at it isn’t a personal failure at all. It’s highly derogatory and paints victimhood as a choice, and they quote Eleanor Roosevelt and I’m so done hearing it, i did consent to psychological abuse or system bigotry

There is some truth in the idea that being constantly under abuse can change how we react to things. However, it’s more accurately termed learned helplessness or generational systemic trauma depending on the circumstance. There “victim complex” or similar really connects it as a choice or a falling at it isn’t a personal failure at all.

Generational trauma can be used on a macro or micro level. Some examples of those effect by Macro generational/systemic trauma are The Black Diaspora, Indigenous People in colonized land, the Jewish Diaspora, and the Gay community.

Black people in the US have been stuck in cycles of violence and poverty for generations, their problems are real but from the outside people often will profess they have some kind of want to be oppressed, but this is never the truth, years of poverty create some degree of desperation or go along to get along. Degrading of culture and connection to ancestry also can be present in diaspora cultures. It not a character flaw, but a reaction to trauma. The pathologizing or turning them into misry fodder are used by many political people. They’re tokenized and often left without respect.

Indigenous people experience similar factor to the black community in years of poverty and state violence, however, there are often even more Micro levels of intergenerational trauma are even more prevalent. This is often due to the fact that residential schools are not far removed from these cultures. The widespread system prejudice and destruction of culture created these schools, they not only furthered that prejudice but also had very direct trauma in near ubiquitous sexual, psychological and physical abuse. This trauma is passed down through the families and creates rifts in heritage. even when lineage biologically continues the disruption in culture and creating a horribly traumatized generation fostering the next has deeply affected their mental health. The rates of suicide are painfully high as the resilience of the community is constantly attacked and proper care is rarely if ever given.

The Jewish community has a long history of trauma, persecution and death. In the modern times, this community is still working through the trauma of The Holocaust. We have survivors of these horrors alive today, and many one or two generations removed. The trauma is passed through these direct lines, but even the wider Jewish people feel this pain and the pain of continuous Antisemitism in the world, including deadly shootings, still happening. They like the other communities on this list have their suffering market and used as a weapon for political gain. Dog whistles and that speech are almost never stopped on the norm, but when someone needs a trump card they will invoke their death

In the gay community the experience of the AIDs crisis is a trauma that seeps through all those with a connection. The near wiping out of a whole generation and gay and bisexual men in many places put a rift that can never be healed. Again it broke the chain of history and tradition that once lost can’t be regained. It also showed all those who are in the LGBT community that people will let us die for political gain on mass. Even those born afterwards when we learn what was done to our forefathers and feel the loss of stories and lives that can never be brought back changed the way the community will live forever. We also see suicide stats, the murder of our community members for just holding hands, the devastating hatred and recently the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Even those who did live through the crisis have the scars in a way that sits when you know these are your people, and the world doesn’t give you your history and your present is political.

Then micro intergenerational trauma occurs within family units. This relies heavily on how a parent or other family member plays out the abuse on the next generation, intentional or not this is very common. This we know can create learned helplessness, it falls again in the learned via abuse category but differs as sometimes the learned helplessness is what is passed on or built by the previous trauma. Interestingly there has even been research trauma can alter epigenetics, meaning it is a biological phenomenon.

Learned helplessness often manifests after being in a situation where you had no control over anything, often correlates when fight, flight, freeze, fawn/submit response is stuck in submit or freeze. It also manifests when people are never given choice in their life or always have choice undermind. When someone never really had the autonomy to be independent it breeds someone who is going to default to other people. And we can become easier targets of abusers and can have a much harder time recognizing abuse in other people. It can feel like we attract abuse or lack a backbone, but it’s not a choice or a failure in our character. What it really is that we learned to survive one way.

The way this term is used is detrimental to abuse survivors and large coalitions of people. I don’t think the term victim on its own is always harmful, sometimes calling yourself a victim can help understand you were never to blame for the abuse, but i do think anyone placing it on a person to shame them is wrong.

Those using these terms are usually neither psychologists or activists for mental health, and i think if you want to stay ignorant to the understandings of abuse and systemic trauma then i don’t really value your voice. It’s a silencing tactic when those who suffer harm speak up, and i think we should really be discussing healing from trauma and changing the ground level struggles, not dismissing people.

be blessed,

-Admin 2


  1. Mackler, D. (2019). Intergenerational Sexual Abuse and Living with Perpetrators. [Video] Available at: [Accessed 7 Apr. 2019].
  2. Meraji, S. and Demby, G. (2018). What We Inherit. [podcast] Code Switch. Available at: [Accessed 8 Aug. 2018].
  3. Morton, K. (2019). The Long Term Effects of Childhood Trauma. [Video] Available at: [Accessed 6 Apr. 2019].
  4. Morton, K. (2018). What is Learned Helplessness?. Available at: [Accessed 8 Apr. 2019].
  5. Warshawski, L. (2017). How do you cope with the trauma you didn’t experience?. Available at: [Accessed 8 Apr. 2019]

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