3 Quick Hitting Tips for Dealing with People Who Play the Victim

play the victim cat

You know that friend, family member or casual acquaintance who thinks the world is against them? You know, the person who will find any and every opportunity to complain about how things never work out for them? Yep, the people who always—no matter what—play the victim. People with a victim mentality often refuse to take responsibility for the problems that happen in their lives and expect their loved ones to swoop in every time something goes wrong. The thing is, we all have our own issues, so when someone is burdening you with their problems, it can feel incredibly draining.

According to author Dr. Judith Orloff, constant victims are actually energy vampires. In case you missed it, energy vampire is a term for the people in your life who suck up all your energy (you know, like vampires). They tend to be dramatic, needy and high maintenance. If you suspect (know) that someone in your life is the type to always play the victim, read on for three tips for dealing with them, care of Orfloff’s fascinating book, The Empath’s Survival Guide.

1. Set compassionate and clear boundaries

It’s not that you don’t want the people around you to be happy, it’s just that it’s not your job to be their therapist. If someone in your life consistently plays the victim, try to make it clear to them that while you’re on their side, you can’t always be there (again, you have your own life). Orloff also suggests setting physical boundaries to signal that you’re not in a place to listen to them vent for an hour about something you have no control over—or stake in. “This is a good time to cross your arms and break eye contact to send a message that you’re busy.”

2. Use the three-minute phone call

OK, so this is pretty genius. Orloff’s Three-Minute Phone Call goes like this: “Listen briefly, then tell your friend or family member, ‘I support you, but I can only listen for a few minutes if you keep rehashing the same issues. Perhaps you could benefit from finding a therapist to help you.’ Worth a try, no?

3. Say ‘no’ with a smile

This is an effective way to shut down a victim’s complaints before they can really get going. Let’s say a coworker is about to launch into a 45-minute monologue about how he’s constantly getting passed over for a promotion that he totally deserves. Instead of saying, “Nope. Can’t talk about this right now,” or listening for the sake of being polite, Orloff recommends saying something like, “I’ll hold positive thoughts for the best possible outcome. Thank you for understanding that I’m on deadline and I have to back to my project.” With friends and family, she suggests briefly empathizing with their problem, but then say “no” with a smile by changing the subject and not encouraging their complaints. 

There Are 7 Types of Energy Vampires—Here’s How to Deal with Each One

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...