Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood

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Contextual Quote

"Social life is full of ambiguity. Dates don’t always respond to your text messages, friends don’t always smile back at you when you smile at them, and strangers sometimes have upset looks on their faces. The question is: How do you interpret these situations? Do you take everything personally or do you consider that it’s more likely that your friend is just having a bad day, your new date is still interested but wants to play it cool, and that the stranger on the street was angry about something and didn’t even notice you were there? While most people tend to overcome socially ambiguous situations with relative ease—regulating their emotions and acknowledging that social ambiguity is an unavoidable part of social life—some people tend to see themselves as perpetual victims."

- Scott Barry Kaufman [1]


John McWhorter:

"Psychology has an answer to this question: a personal trait called the tendency for interpersonal victimhood, or an embrace of victimhood status.

In a word, there are people who exaggerate the degree of their victimhood, and by extension, groups of people who do. There is a whole literature on this syndrome.

The syndrome manifests itself according to these four facets:

1) Constantly seeking recognition of one’s victimhood

2) Frequently ruminating about past discrimination

3) A sense of moral elitism, as a way to maintain a positive self-image

4) Lack of empathy for the pain and suffering of others

It is impossible not to recognize a certain strain of thought in the black American community in those four tenets, let’s face it. The parallel is almost eerie, and too close to be insignificant. The constant seeking of recognition as a victim – i.e. beyond what reality would lead one to expect – is, unfortunately, most writing on race today: the guilty sense you may have that racism exists but a great many thinkers exaggerate about it is stimulated by this facet of the victimhood identity. Too, the sense one may have that black people resist the basic coping strategy of getting beyond the past is due to the ruminating aspect.

3) and 4) may seem somewhat unfair to level at people who have been through so much, but in truth, they also apply to modern black America. The moral elitism is behind the essentialization of whites as a monolithic clump of evil (with whites like Robin DiAngelo encouraging it), while the lack of empathy for others’ suffering comes out in, for example, indignation that Asians battle the discrimination against them in elite university admissions policies, the idea being that it is “racist” for them to resist this bias because it benefits black admits.

What causes a person to embrace the victimhood mindset? What is called anxious attachment, stemming from doubts about one’s social value. The question is why black people would not have doubts about their social value given our history. The Elect cannot claim I am just making that up, as they found their whole approach to black people on the very idea that the society is built upon devaluing us socially.

Importantly, psychologists specify that the victimhood mindset need not come from actual victimhood: trauma may, but may not create the mindset, and the mindset may, but may not come from trauma. Rather, one can be socialized into embracing the victimhood mindset because, on a day to day level, it can function as a source of comfort and even belonging.

Psychologists have noted this tendency in various groups worldwide. Claims that somehow this analysis is mysteriously inapplicable to the descendants of African slaves in America will require careful argumentation, and will be unlikely to stand." (https://johnmcwhorter.substack.com/p/do-black-people-enjoy-being-told?)

More information

* Article: The tendency for interpersonal victimhood: The personality construct and its consequences. By Rahav Gabaya, Boaz Hameiribc, Tammy Rubel-Lifschitz. Personality and Individual Differences. Volume 165, 15 October 2020, 110134

URL = https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886920303238

"In the present research, we introduce a conceptualization of the Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood (TIV), which we define as an enduring feeling that the self is a victim across different kinds of interpersonal relationships. Then, in a comprehensive set of eight studies, we develop a measure for this novel personality trait, TIV, and examine its correlates, as well as its affective, cognitive, and behavioral consequences. In Part 1 (Studies 1A-1C) we establish the construct of TIV, with its four dimensions; i.e., need for recognition, moral elitism, lack of empathy, and rumination, and then assess TIV's internal consistency, stability over time, and its effect on the interpretation of ambiguous situations. In Part 2 (Studies 2A-2C) we examine TIV's convergent and discriminant validities, using several personality dimensions, and the role of attachment styles as conceptual antecedents. In Part 3 (Studies 3–4) we explore the cognitive and behavioral consequences of TIV. Specifically, we examine the relationships between TIV, negative attribution and recall biases, and the desire for revenge (Study 3), and the effects of TIV on behavioral revenge (Study 4). The findings highlight the importance of understanding, conceptualizing, and empirically testing TIV, and suggest that victimhood is a stable and meaningful personality tendency."