We’ve all been there. Those moments as leaders when a project stalls, a key team member leaves, or that big initiative feels like it’s crashing and burning. It’s so easy to slip into a spiral: frustration, blame (at others or ourselves), and a sinking feeling of helplessness. That’s the victim mentality, and as comfortable as it seems in the moment, it’s incredibly destructive to our leadership.

The Trap: How We Give Up Our Power

Here’s the thing about playing the victim: we surrender. We convince ourselves that our fate is out of our hands – bad luck, unfair bosses, you name it – anything but ourselves. Thoughts become a chorus of “I can’t…”, “This always happens to me…”, or “Why bother, it’s pointless…”. It feels easier than taking a hard look in the mirror, but make no mistake, this is us putting ourselves at the mercy of every setback.

We all want to feel in control as leaders. The victim mentality is the illusion of control, where it’s somehow safer to wallow than to confront the hard choices ahead. Yet, the very act of choosing this mindset robs us of the true power we hold to shape our path.

My Own Victim Trap (and Yours Too, Let’s Be Honest)

Let me get real for a minute. Early in my career, I had a boss who micromanaged everything, undermining my confidence at every turn. It was the perfect breeding ground for a victim mentality. I could blame her for my lack of progress, for feeling stifled and unseen. It WAS unfair…and it was also a dead-end. The day I decided enough was enough, wasn’t about her changing. It was about me.

Steps to Break the Cycle

True leadership – the kind that changes teams, organizations, and even ourselves – demands we break free from this trap. Here’s what’s worked for me, and countless other leaders I’ve coached:

  1. Awareness is the Antidote: Catch yourself playing the victim. What are those inner monologues, the excuses? Journaling can be powerful here. Get brutally honest about the stories you tell yourself. This isn’t about self-judgment, it’s about seeing the pattern.

  2. Reframe to Empower: Those negative thoughts? Don’t try to silence them, retrain them. “I can’t present to this group” becomes “I need more prep to feel confident with this crowd”. Instead of “why me?”, ask “What might this experience teach me to become a more resilient leader?”

  3. You Do Have a Choice: We can’t control everything, but response is always OURS. Taking responsibility doesn’t mean being at fault. It means owning the fact that YOU can chart the course ahead, even if that’s course-correcting from a mess.

  4. Your Tribe Matters: Mentors, a peer group, even a therapist – we weren’t meant to tackle this alone. Find people who get real about leadership struggles and genuinely believe in you, even when you don’t.

  5. Spirituality as a Strength (If It’s Your Thing): For me, meditation and affirmations help quiet those self-critical voices. Others find strength in a sense of larger purpose. If spirituality plays a role in your life, let it be an anchor when the seas of leadership get stormy.

  6. Resilience: The Muscle We Build: Every time you fall flat, get back up, and dust yourself off, you’re growing this muscle. Failing is how we learn. Embracing that is how we become unstoppable.

This Isn’t Easy, But It’s ESSENTIAL

There will be days the victim mentality whispers sweet nothings of surrender. That’s when these steps become a lifeline. True power as a leader is not the absence of challenges, but our ability to meet them, learn, and rise stronger on the other side. The world needs more of that kind of leadership, don’t you think?

Let me know in the comments – what’s been YOUR biggest victim mentality trap?