Victim playing (also known as playing the victim, victim card, or self-victimization) is the fabrication or exaggeration of victimhood for a variety of reasons such as to justify abuse to others, to manipulate others, a coping strategy, attention seeking or diffusion of responsibility. A person who repeatedly does this is known as a "professional victim".
Victim playing by abusers is either:
It is common for abusers to engage in victim playing. This serves two purposes:
Manipulators often play the victim role ("woe is me") by portraying themselves as victims of circumstances or someone else's behavior in order to gain pity or sympathy or to evoke compassion and thereby get something from someone. Caring and conscientious people cannot stand to see anyone suffering, and the manipulator often finds it easy and rewarding to play on sympathy to get cooperation.
While portraying oneself as a victim can be highly successful in obtaining goals over the short-term, this method tends to be less successful over time:
While failing to produce any affirmative values, the fetishistic lack of future is masked up by an excess of confirmation of its own status of victimhood, as noted by the Bosnian political theoretician Jasmin Hasanović, seeing it in the post-Yugoslav context as a form of auto-colonialism, where reproducing the narrative of victimhood corresponds with the balkanization stereotypes, being the very narrative of the colonizer where the permanence of war is the contemporaneity of fear, affirming the theses on eternal hatred thus strengthening ethnonationalism even more.
Victim playing is also:
The language of "victim playing" has entered modern corporate life, as a potential weapon of all professionals. To define victim-players as dishonest may be an empowering response; as too may be awareness of how childhood boundary issues can underlie the tactic.
In the hustle of office politics, the term may however be abused so as to penalize the legitimate victim of injustice, as well as the role-player.
Transactional analysis distinguishes real victims from those who adopt the role in bad faith, ignoring their own capacities to improve their situation. Among the predictable interpersonal "games" psychiatrist Eric Berne identified as common among by victim-players are "Look How Hard I've Tried" and "Wooden Leg".
R. D. Laing considered that "it will be difficult in practice to determine whether or to what extent a relationship is collusive" – when "the one person is predominantly the passive 'victim'", and when they are merely playing the victim. The problem is intensified once a pattern of victimization has been internalised, perhaps in the form of a double bind.
Object relations theory has explored the way possession by a false self can create a permanent sense of victimisation – a sense of always being in the hands of an external fate.
To break the hold of the negative complex, and to escape the passivity of victimhood, requires taking responsibility for one's own desires and long-term actions.