The Dreaded Victim Loop – We All Go There, Just Don’t Stay There

Have you heard of the victim loop?  Have you ever felt like you were stuck in it? I know I have been in it many times and it’s not a fun feeling.  One of the most powerful tools I gained from my training in leading high performance organizations is the personal accountability model. After going through an HPWP workshop, I was given the book The Power of Personal Accountability by Mark Samuel and Sophie Chiche.  The book begins with a story of a gentleman who wishes he had done things differently in his life and a model is used throughout to lay out what it means to be in the victim loop and most importantly, how to get out.  I’d like to share with you my experience with the model and how it helps me to recognize when I’m not in a good place and how I can take action to change the situation.  Without action, we can spend way more time feeling unhappy than is necessary.

There are two loops to the model that make up what looks like a figure eight.  The bottom of the loop is considered the “victim loop”.  You know when you or others are in the victim loop when you hear them addressing a certain situation by blaming others, ignoring or hiding from the problem or perhaps denying there is a problem at all.  We may feel sorry for ourselves or say things to hurt others, breaking relationships.  This victim behavior can go on for a long time, sometimes a lifetime, and it leads to feelings of guilt, frustration, anger and lack of control. All these negative feelings also place significant stress on the body.  Think about the people you have come across in your life.  Can you identify someone that seems to always be in the victim loop?

The top of the model in contrast is called the accountability loop.  To escape the victim loop and move into accountability, you must make a choice and change the way you’re looking at a specific situation.  You must first recognize there is a problem and own solving it.  Choosing to be accountable means that you may need to forgive others or even yourself for your past behavior while living in the victim loop.  Once you’ve forgiven yourself you can turn to trying to understand what needs to change in you, learn from the past and take action to solve the problem. 

Signs that you or others are in the accountability loop often includes being courageous and having vital conversations with whomever there is discomfort.  One example of this from my life was when I was miserable in a past job.  I was working a lot of hours, was burned out and I also felt that some of the things going on in the organization went against my values.  I had to recognize that the situation was not healthy for me.  I followed that by taking action and having vital, professional conversations with my boss about how I felt.  When I did not see the change I requested in those conversations after a couple of months, I started looking for a new job and eventually left.  It was not easy finding another job and it took effort and courage, but in the end, when I landed at a company with a much better fit for me culturally, it was totally worth it!  Oh, and on top of that, I also received a higher title and larger salary.

In my case with COVID, I was stuck in the victim loop for a couple of months.  I generally felt negative and even tried to blame others for how I was feeling…like it was their fault COVID happened.  How absurd is that?  I knew something had to change but I didn’t know what.  I reached out to a friend I had met in San Antonio before COVID and did what I call “verbally vomit”.  This essentially means I talk a lot and dump everything out that is in my brain even though it makes no sense and in many cases is completely irrational.  Luckily, she is not only my friend but also an executive coach.  She knew I needed someone to listen.  Then she asked me some questions and shared what she was seeing from others around her as well with the same types of feelings.  Hearing this helped me to feel that I wasn’t alone and that there was a problem to solve.  I had to recognize my feelings, determine why I was feeling the way I was, and decide to take action to make change that would help me move forward in trying to reconnect with people, virtually.  This blog is part of my solution.

I don’t wish anyone to fall into the victim loop.  It sucks.  It can be lonely, frustrating and depressing.  You can fall in and stay there for days, weeks, months or even years.  We all go there.  The key is we do not want to stay there!  Sometimes we have to reach out to others to help us see the way out, like in my example from COVID.  Don’t be ashamed to ask for help but when you do, you also have to shut out the negative thoughts, have positive assumptions and really listen to what the person you’re asking for help is telling you.  You are not reaching out for a commiseration partner.  No one wants to be that except for another person stuck in the victim loop too! 

I love this model so much that I have it framed! When things aren’t right, I look at it and ask myself where I am in the loop. I hope this model and recognizing the symptoms of the victim loop will allow you to more quickly decide to make a choice to be accountable for solving your own problems.  No one else can do it for you and all you do by delaying is spend more time in misery.  Is there something that is keeping you in the victim loop right now?  Are you having trouble identifying what is really making you feel that way?  I’d be happy to help through listening confidentially and seeing if we can identify it together so you can move on to feeling happy again and having it all.

~Natalie

The Personal Accountability Model taken from the book The Power of Personal Accountability: Achieve What Matters To You by Mark Samuel and Sophie Chiche, 2004.

8 thoughts on “The Dreaded Victim Loop – We All Go There, Just Don’t Stay There”

  1. Stephanie McCormick Gilbert

    This is soooo applicable to EVERYONE!! We all get in the victim loop and sometimes don’t even realize it.

    It is always 100% your choice to stay there and roll around in it or change it. Plus, might I add that most of the best things for us are never going to be easy, but always worth it.

    Thanks for this post and great perspective. ??

  2. Hey Nat,

    Great article. I felt similar during the initial stages of Covid. I was on the opposite end- I never missed a day at work and was actually working a little more, because of all the added policies and procedures that we were working on. I was really upset hearing complaints from people that were working from home. How dare they, right? Is what I found myself saying in my head. Once I sat down and though of it- I even remember talking to you about it- I realized how lucky I was- more or less I was putting myself in the victim loop needlessly. I was blaming others for feeling like I did. It took talking to others and realizing my own issues to resolve and “own” my feelings and situation.
    This is a great model. I hope you don’t mind if I use it during an organizational meeting.

    1. Feel free to use the model. I do all of the time. I own the original book but you can find it online too. It’s really powerful.

      Thanks for sharing your story as well Anthony!

  3. Teniola Bolarinwa

    Beautiful and well written! I have been in and out of the victim loop several times in the last couple of years, but recognizing and owning my life as MINE, has been a game-changer!

    I’m learning to speak up more often, and challenge norms and institutions – in doing all these, I’m finding myself and my identity.

    I’m hopeful that if I ever begin to sink into the victim loop, I’d remember these courageous days, and find my way back into the accountability loop!

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