Discover more from The Iceberg - Mike Drayton
The Scarred Perception
The social psychology of the victim mindset
Expecting to be treated as a victim can lead you to perceive hostility and rejection, even when none is intended.
Meet John, an outgoing, diligent, and skilled person who comes from a humble background and has a strong regional accent. Although people generally appreciate John for who he is, he firmly believes that his colleagues judge and dismiss him based on his background and working class accent, seeing him as less intelligent, sophisticated and potentially less competent than his London born peers. This conviction erodes his self-esteem and leads him to scrutinise every remark, searching for concealed criticism where none exists. As a consequence, John grows more vulnerable and touchy around his colleagues, generating an uneasy environment. People start to avoid him, anxious about saying something that could inadvertently offend him. They feel as though they are treading on eggshells in his presence. John's actions create a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to increased isolation and feelings of rejection at work. Frustrated and resentful, he perceives himself as a victim of his circumstances and files a dignity at work grievance against his line manager .
John had developed a victim mindset.
I recently came across a fascinating social psychology experiment when researching my next book that sheds light on this phenomenon. It reveals how we actively seek evidence to confirm our beliefs, even when they are self-destructive and incorrect (Kleck and Sentra, 1980). A group of people were asked to take part in an experiment investigating whether facial disfigurement might result in discrimination. Makeup was used to create the appearance of a realistic healed scar on the right cheek. The size and placement of the scar were designed to be clearly noticeable during face-to-face conversations.
Now, here's the twist: After showing the person their scar in a mirror, the experimenter pretended to apply a moisturiser to keep the makeup from cracking and peeling off. In reality, the experimenter secretly removed the scar makeup without the participant's knowledge. So, the participants continued to believe they had a facial scar, even though it was no longer there.
Next, the person was asked to have a conversation discussing strategies people use to make friends. After the conversation, the person (who thought they had a scar) rated their partner's behaviour on various dimensions, like eye contact, smiling, whether they felt patronised, and how much they thought the other person liked them.
The results were fascinating! They perceived hostility and discrimination in their conversation partner which they attributed to the non-existent facial scar. The belief that they had a scar led them to actively look for evidence that reinforced their expectation that they would be rejected and treated unfairly, even when the supposed cause (the scar) was no longer present.
So, what can we learn from this study?
It highlights the importance of recognising the victim mindset and how our beliefs can distort reality. By being mindful of these factors, we can work on adjusting our beliefs and expectations, fostering more positive social experiences and reducing the likelihood of perceiving discrimination or hostility where it doesn't exist.
How can we apply these insights in our everyday lives?
Next time you find yourself in a social situation feeling like you're being treated unfairly, pause and consider whether your beliefs might be prompting you to look for unfairness where none exists. By doing so, we can nurture healthier relationships, both personally and professionally, and contribute to a more empathetic and inclusive world.
I hope you found this study as intriguing as I did! Share your thoughts in the comments below, and don't hesitate to share this article with your network. Let's spread knowledge and support each other's growth. Cheers!
Kleck, R. E., & Strenta, A. (1980). Perceptions of the impact of negatively valued physical characteristics on social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39(5), 861–873. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1241