If most people in population report the same negative experience relative to others - what is the source of that experience?

For example, the majority of a student body reported feelings of exclusion and loneliness - but how can that really exist? Especially the exclusion - wouldn't that require another population to feel excluded from? It would appear there is some element of recursion here. Are the reporters of the negative experience, the source of the issue? Is this the phenomenon that lead Gandhi to the concept "be the change you want to see"?

  • What is this phenomenon called?
  • What is the source of the experience?
  • What is the solution?

Any point in the right direction is greatly appreciated.

  • Each answer is very helpful, is there a way to distribute the bounty equally to all answers.....? Nov 20, 2012 at 3:12

4 Answers 4



This is a similar thing that I read lately, which should be able to get you started.

I also think that people tend to look only at those better off (in whatever way they want to be well off) when judging themselves, not at a total population.

So in a group of 10, 9 people are going to feel that everyone in the group is better off than them, as they only compare themselves with the ones that are. Even worse, for subjective things, all 10 may feel worse off, as unfavourable comparisons can go both ways. (A feels uglier than B, and B feels uglier than A, for example). I don't have a name for this, or a source, it's an opinion founded purely on experiences.

  • 1
    Myriad psychological causes, I'd say. Among them errors in reasoning, perhaps involving projection. An example of what appears to be a not uncommon error is that of reification fallacy where things such as "society" are made to be more than they actually are (here, instead of merely individuals in relation, society is understood to mean some kind of towering, powerful, quasi-monolithic being). This example alone can produce the feeling you describe because membership in a nonexistent being is impossible (although the delusion that one is in some relation with it in some way is).
    – danielm
    Nov 15, 2012 at 23:01

I think you've wandered into a spot of confusion in your terms. I'm going to lay out a specific answer, but it necessitates interpreting your question in a specific way, based on the example you've given.

When speaking of "negative feelings" qua experiences, what I have to assume you're referring to, and must have in mind, is actually better described as a set of emotions with negative valence (14) with relations to external objects. For instance, each person in a group (say, a large family) may have the same attachment to some member of the group (let's call her Grandma), and so it's not a problem to say that the sudden death of Grandma causes each member of her family to experience sadness.

We can try to explain that emotion either in terms of the judgment that her death is a loss, or perhaps that it's analogous to the perception of loss that Grandma's death entails, or that the correct attitude towards loss is sadness. How to correctly describe the relation between the formal object (41) of "loss" and the experience of sadness is still up for grabs.

However, in the case of each member of a group feeling loneliness, the formal object here I imagine would be the judgment or perception that he or she is "excluded from the group". Whether the experience of exclusion is veridical or not is only answerable to the justification for feelings of loneliness, and not satisfied merely because the emotion of loneliness is being felt. That each person in the group could possibly feel lonely based on their individual judgment or perception that they are, in fact, excluded from the whole group does not constitute recursion in any wicked sense.

So the source of that experience, for each person, is that he or she believes that he or she is excluded, full stop. If the report of feeling excluded by one person in the group, is the evidence a second member uses to justify his or her own perception of exclusion from that same group, then the question should be:

Does that evidence justify the conclusion for which the experience of loneliness is being felt?

It's easier to see, when framed in this way, why every member of that group could come to the conclusion that he, or she is excluded and why that judgment can simply be wrong.


"wouldn't that require another population to feel excluded from? " why would they need another population to be excluded from? could it not be that they feel excluded from the current one, the student body?

From how i am reading it , it sounds like you have taken the singular opinions of individuals into a collective construct and are now trying to quantify based on that. Is that not a loaded question?

  • it is more analogous to having 2 people. Both "feel excluded." How can that be? Nov 14, 2012 at 22:07
  • Is it not that they would feel both excluded from each other. The end result of exclusion is based on the way in which each user has created in the environment . I could understand how this would be a paradox if no time had passed at the point at which the users felt excluded.
    – user2683
    Nov 15, 2012 at 7:42
  • what..........? Nov 16, 2012 at 1:06
  • U asked how could it be that 2 people feel excluded "Deny (someone) access to or bar (someone) from a place, group, or privilege." So they both feel excluded from each other based on their actions toward each other. Am i missing something? because i really feel like i am.
    – user2683
    Nov 16, 2012 at 9:58

The Phenomenon

is a side-effect of the use of Victim mentality as a tool for acquiring and maintaining power as well as compelling action.

Victim mentality is an acquired (learned) personality trait in which a person tends to regard him or herself as a victim of the negative actions of others, and to think, speak and act as if that were the case - even [in] the absence of clear evidence.

It seems to be much easier to unite people against a common enemy than in favor of a common good. That fact is not lost on those who seek power. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" is an ancient proverb developed independently around the world.

We see it used today by politicians of all affiliations. We see "us little guys vs. those big bad guys" as a prevalent theme in music and storytelling. We see it in marketing, on TV, and in movies.

There are probably evolutionary (safety in numbers) and possibly cultural (weak overtake the strong as a common theme in storytelling) factors that would explain why it works.

The first few posts in this discussion were very interesting and focused on the usage of victim mentality to compel and escalate aggression.

The target action doesn't have to be aggression though. It could be a vote or a purchase or something else.

The Source

of the phenomenon is actually the sum of so many divisions.

This will be easier to explain if I use the context of your example where nearly all students in the student body felt excluded from the student body.

A particular student, any student, is subjected to a thousand different potential "leaders" cutting him off from "the enemy" into smaller and smaller groups of victims.

Consider your average series of TV commercials: he is a student vs. an anti-education politician, he is a PC vs. a Mac, he is a Yankees fan vs. a Red Sox fan, a nerd vs. a jock, his race vs. other races, male vs. female...the list could continue forever.

The sum of all of these divisions, for many, leads to a feeling of exclusion from any and all groups and adoption of a victim mentality in future scenarios; even in scenarios in which he has not been cast as the victim and isn't, actually, a victim.

The Solution

is simple, find a common enemy.

Kidding aside, I would promote independence and self-reliance. These are not the traits of a victim. They provide a confidence that counters the fear employed by the various groups that want you to feel victimized in order to compel you to action.

How you accomplish that, society-wide, when so many players and particularly those in power have a vested interest in undermining it, is a whole new discussion.

Awareness is also a powerful tool in combating any manipulation.

I did find a lot of discussions about "breaking out" of a victim mentality with regards to a single individual. Nothing with regards to a society.

More reading: There is quite a bit of psychological study of victim mentality. Sociological studies would also be interesting but I had trouble finding any. Cultural anthropology may be another field with relevant information. Victim mentality is sometimes called martyr complex and has other names.

  • wow, didn't see that answer coming, thanks. I definetly see how these divisions can cause one to feel as if they don't belong and are at the mercy of the "powerful" whatever that may be. Maybe an unrelated question, but is there ever a time when the victim mentality is Ok to have? Nov 19, 2012 at 2:24
  • I'd say no. It seems to be an unhealthy way to look at the world.
    – user2692
    Nov 22, 2012 at 6:31

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