Lady Gregson, in all her infinite wisdom, teaches me more than she’ll ever know. She’ll read this, I know she will, and she’ll disagree and blush and say I’m lying and that I just ‘have to’ say that because I love her. She does this often, despite constantly opening my eyes to new experiences, new gems of knowledge, new pieces of new ways on how to better help the people we know and love in our lives. Helping people has always been a huge thing to us, and we do our best to show up in as many ways as possible, so when she brought up something I had completely forgotten about from my psychology degree, I felt once again thankful.
She reminded me of a psychological idea often called the “Victim Triangle” or the “Drama Triangle,” and the truth that lives inside it. You see, most experts agree that almost all of us, the big Us that includes all of us reading right now, react to life as victims, whether we realize it or not. A bigwig psychiatrist, and teacher of Transactional Analysis, named Stephen Karpman, came up with a little diagram to explain this triangle he envisioned, and I wanted to share it here first, before I get into the why of why I’m bringing this up today. Here it is:
As you can see, there are 3 corners to this triangle, and each corner references a specific role that can be adopted whilst reacting to life as a victim. He, and almost every doctor who followed tended to agree, believed that every single dysfunctional interaction in our lives, takes place somewhere on this triangle. Thing is, we’ve all got a “primary” or familiar role we almost always play. We adopt this role and get locked into it based on what we learn from the families we began our lives in. Once in the triangle, we rotate between them, but more often than not, we fall back into our role once each interaction resets, and then we begin the process again and again. When we are on this triangle, no matter where we fall, no matter which role we’re currently adopting, we’re victims, and as long as we live as victims, our lives can never be as happy as they should be, we can never be as satisfied or healthy as we could. The mental, emotional, and spiritual degradation that takes place has consequences far reaching and honestly, pretty scary.
Rescuers, are people who do just that. They are the helpers, the caretakers, the mama-bears. They need someone to “fix” in order to feel necessary, and most often, these people don’t ever even think themselves victims…they are too busy helping.
Persecutors are those that really do feel like victims, and then explain away their denial, or their attacks on others as merely being self-defense. They lash out because they are protecting their sensitive hearts, they justify their position as necessary for survival.
At the bottom of the triangle is the Victim and these are those that feel attacked, beaten down, walked upon, and unworthy of love or care. They feel like the whole world is against them, and they will then inevitably collect all that resentment or sadness, and eventually will burst and lead them to becoming persecutors themselves. See how this is working? Once in the triangle, we have a huge problem getting out of it. This is compounded by a simple fact: The role we are most familiar with, our primary role, very often becomes a way we define ourselves, the lens through which we see ourselves as a whole. Rescuers hold onto core beliefs that their needs don’t matter, that they are here to help others at their own detriment if needs be, they see this as their mission and they pursue it with abandon. Persecutors seek protection, as they’ve felt persecuted themselves, their whole lives. They have felt like victims so long, they justify their attitudes, their behaviors, and their insight that the world is a scary place out to get them.
There are mountains of research about this, and a million articles should you want to dive in deeper, but the main thing I wanted to talk of, the reason I wanted to talk of it is this: I see these roles in my own life all the time, I am sure I even adopt them more than I’d like to admit. I see the toll they take on the people I love, I see Sarah give and give and give and get hurt time and again, and it just makes me sad.
A lack of awareness of these tendencies can lead to the repetition of their consequences, and unless we break the legs off that triangle, of these monstrous victim roles that bind us where we are, I think we run the risk of truly becoming them, of embodying their natures for longer than we should.
We do this, once again, at the detriment of our own health, emotionally or spiritually or even physically.
There are few things better than being a willing ear to those in need, better than being open to and receptive to those that are hurting in our lives. I believe this. I also believe we have to be very careful with our energies when we find someone in the thick of their own dysfunctional interaction, wherever it may be aimed, however it may be manifesting. With awareness of our own familiar roles, we can be more mindful of what we give, and how we give it, and we can not only keep ourselves out of this Victim Triangle, but we can pull them from it too.
The truth is, we’re not all victims, not at all.
Most of the drama we tie ourselves to is ephemeral and, in the end, meaningless. 99% of the dramatic bullshit in our lives won’t matter, or be remembered in a year, and most certainly not in 5, 10, or 20. Still we stress, still we lose sleep and let cortisol build in our bodies that strips years from our life expectancy and joy from our days.
The trickle down of staying in this triangle is terrifying, and it bleeds into those we know, those we raise, and it creates new spin-off triangles every time we refuse to climb out. This post, this Signal Fire is to urge you to notice your own tendencies, our own beliefs on victimhood, and to ask you to re-evaluate them. If we learn, if we research and dive in and do just a little work on ourselves, we can set ourselves and others up for so much more joy. So much less pain.
First, we gotta break the legs off these monsters, then we can outrun them.
For more info, here’s a wonderful and extremely in-depth article that helped me shape this post…I urge you to give it a read, it explains much better than I could paraphrase.
What’s your role? How will you climb out? And to risk sounding like a rescuer myself, how can we help you do so? :)
We must break the legs
of the monsters that bind us,
lest we become them.