The victim triangle is sometimes called the drama triangle, and there’s a lot written on this topic. I’m calling your attention to it because its a very good way of understanding your perception of other people.
If you have any one of these elements, you always have the other two. For instance you can’t be a rescuer unless there is a victim that needs rescuing. When the triangle exists, it always involves an imbalance of power. The rescuer and the persecutor have the power, but the victim does not. If the victim had the power, he or she would not need to be rescued.
Nor do people stay in the same role in a given triangle. For instance, the rescuer can become a persecutor when he or she starts criticizing the victim in an attempt to get them to change or leave a situation. The vicitim of verbal abuse can turn that abuse back on the persecutor, who then shifts into being the victim.
Where’s the Power?
I believe you have to be careful about labeling anyone, including yourself as a victim. We should also avoid identifying one’s self as a rescuer. That is because the word ‘victim’ assumes that the person who is having the problem is powerless. While that person may believe themselves to be powerless, or may be in a situation where the power distribution is way out of proportion – I don’t think that it is helpful to view people as powerless.
There is a big difference between someone who needs help, and someone who needs to be rescued. In the first case, you acknowledge that we can’t always do it on our own. That sometimes help is needed to change a situation. In the second case, there’s an assumption that the person couldn’t help him or herself without the rescuer’s help.
The example I like to use is that of someone who trips and falls. In normal cases, if you see someone fall down you might move over and give the person a hand up, and perhaps help pick up their stuff. Alternatively, to approach the situation as a rescuer you might say… “That young woman will never get herself up… I must rescue her!” Sometimes, I like to imagine this rescuer wearing a cape, as he or she swoops in to lift the startled individual from the ground.
The second image is a little silly, who would believe a person who tripped needs a rescuer? Its true that when you find yourself on the ground, a hand up can be easier than trying to get yourself up. The standing person has more leverage, and can make the job easier. This is the basic truth of anyone who needs help: Sometimes another person has better leverage to help you with making a change.
If you can offer your help or support without pity, or perceiving that person as powerless, I think that attitude is much more helpful for the individual. There are situations where a person could not have helped his or herself, that changing their own situation was close to impossible. Help from outside was pivotal. Helping is a worthy goal, but I don’t think that seeing the person as helpless makes the help more effective.
“I will help you, because I know you would never have done this on your own.”
“I will help you, because I think that will enable you to do what you need to do.”
From a my point of view, the energy behind your perception of another truly effects that individual. Imagine a young child who has only seen pity in the eyes of those she grew up with. That ongoing perception may effect her own perception of herself. If she has never seen an acknowledgement of her own power in another’s eyes, it may have been difficult for her to develop a belief in her own power.
I do have an important caveat. What I’ve talked about so far, is about whether or not you dis-empower an individual or yourself, by the way you choose to perceive him or her.
Acknowledging one’s self to have been powerless, is then about acknowledging that you were not to blame for what happened. Otherwise you will go over and over it, trying to figure out how you could have changed the situation. In some cases, it doesn’t matter how inherently powerful you might be, the situation and the circumstances made you powerless. You were not to blame for what happened. In this case, saying you were a victim is a powerful way of acknowledging, that you were not in control of the situation.
It does not reflect on your inherent power as an individual however. You were a victim of the situation, but that does not have to be your identity.
Is Rescuing Real?
Can anyone be rescued?
Is there ever a situation where someone changes their life without drawing on some of their own inner power?
When an alcoholic hits bottom, that is the moment when he/she decide things must change. If an abused spouse is to leave an abuser, he/she will not stay away if she has not committed to make the change.
Sometimes, it takes several tries before a “victim” decides to commit to change in his life. That commitment and that participation is necessary for any change to continue. The “victim” has to be brave enough to take the help offered, and to believe that things can be different. That individual has to take the first step to move forward into an unknown future. In other words, an individual has to claim his/her own power in order to become resolved, and to act. When a person does that, she is not a victim
In shamanic healing, the healer will sometimes talk how the person who is being healed heals him or herself. A shaman provides access to the power to fuel a healing, but in a very real sense, the individual heals himself with that power. The same is true in any situation where one person helps another.
A Powerful First Step
Participation with the victim triangle is more complicated than whether you view a person as powerless. However, noticing that you are perceiving yourself or others as a victim, is a powerful first step. The situations can be transformed, and you can better understand how you respond to certain situations, in certain ways through awareness. Even if the only thing you do with regards to the triangle, is ask yourself the questions:
Am I viewing that person or group as powerless?
Am I viewing myself as powerless?
You may not need to do more than observe yourself.
Truthful and compassionate observation of yourself, and your own perception of others, is sometimes the most powerful thing you can do. It is not necessary to get ahead of yourself, and start thinking of how you must change. Thinking you must change, can be a barrier to self acceptance, and self love. Change can happen, and often does once you become aware.
The Victim Triangle Series
I’ve broken this topic into three articles because the topic becomes more complex as you examine it more deeply. This first is about how your perceive others, which is powerful in itself. The other articles progress to the more complicated aspects of the triangle that arise when you explore it more deeply. The articles should be read in order, but I’ve broken them up so you delve into the more complex aspects as you are ready.
Lauren Torres – Lansing, IL
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