The Three Faces of Victim

An Overview of the Drama Triangle

By Lynne Forrest

Whether we know it, or not, most of us react to life as vic­tims. When­ever we refuse to take respon­si­bil­ity for our­selves, we are uncon­sciously choos­ing to react as vic­tim. This inevitably cre­ates feel­ings of anger, fear, guilt or inad­e­quacy and leaves us feel­ing betrayed, or taken advan­tage of by others.

Victim-hood can be defined by the three posi­tions beau­ti­fully out­lined in a dia­gram devel­oped by a well respected psy­chi­a­trist, and teacher of Trans­ac­tional Analy­sis, named Stephen Karp­man. He calls it the “drama tri­an­gle,” I refer to it as the vic­tim tri­an­gle. Hav­ing dis­cov­ered this resource some thirty years ago, it has become one of the more impor­tant tools in my per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life. The more I teach and apply the vic­tim tri­an­gle to rela­tion­ship the deeper my appre­ci­a­tion grows for this sim­ple, pow­er­fully accu­rate instrument.

I’ve some­times referred to the vic­tim tri­an­gle as a “shame gen­er­a­tor” because through it we uncon­sciously re-enact painful life themes that cre­ate shame. This has the effect of rein­forc­ing old, painful beliefs that keep us stuck in a lim­ited ver­sion of reality.

I believe that every dys­func­tional inter­ac­tion, in rela­tion­ship with other or self, takes place on the vic­tim tri­an­gle. But until we become con­scious of these dynam­ics, we can­not trans­form them. And unless we trans­form them, we can­not move for­ward on our jour­ney towards re-claiming emo­tional, men­tal and spir­i­tual well-being.

The three roles on the vic­tim tri­an­gle are Per­se­cu­tor, Res­cuer and Vic­tim. Karp­man placed these three roles on an inverted tri­an­gle and described them as being the three aspects, or faces of vic­tim. No mat­ter where we may start out on the tri­an­gle, vic­tim is where we end up, there­fore no mat­ter what role we’re in on the tri­an­gle, we’re in vic­tim­hood. If we’re on the tri­an­gle we’re liv­ing as vic­tims, plain and simple!

Each per­son has a pri­mary or most famil­iar role — what I call their “start­ing gate” posi­tion. This is the place from which we gen­er­ally enter, or “get hooked” onto, the tri­an­gle. We first learn our start­ing gate posi­tion in our fam­ily of ori­gin. Although we each have a role with which we most iden­tify, once we’re on the tri­an­gle, we auto­mat­i­cally rotate through all the posi­tions, going com­pletely around the tri­an­gle, some­times in a mat­ter of min­utes, or even sec­onds, many times every day.

Start­ing gate Res­cuers (SGR) see them­selves as “helpers” and “care­tak­ers.” They need some­one to res­cue (vic­tim) in order to feel vital and impor­tant. It’s dif­fi­cult for SGR’s to rec­og­nize them­selves as ever being in a vic­tim posi­tion — they’re the ones with the answers after all.

Start­ing Gate Per­se­cu­tors (SGP), on the other hand, iden­tify them­selves pri­mar­ily as vic­tims. They are usu­ally in com­plete denial about their blam­ing tac­tics. When it is pointed out to them, they argue that attack is war­ranted and nec­es­sary for self pro­tec­tion. These two — the Res­cuer and the Per­se­cu­tor — are the two oppo­site extremes of Vic­tim. But again, regard­less of where we start out on the tri­an­gle, all roles even­tu­ally end up in vic­tim. It’s inevitable.

You may notice that both the Per­se­cu­tor and Res­cuer are on the upper end of the tri­an­gle. These roles assume a “one-up” posi­tion over oth­ers, mean­ing they relate as though they are bet­ter, stronger, smarter, or more-together than the vic­tim. Sooner or later the vic­tim, who is in the one-down posi­tion at the bot­tom of the tri­an­gle, devel­ops a metaphor­i­cal “crick in the neck” from always look­ing up. Feel­ing “looked down upon” or “worth– less than” the oth­ers, the Vic­tim builds resent­ment and sooner or later, retal­i­a­tion fol­lows. A nat­ural pro­gres­sion from vic­tim to per­se­cu­tor fol­lows. This gen­er­ally moves the per­se­cu­tor or res­cuer into vic­tim. Rem­i­nis­cent of a not-so-musical game of musi­cal chairs, all play­ers sooner or later rotate positions.

Here’s an exam­ple: Dad comes home from work to find mom and Junior engaged in bat­tle. “Clean up your room or else,” mom threat­ens. Dad imme­di­ately comes to the res­cue. “Mom,” he might say, “give the boy a break. He’s been at school all day.”

Any one of sev­eral pos­si­bil­i­ties might fol­low. Per­haps Mom, feel­ing vic­tim­ized by Dad, will turn her wrath on him. In that case, dad is moved from Res­cuer to Vic­tim. They then might do a few quick trips around the tri­an­gle with Junior on the sidelines.

Or maybe Junior joins Dad in a per­se­cu­tory “Let’s gang up on mom” approach, or then again, maybe Junior will turn on Dad, res­cu­ing Mom, with, “Mind your own busi­ness, Dad. I don’t need your help!” So it goes, with end­less vari­a­tion, but nonethe­less, ping­ing from cor­ner to cor­ner on the tri­an­gle. For many fam­i­lies, it’s the only way they know to interact.

Our starting-gate posi­tion on the vic­tim tri­an­gle is not only where we most often enter the tri­an­gle, it is also the role through which we actu­ally define our­selves. It becomes a strong part of our iden­tity. Each starting-gate posi­tion has its own par­tic­u­lar way of see­ing and react­ing to the world. We all have uncon­scious core beliefs acquired in child­hood, derived from our inter­pre­ta­tion of early fam­ily encoun­ters. These become “life themes” that pre­dis­pose us towards the uncon­scious selec­tion of a par­tic­u­lar start­ing gate posi­tion on the tri­an­gle.
Sally’s mother was phys­i­cally dis­abled and addicted to pre­scrip­tion drugs. From Sally’s ear­li­est mem­ory she reported feel­ing ulti­mately respon­si­ble for her mother. Instead of get­ting appro­pri­ate care from a par­ent who was con­cerned for her well being, she became the “lit­tle par­ent” of a mother who played the part of a help­less child. This child­hood sce­nario set Sally up with a “life script” that pre­dis­posed her towards becom­ing a Start­ing Gate Res­cuer (SGR). Care-taking oth­ers became her pri­mary way of relat­ing to others.

SGR’s, like Sally, have an uncon­scious core belief that might go some­thing like this; “My needs are not impor­tant … I am only val­ued for what I can do for oth­ers.” Of course, believ­ing these ideas requires her to have some­one in her life who she can res­cue (a vic­tim). How else will some­one like Sally get to feel valu­able and worthwhile?

Sally would never admit to being a vic­tim because in her mind she is the one who must have the answers. Nonethe­less, she does, in fact, rotate through vic­tim on the tri­an­gle on a reg­u­lar basis. A SGR in the vic­tim role becomes a mar­tyr, com­plain­ing loudly, “After all I’ve done for you … this is the thanks I get!”

Start­ing Gate Per­se­cu­tors (SGP’s), on the other hand, see them­selves as vic­tims in need of pro­tec­tion. This is how they can so eas­ily jus­tify their venge­ful behav­ior … “They asked for it and they got what they deserved.” That’s the way they see it. Their core belief might go some­thing like this; “The world is dan­ger­ous, peo­ple can’t be trusted so I need to get them before they hurt me.” This atti­tude sets them up to think that they must strike out in order to defend against inevitable attack.

Whereas a SGR may move into the role of per­se­cu­tor by with­draw­ing their care-taking, (“That’s it — I’m not doing any­thing else for you!”) a SGP res­cues in a way that is almost as painful as when they persecute.

Bob is a doc­tor who often jus­ti­fied hurt­ing oth­ers. Attack was his pri­mary way of deal­ing with incon­ve­nience, frus­tra­tion or pain. Once, for instance, he men­tioned run­ning into a patient of his on the golf course. Our dia­logue went some­thing like this;

Lynne, can you believe that patient had the nerve to ask me to treat his bad knee, right then and there, on my only day off?”

Yeah,” I replied, “some peo­ple just don’t have appro­pri­ate bound­aries. How did you han­dle it?”

Oh, I gave him a treat­ment, all right,” he chuck­led, “I took him to my office and gave him a steroid shot he’ll never forget!

In other words Bob res­cued his incon­sid­er­ate patient but in a way that “pun­ished” him for dar­ing to be so bold. To Bob, his action seemed ratio­nal, even jus­ti­fied. His patient had infringed on his free time, there­fore, he believed, his patient deserved the rough treat­ment he got. This is a prime exam­ple of SGP think­ing. Bob didn’t real­ize that he could have just said no to his patients request for treat­ment. He did not have to feel vic­tim­ized by, nor did he need to res­cue his patient. Set­ting bound­aries never occurred to Bob as an option. In his mind he had been treated unjustly and there­fore he had the right, even the oblig­a­tion, to get even.

Vic­tims also have core beliefs that set them up for their start­ing gate posi­tion on the tri­an­gle. Start­ing Gate Victim’s (SGV’s) believe they can­not take care of them­selves. They see them­selves as con­sis­tently unable to han­dle life. They even res­cue from a one-down posi­tion, say­ing things to their poten­tial res­cuer like “You’re the only one who can help me.” These are words that any SGR longs to hear!

Start­ing gate posi­tions are gen­er­ally set-up in child­hood. For instance, if a par­ent does not ask their chil­dren to take age-appropriate respon­si­bil­ity for them­selves, they may grow up either to become adults who feel inad­e­quate at tak­ing care of them­selves (start­ing gate vic­tim) or become resent­ful adults who blame oth­ers when they don’t get taken care of in the way they think they should be. (a per­se­cu­tor role). Either way, they are set up for a life­time on the vic­tim triangle.

There are many vari­a­tions, and each case needs to be indi­vid­u­ally con­sid­ered. We not only act out these tri­an­gu­lar dis­tor­tions in our every­day rela­tions with oth­ers, but we also play out the vic­tim tri­an­gle inter­nally. We move around the tri­an­gle as rapidly inside our own minds as we do out in the world. We ensnare our­selves on the tri­an­gle with dis­hon­est and dys­func­tional inter­nal dia­logue. For exam­ple, we may come down hard on our­selves for not com­plet­ing a project. Per­haps we lam­bast our­selves as being lazy, inad­e­quate or defec­tive ℗, caus­ing us to spi­ral into feel­ings of anger and self-worthlessness. Inwardly, we cower to this per­se­cu­tory voice, fear­ing it may be right (V). Finally when we can’t bear it any­more, we take our­selves off the hook by jus­ti­fy­ing, min­i­miz­ing or indulging in some form of escape. This is how we res­cue our­selves. This could go on for min­utes, hours or days.

Some­times we res­cue our­selves and oth­ers by deny­ing what we know — sort of like; “If I look the other way and pre­tend not to notice, it will go away”. Denial or inner drama of any kind per­pet­u­ates a vicious cycle of shame and self loathing. Mov­ing around the tri­an­gle keeps the self-disparaging mes­sages running.The vic­tim tri­an­gle becomes our very own shame-making machine. It’s up to us to learn how to turn this noisy men­tal machine off.

We can’t get off the tri­an­gle until we rec­og­nize we’re on it. Once we make it con­scious, we observe our inter­ac­tions with oth­ers as a way to iden­tify our own start­ing gate posi­tion. We ask ques­tions, like, “What hooks me? From where do I enter the tri­an­gle once I’ve been hooked?” We begin to train our Inter­nal Observer to notice, with­out judg­ment, our con­ver­sa­tions with loved ones, espe­cially those more “sticky” moments (where we walk on eggshells).

It’s help­ful to learn what the costs and trade-offs are for each of the three roles. Each role has its own lan­guage, beliefs and behav­ior — it’s ben­e­fi­cial to know them. This helps us to iden­tify when we’re on the tri­an­gle. Study­ing the roles also pro­motes a quicker recog­ni­tion of when we’re being baited to play. With all that in mind, let’s exam­ine each role more carefully.

Res­cuer

The Res­cuer might be described as a shadow aspect of the mother prin­ci­ple. Instead of an appro­pri­ate expres­sion of sup­port and nur­tur­ing, the Res­cuer tends to “smother”, con­trol and manip­u­late oth­ers — “for their own good,” of course. Theirs is a mis­guided under­stand­ing of what it is to encour­age, empower and protect.

A Start­ing Gate Res­cuer is the clas­sic, co-dependent. The SGR tends be enabling, overly pro­tec­tive — the one who wants to “fix it.” Res­cu­ing is an addic­tion that comes from an uncon­scious need to feel val­ued. There’s no bet­ter way to feel impor­tant than to be a sav­ior! Tak­ing care of oth­ers may be the Res­cuers best game plan for get­ting to feel worthwhile.

SGR’s usu­ally grow up in fam­i­lies where their depen­dency needs are not acknowl­edged. It’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal fact that we treat our­selves the way we were treated as chil­dren. The bud­ding Res­cuer grows up in an envi­ron­ment where their needs are negated and so tend to treat them­selves with the same degree of neg­li­gence that they expe­ri­enced as chil­dren. With­out per­mis­sion to take care of them­selves, their needs go under­ground and they turn instead to tak­ing care of others.

A SGR often gains great sat­is­fac­tion by iden­ti­fy­ing with their care-taking role. They are gen­er­ally proud of what “helpers” and “fix­ers” they are. Often they are socially acclaimed, even rewarded, for what can be seen as “self­less acts” of car­ing. They believe in their good­ness as chief care­tak­ers and see them­selves as heroes.

Behind it all is a mag­i­cal belief that, said out loud, might sound like, “If I take care of them long enough, then, sooner or later, they will take care of me too.” But, as we’ve already learned, this rarely hap­pens. When we res­cue the needy, we can’t expect any­thing back. They can’t even take care of them­selves — much less be there for us!

Often the result­ing dis­ap­point­ment sends the SGR spi­ral­ing into depres­sion. They fail to see that they, them­selves are head­ing straight for vic­tim through their enabling and dis­abling responses. Hav­ing denied the ill-begotten con­se­quences of res­cu­ing, these “do-gooders” find it very hard to hear them­selves referred to as a vic­tim even while they com­plain about how mis­treated they are! Mar­tyr is what a SGR turns into once they’ve moved into the vic­tim posi­tion on the triangle.

Feel­ing used, at the mercy of, betrayed, and hope­less are trade­mark feel­ings of the vic­tim phase of a Rescuer’s dance around the tri­an­gle. Com­mon phrases for the mar­tyred SGR are; “After all I’ve done for you, this is the thanks I get?” or “No mat­ter how much I do, it’s never enough”; or, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t treat me like this!”

A SGR’s great­est fear is that they will end up alone. They believe that their total value comes from how much they do for oth­ers. It’s dif­fi­cult for them to see their worth beyond what they have to offer in the way of “stuff” or “ser­vice.” SGR’s uncon­sciously encour­age depen­dency because they believe, “If you need me, you won’t leave me.” They scram­ble to make them­selves indis­pens­able in order to avoid abandonment.

SGR’s are obliv­i­ous to the crip­pling depen­dency they fos­ter. They are unaware of the dis­abling mes­sages they send through their enabling inter­ac­tion with oth­ers. The more they res­cue, the less self respon­si­bil­ity is taken by the ones they care-take … The less respon­si­bil­ity their charges takes, the more they res­cue … it’s a down­ward spi­ral that often ends in disaster.

A SGR mother of two out-of-control, teenage sons described it well. She said, “I thought my role as a good mother was to make sure my sons toed the line — I thought I was sup­posed to make sure they did the right thing. Because I believed that I was respon­si­ble for the choices they made, I told them what to do and con­stantly attempted to con­trol their behavior.”

Should she be sur­prised then that her sons blame every­one around them for the painful con­se­quences they expe­ri­ence as a result of their own poor choices? Like her, they have learned to think that their behav­ior is her respon­si­bil­ity, not their own. Her inces­sant and futile attempts to con­trol them causes con­stant bat­tle between them, mak­ing it easy for the boys to blame their mother for the prob­lems cre­ated by their own irre­spon­si­bil­ity. Out of her own need to be seen as a “good mom”, this co-dependent mother unwit­tingly taught her sons to see them­selves as hap­less vic­tims whose unhap­pi­ness was always some­body else’s fault. There’s a good pos­si­bil­ity that at least one of these boys will become a Start­ing Gate Per­se­cu­tor. Cer­tainly the set up is in place for that to happen.

This mother, as is often the case, was con­vinced that her sons were inca­pable of mak­ing good choices. She had a long list of evi­dence to back up her con­cerns. This accu­mu­lated evi­dence jus­ti­fied her “oblig­a­tion” to con­trol her sons choices. But because they were teenagers, she could no longer force their com­pli­ance like she could when they were younger. Inevitably she would end up feel­ing help­less, inad­e­quate and like a fail­ure as a mother (vic­tim posi­tion). She would either give in to their demands or “per­se­cute” them for not obey­ing. Either way, she (and they) felt bad. Then would come the guilt or remorse which would moti­vate her to try to “fix it” once again. And she finds her­self back in her orig­i­nal Start­ing Gate Res­cuer posi­tion for the cycle to start anew.

We met Sally ear­lier, who grew up see­ing her mother as weak, help­less and inef­fec­tual. From an early age, she felt a huge respon­si­bil­ity to take care of her frail, drug depen­dent par­ent. Her own well-being depended on it! As the years went by, how­ever, she could scarcely con­tain the inner rage she felt towards her mother for being so needy and weak. As a SGR, she would do all she could to bol­ster her mother, only to come away again and again, feel­ing defeated (vic­tim) because noth­ing she tried worked. Inevitably the resent­ment would take over, lead­ing her to resort to treat­ing her mother with scorn (per­se­cu­tor). This became her pri­mary inter­ac­tive pat­tern, not only with her mother, but in her other rela­tion­ships as well. By the time we met, she was emo­tion­ally, phys­i­cally and spir­i­tu­ally exhausted from hav­ing spent her life tak­ing care of one sick and depen­dent per­son after another.

It becomes the job of the Res­cuer to keep the other propped up — “for their own good,” of course. Hav­ing a Vic­tim is essen­tial in order for the SGR to main­tain the illu­sion of being one-up and need­less. This means then, that there will always be at least one per­son in every SGR’s life who is trou­bled, sick, frag­ile, inept and there­fore depen­dent upon them. If the SGR’s pri­mary vic­tim starts tak­ing respon­si­bil­ity for them­selves, the Res­cuer will either have to find a new vic­tim or address their own shadow needs.

Regard­less of the cir­cum­stances of the one a SGR feels com­pelled to res­cue — no mat­ter how “badly” the vic­tim may need help, res­cu­ing can lead only one place — vic­tim. If you are a pri­mary Res­cuer, this does not mean you can­not be lov­ing, gen­er­ous and kind. It is cer­tainly pos­si­ble to be help­ful and sup­port­ive with­out being a Res­cuer. There is a dis­tinct dif­fer­ence between being truly help­ful and rescuing.

Authen­tic helpers act with­out expec­ta­tions for rec­i­p­ro­ca­tion. They empower rather than dis­able those they serve. What they do will be done to encour­age self-responsibility, rather than pro­mote depen­dency. True Sup­port­ers believe that the other can han­dle their own busi­ness. They believe that every­one has the right to make mis­takes and learn through some­times hard con­se­quences. They trust the other has what it takes to see them­selves through times of dif­fi­culty with­out they, as Res­cuers, need­ing to “save” them.

Start­ing Gate Res­cuers, on the other hand, don’t take respon­si­bil­ity for them­selves. Instead, they do for oth­ers in an attempt to get val­i­da­tion or feel impor­tant or as a way to fos­ter depen­dency. Vic­tim is just round the bend.

Per­se­cu­tor

Like the other roles, the Start­ing Gate Per­se­cu­tor is shame based. This role is most often taken on by some­one who received overt men­tal and/or phys­i­cal abuse dur­ing their child­hood. As a result they are often secretly seething inside from a shame based wrath that ends up run­ning their lives. SGPs, for sur­vival sake, repress deep-seated feel­ings of worth­less­ness; they hide their pain behind a façade of indig­nant wrath and uncar­ing detach­ment. They may choose to emu­late their pri­mary child­hood abuser(s), pre­fer­ring to iden­tify with those they see as hav­ing power and strength — rather than become the “picked on loser” at the bot­tom of life’s pile. SGP’s tend to adopt an atti­tude that says; “The world is hard and mean … only the ruth­less sur­vive. I’ll be one of those.” In other words, they become per­pe­tra­tors. They “pro­tect” them­selves using author­i­tar­ian, con­trol­ling and down­right pun­ish­ing methods.

In the same way that the SGR is the shadow mother prin­ci­ple, the SGP is the “shadow father prin­ci­ple.” A healthy father’s job is to pro­tect and pro­vide for his fam­ily. Rather than pro­vid­ing nur­tur­ing direc­tion, the SGP attempts to “reform” and dis­ci­pline those around him using manip­u­la­tion and brute force.

The SGP over­comes feel­ings of help­less­ness and shame by over-powering oth­ers. Dom­i­na­tion becomes their most preva­lent style of inter­ac­tion. This means they must always be right! Their meth­ods include bul­ly­ing, preach­ing, threat­en­ing, blam­ing, lec­tur­ing, inter­ro­gat­ing and out­right attack. They believe in get­ting even, very often through aggres­sive acts. Just like the Res­cuer needs some­one to fix, the Per­se­cu­tor needs some­one to blame. SGP’s deny their vul­ner­a­bil­ity in the same way Res­cuers deny their needs. Their great­est fear is pow­er­less­ness. Because they judge and deny their own inad­e­quacy, fear and vul­ner­a­bil­ity, they will need some place else to project these dis­owned feel­ings. In other words, they need a vic­tim. They need some­one they per­ceive as weak to prove to them­selves that their own destruc­tively painful story about the world is true. Both Res­cuers and Per­se­cu­tors uncon­sciously “need” a Vic­tim in order to sus­tain their idea of who they are and what the world is like.

SGP’s also tend to com­pen­sate for inner feel­ings of worth­less­ness by putting on grandiose airs. Grandios­ity inevitably comes from shame. It is a com­pen­sa­tion and cover-up for deep infe­ri­or­ity. Supe­ri­or­ity is the attempt to swing hard to the other side of “less than” in order to come across as “bet­ter than.”

It is most dif­fi­cult for some­one in Per­se­cu­tor to take respon­si­bil­ity for the way they hurt oth­ers. In their mind, oth­ers deserve what they get. These war­ring indi­vid­u­als tend to see them­selves as hav­ing to con­stantly fight for sur­vival. Theirs is a con­stant strug­gle to pro­tect them­selves in what they per­ceive as a hos­tile world.

Joseph was from a promi­nent, wealthy fam­ily. His par­ents divorced and his father was angry, remote and used his money to con­trol oth­ers. His mother was an alco­holic who brought home men who abused her and Joseph through­out his pre-adolescent and ado­les­cent years. He, early on, learned that his only chance for sur­vival was to fight. Joseph plowed through life with his head down the way a bull rages across a bull­fight­ers pen. He con­structed his life so that there was always an enemy that had to be fought.

On the out­side, Joseph exhib­ited a swash-buckling, “I don’t give a damn” per­sona — he was ever ready to gam­ble or take care­less risks with his health. But on the inside, he was bit­ter and unhappy. He shared with me how exhausted he felt from a belief that he needed to main­tain con­stant vig­i­lance; he felt a des­per­ate need to keep a watch­ful eye out for those who wanted to hurt him or his loved ones.

Joseph was con­stantly involved in court bat­tles and even out and out, phys­i­cal brawls. He was always hav­ing to get him­self out of one “scrape” after another. To his way of think­ing these occur­rences were always some­body else’s fault. He could not resist what he felt was jus­ti­fi­able retal­i­a­tion. “I can’t let them get away with it!” was his most com­mon response.

Joseph saw him­self as some­one who did not get the pro­tec­tion he deserved. This belief jus­ti­fied tak­ing mat­ters into his own hands. At least that’s how he saw it. He trusted no-one. Not even his par­ents had been reli­able, so who could he depend on? This atti­tude prompted him to be in con­stant defense mode. He had to be ready for the next attack!

Joseph is an exam­ple of a clas­sic Start­ing Gate Per­se­cu­tor. It is easy to think that Per­se­cu­tors are “bad” peo­ple. They are not. They are sim­ply wounded indi­vid­u­als who see the world as dan­ger­ous. This requires that they be ever ready to strike back. They live in con­stant defen­sive reaction.

It is always dif­fi­cult for SGP’s to per­ceive them­selves as per­se­cu­tors. It is much eas­ier to jus­tify the neces­sity for per­se­cu­tion (thereby iden­ti­fy­ing with vic­tim) than to own the oppres­sor role. The SGP cycle looks some­thing like: “I was just try­ing to help (res­cuer), and they turned on me (vic­tim), so I had to defend myself by strik­ing back (persecutor).”

It can feel very threat­en­ing for some­one stuck in Per­se­cu­tor con­scious­ness to get really hon­est with them­selves. To do so feels like blam­ing them­selves, which only inten­si­fies their inter­nal con­dem­na­tion. SGP’s need to have a sit­u­a­tion or per­son they can blame so they can stay angry. Anger, for a SGP, can act as a fuel within the psy­che to ener­gize them. It may be the only way they have of deal­ing with chronic depres­sion. SGPs often need a jolt of rage the same way other peo­ple depend on a shot of caf­feine. It jump-starts their day and pro­vides them with the energy needed to keep them on their feet.

Just as with the other roles, self-accountability is the only way off the vic­tim grid for the SGP. There has to be some kind of break­through for them to own their part. Unfor­tu­nately, because of their great reluc­tance to do so, it may have to come in the form of crisis.

Iron­i­cally, a main exit way off the tri­an­gle is through the per­se­cu­tor posi­tion. This does not mean we become per­se­cu­tors. It does mean how­ever, that once we decide to get off the tri­an­gle, there most likely will be those who see us as per­se­cu­tors. (”How can you do this to me?”) Once we decide to take self-responsibility and tell our truth, those still on the tri­an­gle are likely to accuse us of vic­tim­iz­ing them. “How dare you refuse to take care of me,” a Vic­tim might cry. Or “What do you mean you don’t need my help?” a pri­mary enabler storms when their vic­tim decides to become account­able. In other words, to escape the vic­tim grid, we must be will­ing to be per­ceived as the “bad guy.” This doesn’t make it so, but we must be will­ing to sit with the dis­com­fort of being per­ceived as such.

Vic­tim

The role of Start­ing Gate Vic­tim is also a shadow aspect. It is the wounded shadow of our inner child; that part of us that is inno­cent, vul­ner­a­ble AND needy. This child-self does need sup­port on occa­sion — that’s nat­ural. It’s only when we become con­vinced that we can’t take care of our­selves, that we move into Vic­tim. Believ­ing that we are frail, pow­er­less or defec­tive keeps us need­ing res­cue. This rel­e­gates us to a life­time of crip­pling depen­dency on our pri­mary relationships.

A SGV has accepted a def­i­n­i­tion of them­selves that says they are intrin­si­cally dam­aged and inca­pable. SGV’s project an atti­tude of being weak, frag­ile or not smart enough; basi­cally, “I can’t do it by myself.” Their great­est fear is that they won’t make it. That anx­i­ety forces them to be always on the look­out for some­one stronger or more capa­ble to take care of them.

SGV’s deny both their prob­lem solv­ing abil­i­ties and their poten­tial for self-generated power. Instead they tend to see them­selves as inept at han­dling life. Feel­ing done in by, at the mercy of, mis­treated, intrin­si­cally defec­tive or “wrong,” they see them­selves as bro­ken and unfix­able. This doesn’t pre­vent them from feel­ing highly resent­ful towards those on who they depend. As much as they insist on being taken care of by their pri­mary res­cuers … they nonethe­less do not appre­ci­ate being reminded of their inadequacy.

The very thing a Res­cuer seeks (val­i­da­tion and appre­ci­a­tion) is the thing Vic­tims most resent giv­ing because it is a reminder to them of their own defi­cien­cies. Instead they resent the help that is given. SGV’s even­tu­ally get tired of being in the one-down posi­tion and begin to find ways to feel equal. Unfor­tu­nately this usu­ally involves some form of “get­ting even.”

For a SGV, a move to per­se­cu­tor on the tri­an­gle usu­ally means sab­o­tag­ing the efforts made to res­cue them, often through passive-aggressive behav­ior. For exam­ple, they are skilled at play­ing a game called,“Yes, but .…”

It works like this…

The SGV’s res­cuer offers a help­ful sug­ges­tion to some com­plaint or prob­lem voiced by the Vic­tim. The SGV imme­di­ately turns the sug­ges­tion on its ear with a response like; “Yes, but that won’t work because …”. The SGV then pro­ceeds to “yes, but” any and all sug­ges­tions, as the Res­cuer tries, in vain, to come up with a solu­tion. The SGV is deter­mined to prove that their prob­lem is unsolv­able, thus stump­ing the Res­cuer, leav­ing them to feel as impo­tent as the SGV innately feels. They may also resort to the per­se­cu­tor role as a way to blame or manip­u­late oth­ers into tak­ing care of them.

Con­vinced of their intrin­sic incom­pe­tence, SGV’s live in a per­pet­ual shame spi­ral, often lead­ing to self abuse. Abuse of drugs, alco­hol and food, as well as gam­bling and out of con­trol spend­ing are just a few of the self defeat­ing behav­iors prac­ticed by SGV’s. SGV’s walk around much like the Char­lie Brown char­ac­ter, Pig-Pen in his whirl­wind of dust, except Vic­tims live in a vor­tex of shame of their own mak­ing. This cloud of defec­tive­ness becomes their total identity.

Linda was the second-born in her fam­ily. Almost from birth, she had prob­lems. Linda was a child who was for­ever in trou­ble of one sort or another. She strug­gled aca­d­e­m­i­cally, was per­pet­u­ally dis­rup­tive and often sick. It came as no sur­prise to any­one when she got into drugs as a teenager. Her mother, Stella, was a die-hard Res­cuer. Con­vinced of Linda’s inep­ti­tude and think­ing she was being help­ful, Stella bailed Linda out every time she got into trou­ble. By con­stantly alle­vi­at­ing the nat­ural con­se­quences of Linda’s choices, Stella’s earnest enabling deprived Linda of the oppor­tu­nity to learn from her mis­takes. As a result, Linda came to see her­self as increas­ingly incom­pe­tent and grew more depen­dent on oth­ers. Her mother’s well-intentioned res­cu­ing sent a crip­pling mes­sage that pro­moted a life long Vic­tim stance for Linda.

Since SGV’s are often the iden­ti­fied prob­lem in their fam­ily, it’s nat­ural for them to seek out­side pro­fes­sional help first. Often they are dragged to their first coun­sel­ing ses­sion by dis­tressed fam­ily mem­bers. SGV’s tend to be ever on the look out for yet another Res­cuer, and SGR’s abound among help­ing pro­fes­sion­als. In this case, the pro­fes­sional may find them­selves inad­ver­tently hooked on the tri­an­gle with a prac­ticed, and very con­vinc­ing, vic­tim. This means the real issue never gets addressed.

Those in pri­mary Vic­tim roles must learn to assume respon­si­bil­ity for them­selves and ini­ti­ate self-care, rather than look out­side them­selves for a sav­ior. They must chal­lenge the ingrained belief that they can’t take care of them­selves if they are to escape the tri­an­gle. Instead of see­ing them­selves as pow­er­less, they must acknowl­edge their prob­lem solv­ing as well as their lead­er­ship capabilities.

For it is true that no mat­ter who may try to “save us,” as a SGV — no mat­ter how much money they give or how sin­cere our inten­tions to “do bet­ter” may be, play­ing the part of vic­tim always leads to only one place — straight back to Vic­tim. It’s an end­less cycle of feel­ing defeated and worth­less. There is no escape except to take total respon­si­bil­ity for our own feel­ings, thoughts and reactions.

Start­ing Gate Beliefs

Each start­ing gate posi­tion has a “script” made to order for their par­tic­u­lar dance around the tri­an­gle. These “scripts” con­sist of a par­tic­u­lar set of beliefs through which the world and our­selves are seen.

The Res­cuer Story

Res­cuers believe that their needs are unim­por­tant and irrel­e­vant. This means that the only way they can legit­i­mately con­nect with oth­ers, feel val­ued and have their needs met is through the back door of care-taking. Res­cuers chas­tise them­selves when they aren’t care-taking oth­ers. Their start­ing gate story is; “If I take care of oth­ers well enough and long enough, then I will be ful­filled. It’s the only way to be loved.” Unfor­tu­nately, Res­cuers are involved with life-time Vic­tims who have no idea of how to be there for them. This rein­forces the SG Rescuer’s story that says they shouldn’t be needy, which then pro­duces more shame and deeper denial sur­round­ing their own needs.

The Vic­tim Story

Guilt and shame are the dri­ving forces for the per­pet­u­a­tion of the Tri­an­gle. Guilt is often used by Vic­tims in an effort to manip­u­late their Res­cuers into tak­ing care of them: “If you don’t do it, who will?” The Vic­tims’ story says they can’t make it on their own and they prove it to them­selves over and over on the tri­an­gle. They believe that they are innately defec­tive and inca­pable and so spend their lives on the look-out for some­one to “save” them. Though this is what they feel they must have, i.e., a sav­ior, they are simul­ta­ne­ously angry at their res­cuers because they feel put down by and looked down on by their caretakers.

The Per­se­cu­tor Story

Per­se­cu­tors who believe the world is dan­ger­ous, use fear and intim­i­da­tion as tools for keep­ing oth­ers in their place. What they don’t see is how their meth­ods for pro­vid­ing “safety” end up prov­ing to them that life is indeed as dan­ger­ous as they believe it to be. Their story says that they are inno­cent bystanders in a dan­ger­ous world where oth­ers are always out to hurt them. It’s sur­vival of the fittest and their only chance is to strike first. This story keeps them in per­pet­ual defense/offense modus operandi.

Shad­ows of Victim-hood

Plac­ing the three posi­tions on a straight line with Vic­tim in the mid­dle, is a way of demon­strat­ing that Per­se­cu­tor and Res­cuer are sim­ply the two extremes, or shadow aspects, of victim-hood.

Per­se­cu­tor —— VICTIM —— Rescuer

All three roles are dis­torted expres­sions of pos­i­tive pow­ers that we, as humans pos­sess, but deny or repress when liv­ing on the tri­an­gle. Iden­ti­fy­ing what our start­ing gate posi­tion is on the tri­an­gle can help us rec­og­nize the aspects of our­selves we deny.

For instance, when we see our­selves pri­mar­ily as medi­a­tors and care­tak­ers, we deny our own power by set­ting inap­pro­pri­ate bound­aries. We occupy the Res­cuer position.

SGR’s have a nat­ural capac­ity for orga­niz­ing, as well as a won­der­ful nur­tur­ing abil­ity. But when a SGR denies her­self the ben­e­fit of these abil­i­ties — when she refuses to nur­ture or set pri­or­i­ties for her­self … then she will find her­self obsess­ing about and inter­ven­ing (or inter­fer­ing) in the lives of oth­ers — most often in unhealthy ways. She becomes some­one who takes respon­si­bil­ity for every­one but herself.

These char­ac­ter­is­tics are com­monly thought of as being pri­mar­ily fem­i­nine char­ac­ter­is­tics — so the SGR can be seen as a dis­torted expres­sion of the fem­i­nine aspect.

The Per­se­cu­tor, on the other hand, has a deep-seated sense of jus­tice. He believes in the use of power and assertive­ness. There is noth­ing innately wrong with these abil­i­ties; they are in fact, impor­tant in self care. Yet a SGP will exer­cise these gifts in twisted ways. When these essen­tially male qual­i­ties of pro­tec­tion, guid­ance and bound­ary set­ting are not fully acknowl­edged and claimed — when they are denied, they end up being expressed in uncon­scious and irre­spon­si­ble ways — thus a SGP can be seen as a dis­torted expres­sion of the mas­cu­line aspect.

Attack, for the SGP, becomes the accepted way to express these pow­ers and is then jus­ti­fied as a nec­es­sary defense. Simul­ta­ne­ously, a SGP will see them­selves only as the inno­cent vic­tim … “They hurt me — I had to pro­tect myself by retal­i­at­ing.” It’s hard for any of us to admit we mis­treat peo­ple. Per­se­cu­tors jus­tify their hurt­ful behav­ior with “good rea­sons” (“… because they did some­thing to me” or “took some­thing from me”) and this makes it okay, in their minds, to hurt “back.” This is typ­i­cal Per­se­cu­tor men­tal­ity. SGP’s have sup­pressed their car­ing, nur­tur­ing qual­i­ties, and instead, tend to prob­lem solve through anger, abuse and control.

Here’s a typ­i­cal exam­ple, that might eas­ily show up in relationship …

Don came home late for din­ner. Ann, his wife, was angry. She had pre­pared a good meal and it was still sit­ting, uneaten and cold, an hour later. Like many SGP’s, Ann’s ten­dency is to assume the worse (“He did this to me”) and attack. So instead of check­ing in with her hus­band, she imme­di­ately launches into; “You told me you would be here on time. You lied! I can never trust you to tell me the truth.” When Don tries to explain that he got stuck in traf­fic, Ann is not lis­ten­ing. Instead she jus­ti­fies her reaction,“You always have excuses! You expect me to believe you. You’re a liar … ” She con­tin­ues to hurl insults, even resort­ing to name call­ing. Later, she explained that he had hurt her and there­fore deserved the way she treated him. This is clas­sic Per­se­cu­tor reasoning.

Because Ann sees her­self as a vic­tim who doesn’t have the right to take care of her­self or set bound­aries. Instead of say­ing some­thing like, “Hi Sweet­heart, I had din­ner ready on time; when you didn’t get here, I went ahead and ate mine and left yours warm­ing on the stove,” she resorts to retal­i­a­tion. Her belief that she is at the mercy of some­one who is try­ing to hurt her keeps her strik­ing out in a dis­torted and unnec­es­sary effort to pro­tect herself.

When we have sup­pressed both sides … deny­ing both our innate abil­ity to take care of our­selves through healthy nur­tur­ing and the right to take pro­tec­tive, assertive action, we are left in Vic­tim. As a mat­ter of fact, a good def­i­n­i­tion for a SGV might be; some­one who does not know how to set pri­or­i­ties or bound­aries, nor nur­tures and pro­tects themselves.

As indi­vid­u­als grow in aware­ness and begin to alter their behav­ior, they often change their starting-gate posi­tions. Becom­ing aware of a pri­mary posi­tion, they may com­mit to get­ting off the tri­an­gle but often merely switch roles instead. Although they may be oper­at­ing from a dif­fer­ent start­ing gate, they are nonethe­less still on the tri­an­gle. This hap­pens fre­quently and may even be an essen­tial part of learn­ing the full impact of liv­ing on the triangle.

Con­se­quences of Tri­an­gu­lar Living

Liv­ing on the vic­tim tri­an­gle cre­ates mis­ery and suf­fer­ing no mat­ter what your pri­mary start­ing gate posi­tion may be. The cost is tremen­dous for all three roles and leads to emo­tional, men­tal and even phys­i­cal pain. Efforts to avoid pain, by blam­ing or look­ing for some­one to take care of us, only ends up gen­er­at­ing greater pain in the end. When we try to shield oth­ers from the truth, (res­cue) we dis­count their abil­i­ties and this cre­ates more pain. Every­one involved in tri­an­gu­lar dynam­ics ends up hurt and angry at some point; no-one wins. There are char­ac­ter­is­tics of and con­se­quences to being on the tri­an­gle that all three roles bear in com­mon. Let’s talk about a few of them.

Lack of Per­sonal Responsibility

When­ever we fail to take respon­si­bil­ity for our­selves, we end up on the tri­an­gle. Not even Res­cuers, who pride them­selves on being respon­si­ble, take respon­si­bil­ity for them­selves. They take care of every­one else, but have no idea of how to do it for them­selves. Not tak­ing respon­si­bil­ity is a key iden­ti­fy­ing fac­tor in rec­og­niz­ing when we are on the tri­an­gle. Per­se­cu­tors shift respon­si­bil­ity by blam­ing oth­ers for their mis­ery. Vic­tims look for some­one else to take respon­si­bil­ity for them. Not one of the three roles take respon­si­bil­ity for themselves.

As long as we chase our­selves and oth­ers around the tri­an­gle, we rel­e­gate our­selves to liv­ing in reac­tion. Rather than liv­ing spon­ta­neously and free through self-responsibility and per­sonal choice, we set­tle into dull and painful lives ruled by the agen­das of oth­ers and our own uncon­scious beliefs. To expe­ri­ence a ful­fill­ing life requires a con­scious will­ing­ness to get off the tri­an­gle and extend grace to those still encum­bered by their drama.

Painful Beliefs Rule

Unhealthy beliefs about our­selves and the world, instilled in child­hood, become rigid rules that may need to be vio­lated. Fam­ily dic­tums such as, “don’t talk about it”, “don’t share feel­ings”, or “it’s self­ish to take care of your­self,” are some of the old beliefs that have ruled us and must be chal­lenged if we are to find inner peace. We can expect, and even cel­e­brate, uncom­fort­able feel­ings when they come up for us, learn­ing to see them as oppor­tu­ni­ties for free­ing our­selves of the painful beliefs that keep us trapped on the triangle.

Some­times we sim­ply need to sit with an uncom­fort­able feel­ing — such as guilt, with­out act­ing on it. Guilt does not nec­es­sar­ily imply that we have behaved wrong or uneth­i­cally. Guilt is often a learned response. Some­times guilt just means that we’ve bro­ken a dys­func­tional family

I’m reminded of a story that has cir­cu­lated among ther­a­peu­tic cir­cles for years about the way to cook a ham. Per­haps you remem­ber it too. It goes like this:

A lit­tle girl noticed her mother cut­ting the butt end off the ham to cook it for the fam­ily hol­i­day din­ner and asked, “Why do you cut off the end to cook it?” The mother with­out giv­ing it a moment’s thought, replied, “Why, this is the way my mother always cooked a ham, so I know it’s the right way to do it!” Well, the lit­tle girls grand­mother hap­pened to live close by, so she vis­ited her and asked her the same ques­tion, “Grandma, why do you cut the butt end off the ham before you cook it?” Her grand­mother replied that her mother had taught her to cook a ham like that. Great granny hap­pened to be vis­it­ing for the hol­i­day so the lit­tle girl went to her and asked the same ques­tion — and this time she got the “real” answer — “Child, when I was cook­ing hams back then, I only owned one bak­ing pan and it was too small to hold a whole ham so I would cut the butt end off the ham to make it fit!”

This is how it works. We fol­low, with­out ques­tion, fam­ily dic­tums and inter­nal­ized beliefs that gen­er­ate noth­ing but misery.

Painful Feel­ings

Fre­quently we get on the tri­an­gle through the port of painful feel­ings. It seems that many of us tend to let painful feel­ings rule us. We think a thought and it trig­gers guilt or fear, which prompts us to react in a way that puts us back on the tri­an­gle. Our reac­tion is usu­ally a mis­guided attempt to con­trol or get rid of the painful feel­ing so that we can “feel better.”

For instance, we may res­cue oth­ers as a way of both keep­ing our­selves and them from feel­ing bad. We tell our­selves things like, “She can’t han­dle it” or, “It will hurt his feel­ings”, so we “han­dle it” for them. We may notice that we feel bet­ter when we are fix­ing some­one else — it gives us a false sense of being in con­trol which feels tem­porar­ily empow­er­ing. We may fail to rec­og­nize that our increased sense of power is often at the expense of the other, leav­ing them feel­ing dis­em­pow­ered and “less than.”

An Exam­ple

Sam believed his son, Paul to be inept. The words he actu­ally used to describe him were, “He’s stu­pid. He will never make it in the world.” As a result, Sam’s pri­mary relat­ing pat­tern with his son was as his pri­mary Res­cuer. Believ­ing Paul was stu­pid brought feel­ings of guilt, appre­hen­sion and duty towards his son. “He’s my son and I must pro­vide for him … I must guide and advise him and bail him out of all the scrapes he gets him­self into because he’s too stu­pid to run his own life. I will just have to do it for him.” These were some of Sam’s thoughts.

And so he did.

Mean­while, Paul had bought into the story too. He shared his father’s per­cep­tion that said he couldn’t make it on his own. Believ­ing that he was basi­cally lack­ing in fun­da­men­tal life skills cre­ated feel­ings of inad­e­quacy and fail­ure for Paul. The whole rela­tion­ship between this father and son was based on the severely lim­ited def­i­n­i­tion that they shared about Paul’s lack of abil­ity to do well in life.

So, how do you think some­one like Paul, who believes he’s truly inept, will live his life? What sorts of choices would you expect some­one to make who sees him­self as inca­pable and lack­ing? With such painful beliefs about him­self, how could Paul make any­thing but “fool­ish” choices! And every time he does, he ends up ver­i­fy­ing his father’s story about Paul.

As long as these two share such a painfully lim­it­ing story about Paul, their rela­tion­ship will remain on the tri­an­gle — Paul “screw­ing up” and Sam fix­ing it for him.

I can hear some of you ask­ing, “But Lynne, what if it’s true? What if Paul is totally incompetent?”

I only know this… it is our beliefs that make it so. We treat oth­ers accord­ing to what we believe about them. When we chal­lenge these assump­tions, our inter­ac­tion with that per­son changes.

For instance, the whole dynamic between Sam and Paul changed as Sam began to exam­ine his beliefs about his son. He began to treat his son with new respect once he was able to get hon­est with him­self about his pre­vi­ously denied need to keep Paul depen­dent. He began to let his son expe­ri­ence the nat­ural con­se­quences of his own choices instead of res­cu­ing and then berat­ing him for mak­ing “dumb deci­sions.” As a result Paul began to learn from his mis­takes. Sam’s rela­tion­ship with Paul com­pletely trans­formed sim­ply because Sam chose to take respon­si­bil­ity for his own feel­ings and beliefs. By giv­ing up play­ing Res­cuer Sam was able to move off the tri­an­gle into a more sat­is­fy­ing and authen­tic daily exchange with his son.

We may attempt to man­age the emo­tional affairs of oth­ers by keep­ing our opin­ions, feel­ings and thoughts hid­den, even from our­selves at times. This can end up cost­ing us our own well-being and inevitably cre­ates dis­tance between our­selves and the other. It is just one more way we con­tinue the dance around the triangle.

What made Sam’s move off the tri­an­gle pos­si­ble was his recog­ni­tion that his feel­ings were cre­ated by his own beliefs. He came to under­stand that his behav­ior was always deter­mined by what­ever thoughts he was believ­ing at the time.

This is key to mov­ing off the tri­an­gle. When we believe painful sto­ries about who we are, like,“I’m only loved for what I do for oth­ers” or, “I don’t mat­ter,” or when we hold dis­torted beliefs about those around us, like, “They’re try­ing to hurt me” or “They can’t take care of them­selves,” these per­sonal con­vic­tions will prompt us to act as if they are true. Our painful feel­ings orig­i­nate out of our lim­ited ideas about our­selves and oth­ers. They cause us to react in ways that end up prov­ing that what we believe is true. This is the vicious cycle of life on the triangle.

Denial

Any­time we deny our feel­ings we set our­selves up for a vic­tim per­spec­tive. Feel­ings are real. They are “energy-in-motion.” When we dis­count or under­mine our emo­tions we end up over­taken by them, becom­ing impul­sive reac­tors. We can’t take respon­si­bil­ity for our­selves when we refuse to acknowl­edge our feel­ings, which means that these dis­avowed “inner tyrants” will go on dri­ving our behav­ior from behind the scenes.

Although it is true that our feel­ings are gen­er­ated by what we believe, feel­ings are nonethe­less impor­tant. They alert us when we are think­ing unhappy thoughts; feel­ing “bad,” for instance, lets us know we are think­ing a most unhappy, pos­si­bly dis­torted, belief. Instead of deny­ing the feel­ing, we learn to fol­low the feel­ing in to the belief behind it. This is where true inter­ven­tion is pos­si­ble. The feel­ing dis­si­pates once the belief behind it is made con­scious and addressed. We learn to rec­og­nize that our feel­ings are what point us to the lim­it­ing beliefs that are keep­ing us stuck on the triangle.

Par­ents who never learned that feel­ings fol­low thought and who grew up with­out per­mis­sion to acknowl­edge or express feel­ings often deny their chil­dren the same right. They may have decided early in life that cer­tain feel­ings are wrong or bad, so they deny and repress them with­out exam­in­ing the rul­ing thoughts behind the feelings.

Telling our­selves that our feel­ings are unac­cept­able does not make them go away. As long as we con­tinue to attach belief to painful sto­ries about our­selves and oth­ers we will go on gen­er­at­ing these same neg­a­tive feel­ings. When sup­pressed, these denied emo­tions become secret pock­ets of shame within the psy­che. They only serve to alien­ate us from oth­ers and sen­tence us to a life on the triangle.

Some­times we deny feel­ings in an ill-fated attempt to avoid feel­ing bad. Per­haps we tell our­selves that we can’t han­dle our feel­ings, that they are too much for us. We may think we are at the mercy of our own mis­ery because we don’t know from where these feel­ings come or what to do with, or about them. Maybe it is bet­ter to stay away from these messy inner states under such circumstances.

But when we know that it’s our thoughts that pro­duce painful feel­ings; that indeed our unhappy feel­ings act as gate­ways into greater under­stand­ing of our­selves — then we no longer have the need to sup­press uncom­fort­able feel­ings. Until we are able rec­og­nize and grasp the impli­ca­tions of these sim­ple truths how­ever, we may go on try­ing to escape pain using var­i­ous sup­pres­sion tac­tics. These attempts at avoid­ance only keep us on the tri­an­gle where the guar­an­teed out­come is suf­fer­ing and misery.

Dis­hon­esty

Get­ting hon­est with our­selves is the most basic require­ment for get­ting off the tri­an­gle. Get­ting off the tri­an­gle is impos­si­ble with­out self-honesty. Telling our truth is a key way of tak­ing respon­si­bil­ity. We then must be will­ing to take nec­es­sary action for what­ever that truth reveals.

Of course, when feel­ings are denied, hon­esty is impos­si­ble. Remem­ber that denial comes out of neg­a­tive self judg­ment. If we have decided on some level that we can­not accept our thoughts, behav­ior or feel­ings than, chances are, we will not be able to admit we have them. It’s too painful to admit some­thing about our­selves that we have judged as unac­cept­able. We must prac­tice self accep­tance if we are truly going to be able to be hon­est with our­selves and others.

In order for a SG Res­cuer to get hon­est, for instance, they have to be will­ing to con­fess their pre­vi­ously uncon­scious need to keep oth­ers depen­dent on them. This means acknowl­edg­ing that being a res­cuer is what they do to get their own need for self-worth met. As long as the Res­cuer con­tin­ues to see the other as a weak, inef­fec­tual and inept vic­tim, they will con­tinue to deceive them­selves into believ­ing that they must be the fixer and care­taker. Their own needs will not be rec­og­nized or met.

In the same way, a SG Per­se­cu­tor is being dis­hon­est when they insist on blam­ing oth­ers for their mis­ery and suf­fer­ing. There is no way off the tri­an­gle for a Per­se­cu­tor as long as they insist on see­ing them­selves as blame­less, inno­cent bystanders who have been unjustly treated.

In order for a SG Vic­tim to get off the tri­an­gle, they must con­fess their invest­ment in stay­ing “lit­tle,” i.e. depen­dent and needy. This means get­ting hon­est about how they manip­u­late oth­ers, using a self-deprecating story of inept­ness, in order to get taken care of. Oth­er­wise they will fall deeper and deeper into a down­ward spi­ral of despair and unworthiness.

Liv­ing in real­ity requires truth. To tell the truth, we first must first know what it is. When we react out of denied feel­ings and uncon­scious pro­gram­ming, we can­not pos­si­bly know our per­sonal truth. This means we will not be in touch with real­ity. There will be hid­den agen­das and dis­hon­esty. This is another pri­mary trait of all play­ers on the tri­an­gle. Only by know­ing our truth, can we begin to speak from a place of per­sonal integrity. Then exit­ing the tri­an­gle becomes pos­si­ble.

Pro­jec­tion

We tend to deny feel­ings and beliefs that we have judged as neg­a­tive or unac­cept­able. As pre­vi­ously men­tioned, we res­cue our­selves by push­ing these unac­cept­able parts into the dark uncon­scious. They don’t nec­es­sar­ily stay there, how­ever. What­ever thoughts and feel­ings we don’t own, i.e., take respon­si­bil­ity for, will end up being pro­jected out into our world, usu­ally on some­one we “love.” As soon as we judge some thought or feel­ing within us as unac­cept­able, we will uncon­sciously look around and find some­one who has these same traits and hate them for it. This is called pro­jec­tion and it is a pro­pelling force on the tri­an­gle. Pro­jec­tion ensures that the vic­tim dance continues.

Lisa and Ted came in for cou­ples coun­sel­ing. In gath­er­ing their his­tory, I learned that Lisa had a father who raged often through­out her child­hood. She was afraid of anger as a result and did not allow her­self to feel or express her own ill-humor. She judged anger as “bad” and denied that she had any. It’s prob­a­bly no sur­prise then that Lisa’s biggest com­plaint about her hus­band was his “short fuse.” “He’s so angry all the time,” she said. “He just wants to argue about everything!”

Her hus­band, Ted came across as upfront, open, and com­mu­nica­tive. He reported that he had not felt heard in his fam­ily grow­ing up and expressed frus­tra­tion with Lisa because, “Any time I dis­agree with her, no mat­ter how calmly I express it, she accuses me of being angry and refuses to dis­cuss it. It ends up that the only way I can get heard is to blow up!”

Can you place these two on the tri­an­gle? Let’s take a look:

Let’s start with Lisa, who was on the tri­an­gle before a sin­gle word was spo­ken out loud between her and her hus­band. She started out by judg­ing her own anger (per­se­cut­ing her­self) and then deny­ing it (res­cu­ing her­self). Lisa is on the tri­an­gle with her­self. She res­cues her­self through denial. Denial is always an attempt to res­cue our­selves. Lisa has learned to shut her anger down so quickly that she does not even reg­is­ter it con­sciously. But that angry energy has got to go somewhere.

That’s where Ted enters the pic­ture. Lisa needs some­place to project her dis­owned anger. Ted is the per­fect fit. Lisa sees in Ted the angry self that she has denied. This is why she is so quick to label the slight­est dis­sent from him as “bad” anger. She then cas­ti­gates Ted for the “bad” feel­ings that she has pro­jected and pro­ceeds to crit­i­cize him harshly (per­se­cu­tor) in the same way she has uncon­sciously judged herself.

Ted, just as when he was a child, feels mis­un­der­stood and unheard at first. He is in vic­tim. But before long his anger arises and he moves into per­se­cu­tor by “blow­ing up” at Lisa. This moves Lisa into vic­tim, prompt­ing her to remem­ber the “angry dad” of her child­hood. Both Ted and Lisa are uncon­sciously val­i­dat­ing their own child­hood dra­mas by pro­ject­ing their painful beliefs and judg­ments about them­selves onto one another. These sorts of inter­ac­tions are why I call the vic­tim tri­an­gle the “play­ing field” for all dysfunction.

You may won­der where the res­cuer is in all this mêlée. Some­times a role is played “beneath the sur­face.” It may not be exter­nally evi­dent as in the case described above. Because Lisa can­not take respon­si­bil­ity for her own anger (because to see her­self as being “bad like dad” would be too painful) she res­cues her­self through denial. She takes her­self off the hook by pro­ject­ing her unwanted feel­ings onto her hus­band. This allows her to pre­tend she’s not angry (he’s the angry one, not her). On one level it feels bet­ter to believe that she’s not mean and angry like her dad was. The shadow con­se­quences, how­ever are that it sets her up to blame and per­se­cute Ted and allows her to stay uncon­scious about her own per­sonal anger. This is the nature of pro­jec­tion on the triangle.

Ego and The Story of Who We Are

We inter­act with oth­ers through old, uncon­sciously held and lim­it­ing beliefs that gen­er­ate shame. Each start­ing gate posi­tion has a dis­tinct type of core belief that dri­ves their par­tic­u­lar dance around the tri­an­gle. These core beliefs com­bine into uncon­scious sto­ries. We believe these descrip­tions of our­selves and oth­ers with­out ever ques­tion­ing them. Left to run unabated in the mind, they gen­er­ate all sorts of painful feel­ings, includ­ing worth­less­ness, inad­e­quacy and defec­tive­ness. We rein­force and per­pet­u­ate these beliefs by mov­ing around the triangle.

The ego is that part of us that man­u­fac­tures and believes these lim­it­ing sto­ries. The ego is totally iden­ti­fied with the sto­ries it tells and wants to keep us iden­ti­fied with them as well. The ego uses the tri­an­gle to strengthen these painfully, lim­ited iden­ti­ties of who we are. When I think of our rela­tion­ship with ego I often think of the nurs­ery rhyme that goes:

Peter, Peter Pump­kin Eater, had a wife and couldn’t keep her. So he put her in a pump­kin shell and there he kept her very well.”

This is a great metaphor for our rela­tion­ship with the ego. Peter Pump­kin Eater is the ego and the wife he couldn’t keep is our own Inner Fem­i­nine. She is that part of us who remem­bers who we really are. The only way Ego can con­trol this Authen­tic Essence is to keep it con­fined in the “pump­kin shell” of a lim­it­ing story. We are each held within the con­fines of such a story. The vic­tim tri­an­gle is the play­ing field that ego uses for the pur­pose of rein­forc­ing this dys­func­tional story.

We cer­tainly can see this with Ted and Lisa. They each were entrapped within a very painful story; Ted believ­ing that he will not be heard and there­fore expect­ing to have his feel­ings judged and dis­counted. He is in the role of a SG Vic­tim who inad­ver­tently acts in ways that guar­an­tee he will come away feel­ing ashamed and worth­less. Lisa is the SG Per­se­cu­tor who sees her­self as a vic­tim. She believes Ted is try­ing to hurt her with his anger which jus­ti­fies her attempts to con­trol him. Lisa pun­ishes Ted by ignor­ing him until he finally strikes out, thus ver­i­fy­ing her story about him as being “angry and cruel, just like dad.” Both have egos that are much more inter­ested in ver­i­fy­ing a lim­it­ing story than in feel­ing har­mony between them.

Failed Inti­macy

Although most of us long for a sense of con­nec­tion with oth­ers, many peo­ple are secretly ter­ri­fied of inti­macy. Allow­ing some­one to really know us can be fright­en­ing. Inti­macy requires vul­ner­a­bil­ity and hon­esty. Believ­ing at heart that we are unlov­able, defec­tive or “less than,” makes it dif­fi­cult to reveal our­selves. We want uncon­di­tional accep­tance, but when we haven’t accepted our­selves, it’s impos­si­ble to believe that any­one else could love us. Need­ing to hide our unwor­thi­ness makes dis­tance imper­a­tive. As long as we main­tain hid­den agen­das and deny our truth, inti­macy is impos­si­ble. Victim-hood is designed to insure alien­ation, not only from oth­ers, but also from our­selves. Inti­macy is not pos­si­ble on the triangle.

In Sum­mary

When we are ready to be account­able, we begin to sort through our gen­uine motives and feel­ings regard­ing our present sit­u­a­tion. We become will­ing to expe­ri­ence our own uncom­fort­able feel­ings and we allow oth­ers their uncom­fort­able feel­ings too, with­out res­cu­ing them.

If our loved ones or asso­ciates are also will­ing to par­tic­i­pate in this process of self-realization we can cul­ti­vate a health­ier rela­tion­ship together. As a result there is less and less inter­ac­tion based on guilt, fear or shame.

The good news is that whether or not our loved ones choose to get off the tri­an­gle, we can make that choice for our­selves! And that will change the whole dynamic between you and them. We are never vic­tims, except by choice.

Get­ting off means know­ing where you stand right now and being will­ing to nego­ti­ate bound­aries when nec­es­sary. Set­ting bound­aries is not about being in con­trol or manip­u­lat­ing out­comes. We some­times con­fuse the two. We learn to look closely at our motives with an atti­tude of curios­ity and the desire for deeper self-understanding. And then what­ever we do, when done from a con­nected space, even if it is to walk away, will have a bet­ter chance of being based in truth rather than drama.

Remem­ber there will be times when we may be seen as the per­se­cu­tor. Our chal­lenge is to stay in touch with our truth and allow oth­ers the right (and they do have the right) to have their story. The two ver­sions; your story and their story, do not have to match for you to be happy. That’s a com­mon, but mis­taken, idea.

In real­ity, how oth­ers see us is not our con­cern. How we see our­selves is what can bring us trans­for­ma­tion. We learn to focus on what we are believ­ing. We notice the impact in own lives of believ­ing those par­tic­u­lar, and often painful, thoughts — beliefs like, “I’m only as impor­tant as what I can do for oth­ers,” or “They’re try­ing to hurt me,” or “I’m a total fail­ure.” These are just a few of the sto­ries with which we tor­ture ourselves.

Remem­ber that just because we believe these sto­ries does not make them true. But when we do believe them, we will act in ways that make them true! This is a pro­found and sim­ple dawn­ing of con­scious­ness that holds a key to the door off the tri­an­gle. Used with sin­cere desire and rig­or­ous, self-loving truth, these steps are the process that takes us all the way, straight through to the “Off” exit. As we lib­er­ate our­selves through self-responsibility and truth telling, we trans­form our lives. We actu­al­ize our higher, “Observer Self,” thus real­iz­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that lies within each of us to live, not out of an victim-ego story, but to expand into a much big­ger and more won­der­ful expe­ri­ence of life.

Get­ting off the tri­an­gle is not some­thing we do once and for all. We get on and off all the time. Under­stand­ing tools like Stephen Karpman’s vic­tim tri­an­gle brings us a map. It shows us where we are in our rela­tional life and where we’re headed. Study­ing this map helps us find the best route for get­ting off the tri­an­gle. Again, it’s a process, not a final des­ti­na­tion. I invite you to relax into the role of curi­ous, cre­ative explorer, and will­ing student.

May your thoughts and feel­ings be teach­ers for you as you travel the route to free­dom from the triangle.”

© 2008 Lynne Forrest

Comments

  1. says

    IN the course of our jour­ney through­out life.THERE are
    often many pit­falls and tri­umphs we all face.WE can get mad as Lynne For­rest stated or we can take full charge of our lives.This is often when things change and the tide turns. When we stop blam­ing oth­ers .There is noth­ing so pow­er­ful as one tak­ing respon­si­bil­ity for what hap­pens to us cou­pled with the will to win and per­sist and over­come what­ever we may be tem­porar­ily fac­ing and I stress tem­po­ral for prob­lems are tem­po­ral and for our growth

  2. cleve prescott says

    i have watched 3 short videos of yours on utube, i love them. the way you get your point across keeps me glued there watch­ing. is there a com­plete video i can get? thank you, cleve

    • Lynne says

      Thank you Cleve, there is not a com­plete video of me “out there” yet … lots wait­ing to be edited, etc … but noth­ing ready yet. Keep watch­ing for it though … and in the mean­time, you can also watch a per­sonal video I did work­ing with my dog in train­ing as a way to illus­trate ways to redi­rect Bully (per­se­cu­tor) energy.
      Click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvB0OjjnUqc

  3. Paul Lewis says

    I really enjoyed what you have writ­ten. I use the drama tri­an­gle in my ther­apy work and what you have given me is another dimen­sion for that. I got home yes­ter­day and had an excited chat with my part­ner about the broader aspects of P-R-V its helped me have a greater per­cep­tion. Thanks so much — Paul

  4. Ahleyah says

    Dear Lynne,

    I found you and your work yes­ter­day. What a bless­ing for you have given me a piece of the puz­zle I had been miss­ing. I’ve done lots of work over the years but until I can remain as awake as Eck­hard Tolle or Byron Katie I can at least get myself off the tri­an­gle and stop the drama! I love your hon­est open approach so Bless you Lynne and all your work. Ms For­rest, I believe you have helped me focus so I can begin see­ing the trees!

    Much Love & Many Blessings,

    Ahleyah

  5. Lynne says

    God-given care­giver respon­si­bil­i­ties …” that does indeed seem to me to be an impor­tant thought worth exploring.

    What DO you believe those “respon­si­bil­i­ties” are?

    Hmmm …such a phrase, blindly believed, might well lead to swampy ground, espe­cially if we believe our care­giver respon­si­bil­i­ties include stand­ing between our chil­dren and loved ones and their expe­ri­ence of life.

    The ques­tion we learn to ask our­selves, as con­scious par­ents, is this one:
    When I stand between them and life am I truly pro­tect­ing them, or am I rob­bing them of the chance to test and strengthen their own inner met­tle?
    Am I giv­ing them the chance to develop their own inner strengths, or teach­ing them to look solely to me for their pro­tec­tion? Which atti­tude do you think serves them better?

    These are the sorts of ques­tions I have found myself ask­ing many times in my inter­ac­tion with our own chil­dren. Hope they are help­ful to you too. :)
    Blessings,

  6. OnTheBrink says

    Just wanted to thank you again, Lynne for your val­ued input. Although there are parts of me that find it hard to forego the God-given care­giver respon­si­bil­i­ties of my chil­dren, there are parts of me that under­stand what you are say­ing. If I get you cor­rectly, I have to make this about me first(putting my own oxy­gen mask on first) then it indi­rectly gives proper care to my chil­dren. The last thing I want to do is “use” or “require” my chil­dren to be the vic­tim so that I have rea­son to take action, feed­ing the assump­tion that what­ever I would need per­son­ally is “wrong”, over exag­ger­ated, weak, or here’s a big one, “self­ish”. I keep think­ing I’m “sav­ing” & being “self­less” to stay in the ongo­ing may­hem. When truth­fully with­out “self” what do I have to give?
    Pray­ing for strength to enter some very for­eign ground!! :-)
    God bless!!

  7. Lynne says

    Through the guid­ing prin­ci­ples of this work we come to trust that the path our chil­dren are on is the one they are meant to have. How else are they going to have the expe­ri­ences that ini­ti­ate them into life?

    In other words, your son’s rela­tion­ship with his father is his own. You can­not “undo” who your son’s father is, nor can you ulti­mately con­trol the dynam­ics of their rela­tion­ship. It is YOUR own best well-being that is your busi­ness, not your son’s rela­tion­ship with his dad.

    By tak­ing care of your­self, you model to your chil­dren how to take bet­ter care of them­selves in a world full of bul­lies (his dad is not the last bully he will encounter, trust me).

    My mother and father stayed together for the sake of the chil­dren. As their child, I felt respon­si­ble for their mis­ery because I knew I was the rea­son they endured each other. How could this be helpful?

    My par­ents showed me how to ignore my own well-being, how to sac­ri­fice myself for oth­ers, because that is what they did. Thru their self-negating model they demon­strated to me (not their inten­tion, I feel pretty sure) that it was self­ish for me to take care of myself. These are assump­tions I have ques­tioned and reframed over the years.

    Today, I am con­vinced that the best thing I can do for me AND my chil­dren is to model self-responsibility and self-care. It’s not the painful things we expe­ri­ence in life that dam­age us, but what we do with those hap­pen­ings in our own mind. Take care of your­self. That will allow you to be lov­ing, kind, and con­sis­tent with your­self and with your loved ones. Through your exam­ple your chil­dren will see and expe­ri­ence a model of self-care that will serve them from now on. These are some of my thoughts on your ques­tion.
    I hope they are help­ful.
    Blessings,

  8. OnTheBrink says

    Thank you so much so your reply, Lynne! It was very help­ful, and spot on! To be hon­est, hav­ing a melancholy/phlegmatic per­son­al­ity, I had no idea what I have done inter­nally all my life was bul­ly­ing myself. I don’t rec­og­nize the dif­fer­ence between judg­ing myself & self respon­si­bil­ity, but am begin­ning to rec­og­nize in my present cir­cum­stances, what causes me to spi­ral down. I think you gave me a huge key to fur­ther help me sep­a­rate & choose when you defined self respon­si­bil­ity. Thank you.

    As for my son, who is 16, in your opin­ion, is it enough to begin to try to teach him these things in an envi­ron­ment where he is put down, crit­i­cized, con­demned, and at times called names by his dad on a daily basis(not to men­tion what he sees being mod­eled between my hus­band & I), or is it nec­es­sary to step in & remove my hus­band from his day to day life? It breaks my heart to think of what he is learn­ing as a man to take into his own future rela­tion­ships. He per­haps show more dra­matic signs of heavy entrench­ment on the tri­an­gle than myself or hus­band pos­si­bly combined…guess 1+1=2 doesn’t it? Haha! I think my con­cern is that break­ing up the home could only cause more inter­nal resentment/pain/confusion for him, tak­ing him poten­tially deeper in dys­func­tion than he already is…or is that vic­tim think­ing in itself? He him­self can see & has said my mom should have divorced my dad a long time ago(pretty insight­ful), but yet divorce is the last thing he wants to hap­pen in his home…or so he thinks. If it weren’t for my children(I have a pre­cious “spe­cial” daugh­ter as well!!) I believe our mar­riage would already have ended. But you know? You think you’re doing the best for the kids to hold the fam­ily together. But are you really???? Which is more trau­matic on their inter­nal health?

  9. Lynne says

    Thank you for shar­ing, OnThe­Brink, Your story is not an uncom­mon one, so I really appre­ci­ate your open will­ing­ness to share.

    The secret to get­ting off the tri­an­gle with oth­ers is to get off of it with our­selves first! We are on the Vic­tim Tri­an­gle inter­nally long before we get on it in our rela­tion­ship with oth­ers. We per­se­cute our­selves for not being good enough, or not doing it right; we blame our­selves, put our­selves down, and ignore and aban­don our own needs. To assume self-responsibility is to address our own inter­nal bully.

    Self-responsibility does not mean to blame, but to attend to the needs and desires of .…

    When we begin to treat our­selves more kindly, by tak­ing time to con­sider our own needs, for instance, and by being con­sis­tently kind in our deal­ings with our­selves, then we nat­u­rally estab­lish healthy bound­aries with oth­ers. This gets us off the tri­an­gle with them as well.

    Remem­ber our pri­mary relationship(s) mir­rors to us our own per­sonal rela­tion­ship with our­selves. When we change inter­nally in the way we relate to our­selves, than the exter­nal rela­tion­ship with the other will auto­mat­i­cally change for the bet­ter as well. Either that, or we will find our­selves going sep­a­rate ways.

    Read my book, Guid­ing Prin­ci­ples for Life Beyond Vic­tim Con­scious­ness to bet­ter under­stand how to apply these ideas to your daily life and ongo­ing rela­tion­ships.
    Blessings,

  10. OnTheBrink says

    Just to clarify…my coach did not say I was play­ing the role of vic­tim by bound­aries I have set. That’s my husband’s ren­di­tion. What my coach did was make ref­er­ence in the pres­ence of my hus­band that when you come from the stand point of what some­one is doing to you, that is the role of vic­tim. My hus­band does his usual of twist­ing it into what he wants it to be, while he hides in his bub­ble of denial. And on another note, I think for years if self exam­i­na­tion I kept try­ing to hit it from the angle of an attempt on my part to project pain from child­hood with my dad onto my hus­band. But it seemed that a day finally came I had to com­pletely sep­a­rate the two, and let my bro­ken mar­riage face real­i­ties of it’s own, and rec­og­nize there were seri­ous issues in my hus­band get­ting swept under the rug. I have learned I can­not aban­don my heart any longer. These feel­ings I’m hav­ing are there for a rea­son, and I just keep try­ing to cor­rect them, think­ing they are “only” about past pain, not present!!!

  11. OnTheBrink says

    Lynne, I find your arti­cle very inter­est­ing and con­tem­pla­tive. My hus­band & I have received help from a life coach for almost 10 yrs. I was doing the pro­cess­ing hard stuff he was not. I feel like I made great growth under the coun­sel of this coach, but our mar­riage only got worse. It came to a place where I felt my coach wasn’t see­ing clearly our sit­u­a­tion, but was instead enabling my hus­band to stay the same as he was. As the years have gone on I have dis­cov­ered he’s had a drug addic­tion for most of our 22 year mar­riage, and while I was busy just try­ing to work on myself I kept try­ing to make it all about me, so as not to be the vic­tim, and to just basi­cally enmesh myself with his request to “deal with it, because he wasn’t going go change it for me”, no mat­ter if we’re talk­ing about his drugs, his uncir­cum­spect ways, his irra­tional tantrums, his name call­ing, his own judge­ments & pro­jec­tions, his harsh crit­i­cisms, his lack of pres­ence, his aban­don­ing P/A ways. But all this came to a head, & I broke. I could no longer carry the weight. I cre­ated a bound­ary for myself, to heal from the feel­ings of utter hatred I began hav­ing for him, and to respect myself. It has been an amaz­ing part of my jour­ney, as it’s brought up things on an oppo­site side I did not know existed. I grew up in a highly emo­tion­ally abu­sive home, from my dad. I had to be told this, it’s not some­thing I knew on my own. My mother has voiced for almost 30 yrs a hatred/dislike for my dad, which scared me as a child, but yet I under­stood it, because I saw how he treated her, as well as us. But as unex­plain­able feel­ings of hatred/dislike came up in my own mar­riage, I wor­ried, because I was begin­ning to sound just like my mom. What I again did not rec­og­nize or know, because all I kept doing was look­ing at me & giv­ing him restora­tion & the ben­e­fit of the doubt. As I dis­tanced myself from my hus­band, it became clearer how off his treat­ments were/are and how much bag­gage this guy is car­ry­ing. I learned the hard way there is noth­ing I will ever be able to do to con­trol or influ­ence this guy to think dif­fer­ently towards me. I have to let him have his own opin­ions, even if they are ugly, and untrue. Over time, and with the help of my coach I began to see I’m doing what my mom did…nothing. And through another totally sep­a­rate heart wrench­ing expe­ri­ence, I learned that feel­ings of hatred/dislike are very nor­mal in the face of an abuser/bully. I feel I am tak­ing steps to recover now from where I engaged in self betrayal, always putting such stock and impor­tance on the crit­i­cisms of my hus­band, and I had to come to a place where I am pain stack­ingly am hav­ing to face real­ity of my hus­bands emo­tional dis-ease(and just a side note, his treat­ment has turned phys­i­cal with both myself & my son). BUT…I get blamed and extremely scolded by him, because he heard our coach men­tion it that I am play­ing vic­tim, because of the bound­aries I have set and what I know I have to see from him before they can be lifted. How­ever, over a year has gone by, with things get­ting worse not bet­ter. Him hav­ing fits of rage when­ever he feels like it, but it gets put off in us. So, this is what I do, I still try to look for where I’m miss­ing it. I’m still open to see­ing where I could pos­si­bly still have a vic­tim mind­set. What I don’t under­stand is where the line gets drawn from avoid­ing the vic­tim mentality(something being done to you) and you wak­ing up & real­iz­ing you are the vic­tim, and if you want to sur­vive and have any life left in you you bet­ter get real!!! Your writ­ing, as well as my coach, seem to leave no room for this, can you expound? How do you know in an abu­sive sit­u­a­tion when you’re on the tri­an­gle your­self, or just deal­ing with their tri­an­gle? It seems to me the abuse puts you on the tri­an­gle by default, so how do you know you’re get­ting off in a self respect­ing way? Because in abuse, it is already dif­fi­cult for the abused to face the real­ity of abuse, because the abuser teaches them it’s them. “You need to change.” “If you weren’t the way you were none of this would be hap­pen­ing. So how does this fit in true vic­tim sit­u­a­tions? How do you know when you’re han­dling your own­er­ship of vic­tim posi­tion health­ily? I hope I made sense. :-)

  12. Lynne says

    I am glad you found my site, Home­less Res­cuer. :)

    If you’d like to join my free sub­scriber list to receive reg­u­lar tips and sug­ges­tions for rec­og­niz­ing when we are on the Vic­tim Tri­an­gle, and ways to get our­selves off, sign up here: http://www.lynneforrest.com/off-the-triangle-signup.html

    For arti­cles, as well as dates for upcom­ing Events and Work­shops, place your name on our newslet­ter email list here: http://www.lynneforrest.com/

    For our web­site events page, go here: http://www.lynneforrest.com/events/

    Our sys­tem requires that you add your­self to any or all of these lists; it does not allow us to add names. To do so requires your permission.

    Bless­ings,

  13. Homeless Rescuer, LCSW says

    I work with home­less Vet­er­ans and live with a histri­onic mother. While sit­ting here feel­ing angry about my mother’s recent self-imposed cri­sis, I stum­bled upon your won­der­ful arti­cle. Work­ing as a home­less Vet­eran provider, I am always in search and res­cue mode — but, I am mind­ful of pro­fes­sional bound­aries and the role of vic­ti­maza­tion in my work. To deal with one cri­sis after another at work all week and then come home and deal with an emo­tion­ally imma­ture mother who seems to live on the tri­an­gle is exhaust­ing me phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally, and spir­i­tu­ally. Thanks for giv­ing me a road map and an exit strat­egy. I found your infor­ma­tion rel­e­vant enought to the pop­u­la­tion I work with and would like to use it as teach­ing tool. I will def­i­nitely be pur­chas­ing the book.….

  14. Lynne says

    Ejc, You, my friend, sound like you are absolutely ripe for a rad­i­cal life trans­for­ma­tion! I do not mean to triv­i­al­ize, as a mat­ter of fact, my heart soft­ens in mem­ory of the raw pain I, too, have suf­fered dur­ing such times as you describe. Nor am I look­ing to “make you feel bet­ter.” I sim­ply know, from my own life walk, and hav­ing walked along­side oth­ers too, that some­times the only way life can show us our own unhappy belief sys­tem is to mir­ror it to us in dra­matic, often painful, ways.
    But we tend to spi­ral into see­ing the world as the enemy that has mis­treated us, or we tell our­selves that we failed at life and are reap­ing our painful “just” desserts; we fail to under­stand that what we are see­ing and expe­ri­enc­ing in life is the world reflect­ing to us our own belief sys­tem, and the state of our rela­tion­ship with our Self.

    The turn around hap­pens when we stop see­ing the world as being “against,” “at,” or “done to” us, and come to see the incred­i­ble way it mir­rors exactly what the state of “my rela­tion­ship with myself” is.

    We learn to ask our­selves ques­tions like, How DO I treat myself? How have I dis­tanced myself from me, and turned my back on me? What mean judg­ments do I har­bor against me and “them?” How do I feel and act when I believe those thoughts? What is the har­vest of that?

    I posted a great sum­mary of the work, that I believe, you are being invited to do (it’s always, of course, up to you …) It looks to me like you’re being given a pow­er­ful oppor­tu­nity here to trans­form your life — it was just such “gate­ways” in my own life that opened the way for me.

    Here’s my morn­ing FB post:
    All of us get caught up in our story, it’s the human thing to do! We’ve never not believed what we think so nat­u­rally we think it’s true. We mis­take it for Real­ity! We see their story, and we judge it. We for­get that their story is a reflec­tion of our own! Most espe­cially the sticky places that prompt us to ruf­fle our feath­ers in dis­taste and dis­sent. And none of this is a prob­lem. It is the path of refine­ment to get caught up in the story, to see it, to for­give it, and to let it go — again and again. Relax into it & SEE!

    I invite you to read my book, http://amzn.to/beyondvictim

    Many have received life-changing sup­port as sub­scribers that receive the free weekly mes­sage ( http://www.lynneforrest.com/off-the-triangle-signup.html ) I write on being able to rec­og­nize and redi­rect vic­tim consciousness.

    I send you bless­ings for your hon­esty, and open-ness. These are the two essen­tial qual­i­ties required for the process to take root in us so that trans­for­ma­tion can hap­pen. That is way so often we must become bro­ken, like shat­tered glass, so that Real­ity can be glim­mered through the bro­ken shards of the iron-clad mind-set of our totally made-up story about it.
    Blessings,

  15. says

    Hi just re read this for the 3rd time on as many days. It’s very
    Descrip­tive of the life I have lived up till now. My mar­riage
    Is all but over my rela­tion­ships with my daugh­ters
    Are stressed , one almost nonex­is­tent. My friends
    Are dis­tant to me these days and I’m alone . I don’t
    Even know where to start for heal­ing in that it all feels
    Over­whelm­ing , like a moun­tain to climb . I have had such a
    Vic­tim atti­tude , being , for so long . Learn­ing to
    Love myself thru all of this seems so dif­fi­cult
    Expeeienc­ing that I have not been good at it up till now. I am
    In such a place of self blame .

    Where to begin ?

  16. Leeanne says

    Well artic­u­lated and com­pre­hen­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion or reminder for any­one want­ing to hon­estly self reflect/introspect. I am so glad I stum­bled across this arti­cle and will share it with fam­ily mem­bers whom I hope will ben­e­fit from it as much as I did. For me it was a reminder …and a darned good one! Thank you for shar­ing it!

  17. Ben Savoie says

    Thanks for this won­der­ful piece. After mak­ing a very fast deci­sion to undue a move I just made, I knew some­thing was wrong. When I arrived home I started to have an inter­nal war full of anger and rage. I was so sure I had made a log­i­cal deci­sion to move back home to sup­port my par­ents. My deci­sion process was too smooth and easy, it had to be a pat­tern but what? I remem­bered read­ing this arti­cle last sum­mer so I looked at it with new eyes. As I reread it I was blown away at how I hooked myself in an old fam­ily script. It was a very painful expe­ri­ence, real­iz­ing what I have lost in my life by play­ing out the res­cuer. I vowed “Never Again”. In just a few days I have given up the roll of par­ent­ing my par­ents. We are all adults here. My new view point is allow­ing me to see them and myself as capa­ble adults. I will also be look­ing at all my rela­tion­ships. I am so great­ful for this insight­ful arti­cle.
    Regards
    Ben

  18. Connie says

    This was a great read and taught me some­thing about myself. It definit­ley has given me a wake up call and I want to get out of this tri­an­gle I’ve been liv­ing for so many years!! Thank you!!!!!

    • Lynne says

      Thank you, Con­nie. If you’re inter­ested in get­ting off the Tri­an­gle, I rec­om­mend my book, “Guid­ing Prin­ci­ples for Life Beyond Vic­tim Con­scious­ness.” (http://amzn.to/beyondvictim) It out­lines a step by step process for doing exactly that! And be sure and sub­scribe (by click­ing on the win­dow that appears in this arti­cle) to receive my free weekly mes­sages that are full of help­ful insights and tools for mov­ing out of vic­tim. Bless­ings to you on your journey!

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