Victim consciousness is not something we suddenly acquire – it is a habituated perception of the world that we grow up with and never think to question. Everyone we know is steeped in it and we take it on during childhood as a normal way of seeing the world. What that means is that everyone we know are all most likely reacting from one of the three roles on the Victim Triangle most of the time.
Now that probably sounds hopeless, and truthfully, without awareness, it is an endless trip around the victim triangle. But conscious awareness allows the surfacing of a very different type of consciousness – one the Reality Formula Process© calls “Observer Consciousness” – that with practice moves us quickly out of v.c., no matter who or what circumstances we are dealing with.
Let's define these two states of consciousness in simple terms:
We are in victim consciousness anytime we see the people and situations in our lives as the cause of our emotional state of well-being. When we think they “make” us feel unhappy (or happy) we are in Victim Consciousness because we are putting something outside of ourselves in charge of our emotional well-being (or lack thereof)! No wonder we constantly try to manipulate and control our life circumstances! We think our well-being is dependent upon those outside circumstances.
The antidote to this way of seeing is Observer Consciousness, a state of consciousness that allows us to step back from our habitual way of perceiving the world as victims (reacting to life from any one of the three roles on the Victim Triangle (victim, persecutor, rescuer) and question our victim thoughts instead. Rather than reacting blindly from unhappy beliefs. Observer consciousness allows us to understand that our feelings always come from our own thoughts, rather than from external consequences. We tend to think that our feelings come first and then prompt our thinking – but it is actually the other way round; the unhappy thought or belief is triggered first and THEN our feelings come out of that.
We maintain a deeply ingrained, and taken-for-granted mind-set (a habitual thought pattern or neural pathway) that gets triggered by external circumstances which in turn, triggers both feelings and reactions automatically. We go into react mode once these old neural pathways or victim mind-set is triggered. In Observer consciousness we learn to observe our own reactions to the people and situations around us instead of trying to control or manipulate them. Seems like a little thing – but it makes a huge difference, because stepping back into an observer role changes everything.
When we are in Observer Consciousness, instead of acting blindly (thoughts create feelings that prompts behavior that ends up reinforcing what we think) we consciously choose to see our life circumstances through certain Guiding Principles or Universal Laws that allow us to reframe our thinking about those circumstances. In Observer Consciousness we recognize through our emotional response and reactions when we are in Victim Consciousness and we take action to find the thought (or belief) within us that is causing our negative feelings and reactions and reframe it for a more positive response. This style of interaction puts us squarely in charge of our own emotional well-being. In other words, we take complete responsibility for our own happiness.
Here's an example that was shared with me by my son, Andrew, who lived with an aging parent (his partner's mother) who was struggling with mental confusion:
As a teacher, Andrew worked late most evenings. This particular evening he arrived home at his usual time, around 9:30 pm to find his 85 year old mother-in-law, waiting impatiently for him and his partner to arrive home. She was sitting at the kitchen table in front of a clean, empty plate. On the stove was a fully prepared, but cold, meal of cooked vegetables and rice. As soon as he stepped into the room, she started complaining about how hungry she was. She spoke about how she had cooked dinner and waited, in vain, “for hours” for them to come home so she could eat. He asked, “why didn't you eat the food you cooked?” Obviously distraught, she said, “I can't eat by myself, (her unhappy belief) and now my blood sugar is all messed up because you guys were not here to help me. You know it's bad for my diabetes not to eat on time. Obviously there's nobody to take care of me (an example of a core belief) and I'm too old to take care of myself! (another adjunct unhappy belief) I don't know what I'm going to do!”
How one might handle such a situation depends on what state of consciousness one is in. From Victim Consciousness a typical response might come from a mixed state of guilt and resentment triggered by feelings that accept total responsibility for the mother-in-law's well-being. The tendency when we are in Victim Consciousness would be to buy into the mother-in-law's perception of herself as being helpless, in spite of the fact that she had managed to prepare the food for herself! The response from the martyred, rescuer/victim might go something like this:
“I come home every night at this same time (spoken in raised voice) – I don't know why you would think tonight would be any different! I can't do everything for you! Well never mind, I'm here now so eat your meal. Here, I cut up your vegetables for you … What do you mean, “it's too late!” “where are you going? You cannot go to bed without eating. I know it's cold but you have to eat something! Ok, ok, I'll fix you something else – what would you like?” And then the rescuer would proceed to spend the next hour or more trying to placate and fix the situation, meanwhile neglecting their own needs, perhaps failing to even feed themselves!
However from Observer Consciousness, one responds from Reality and the response might sound more like this:
“You didn't eat the food you prepared for yourself? (spoken with curiosity, not condescension) That surprises me. No wonder you are upset and hungry if you believe you can't eat alone! Wow … that sounds painful. You think you can't take care of yourself, is that right? Are you sure that's true? No wonder you're so hungry – refusing to eat, because you thought we had to be here for you to take care of yourself! No wonder you are angry with us! Thank you so much for fixing your own meal and taking care of yourself … and I appreciate your wanting to wait for us before you eat, but please DO take care of yourself first next time!”
In Victim Consciousness we often operate from an assumption that the other person, even though they may have some limitations, cannot take care of themselves. We buy into their limited notions about themselves and end up fostering their dependency by taking care of them in ways that they may well be very capable of doing for themselves.
Whereas in Observer Consciousness there is no demand that we assume responsibility for the other persons feelings and reactions, even if that person has obvious limitations. From Observer Consciousness we assume others can take care of themselves, and we let them be in charge of doing that to their best ability. This allows THEM to find the place where their capabilities are limited instead of us defining it for them. And it allows them to stay as independent as they can for as long as possible. Everyone benefits as a result.
One last, quick example I want to share – this one provided by a client who shared with me that her aging mother, who had recently moved in with her, had become so dependent on her taking care of her every little need that she had stopped taking the short walk to the end of the front sidewalk to gather her mail from the mailbox, even though she was fully capable of walking. After a few sessions, my client gave her mother back the job of retrieving her own mail. What was most surprising to my client, was that not only did her mother begin to walk to the mailbox for her mail, but within a week she was walking to the end of the street and back,”for the exercise” and was proclaiming to all who would listen about how much stronger and all round better she felt as a result!
The bottom line is this: doing for others what they can do for themselves is never truly helpful for them or us.