Often when our key team players and family members come together, we bring our youngsters (children and grandchildren). It's great fun for all, even those inevitable times when there's some kind of fall-out between kids, for then it becomes a learning opportunity for all.
This past weekend was such a time. There were four of our kids with us on this particular weekend, along with their respective moms, and we had a great opportunity come up that gave us a chance to work with the kids to help them identify their roles on the bully triangle and to explore boundaries as a way to get off of the triangle.
It was a situation between the two nine year old boys that set things in motion. As often is the case, there was no adult that witnessed the mishap, so we didn't have an objective opinion as to what had actually transpired. We only knew that there was one who claimed to have been abused, and who, in fact, was slightly injured, and another who denied being involved at all.
So we pulled out the Reality Mat, a plastic mat that has the victim triangle inscribed on it – and I asked them to place themselves on it in the role (helpless baby, bully, hero-helper) they believed best fit the one they played in the dynamic that had gone on between them.
The injured party immediately sat down on the Helpless Baby/victim spot, and the other, without hesitation, put himself on the Bully/persecutor spot. Amazing how honest kids will be when there is no fear of judgment. Both knew exactly what their roles were. And although one had verbally denied involvement, he had nonetheless put himself exactly on the bully role he had played on the triangle
We began to explore the dynamics – I started with the Bully. As so often happens, the squeakiest wheel gets the attention, and so it is often when there is an issue between children, that the bully who causes the greatest stir, ends up getting all the attention (Even though it's not usually ‘positive' attention). This is something we must be aware of when we work with kids because otherwise we may inadvertently end up reinforcing bully behavior, rather than dissuading it, simply because being a bully WORKS to get the attention sought by these children.
I worked with our “bully” to help him uncover how, when he bullies, the next move on the triangle from Bully is to the Helpless Baby, or Victim role (for instance, when the other person strikes back or when an outside authority comes down on him).
We then explored the definition of boundaries, and he discovered that when he does not respect another person's space, it invites others to impede on his space, even to take away his space and freedom. He came to see that unless he heeds the boundaries of others, outside forces will take charge and enforce boundaries on him, which might well result in the loss of his personal freedom. In other words, he was able to SEE how his impulsive behavior was not a kind, or loving way to treat himself!
Later, I asked the other boy, our injured party, if he was willing to explore with me his own role as Helpless Baby. It was fascinating to watch this nine year old stand on the mat in the role of Helpless Baby, and take on the very posture that was drawn on the mat, in stick figure form, to illustrate the Helpless Baby/victim posture.
Obviously still deeply entrenched in the victim role, he spoke in a low, whiney whisper about how he had not done anything to deserve the treatment he'd received at the hands of the other boy. When I asked him to notice his posture, his eyes filled with tears, and he began to throw furtive looks at his mom, as if to say, “Aren't you going to help me? SAVE ME!”
I asked him if he was hoping his mom would rescue him right now, and he replied, “it's just that I can't help my posture. It's just natural.” In other words he went deeper into victim, just like many of us do so often when we are on the victim triangle.
We either spiral deeper into victim consciousness, hoping, pleading, demanding, that someone save us, or we jump up into one of the other positions, by either going on the defensive by bullying (becoming the bully), or by placating, and trying to ‘make it all better' (by rescuing).
We talked about how our physical posture is a reflection of where we are mentally, and I asked him to imagine himself in a different posture. “What would be different in the way you handled this situation if your posture had been different, say if you were coming from a stronger, stance?”
By the end of our session, he had learned that how others treat us often depends on our very posture. And more important, he had figured out that the way to change the posture is by changing the thoughts, from thoughts that engender a sense of powerlessness to those that promote a feeling of being strong and capable instead.
His tears dry now, his posture had shifted to a more erect, comfortable stance, and his eyes met mine directly as he looked up at me, smiled and nodded. He had figured out that being a helpless baby may get you rescued, but leaves you feeling weak and dependent, and actually even invites attack by bullies! Suddenly he was holding the key to something HE could do to protect himself, rather than to rely on being saved by the closest rescuer.
Both boys learned important information about how to choose self-responsibility as a more positive and direct route to freedom from the victim triangle. Self-responsibility is indeed the keynote for freedom in all things, as well as frees us from the victim triangle.
We are deeply empowered and blessed to know these simple truths, and to be able to share them with our children.