This post is the third in a series following up on the July 2017 newsletter The Triangle of Victim, Rescuer, Persecutor.
The mindset of someone playing the archetypal role of persecutor is perhaps the hardest to challenge and shift, either by others or by one’s self. The sense of power-over can be quite intoxicating and provides a seemingly impenetrable protection against the fear and shame underneath.
And persecutors find it hard to choose to change their mindset and get off the drama triangle. For what benefit? It’s very often a sudden, dramatic loss that cracks open the persecutor to the necessity of another view.
May the suggestions below be useful to you and/or anyone you know caught in the suffering of the role of persecutor.
Can Persecutors Give Up Power-Over?
[As in the two previous posts in this series, Steps 1, 2, and 3 are essential to shifting any mindset. Specific tools for shifting the persecutor mindset being with Step 4.]
1. Wise View
Challenging any mindset or viewpoint that we have identified with for some time, usually for some protective purpose, often to some benefit in feeling safe or good about ourselves, requires us to recognize that this mindset or identity IS a point of view, a perspective, one of many possibilities. I’m not saying it’s easy to relinquish a way we have seen ourselves for a long time, but it is possible. And when it’s not working so well any more to cling to that mindset, it’s necessary to see that we have a choice.
The practice of knowing what we’re experiencing while we’re experiencing it; the practice of knowing what we believe while we are believing it. My mentor James Baraz taught me to inquire, “What story am I believing now?” Because usually we’re believing something, taught to us by our culture or our families or from how we have coped with our culture or our families up until now. And to frame something we may hold as The Truth of the Way Thigs Are as one possibility out of many, there could be others ways to make sense of our experience as well, cracks open the door to the possibility of change.
“Waking up” to the choices we have made and the consequences of those choices, for ourselves and others, can evoke powerful feelings – incredulity or regret, guilt or embarrassment. And so self-compassion half a split second after seeing clearly something we never saw so clearly before, is essential to help our minds and hearts stay open to what might need to shift. Kind, loving acceptance of how hard it is to be a human being, how we all want to feel safe and sometimes the way we have learned to feel safe have a cost we could not have seen or foreseen at the time.
Persecutors criticize, attack, blame other people in their lives for just about everything that goes wrong, which can make people stuck in this mindset insufferable bullies (sometimes even dangerous to be around).
But they don’t actually take responsibility for solving any of the problems they are complaining about, nor help anyone else solve the problems either.
The stance of the persecutor isn’t about taking responsibility but about protecting themselves from the fear of vulnerability, the potential fragility of their own humanity. They can’t be seen as weak; they can’t let anyone see (or see themselves) the fear and shame that drives such a costly top-heaving defense.
Unfortunately, persecutors seldom choose to give up their top-down role. It’s often some deep loss or genuine catastrophe that cracks the armor and causes the persecutor to “fall” into their own common humanity, their own human vulnerability. Then the persecutor can choose to meet that loss or catastrophe from a different mindset.
Ironically, when a persecutor chooses to let go of their power-over (or life chooses for them) they have the possibility of moving into power with. Persecutors don’t have to become victims themselves (usually their greatest fear). They can get out of the drama triangle, too, and from a new mindset find a new place on the planet in common with others. Recovering from the persecutor mindset usually includes recovering from the trauma or abuse that may have actually caused it, so that a full recovering can be very empowering indeed.
7. Resilience and Well-Being
All of the steps above lead to more response-flexibility and response-ability, the miracle of genuine well-being.