Shifting Out of Victim Identity into Empowerment

The July 2017 newsletter The Triangle of Victim, Rescuer, Persecutor explored those three archetypal mindsets and offered preliminary suggestions for how to shift out of the dance of those roles.

All three of these mindsets are “learned” as “rules” in our families of origin or similar early relational conditioning.

All three mindsets served a protective purpose at one time; all three take some wise perception and courageous choices to shift out of them.

This post offers some tools to empower someone caught in the identity of victim. Posts next week and the next will offer tools to shift out of the rescuer and persecutor roles as well.

May they be useful to you and to people you know still caught in these roles.

Shifting Out of Victim Identity into Empowerment

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.

2. Mindfulness

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.

3. Self-compassion

“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.

4. Responsibility

Someone who identifies with the “poor me!” stance of the victim, who sees themselves as helpless and powerless, also tends to deny any responsibility for the circumstances they find themselves in, and to deny that they have any power to change those circumstances.

[Again, this is not about people who are genuinely victims of fraud or a rape or racism or abuse. The victim stance is an unconscious pattern of coping learned when a young child’s strengths and capacities, potential and development were not supported or encouraged, and they learned to seek that help and support, usually unconsciously, from someone else who would rescue them from the helplessness, or save them from the powerlessness.]

It takes an enormous amount of courage for someone who has spent much of their adulthood playing the role of victim (to other people’s role of rescuer and persecutor in the drama triangle) to step out of that role and resume the “growing up” that got derailed long ago, often not their choice at the time.

5. Choice

When people who have identified as a victim begin to choose to think differently about themselves, to act differently with other people, to engage with the world differently, they can learn the skills they need to learn to make their own decisions, to solve their own problems, not look for someone else to solve their problems for them. They can discover their own strengths and realize their own potential. Maturing into the adults they were meant to be.

6. Empowerment

One of the key choices someone recovering from a victim stance gets to make is to empower themselves. They claim permission and they develop the capacity to do all of the things grown-ups get to do. Of course, this means taking on the responsibilities that grown-ups have, too. That’s why victims need to step out of the triangle, not let rescuers or persecutors keep them in the victim role any longer, but choose to relate as equals to other people who can relate to them as equals.

7. Resilience and Well-Being

Recovering one’s own power to make one’s own choices (and suffer or celebrate the consequences of them as we all have to do) leads to a genuine resilience and well-being. Life still throws its curve balls, but the person now identifying as a grown up can trust their own capacities to meet those challenges, as we all strive to do.