“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
– Charlotte Brontë in
I hope that becoming aware of the dreaded drama triangle (part 1 of this series) and learning that you can shift out of the drama into the more empowering creator mode (part 2 of this series) has had a positive impact on your life. I have two objectives with this third part: First, to denounce the “victim-shaming” approach common in the personal development field, and second, to provide you with some questions to ask yourself when you’re ready to make the shift from the anxiety-based victim mindset into the passion-based creator stance.
I cannot stress enough that the #1 most important part of the process of change & growth is to be kind to yourself. Most people who are striving to improve themselves–which includes you, the audience of this particular blog–beat themselves up continually for every perceived failing. They think that this will motivate them to change. However, no good, no lasting positive effect, ever results from an atmosphere of shame. Unfortunately, our society has conditioned us to believe that shaming has a purpose and can be productive. Even the personal development field is rife with attitudes of putting victims down (under the guise of trying to help “motivate” them) and condemning them for choosing such an unskillful mindset. I hear you saying, “But victimhood IS an unskillful mindset!” I do believe this is so, as described in my previous two posts, and that there is a better way to live, but what I’m NOT saying is that people are wrong and bad for taking on the role of the victim.
Every time someone chooses to go into victim mode, it is because a deeper need is going unmet. It is those needs that deserve attention, not the victim behavior, which is only the symptom of the problem. When a baby is crying, telling him to stop crying does no good. We don’t turn up our noses at the child and say, “He’s making the choice to be a victim” and lecture him on why he should adopt a more positive outlook. That would be ridiculous. Nor do we punish him and tell him that he’s bad. No, we just try to figure out what the baby needs and then meet that need, because he can’t meet it on his own. We all are like that little baby sometimes when we have an unmet need and don’t know how to get it met. We may pout, sulk, throw tantrums, or lash out. When we see that we are reacting in these less-skillful ways, let that be a red flag to alert us to the fact that we have an unmet need, so that we can take the proper steps to get that need met.
This looking for our own unmet needs and trying to meet them in loving, constructive ways is self-empathy or self-compassion. We are so often told to love others, to be empathetic and compassionate to them. But our first responsibility is to ourselves. We cannot be of much help to others when we are broken inside and in need ourselves. Every time we take a flight, we are told that in the event of a depressurized cabin, we are to attach our own oxygen mask first before attempting to help others. Same principle. Love yourself. Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can. Check back on this site for future blog posts about core human needs and some tools you can use to cultivate self-empathy and to demonstrate compassion to yourself at the times when you need it most.
That being said…Moving on!
The Three Vital Questions
When you recognize that you’ve been playing the victim, and you’re ready to make the shift to a more skillful inner state, asking yourself these questions can help:
- Where am I putting my focus? Ask yourself, “Am I focusing on problems or outcomes?” Whenever there is drama in my marriage, it’s usually because I’m overly-focused on the problem. For example, I say things like, “You’re not spending enough time with me; I feel ignored and unloved; I wish we had a closer relationship;” etc. These comments usually make things worse because they activate shame and drive us apart. When I’m outcome-focused, however, I can communicate the same concerns in a more constructive way that actually leads to solving the problem. “Can we set aside 15 minutes to talk after the kids go to bed each night?” or “I’d like for us to start going out on weekly dates” or “When you’re finished watching the game, would you please help me clean up the kitchen?” This approach usually elicits a more positive response, free of drama.
- How am I relating–to others, to my life experiences, and to myself? We have a relationship with every person, including ourselves, and with every situation we’ve ever been in. Are these relationships constructive or destructive, positive or negative? Ask yourself, “Is the way I’m relating to others perpetuating drama, or empowering others?”
- What actions am I taking? Ask yourself, “Am I just reacting to the problem of the moment, or taking deliberate action? Are my actions helping to solve my problems and contributing to the outcomes I desire? Am I spending more time planning my steps than actually taking them?” If you find yourself paralyzed into inaction by the enormity of the tasks ahead of you, look out to next thirty days rather than over the next year, or out to the next day or week rather than month. You don’t have to have it all figured out before you start. After all, the Wright Brothers experimented with different ideas and didn’t have a set plan in place, and yet they were able to achieve their dream of giving mankind the gift of flight.
I like this graphic (from David Emerald) because it shows how these questions each build on one another. If we’re focused on problems, we’ll probably be predisposed towards anxiety when looking at how we are relating and the actions we’re taking. And actions is the last question because relationships trump them. No action is independent of a relationship of some kind.
An even more basic question to start with when you want to shift out of drama is, “What do I want?” Obviously, I don’t want a marriage full of issues and problems, but if that’s what I’m focused on, that’s exactly what I get. Instead, if I focus on what I DO want–a marriage of connection, passion, harmony, fun, and trust–I’m more likely to attract those things instead. Also, your mind notices more of what you focus on. The problems and issues may still be present in my marriage. But if my mind is focused on the positive aspects instead, I will notice those more than I would have, and notice the problems less, thus creating a happier relationship.
Other great questions to ask yourself in shifting into Creator mode are: “Why am I experiencing this? (Not asking with the intent of generating pity!) What is there to learn? How can I grow?”
You may have already seen the following graphic in the previous post, but I’m adding it here for reference for the following section. Sometimes we may have already made the shift from victim to creator ourselves, but we need to shift out of being a part of someone else’s drama triangle. Asking yourself some other vital questions can help with that.
From Persecutor to Challenger
If you find yourself commonly perceived by someone else as a Persecutor, it’s time for some introspection. The vital question in this case is, “What is my intention here?” Is it to be right or take charge or look good, or is it to support others’ growth and learning? Basically, are you focused on elevating yourself, or on helping them? When you’re focused on yourself, it’s no wonder they view you as a Persecutor. If you really do want what’s best for them, and they still see you as Persecutor, look at how you can improve the way you have been relating to them, or whether it’s even appropriate for you to attempt to be their Challenger in the first place. If the person really does need you to be a Challenger for them, if you are their boss or parent for example, remain firm, but be fair. Preferably with their input, set some boundaries and outline the consequences of their actions with them, all with the intent of helping them learn and grow.
From Rescuer to Coach
If people are often turning to you to rescue them from their problems, remember that this does them and you more harm than good in the long run. Ask yourself: How am I viewing this person (that I’m wanting to support)? Do you see them as needing to be fixed or needing someone to take care of them? If so, you are probably viewing them as a Victim and yourself as their Rescuer. Instead of reinforcing their powerlessness, make the shift of seeing them as a creator in their own right. See them as responsible for their own choices and actions. Then you will have made the shift to being a Coach.
A Coach asks questions and helps someone clarify their vision rather than merely tells them what to do or solves their problems for them. Some questions you can ask the person are:
- “What do you want?”
- “What’s your current reality?”
- “What are the possible baby steps you can take toward what you want?”
- “What support can I offer you?
The key point I’m trying to make with all of this is to choose choice. Having the ability to choose brings limitless power. Be aware of how you’re relating. Think the thoughts, say the words, and take the actions that will enable you and others to make choices rather than limiting choice. If you haven’t been skillful at this, no shame. Take it easy on yourself and go forward with a new mindset.
I’ll leave you with a powerful declaration that you can say out loud when you feel stuck in drama: “As a creator, I own my capacity to respond to my life experiences, even when I feel victimized.”
I love you all. Choose choice.