One of the most useful concepts I have ever learned was during the 70’s, that of the Victim Triangle. It made so much sense to me that I taught it for years, and again recognized its power as I moved my focus to the healing of our hidden wounding.
The Victim Triangle is found in individuals, families, peer groups, work places, communities, politics – and just about everywhere that we tread as humans. Each position in the Triangle is significant. There are three roles – Victim, Rescuer and Persecutor. These roles are interchangeable, and often people move easily from one to the next. Occasionally people become entrenched in one or two of the roles, and don’t venture into different positions.
There are times when the Victim Triangle is evident, as in abusive families where the roles of Victim and Persecutor may be clearly defined. Often the roles are very subtle, and difficult to discern. The most difficult is looking at ourselves and seeing how this pattern shows up in our lives.
The role of Victim is generally a one-down position. Both Rescuer and Persecutor are one-up positions. The Victim may feel he has no options. He may feel trapped and sorry for himself. He usually feels powerless. In his dependency, he looks for solutions outside of himself. The remedy for the Victim is to be found with the Rescuer. The Rescuer will often swoop in to save the Victim – from himself or others. The Rescuer has solutions and power, and is confident that all can be fixed. However, the Rescuer does not take into account that the Victim may be comfortable in his role, and doesn’t want to be saved. When the Rescuer encounters resistance in the Victim, he may move into the next one-up position – that of Persecutor. Here too he has power. But the power is one of aggression and threat. If you will not allow me to save you, then I will attack you until you are ready to be saved. Or I just might use my power to control you.
Here are two examples of how this model can show up – in an individual or a family.
Perhaps I had a bad day at work. Everything seemed to go wrong. I was late turning in a project, had an argument with a coworker who wanted something from me. The Victim energy shows up when I start feeling sorry for myself. I consider quitting work. What’s the point of staying where I’m not appreciated? I should be paid more. At this point the Rescuer energy may show up. The Rescuer tells me I’m really okay and there’s something wrong with everyone else. The Rescuer is eager to point out everyone else’s faults, assuring me that I’ve done everything just right, and of course I’m not appreciated the way I should be. The Rescuer may even direct me to ways that I can self-soothe – maybe it’s by eating that chocolate I’ve been eyeing all week, or by having a giant sized portion of ice cream. Next, the energy of the Persecutor is likely to swoop in, berating me for being out of control, eating more than I need, and reminding me that everything that happened was my fault.
In a family, one of the children is doing poorly in school. He feels unhappy, but unable to do better. Mom swoops in for the rescue, helping with homework, but ultimately doing it for him. Dad yells at his child for not working harder, and at Mom for doing things for him. Everyone ends up miserable and communication seems to be at a standstill.
One of the most important things about the Victim Triangle is recognizing that it exists. Once we acknowledge it, we can make amazing changes in our lives. When we choose to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, and allow everyone in our lives to be responsible for themselves and what they do, we can move out of the energy of the Triangle into the energy of responsible and equal relationships. There are no one-up or one-down positions. There are only comfortable, inter-dependent relationships, with each person honoring and respecting the other. We learn to support instead of rescuing. And we learn to give feedback in loving, supportive ways. We recognize that we are all fallible, and that making mistakes is just part of our humanity. When we accept ourselves and others as we are, encouraging and supporting with love, we will have balance and harmony in our lives.