Does your child feel like a victim?
Does your child sometimes think “poor me” and feel that the whole world is against them? Maybe they think they're unlucky and nothing ever works out right for them? Do they often feel guilty even though they know it wasn’t their fault? This is the ‘victim’ in Stephen Karpman’s 'drama triangle' and it is the opposite of self-esteem.
A drama triangle occurs with three people: the role of victim, persecutor and rescuer. As the drama unfolds, the roles change as the individuals move around the triangle.
Let’s start with the central role - the victim, sometimes called “poor me”. The victim evolves as a result of other people or situations (persecutor) acting upon them, and they feel helpless to change or defend their situation. It can be a person, teacher, sibling, someone in the playground etc. It could be a condition such as ADHD, Autism etc or a disability. Different children will experience the same situation in life but how they respond is what makes the difference. They are only a ‘victim’ if they choose to be.
When your child looks for someone to blame, feels needy and vulnerable and believes they can’t do anything themselves, they have taken the victim role. They are looking for someone to help them, show them what to do and listen to their troubles. At first, they are grateful for the rescuer’s help but after a while, they end up feeling resentful and undermined. They then have three options -
- Fight – they become the persecutor
- Flight – they head off in search of another rescuer
- Freeze – they numb the pain through food, drink, drugs etc
The rescuer, sometimes called “poor you”, steps in between the victim and the persecutor, ostensibly ‘to help’. The rescuer is actually preventing the victim from solving the problem themselves and thus gaining self-esteem from 'fixing' the victim's issue because ‘they can’t do it for themselves’. Often, the rescuer has an ulterior motive.
So how do we recognise the persecutor? The persecutor is whatever or whoever the victim is blaming for their victim state. Persecutors often start out as victims feeling out of control and lacking self-esteem. They take out their frustration on others, blaming and criticising. These are people who separate themselves, even temporarily, from their emotions and distance themselves. They blame everyone else for the situation they are in. Persecutors want to control and do this by nagging, putting others down and humiliating people.
How to step out of the triangle
1. Be aware that you are in it by recognising the patterns. What are the triggers? What happens before? Is the trigger visual, auditory or kinesthetic? How do you set up the trigger? Do you consciously or unconsciously manipulate the situation?
2. Stop! Decide now to break free of this 'drama triangle' - step outside of it.
3. Imagine you could float above the triangle and observe what’s happening - who is saying and doing what? This is disassociating and allows you to emotionally distance yourself from what is going on.
4. From this place outside the triangle, recognise your key role in it.
5. What is your positive intention? What do you really want? What is your compelling outcome for yourself?
6. Internally reference by asking yourself ‘what are my values?’, 'what are my qualities?’, ‘what makes me a worthwhile human being?’. Align yourself.
7. Accept that you can change and take responsibility for yourself.
8. Live in the moment and express yourself and your needs openly and honestly.
9. Be curious about how you can live differently and be open to change, observing how others respond to you when you are outside of the triangle.
10. Be prepared to make a few mistakes along the way – there is no failure only feedback.