How to Get off the “Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer” Merry-go-Round
You know how when things are not going your way and you look for someone to blame? We all do that at times. Our brain just naturally searches for something outside of our self to be the bad guy.
For example, I am driving and running late for an appointment. My brain blames the driving conditions: heavy traffic, construction zone delay and an ambulance to pull over for. Blaming outside sources reduces my embarrassment of arriving late – at least temporarily. Later I may face the truth: I did not allow myself enough time to get to my destination.
In this scenario, I am the VICTIM and bad traffic is the PERSECUTOR causing my lateness. While driving I might have the following fantasy. A helicopter flies over me, lowering a giant magnet that attaches to the roof of my car, pulls me up out of traffic, whisks me through the air and plunks me right down at my destination. And on time! The helicopter has come to my RESCUE.
How the “victim, persecutor, rescuer” merry-go-round works:
A triangle is formed with only these three chairs to sit on. You can sit on one chair for life (e.g. you can always play the victim) or move from one chair to another, playing victim, persecutor, or rescuer alternately. There are no other roles possible. Here are the definitions.
VICTIM: Something bad was done to me. I am innocent.
PERSECUTOR: I am the one seen as doing bad things to others but am misunderstood.
RESCUER: I fix the problems of the victim.
An unhealthy dynamic develops for individuals, families and organizations when these are the only roles allowed. Here is an example. I worked with a family in therapy where the Dad (persecutor) was bullying the Mom and the grown children. One daughter (rescuer) sides with Dad, seeing him as the victim and Mom as the persecutor. The other daughter (rescuer) sees Mom as the victim and Dad as the persecutor. Mom and Dad both feel like victims persecuted by the other. There was a lot of blame going around and no one was happy. The solution and the only way off the merry-go-round is for each person to take responsibility for their own actions. This is what I worked with this family to do, which improved their relationships. Here are some ways to take responsibility.
RESCUER: Your life’s role is not soley to serve. Pay attention to your moods. The clue that you are doing too much comes when you start resenting whoever you are helping. Set a boundary of time or effort. Take a break from helping and take care of your own needs. As a resource, read the classic book, Co-Dependent No More, by Melody Beattie.
PERSECUTOR: Beneath your demands or commands, you often just feel desperate to be seen and cared for. But you ask for love in unloving ways. So you need to take responsibility for your behavior. Acknowledge that your methods can be bossy or mean and that they have hurt people. Apologize. Find a more loving way to ask for love. Plan to speak more from your vulnerable feelings and needs rather than telling people what to do. For example, “I am feeling lonely and left out and want to hang out with you guys tonight.”
VICTIM: Turn your focus away from external blame and toward taking responsibility for your own actions. For example, “I woke up too late to get to my appointment on time. The lateness is my fault.” Forgive yourself and move on. We are wired to learn from our mistakes. If you do not take responsibility, you will continue to look to the skies for the rescue helicopter to solve your problems.
And it is a good thing I am writing this from an airplane seat right now because if the plane lands late, it’s really not going to be my fault - this time!