Here is The Dance of Drama, the #1 most destructive of The Three Most Damaging Relationship Dances. Over-giving, feeling used, being driven by guilt or anxiety, feeling helpless or resentful…these are all signs you have been pulled into this powerful dance.
If you don’t know how people play this dance, you will get sucked in over and over again. Once you see how it works, you will be surprised how easy it is to avoid it. You will stop picking people who use you. Your relationships will becomes balanced, respectful and kind.
(I recommend you PRINT out this long chapter and highlight the behaviors you have used in the past. People who change fastest are those who identify their damaging patterns and review that information three times over a three week period. Go for it! You can stop falling into these dances, if choose to do the work.)
In all healthy relationships there is a balance of give and take. When you are going through a hard time you need some extra help. Or other times, you give extra support to a friend in need.
This is part of the kindness and compassion that comes with being in a healthy relationship.
But what happens when it gets off balance? When is it a problem instead of a good thing?
When giving and receiving are off balance, it is like a spinning top that gets off balance. Eventually it spins out of control, falls over and someone gets hurt. You can pick it up and try again, but if you don’t fix the problem, it’s just going to happen again. Maybe with a different person, but the results will be the same. You feel used, unappreciated, hurt or resentful.
The Dance Of Drama
The Dance of Drama comes from The Drama Triangle, identified by Stephen Karpman, known for his work in Transactional Analysis Therapy. The Dance Of Drama is a damaging way of interacting by playing out three different roles: Rescuer, Victim and Persecutor. Most of us have played these off-balance roles at some time or another. Here you will learn to identify this dance quickly so you can side-step when you see it coming.
Here are the three roles in The Dance of Drama:
The Dance of Drama Roles
- The Rescuer – tries to help
- The Victim – tries to be helpless and blameless
- The Persecutor – tries to blame
Sometimes people stay locked in one of these three roles for a long time. For example, someone might build a relationship based on being the Rescuer to a “damsel in distress”. And that damsel might stay in her helpless role as a Victim for a long time, too. Ahhh…love!
Other times, people switch back and forth between roles, like a great boxing match, shifting positions as needed. He rescues her while she acts helpless. She eventually gets annoyed, persecutes him for not trusting her to take care of herself. He acts hurts, so she comforts him as she takes on the rescuing role. Later she persecutes as she yells at him for not helping her take out the garbage. And he explodes back “Nothing’s ever good enough for you!”.
I’m getting dizzy just watching the mix and match of these three dramatic roles.
The dance can be subtle, with deep sighs and angry glances. Or it can be very dramatic, with yelling and collapsing. For many people, simply understanding these dynamic changes help them change their most upsetting relationships.
The victim acts helpless and blameless. She looks for others to save her and won’t rest until she proves someone hurt her. The rescuer tries to help while ignoring her own needs and eventually becomes a resentful martyr. The persecutor blames and belittles, sometimes directly and sometimes in roundabout ways.
As you look at this dance in more detail, see if you can identify:
- Any ways you have played out these roles
- Other people in your life who play these roles
- Your reactions/feelings when someone else plays these roles
I’m glad you are learning this dance and how to identify these roles so clearly because, no matter how clear you are in your relationships, sooner or later, you will still be “invited” into the dance. Only now, you’ll see it for what it is, instead of diving in once again.
The things you refuse to meet today always come back at you later on,
usually under circumstances which make the decision
twice as difficult as it originally was.
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Insert Diagram: The Drama Triangle Diagram—here
As you discover how these roles are enacted, you will see how someone can be a kind and helpful person without falling into the rescuer role. You will also understand the difference between playing out the victim role and truly being victimized. You’ll even learn how taking a stand can be done in a clear and powerful way without persecuting.
To start with, let’s look at each role individually. Then let’s see how they interact together. Once you see how you have played into this dance, it will be hard not to spot it. You might moan, you might chuckle, but you can’t plead innocent any more.
As you read each role individually, keep in mind that most people have a “favorite home base role” and then switch in to different roles at various times. For example, maybe your most common home base role is the Rescuer. You rescue till you get fed up and switch to Persecutor, criticizing your friend who won’t change despite all your good advice. Or perhaps, after playing Rescuer for too long, you feel used and unappreciated and dive into The Victim Role.
Later, with The Six Boundary Solutions and ___(stepping out of the dance), you will learn to how to choose solutions to stop the dance and create healthy relationships.
For now, half of the battle is simply being able to identify these dances and the roles you have played.
The Rescuer Role- Trying to Help
Someone in the Rescuer role is often a very caring person. She is thoughtful and considerate and has an almost psychic ability to sense what others need. Her selfless giving is demonstrated as she easily puts aside her needs to take care of others. Although occasionally resentful, she feels good about how little she really needs. Upbeat and charming, no one knows how much she really gives.
When Things Get Off Balance
But what turns simple kindness into a damaging dance? There is not a black and white answer. But, as you will see, there are warning signs that show things are off balance and someone is about to get hurt.
But who gets hurt?
Sometimes, it’s the one giving. She over gives and ignores her own needs. She feels upset when others won’t take her supportive advice. She feels used and unappreciated.
Sometimes, it’s the other person who ends up being hurt. He feels inferior or controlled. Or, even worse, he never gets to learn from his mistakes since the rescuer continually fixes things for him. He never grows up.
Here are a few signs you might be in The Rescuer Role:
- You over give, giving more than is good for you or more than you want to
- You act like you know what is best for others and try to make them do it
- You spend more time, energy or money trying to solve someone else’s problems than he is willing to invest in himself
- You are angry or anxious when he doesn’t “improve” and change
- You feel compelled to keep helping, even though nothing changes
- You are afraid of others thinking you are selfish or unloving
- It is difficult for you to say “no” or ask for what you need
- You invest more to keep the relationship going then your mate does
- You feel resentful, used or unappreciated
- You eventually feel victimized by the person you have been trying to save
- You take responsibility for other people’s problems, outcomes and feeling
- You feel “high” when saving, helping or coaching others
- You need to be needed and feel uncomfortable when not in this role
Angela In The Rescuer Role
Here is an example of Angela in the Rescuer role:
Angela is a generous person. She is thoughtful and sensitive to what others need. She is always there as a friend with good advice and time to listen. Her friend, Beverly, once again, is having problems with a man she’s dating. So, once again, Angela is taking time off studying for her upcoming exam, to console her friend about her latest dating fiasco. Sometimes Beverly calls late at night in tears and Angela stays up late talking with her. This makes it hard for her the next day at work.
This is not a new pattern. Observe the cycle:
- Beverly habitually gets into bad relationships.
- Angela consistently gives advice.
- Beverly feels comforted.
- Beverly repeats her relationship choices.
- Angela “helps her” again by consoling her.
Angela is always there to listen and give advice, even though she is losing sleep and jeopardizing her chances of passing her upcoming exam. She says it’s because she cares. But it is not. It is because she feels compelled to Rescue. She needs to be needed. If she really cared, she admit these late-night phone calls weren’t changing Beverly’s choices and Angela would change tactics. At this point, Angela is part of the problem. As long as she continues this pattern, Beverly has no reason to seek help from a professional for her problems. And, after a while, Angela will feel used, anxious or resentful. When she does, she might jump over to persecuting or feeling like a victim. In the dance continues… Ouch!
Sometimes, you won’t realize you are in the rescuer role until you see the repeating pattern of imbalance in your relationship. But if you know you have fallen into the rescuer role in the past, you’ll learn to see situations that could be the first step down that slippery slope. Here are some examples:
- Cancelling your special dinner date at the last minute because your child has put off his homework till the last minute, so instead you stay home to help him do it, rescuing your child
- Cheerfully telling your friend it is O.K. for her to cancel on you and go out on a date at the last minute when she had promised to help you move
- Giving money to your friend who bought new clothes instead saving her money to pay her rent
- It is the third time you made plans with a new friend, and, again, she asks you to drive over to her side of town instead of driving out your way. And you agree to do it
- Picking up the tab at dinner, even though it really is time for someone else to do it
What Happens to You
Here is the hard thing about being a Rescuer: people begin to believe you don’t need anything and you develop relationships based on you over giving. It is a never ending hamster wheel of trying to satisfy others’ needs in hopes of getting recognition or love in the end. But there is no end. This is the pattern you have created.
Because of your selfless approach, people see you as an endless fountain of giving. They don’t know it, but inside you feel tired, sad or resentful. You wonder “What about me, don’t I count?”
“I don’t know the key to success,
but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
– Bill Cosby
Rescuers Are Super Heros
As a Rescuer, you take pride in saving the day. You do more than what is asked for, expected, or humanly possible. You are secretly pleased with your superpower of knowing what others need, go here are even when they don’t. You thrive on the rush you get when dive in and save others. That’s when you feel most alive.
Other times, like a puppet on a string, you don’t want to help, but you do it anyway. You feel a driving urge to “do” for others and can’t stop yourself, even when you know it is a bad idea. It’s an addiction. So, off you go again. And you don’t even get your own TV special. Bummer.
Rescuers Are Angry and Tired
After a while, you feel resentful, used, unappreciated or just plain tired. I mean, come on, how long can you keep doing this? You give and give. And what do you get back? Not much.
“I visited him in the hospital, cooked for his kids, got his car fixed, paid his rent, and never asked him for anything. And now when I finally ask him to help me with this one thing, he did nothing! How could he treat me this way?”
Seriously? You are really wondering how it came to this? Come on. You act like this is a surprise, even though , when you really think about it, it is not a surprise at all. You over gave, and never expected anything back. It’s time to stop blaming others for your lost time, energy and money. And, instead, see how you set up and perpetuated this dance. Using the methods in this book, you can start reshaping your relationships.
Sometimes Being Nice Isn’t Very Nice
Rescuers have an irrational drive to be “nice”. But sometimes being nice isn’t very nice. It is not nice to go along with others’ plans while secretly harboring resentments. It is not nice to keep condoning others harmful behavior while acting like everything is fine. And it is not nice to take away someone’s chance to learn from their mistakes. You think you are helping someone when, in fact, you are part of the problem.
When you are in the Rescuer role you keep dysfunctional systems going by working insane hours in a mismanaged business, making excuses for a drunken spouse or investing unequal amounts of energy into a “good” relationship. Your willingness to work overtime in these situations ensures that the troubled person or system never has to change. And it hurts you. Now that is not very nice, is it?
What Is Love?
A client of mine kept bailing her son out of trouble. She made excuses for him and did not enforce her rules. He came home past curfew, but she still let him go out the next night. He borrowed money from an uncle; she repaid his delinquent debt. He ignored the deadline for a job application; she pulled strings to get him an interview.
“She was the archetypal selfless mother:
living only for her children,
sheltering them from the consequences of their actions –
and in the end, doing them irreparable harm.”
– Marcia Muller
Like many people, she thought loving someone meant making sure the other person felt loved. Of course, this is not true because, when you really love someone, you are willing to risk the loss of his love (or the fallout of temporary snit fit), if it means doing the right thing.
She thought loving someone meant you protect him from feeling bad. But people are supposed to feel bad. That is one of the ways we learn how to make decisions in the future. By trial and error, we make mistakes, we find out what works and we solve problems.
With real love, you do the right thing even if he thinks you are selfish or uncaring. You do the right thing even if he gets angry. You do the right thing, because that is how much you care. That is real love.
As a rescuer you have a skewed view of reciprocity. Because of this, you set up an imbalance of reciprocity in relationships. You keep giving more, even though it’s clearly off balance. You might think you don’t deserve better. You might think no one would value or love you if you weren’t always giving. Or maybe it’s just a bad habit.
In any case, when rescuing, you are willing to accept a lot less than what you need or want. You might even take pride in how little you ask for… as if this was a good thing. It’s not
Rescuers Are Users
When you are rescuing, you might have lots of “good reasons” why you do it. But rescuers are users. When you rescue, you might be using others to alleviate your feelings of worthlessness or insecurity. You might be using them to build your self-esteem or status.
Perhaps you feel anxious at the thought of not being needed or wanted. So you dive in, trying to make others appreciate or love you. Or perhaps you are so anxious at the thought of someone else feeling uncomfortable, that you help him, even though it really harms him in the long run. You tell yourself you are doing this because you don’t want him to feel bad, but it’s really you are using him to alleviate your own anxiety.
Or, maybe there’s nothing good on TV and you are looking for some exciting drama.
Rescuers Are Liars
When you are rescuing you are lying. You are lying to yourself and others about your true feelings or what you really need. While some people have no idea of your dishonesty, others sense something is off.
At their therapy session, Greta opened with the following complaint: “Matt doesn’t really love me. He Says he does all the time but I just don’t believe him.”
Exasperated, Matt said, “But Greta, I do love you!”
Why doesn’t she believe him? Because Matt is a rescuer. She asks him how he likes her new recipe for salmon, he smiles and says it’s great, even though he hates fish. She cancels out on their date at the last minute- he says it’s O.K. even though he really feels hurt and angry. So, when he says he loves her, how is this any different? How can she know what’s true?
“Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.”
Now, Matt is learning to share how he really feels. They’ve had some disagreements and even a few fights. This is a good thing. You will he is looking at their long term goal of having a healthy relationship instead of an immediate goal of “peace at any price.”
Honesty and Building Trust
If you continue rescuing, by pretending things are fine, you will continue have superficial relationships. My friends felt relieved when I started telling them when I was upset or when it was a bad time to visit. They could trust that when I said “yes” I really meant it, instead of leaving them with a nagging feeling of uncertainty as I welcomed them in for a cup of tea.
If you want intimate relationships, you need to have room for you and others to say an honest “no”.
Your “yes” means nothing if you can’t say “no”.
– Karuna Poole (add RN etc.) –
Being honest doesn’t mean being cruel or tactless. It also doesn’t mean announcing your every feeling and desire. That’s just annoying. It means checking in with yourself before answering. Know thyself. What are your short term and long term goals? Think before diving into action.
These great ideas come from:
The Boundaries Sandwich in Chapter x will teach you how to deliver your honest message in a way that helps strengthen relationships. With this tool you can be tactful, kind and clear all at the same time.
The Switch: When Rescuers Get Riled
So there you are, giving and giving. You give to those who don’t need, don’t want it or won’t really use it. You give until you are resentful or empty. And then, one day, you switch roles on The Dance of Drama.
You might drop down into the Victim role, feeling helpless, powerless and deflated. Or, if you are frustrated, you jump over to the Persecutor role, and attack the one you have been trying to save.
If you drop down to victim, you act hurt, angry, withdrawn or pouty. You feel you have been used. Your withdrawn energy, “hurt puppy dog” glances or miffed comments are designed to make your friend to feel bad “after all you have done for her.” You try to get other people to rescue you by complaining how you have been mistreated. You hope they will validate your victim position by comforting you and criticizing your friend.
If you shift into the persecutor role, you might attack directly with cutting comments, explosion or blame. But, if you are a first-class rescuer, you don’t attack directly. Instead, you disguise your hostility by making “innocent” comments to others so they will think you have been unjustly treated and your friend is mean.
And, when you see your friend again, you act cool and aloof. And anything you say is designed to undermine or wound.
Aren’t you tired of doing this?
Rescuing Vs. Helping
If you stop rescuing and stop The Dance of Drama, does it mean you won’t help people anymore? Not at all. It means when you give, you give wisely. You will sense when someone is truly interested in change, instead of wanting to be rescued. You will give responsibility back to others, and not take others successes or failures personally. You will gently step back when you see you are getting overly invested in someone else’s change.
Rescuer: Why it’s hard to stop and why you’ll be glad when you do
It is hard to step out of the Rescuer role because it is so fulfilling. You get appreciation, admiration and applause. You seem generous, thoughtful, strong and dedicated. You are a saint, or at least people think you are.
The role is seductive since you get to be the white knight in shining armor, the one to finally prove to your damsel in distress that you are different that all the others that have come before. You are more kind, more understanding and more unendingly patient. Unfortunately, if your damsel is dedicated to her Victim role, which she usually is, you will never save her. And in the end, when you are you become a normal human being again, with normal human needs, she will act like you have betrayed her. In her view, you are just another bad guy on her list, like all the others. Oh, well. It is all part of the dance.
It may be hard to stop this seductive dance but the payoffs are worth it. You will attract people who are competent, positive and powerful and enjoy the same in you. You will have balance relationships with healthy give and take.
When you help, you will do it in a healthy way that empowers others instead of weakening them. You will give because you are full of love and wisdom, instead of insecurity and unworthiness.
You will have more peace in your life and you will start living your dreams. Now that is a worth doing!
The Victim Role- Acting Helpless and Blameless
Someone in the Victim role often is trying to get help. She is looking for people to comfort, guide or support her. She is often open and trusting, sometimes too trusting. Despite her best efforts, it seems like things don’t often work out. In spite of this, her determination can be amazing; even when she wants to give up, some part of her keeps looking for help, support and kindness.
When Things Get off Balance
But what turns simple need for help into a damaging dance? Everyone needs help now and then. In fact, giving and receiving are both important for healthy relationships. How do you know when things are off balance? How do you know you have entered into The Dance of Drama and you are in the role of Victim?
When you step into the Victim role, it is the start of a pathological dance where, inevitably, you never get what you really need. You find people who work overtime trying to help you, but you give your power and self-responsibility away. Sometimes you crave and yet resent those who try to save you. You feel dismayed when, once again, others hurt you or give up and leave.
Here are a few signs you might be in the Victim role:
- You have a pattern of people being invasive, ridiculing or bullying to you
- You have a pattern of being discounted or ignored
- You don’t say ‘no’, or if you do, people don’t respect it
- You feel powerless, overwhelmed or unable to cope
- You feel most deeply loved when someone is ‘mothering’ or protecting you
- You want someone to take over and fix things for you
- You get resentful that people keep trying to motivate you or tell you what to do
- You get angry or collapse when someone suggests you figure it out for yourself
- You feel like a child, young and incapable of doing adult tasks
- You feel despair, helplessness or hopelessness
- Your relationships are based on others taking care of you
- You whine, pout, withdraw or collapse when you don’t get what you want
- You feel a rush of excitement or satisfaction when someone listens to how you were hurt
- You work to “prove” someone did something wrong to you
- You feel sorry for yourself
Beverly In The Victim Role
Beverly is kind and gentle person. She is open and accepting of others. She also is a peaceful person and avoids conflict. Last week, when she went to a wholesale warehouse to pick up some supplies for her florist shop, she had a difficult situation.
As she headed up to the cashier, a man asked her if she minded if he asked the clerk question first. Beverly sighed but said nothing. So the customer led the clerk to the back of the store to look at some display items.
When they finally returned, Beverly, looked downtrodden and sighed out loud saying. “Well, I guess I am going to be late for my appointment, now.” As she got in her car, she thought, “Why does this always happen to me? People are so thoughtless.”
This is an ongoing pattern for Beverly. She feels bulldozed or ignored by other people. Later that night, when she told Angela what happened, she felt better when Angela got mad and stood up for her by saying the men were insensitive jerks. Beverly feels like Angela is one of the few people who really understands her and really cares.
When you are in the Victim role, you flip-flop between feeling someone has harmed you and craving being validated and protected.
This is the victim dynamic as you go back and forth between dancing with Rescuers and Persecutors. In either case you, the Victim, get to remain in your one-down position.
The Victim being hurt or helpless:
- You seem invisible; people interrupt you, you get hurt by ‘being in the way”
- You feel surrounded by rude, insensitive, pushy people
- You often feel wronged or hurt by others
- You don’t assert yourself in a way that effectively impacts others’ behavior
- You have pattern of “bad luck”, like lost keys or car accidents, with the end result of you feeling helpless or needing to be rescued
- You don’t see or respond to the warning signs others do, that would help you avoid bad situations
The Victim being saved:
- Your deepest connections are with people who help you, comfort you or validate that you have “been done wrong”
- You feel most energized when you have a “I been done wrong” story to tell
- You feel vindicated or safe only after someone agrees that you have been victimized
- You feel most relaxed or loved when someone is taking care of you
- You feel betrayed, victimized, attacked, scared or angry when someone suggests you look at how you had a hand in creating the bad situation
What Happens to You
Here is the hard thing about being in the Victim role: you are stuck in a perpetual loop. This passive role allows others to be intrusive or bullying, so you feel wounded. Since you feel wounded, you look for comfort and help. This attracts rescuers and, for rescuer to feel good, he needs you to stay a victim.
It feels like a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. You wonder “when will this ever stop?”
But it will stop, once you see the game for what it is and remover yourself from the dance. The easiest way is to identify how you do Victim.
When you are in the Victim role you act helpless, blameless or wounded. Falling into your own Victim trance, you believe you are powerless to change your situation. Just as you believe you had nothing to do with creating it. You feel overwhelmed by powerlessness or vulnerability.
Your life is a trail of painful experiences. It seems like you are a target for rude or untrustworthy people. You feel like there is nothing you can do but just pull yourself together and wait for the next disappointment or attack. You are looking for someone to save you.
You don’t understand why these things keep happening to you. You know it’s not like this for other people. They seem to have better luck than you. Sometimes you think there is intrinsically wrong with you. Am I a bad person? Is this why I’m treated this way?
Victims Unconsciously Pick Bad Situations
As Victim, you have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or trusting the wrong people. Others would avoid these situations but you approach them with enthusiastic innocence. You fail to see the signs that say “this is a bad idea”.
Later on you might say, “I knew I shouldn’t have trusted him.” And the fact is, on some level you did know better, but you chose to go out with him anyway. You felt compelled to do it. You are in the victim role.
As a victim, you also set up situations so you can be disappointed. Through your needy or collapsing presentation, you urge others to give until they are off balance. And when they finally withdraw to take care of themselves, you act as if you are being betrayed. You use this opportunity to prove to yourself, once again, that people can’t be trusted.
Victims Tell “I’ve Been Done Wrong” Stories
Like a fisherman who never tires of re-telling the story about the one that got away, when you are in the Victim role, you love retelling telling the story of how you have been mistreated.
For example, you lose your job because you showed up late for work, never finished your projects and bad mouthed the boss. Yet, somehow, you turn it around to where “they” were out to get you.
You repeat your tale to others and are intuitively are drawn to those who will join you in The Dance Of Drama.
Perhaps your coworkers will pipe up as fellow victims. Perhaps someone will rescue you as she comforts you. And, if someone dares to tell you it was your fault, you can put him in the persecutor role.
It’s Your Fault I Took Your Advice
As Victim, you don’t take responsibility for your actions. Instead, You follow others’ advice and then blame them if it doesn’t work out. You try to maneuver others into thinking it was their fault and getting them to take responsibility for your choices. Your ultimate victory is to get them to feel bad and apologize to you for your choices.
Here are a few examples:
- Your friend recommends a hairstylist; you go and don’t like the haircut you get. You act like your friend should apologize.
- Your mother points out a parking space, you take it and get a ticket. You get mad at her for “making you” park there.
- You say don’t want to go to your in-laws for the holidays, but go anyway because your husband really wants to go. You blame him for you having a horrible time at their house.
Victims Go Fishing for Rescuers
As Victim, you rarely ask for what you need directly. Instead, you make hinting comments like, “Gee, it’s sure going to be a long walk to the bus stop in this heat.” You bait the hook with sighs, comments, gestures, or well-timed silences all designed to entice a potential Rescuer to charge and help you.
And sometimes it works! Victims are master manipulators. You know just when to sigh, collapse or pout. If that doesn’t work you act hurt and pull away. You do everything you can to make him feel guilty, anxious or afraid.
And, if you can’t manipulate someone with your moves, you move on.
“I believe that we are solely responsible for our choices,
and we have to accept the consequences of every deed,
word, and thought throughout our lifetime.”
– Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Victims Play “Ya, But…”
When you are in the Victim role in The Dance of Drama you might play a game called “Ya, but…”. This is a hopeless game where you, the Victim, keeps rejecting solutions while, at the same time, fishing for more assistance.
Here is an example:
Beverly (Victim role): I don’t know why Tom won’t listen to me. It is like I am invisible.
Angela (Rescuer role): Why don’t you set up a time to sit down and talk about it?
Beverly (Victim role): Ya but, he is always too busy.
Angela (Rescuer role): You could do it after dinner one night when he comes over, then no one would disturb you.
Beverly (Victim role): Ya but, the neighbors are really loud and it would interrupt us.
Angela (Rescuer role): I know a friend who wrote what she wanted to say in letter. You could do that and give him time to read it on his own.
Angela (Victim role): Ya but, writing things doesn’t work, it never comes across the right way.
Sooner or later, when enough resentments build, the Rescuer or the Victim will switch to another role. The Rescuer, feeling helpless and defeated, moves to Victim. Or getting frustrated, jumps over to persecute.
Either way, you in the Victim role, feel secretly satisfied to have stymied your friend. What a roundabout way to feel powerful. And to further validate your Victim view of the world.
Responsibility – The Victim’s Hot Potato
When you are in the victim role, you don’t take responsibility for your feelings, your actions or the outcomes.. And just like tossing hot potato, if the burning truth of responsibility falls into your hands for a moment you quickly to toss it away.
Listen to yourself as you acknowledge one thing you did wrong but quickly follow up with a laundry list of why it was still not your fault. For example, you forgot your dinner date with your mate and he is upset. You call your best friend to complain:
“Well, yes, I forgot to put it in the calendar…but he could have called me and he knows I have a hard time remembering and I had the kids that day and he knew I was tired and why was it up to me to tell him anyways, if he really cared he would have remembered we were going out to dinner that night. How could he treat me this way?”
“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.”
– Dr. Robert Anthony
When you sidestep your responsibility, no matter how small it is, you also lose the power to change your relationships. Look at Emma in the story below. Once she saw her part in creating, maintaining or allowing the painful dynamic in her marriage, she stepped out of Victim and she started taking action.
The Victim-Victimized Dilemma
If you have some unresolved trauma in your history, such as loss, abandonment or abuse, you may find it harder to separate out when you are playing out the victim role versus unconsciously reenacting the past because of your unfinished business. Here is the shortest short cut: look at current situations where you feel victimized, identify any ways you set it up (even by being in the wrong place at the wrong time) and what you could’ve done differently. Identify the ways you posture yourself to be a victim – tone of voice, words, body posture and what you allow from others. This way you can be on the alert to stop bonding with others based on you being a victim.
Then, also, make an appointment with a therapist to clear the unresolved emotions or events from your past that keep you in this victim role. These days there are some very easy right/left brain processing techniques that bypass the need for hours of talk therapy. You will be surprised how quickly you can clear some of these old patterns.
These great ideas come from:
If you are wondering if you are in an abusive relationship, you are not alone. Many people, in unhappy or scary relationships, wonder if they are being abused. Many people make the common mistake of not taking action until they are sure that their relationship is abusive.
I do not want you to do this. I want you to get some help, now, in changing what you don’t like about your relationship. Whatever is going on, you don’t like it. And that is enough to seek help. It really is.
If you don’t like what is happening in your relationship, you don’t like it.
And that is enough. Period.
Don’t worry about being unreasonable, asking for too much, being selfish or hurting someone else. It is time for you to go talk to professional. Do this today – the information you need is in appendix X.
There Is Help For You
People in repetitive, painful or abusive relationships often have patterns that keep them stuck in difficult situations. Feelings of powerlessness and low self-worth block them from taking action. There is a lot of help for you to start changing things. There are many people who have felt the same way you do and have successfully changed their lives. Go find out what they did and they will be happy to help you do the same thing. Go to appendix X and make that phone call now. I am very excited for you and I’m proud of you for doing this.
The Switch: Victim Turned Viper
As a Victim, you are compulsively drawn to validating your Victimhood, seeking pity and sympathy, even if it means you stay stuck in an unsatisfying situation. When in the Victim role you strive to appear powerless even though, through guilt or passive persecution, you hold a manipulative, power-filled position.
Eventually, when you are in the Victim role, you want revenge on those you feel harmed you. So, you switch to the Persecutor role. There are four ways you do this:
- Direct Attacks
- Passive Aggressive Attacks
- Secondhand Attacks
- Hurt Myself Attacks
- The Ultimate Proof Attacks
Direct Attacks are the most obvious way to persecute. You escalate, yell and blame. Your conversation is littered with putdowns and zaps. You feel justified in doing this and feel good when you succeed hurting your perceived attacker. However, if you are truly dedicated to the Victim role, you usually do something less direct than this.
Passive Aggressive Attacks are those seemingly innocent things you do that are designed to hurt someone. You make an “innocent” joke at the expense of your mate. You gossip about someone to destroy his reputation. You make “innocent” comments to undermine his confidence, for example asking a “nonchalant” question like “Oh, are you really going to wear that jacket to the interview?” just as your mate is heading out the door for his big job interview.
You “accidentally” do things that upset someone. You “accidently” forget to buy your mate’s favorite coffee at the store, even though you remembered all year long, until three weeks ago when he disagreed with you about buying a new car. You “accidently” didn’t see her antique teapot when you wiped of the kitchen counter, and sent it smashing to the floor.
You are “unsatisfiable” and enjoy watching your mate try everything to make you happy while you keep rejecting his efforts. Your secret delight is when he finally feels completely powerless and gets angry or gives up.
Secondhand Attacks are when you get other people to do your dirty work for you. Instead of dealing directly with the situation, you complain to your friend about how someone treated you until you get her to “rescue” mode to kick in gear. Then you sit back in delighted satisfaction as she condemns or confronts your friend on your behalf.
Hurt Myself Attacks are when you hurt yourself as a roundabout way to harm someone else. You want him to feel guilty for not rescuing you. For example: He won’t change his vacation plans so you can join him. You cry and complain. Then you get drunk and get in a car accident. You act like he made you do it. You say “if only you had loved me more this wouldn’t have happened.” And, if you are lucky, you dedicated Rescuer takes the bait. He feels guilty and afraid as he takes responsibility for your self-damaging behavior. Everyone else just thinks you’re strange.
The Ultimate Proof Attacks are when you purposely provoke your mate so he will escalate and ‘lose it’. You proof he is a bully. You know all the right buttons. After he escalates, you feel satisfied because you now have the ultimate proof that he is evil and has harmed you. As you share your story with others they think he is awful (and that you are an innocent victim- but you and I know better. Don’t we?). He feels deeply remorseful and ashamed and tries to make it up to you. He doesn’t realize the part he just played in your drama.
Some people escalate this dance to the point of physical threats, shoving and violence. This is a very dangerous dynamic and calls for immediate intervention. No matter where the cycle begins, you need to get help right away. Abusive relationships are very insidious and self-perpetuating and it takes an outside professional to stop it. Luckily, there are many great resources for you. Get help now.
When the Victim Backpedals
Sometimes, when you do the switch, you might move into The Rescuer Role. This is usually done as a last resort. Suddenly, you are sensitive and kind. You help him with things. You buy him special treats. Anything to keep him with you. Once you feel reassured about the relationship, you shift back to your victim mode inviting him to rescue you.
If you want to be on the fast track to stepping out of the victim role, identify the ways you’ve been part of the dance.
Victim Vs. Needing Help
If you step out of the Victim role, does this mean it is not OK to want comfort or need help? Absolutely not. Everybody needs help now and then. That’s normal.
When you step out of the victim role, you ask for help directly instead of manipulating people to give you something. You know it’s okay to need help and that you don’t need to act one down, childlike, helpless or broken to get it.
Victim: Why it’s hard to stop and why you’ll be glad when you do
Even though you don’t admit it, there is a certain power in being a Victim. You are the center of focus. Without you, The Dance of Drama would not exist.
Belle of the ball, all eyes on you, friends and family will listen to you for hours. And, when they get burnt out, you can always find someone else to take their place. To save time, you might choose a therapist who also validates your victim identity instead of confronting you on this dance and helping you change it. This way you never have to take responsibility for your life.
Unfortunately, when you use this role, your deepest bonds will be with people who have connected with your wounded self instead of your authentic self. For you, this is a blessing and a curse, you get the attention you crave but you have to remain a victim to be loved. And healthy people, who steer clear of these games, will steer clear of you because they don’t like being used.
It may be hard to leave this magnetic role, but it’s worth it. Your relationships will be built on honesty instead of manipulation. You will speak up for what you want. And, because you take responsibility for your results instead of making excuses, you will step forward with more determination and confidence. You will challenge yourself. You’ll have successes. You’ll make mistakes. But it doesn’t matter, because you’ll feel the joy of claiming your true power.
Persecutor- Trying To Blame
Someone in the Persecutor role is often a very determined person, working to protect his sense of what is just or fair. He has a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong and is not afraid to defend it by speaking up, even if others don’t want to listen.
He takes pride in the fact he does not let people get the better of him or push him around.
But what turns a powerful stance into this damaging dynamic? Everyone needs to be assertive, take a stand or confront others now and then. When does “just speaking my mind” turn into a damaging dynamic?
As you read more, you will see the difference between saying what you think versus harming and overpowering.
The intention to right a wrong may be the same, but the underlying dynamics and outward results are profoundly different. When someone uses the persecutor role, others feel attacked by him.
And in the long run, he is hurt as well. Since others don’t feel safe around him, he never gets to experience the openness, trust and vulnerability of healthy relationships.
Here are a few signs you might be in the Persecutor role:
- It is hard for you to let someone think he got the better of you
- You can easily “out alpha” people by being “bigger”, louder or more adamant
- You don’t know when to back off or you don’t care if people feel attacked or overwhelmed by you
- When you get angry, you feel justified in your outbursts and blame it others
- People have said you are attacking, bullying, intimidating, mean or overpowering
- You have a history of being in conflict situations
- You believe the conflicts were not your fault or were justified
- You have a strong need to be right and not be challenged
- You use sarcasm or humor to cut other people down to size
- You get excited or “turned-on” when in a conflict or imagining a conflict
- You feel you have to prove yourself
- Your radar is set to look for real or perceived slights
- You remember even the smallest injustices, looking for the right time for revenge
- Making your point in the moment drives you more than the long-term picture
These great ideas come from:
Randy in the Persecutor Role
Here is an example of Randy in the Persecutor Role:
Randy is proud of the fact that he takes care of his family. Last week he went to buy new tires for the car. After he paid for them and they moved his car in back, the man at the desk told him it would it would take an hour and a half to get them on the car. Randy felt his frustration rising. He blasted out, “What the hell is wrong with you! You think I have all day to sit here!”
A manager came out, but by then Randy was demanding to get his money back. With money in hand, he went to the back to get his own car. When the employee fumbled while getting the keys, Randy looked at him with distain and said “What an idiot.”
All the way home he fumed as thoughts surged through him about all the incompetent people in his life.
When he got home, the house was a mess. His wife, Emma, was playing with the baby. He lashed into her, “Do you think you could do something around here? You have all day to clean up. You know, you are just lazy!”
Randy usually comes across as low key, but sometimes, like this day, he just had enough. And, like most people in the Persecutor role, felt justified in everything he did. It wasn’t his fault he blew up, it was everyone else’s.
Sometimes it is easy to identify when you are in the Persecutor role, like in the obvious example above. But you can also persecute in less dramatic ways. Sometimes you use a cutting comment or just a critical look to put others down. Or, as you saw in The Switch: Victim Turned Viper, there are many roundabout ways to persecute. Go back and read the description with the Persecutor Role in mind.
When you are in The Persecutor Role, you use direct or indirect ways to attack. One of the fastest ways out of this role is to call yourself on it and stop blaming others for your bad behavior. Don’t wait until your friend or mate owns up to her part in this dance. Just start changing your part now.
Direct ways to persecute:
- You use name-calling, ridiculing, belittling, teasing, sarcasm
- You laugh about others inadequacies or weaknesses
- You use verbal or physical intimidation to get your way
- You tickle or rough house beyond the time it is fun for someone
- You threaten to retaliate, attack or do physical harm
- During a fight, outwardly rage or hit things
- You try to control other people’s behavior by being intimidating instead of telling someone you disagree with her, you tell her she is stupid
Indirect ways to persecute:
- You do any of the behaviors on the The Switch: Victim Turned Viper list (page x)
- You ‘accidently’ are too rough during sex when you know your partner doesn’t like it
- You are angry at someone so you gossip about her to harm her reputation
- You use humor to put someone down and then tell her she is too sensitive if she says she doesn’t like it
- You disdainfully roll your eyes or make condescending comments
- You are suddenly “not in the mood” for sex after leading your mate up to the point of wanting or expecting it
- You undermine with ‘helpful feedback’ designed to destroy his confidence
- You “accidentally” do things or forget to do things that harm your partner
- You “helpfully” correct someone in a condescending way
The faster you call yourself on these “innocent” and not so innocent ways you persecute, the faster you are on your way to better relationships. Get to it!
What Happens to You
You might feel empowered being able to take charge and control people by your actions. It might feel satisfying to “prove” you are right, even if it was by intimidation. So, you get to feel right but you also will be alone while your friend or mate distances herself from you.
Sure, some people will try to soothe you, but others just steer clear. People resent and avoid you. On a superficial level this might be O.K. with this, but it is hard to be constantly treated like you are a bully. Instead of being met with openness you are met with hostility. Ouch!
And then, of course, some people will delight in testing you to see if you explode. Like stepping on a frozen lake, they want to see how far they can go before it cracks. They tease, poke and prod, until, to their delight, you lose it. You look like a fool and they had fun.
Persecutors Feel Proud for “Taking a Stand”
In this role, you feel proud when you step up and confront someone you think is being disrespectful to you. It feels like you are righting a wrong. And as you gear up for battle, you think to yourself “he is getting what he deserves”. You feel justified in your direct or indirect attacks of others.
Your radar is set to find any real or perceived injustices, so you find them, even when they are not there.
Your girlfriend dresses up to go see a friend and you accuse her of cheating on you. Your boss hands you back your report without looking at it, you think he is ridiculing you. But, you aren’t going to let them get away with it. You’ll show them. You’d show them right into you losing your job or mate. Ouch! I will
Persecutors Feel They Are Being Threatened
When in the Persecutor role, you often think people are doing things on purpose to insult, ridicule or threaten you. You feel victimized, so you attack. Your reaction in the moment stops you from using your judgment or common sense.
In that moment, you forget your long term goals and seem unaware of your effect on others.
Sometimes you are so adamant about your position you don’t realize how overwhelming threatening or belittling you seem to others. Other times, you know what you are doing and take satisfaction in seeing the damage you have done.
Later on, you might regret what you did and vow to be nicer. But, unless you clear the underlying feelings, it’s just going to happen again. Luckily, it is easy to clear these triggers with some of the new therapy methods. Look at appendix XXX and see the great new approaches people are using to clear their past.
Persecutors Don’t Think They are Persecuting
You may not think you are persecuting, even though others have told you they feel attacked by you. They say “Stop yelling at me.” And you say, “I am not yelling.” They say “You are belittling me.” And you reply, “I am just trying to tell you what I feel.”
Here is my recommendation: rather than getting lost unraveling two different definitions of “persecuting”, just step back and see if your behavior is accomplishing your long term goals or not. It’s that simple. Look at the results.
You might just be a very passionate person and have a timid friend. Unbeknownst to you, your persistent assertiveness might, for your friend, come across as attacking.
As you will see later in this book, many people have different styles of relating that mismatch and come across as negative, when this is not the intent at all.
Remember, you don’t have to agree about different interpretations of your behavior. You just need to take the steps to get your long term goal. Get it?
Persecutors – The Adrenaline Junkies
As a Persecutor, you feel a rush when you think about taking a stand. You are drawn to re-experiencing that adrenaline high so you relive conflicts in your head or share them with others. Whether it’s in person, in the movies or on TV you enjoy the drama.
Because you crave the adrenaline rush you look for things to justify your warrior approach to things. These are things that wouldn’t bother other people. Someone passed you on the road. Someone looked at you the wrong way. Someone didn’t listen to you…it’s all an excuse to light your own fuse. But look out, you are going to get burned. Ouch!
Persecutors Blame Others
When in The Persecutor Role, you often blame others for what you do. You act as if you had no choice and that your body was taken over by someone else. Not Martians, but the guy next to you, in his car on the freeway.
“If he hadn’t cut in front of me, I wouldn’t have cut him off at the exit.”
“If only you had come on time.”
“If only you would follow through on your promises.”
“If only he hadn’t taken my parking place.”
“If only you had called me back.”
But the fact is, you do this behavior, because you do this behavior. That’s all. And as long as you let others be the excuse for what you do, you put yourself in a powerless, one-down position.
—Add quote here per responsible for one’s actions—
Persecuting with “Helpful Feedback” or Humor
Sometimes your sharp tongue cuts to the core. Or perhaps your persecution comes out as “helpful feedback” which isn’t helpful at all. It’s just a list of faults. And whether they are true or not, the anger underneath drives it home with a jab. The goal is not to help, it is to hurt.
Other times your persecution may come out as humor with a jab. On one level it’s funny but on another it hurts. And sometimes, you don’t mean to be persecuting at all, it just comes across that way to some people. That’s what happened with Greta:
Story: Greta’s Sarcastic Family
I grew up in a family that was really sharp and funny, in a sarcastic sort of way. We’d see who could have the quickest comebacks and zingers… not warm and fuzzy. Listening to my husband, Matt, these last few weeks in therapy have been a shock. I had no idea how hurt he felt by my comments. I’m not even mad, I just talk that way. Even though I didn’t mean anything by it, to him it felt like persecution. No wonder he’s been pulling away.
Persecutors Use Undermining Comments
If you are dedicated to appearing as a Victim instead of a Persecutor, you might persecute using passive aggressive tactics. You make one “innocent” undermining comment after another. With perfect timing, you point out a stain on his suit jacket just as he is heading out the door for a big meeting. You remind your husband in front of your guests, just as he is about to light the barbecue about how he burnt the steaks last week.
When your partner finally blows up, you act shocked, surprised and hurt. Secretly, underneath, you are grinning ear to ear. Since he blew up and you kept in control, you “won”. You get to be a Victim. And he looks like a jerk. Don’t you have better things to do with your time?
“Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions.
Small people always do that, but the really great make
you feel that you, too, can become great.”
– Mark Twain –
The Persecutor’s “Gotcha Move”
You might persecute by doing the “gotcha move” where you set up your partner to feel powerless and angry.
You both decide to go on vacation and, when he asks for your input about where to go, you sweetly tell him that whatever he plans will be wonderful. So, he dives in researching locations and making reservations.
He is proud of the plans he has made and is excited to share them with you.When you arrive at the hotel, you look around and with obvious disappointment or repulsion as you sigh “Is this really we were staying?… Well, I guess we’ll have to do.”
Then you sit back in satisfaction as you watch his pleasure and pride fade away into surprise and anger. Gotcha!
The Switch: When Persecutors Get Pouty
One of the best ways to get someone to stop confronting you on your persecuting behavior is to switch gears and step into The Victim Role. You collapse and cry while explaining how hurt and misunderstood you feel. If you found a good match, she will dive in and comfort you ignoring your responsibility for the harmful things you have done. Or, if she insists on you dealing with your persecuting behaviors, you can say she is mean and doesn’t understand you. you get to be a Victim.
But wait a minute, what if your partner simply is done with this damaging dance altogether? She has stopped trying to make you change. She has withdrawn her investment in the relationship. She is done.
Then it’s time for drastic action. So, you suddenly shift gears and become The Rescuer. Overnight, you become a kind and sensitive person. You think of her all the time and do special things for her. You get her car fixed. You bring her flowers. You might even take out the garbage.
If she doesn’t understand this dance, you are in luck. Intuitively you know, if you keep rescuing long enough, she will reconnect with you and you are off the hook. Whew! That was close.
Persecuting Vs. Taking a Stand
If you stop persecuting does this mean it’s never okay to get mad, speak up or take a stand? No, but it does mean you choose wisely when you and how you assert yourself. You make decisions based on your goals instead of reactions. You speak powerfully and clearly without demeaning others.
You stay aware of how you come across to others, changing your approach so you can accomplish your short term and long term goals.
Persecutor: Why it’s hard to stop and why you’ll be glad when you do
At first it might be hard to give up this stance of the powerful warrior. It might even be fun to intimidate people now and then. It feels great to be in control. You demand respect. Nobody messes with you. If they do, you get revenge.
You like the powerful feeling and the adrenaline rush.
But it gets old letting outside experiences, defenses or reactions control what you do. Once you step out of this role, instead of trying to master others, you become the master of yourself. And that’s real power.
Your calm, clear approach brings respect and trust from others. You use your power with kindness and compassion. And in doing so, you develop self-respect, self-esteem and confidence.
The Dance of Drama
You can see how captivating this dance can be. It’s easy to get pulled into it. It’s easy to invite others into it. It’s easy to get lost in it.
That’s why it is so important for you to look for all the ways you have entered into this dynamic.
Later in the book, you will learn how to pick different relationship approaches to help you step out of the dance. We will also talk about what to expect from others as you change.
Group Dances – The More The Merrier
The examples I’ve given above show this dance as played by two people. But sometimes, you will see this dance played out in groups of people.
For example, I worked with a family where there was a mother, father and the teenage girl. The mother rescued the girl by not holding her accountable for her jobs around the house. The mother would not give the girl consequences for breaking the rules. Instead, she did the jobs herself, felt overworked and would complain to her husband. Her husband would get upset with his daughter for not doing her jobs it would make her do them. When he used his stern approach the mother jumped in to “save” her daughter from her angry husband. So he was placed in the role of the persecutor.
As this progressed and got more off-balance, their parenting got more polarized. The father became more structuring and hard-nosed while the mother became more and more lenient. In the midst of all of this, the daughter was placed in the Victim role. The mother and daughter were bonding in the Rescuer/Victim dynamic. In the father, being rejected by both the mother and the daughter, as the evil other, became more resentful and isolated.
You can see how this dynamic can play out in all different groups. Imagine if you are a part of a committee and one member plays The Victim Role. Some people will dive in to play the rescuer. Others will feel hostile and perhaps persecute. And those who don’t want to engage in this dance will watch it from the sidelines. Depending on the group, this could end up being the primary focus instead of the real reason you are meeting. This is why is very important for you to understand how you get caught in this dance.
The Invitation To The Dance
How do you enter into this dance? Do you start by responding to other people’s dynamics? What makes you take the bait? Also, how do you invite others to join you in this dance? The more you know about your part in creating or maintaining this dance, the less likely you are to engage in it.
Overview of The Dance of Drama:
Here are some quick descriptions of these three roles. Remember, it’s not only what you say, but also how you say it that brings these roles to life. In fact, you don’t even need to speak to play out these roles, your body posture, facial expressions and energy are enough to put this dysfunctional dance into action.
Cheerleader, upbeat, encouraging, Superman, the advice giver
overly helpful, takes over others’ responsibilities,
makes excuses for others’ bad behavior
minimizes her own needs
doesn’t say “no”
afraid of being selfish or uncaring
overwhelmed or resentful about giving
gets turned on by saving others
Let me do that
You couldn’t help yourself
I will help you
It wasn’t your fault
Collapsing, powerless, helpless, tired, blaming, sighing, complaining, childlike, irresponsible, accident prone
Does not ask for help directly,
does not take responsibility for her life
has a list of ways she has been “been done wrong”
plays the “ya, but” game
wants to be saved
uses guilt to manipulate
It’s not my fault
why does this always happen to me?
how could you do that to me?
oh, don’t worry about me, I will just sit here in the dark
Blames others, condescending, critical, cutting, sarcastic, bullying, passive-aggressive, undermining behavior
Finds reasons to get angry
feels that others are putting him down or attacking him
gets turned on by the adrenaline of a conflict
likes proving a point
has difficulty softening or giving way
Nobody’s can treat me like that
what’s wrong with you
can’t you do any better
The more you learn to see the three damaging relationship dances, you will realize how often they occur. Sometimes they are blatant with dramatic scenes like something from a bad movie. Other times, they’re very subtle and leave you wondering “what just happened?”
But now you know, you will sense that something is off and think about these dances. And something that was hard to put your finger on becomes obvious. Pretty soon, you’re going to be sidestepping these dances with ease.
Dance of Drama Questions:
How do I do the dance of drama?
What is the most common role for me to play?
How do I do The Rescuer Role?
How do I respond when someone else does The Rescuer Role?
How do I do The Victim Role?
How do I respond when someone else does the victim role?
How do I do The Persecutor Role?
How do I respond when someone else does the persecutor role?
How do I initiate this dance?
How do I let others pull me into this dance?
Bulleted Summary of Chapter
- There are three most damaging relationship dances.
- To develop healthy relationships you must know how to identify and avoid these dances.
- These dances are common and predictable.
- One of these dances is called The Dance of Drama.
- The three roles in this dance are Rescuer, Victim and Persecutor.
- The Rescuer tries to help
- The Persecutor tries to blame.
- The Victim tries to be helpless and blameless.
- If you want drama, go to the movies instead of creating it in your relationships.
These great ideas come from: