I enjoy this blog tremendously, not so much because I get to post each week, but because the comments make me think. Last week, Kassia’s comment about nursing prodded me to mention the Triangle of Abuse. I forget where I came across this, but it’s a simple graphic of a triangle, with Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer at its vertices.
We’ve all been in, or witnessed, an abusive relationship. If we’re the Victim, we use up much of our energy simply enduring bad treatment, and thus have few resources left over to bring about any change. If we’re the Persecutor (assuming we’re not the psychopathic variety), we’re at the end of our rope, bellowing and blowing a gasket because nothing else seems to get anybody’s attention. If we’re the Rescuer, we’re so upset by what’s going, we jump in to try to help, because clearly, the other parties need help badly.
This triangle has two interesting aspects. First, everybody on that triangle can be trying to use their strengths: The Victim has endurance, patience, forgiveness, and maybe even hope going for him. The Persecutor is passionately attached to certain goals, can’t be pushed around, and doesn’t sit on her backside, waiting for solutions to come to her. The Rescuer has an ability to spot a problem and a willingness to help.
And yet, they’re all acting from weakness. The Victim is passive, the Persecutor is aggressive, the Rescuer can be either, or is often simply meddling in other people’s problems to distract himself from his own.
The other interesting aspect of an abusive triangle is that the positions can flip around, or at least feel like they’re flipping around. The Victim can turn into a bellowing, ranting, sulking, histrionic, manipulative virago. The Persecutor can feel so invisible, so uncared for and demonized, that her emotional landscape resembles that of a Victim. The Rescuer can start lecturing everybody about what they should, ought, must, always, never… blah, blah, and when those Judgments–I Mean, Insights–from Starfleet aren’t greeted with applause and instant compliance, the Rescuer feels ignored and taken advantage of.
These unhappy and unhealthy roles can ricochet around for years, binding families, work environments, neighbors, or church groups in an ongoing drama of misery. Sometimes the whole business is a sideshow, distracting everybody from a larger problem, but sometimes, all that’s needed to shatter the triangle is a source of empowerment. Empowerment is about managing your own needs, not manipulating others into meeting them. Honesty is a big help in this undertaking, as is courage, resilience, creativity, and clear communication.
I’ve seen situations where an unhealthy group dynamic started to turn around just because somebody consistently modeled those positive qualities. In books, the hero and heroine often empower each other rather than solve each others’ problems.
This triangle is a fascinating dynamic. The part of that jumped out at me most is how the rescuer can turn into a bully, or at least develop a controlling agenda, and then feel victimized when efforts to help seem wasted. Don’t suppose any of you have ever brushed up against this infernal triangle?
To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift certificate.