victim-villian-heroIn fiction writing, there are essentially three main characters: the protagonist (hero), the bad guy (villain) and the damsel in distress (victim). Story and screenwriting “How To” advice will teach you how to most effectively use these three character tropes, and if you want to get REALLY deep you can learn how the Hero is sometimes a little “villain-y” and a little “victim-y,” how the Villian is a little “hero-y” and a little “victim-y,” and how the Victim is a little “hero-y” and a little “villain-y.” That’s about as sophisticated as most stories get.

And these stories are usually wildly successful as novels, TV shows and movies. I’d love to claim it’s because we use these stories as entertainment, and a part of us just wants to unplug and not have to deal with the usual complexities of life. Now, there IS some truth to that. However, most of why we resonate so strongly with these styles of characters is because that’s how we WANT to see life and these stories are strong advocates for life being this black-and-white. In fact, the movies that do the best in the box office, the TV shows with the highest Nielsen ratings and the books on the NY Times Best Seller lists oftentimes have the most purest forms of these three characters. The Hero is ONLY a hero, the Villain is ONLY villainous, and the Victim is completely at the mercy of the world around them. When the Hero wins, saves the Victim and vanquishes the Villain we breathe a collective sigh of relief, satisfied that the world has once again righted itself.

For movies, TV shows and books, this is fine. We often DO need the ability to unplug and be entertained, and our brains thank us for giving it a moment to chill and just pretend that the world works like this.

We get ourselves in trouble, however, when we bring these beliefs into the Real World. We start to see life as a reoccurring cycle of these three characters. This is called The Drama Triangle.

The Drama Triangle

The Drama Triangle is a model of human interaction first developed by Stephen Karpman way back in 1968. (The Drama Triangle calls the Hero “the Rescuer,” and the Villain “the Persecutor.” This was a way for psychotherapists and counselors to further understand and coach using Transactional Analysis, a model that recognizes how the strategies we pick up for dealing with the world as children follow us into adulthood and create all sorts of mischief. If you haven’t read up on Transactional Analysis, I recommend doing so.)

When you understand The Drama Triangle and take an honest look at your life, you start to recognize all sorts of patterns pop up. MOST of us (MOST) are in some way affected by this worldview. In fact, oftentimes the only people who aren’t caught up in The Drama Triangle are those already familiar with the concept and have worked (and continue to work!) to remove it from their lives.

 

Drama-TriangleA quick litmus test to determine if you’re caught up in this cycle is to simply ask yourself:

Have you ever felt like the Victim? Have you ever felt that you were at the receiving end of someone else’s bad behavior and decided that person was A Bad Person? Have you ever seen yourself as unable to do anything about it, and waited for other people to recognize how badly you’ve been treated? Did you think you couldn’t do anything UNTIL other people saw what you saw, and if only they would someone would stand up for you and make sure that other person got what’s coming to them?

Have you ever placed yourself as the Hero? Have you ever gotten righteously indignant at the mistreatment of another person, believing no one else was doing anything in their behalf and that you HAD to help them out or nothing would ever get done?

Have you ever been the Villain? Can you think of time when you treated someone else really shitty (whether on purpose or inadvertently), or just had someone else believe you treated them badly, and now found yourself the object of gossip and ill feelings from others? Did you feel really bad and determine you must not be a very good person if you could do such a thing?

If you can answer yes to any of those questions, you’ve been in The Drama Triangle. You don’t even need to be able to say ‘yes’ to all of them – if you’ve ever placed yourself as a Victim, Hero or Villain, you’ve been in The Triangle. Your mind unconsciously filled in the other characters, using yourself again to fill the slots or filling them in with other people.

Understanding this dynamic is extremely powerful. The Drama Triangle is a master at keeping us from what we want, and since this series is about Saving the World it’s especially important to keep in mind. People who want to “save the world” are often those that like to see themselves in the Hero role, and while that can work for a while using this self-perception has some really nasty side-effects that prevent us from our missions and, even worse, actively work against our ultimate goals.

Let’s look at the messiness of The Drama Triangle.

What is a Victim? Is it simply someone at the wrong place, at the wrong time? Someone who has ill luck or misfortune and now has to try and navigate this world without the benefits of others?

Sure, we could define a victim as such. But in The Drama Triangle, “Victim” is defined as a mind-set and a world view. A Victim is, by definition, on the receiving end of evil and, as such, does not have the skill or the resources to alter their situation. The rationalization is: if they could change it they wouldn’t still be there, would they? Therefore, a Victim must be powerless and they cannot on their own become anything other than a Victim. That’s why they have to have a Hero.

Ask yourself: is there anything in my life I’m a Victim about? To I believe I’m trapped, without any ability to change my situation OR my perspective about the situation? Do I have to be saved from this by someone else? Am I waiting for a Hero, either consciously or unconsciously?

What role does the Hero fill, and why is it so bad?

supermanA Hero is the good guy, right? He or she comes and saves the day, righting wrongs and making sure someone is looking out for the little guy! That’s a GOOD thing… isn’t it?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help other people, but a Hero doesn’t simply just help. A Hero swoops in and prevents the Victim from doing anything other than being saved. The Victim is then entirely reliant and dependent upon the Hero, and if the Hero doesn’t show up the Victim is screwed. Therefore, the Hero/Victim relationship becomes completely dependent. Co-dependent, really, since the Hero isn’t there for their health. Just like the Victim NEEDS the Hero, the Hero NEEDS the Victim – someone to save, someone to be the catalyst to showcase all the great things the Hero has done, someone to use as a way of feeding a Hero’s fundamental lack of self-worth. You probably guessed it – the most compelling reason to become a Hero is hide from one’s own inadequacies, deep insecurity and a fear that the world is fundamentally unstable and doesn’t really care about anyone. If there’s no Victim, then what does the Hero do to block themselves from these fears? Without someone to be saved, they may as well stay home and anesthetized themselves by watching TV and eating Cheetos. Heroes will often look for Victims to feed their self-image and, in the worst of dynamics, will create Victims by suppressing others and then raising them up to save them from the Hero, itself.

Starts making fuzzy lines between the Hero and the Villain, doesn’t it?

So, considering we’re not exactly talking about movie-style Heroes and Victim, that brings us to the question: what is a Villain?

You guessed it – anything or anyone that gets in the way, oppresses, treats badly or otherwise frustrates the Victim. Much like the Hero is often forced to create a Victim, a Victim is equally forced to create a Villain.

Now, there ARE people who do really nasty things to other people, and so I’m not stating that every perceived act of exploitation or ‘evil’ is entirely made up to keep someone in this dynamic. However, remember that this is a worldview, and in order to maintain Victim status a Villain MUST be found. And, interestingly, as we most often suffer at the hands of the people we love the most, it’s extremely common for Victims to find ‘safer’ Villains – people who have little or nothing to do with our suffering, but who we can safely identify as ‘the bad guy’ in order to protect our true exploiters, the people we love.

Have you ever put yourself in the place of a Hero? How about placing yourself as the Villain? How about the far more common act of placing other people as a Villain? Take time to really parse out your life, your dynamics and the cycles of your life – are you in The Drama Triangle?

Why is it SO important as someone who wants to Save the World to keep yourself out of this dynamic?

Saving the World can very easily become a Hero’s job. In fact, for most people that’s what’s happening – there is a lack inside of ourselves, there is something we’re missing, there is a fear that world is uncaring and fundamentally unstable and we HAVE to save it from itself. We do all the right things for the wrong reasons – trying to nourish something starving inside, panicked and guilty. And we forget the mantra “Healer, heal thyself.”

In part, the phrase “Save the World” is more tongue-in-cheek than anything. When it comes right down to it, the world doesn’t NEED us to save it. It has been going on a trajectory for a very long time, and will continue to do so. However, we can do something far more than be a Hero that Saves the World – we can be a coach that influences the trajectory of the world to be faster, leaner and more effective to get to our and its goals. And THAT is how we “Save the World.”

The Empowerment Dynamic

The antidote to The Drama Triangle is called The Empowerment Dynamic, a fantastic model created in 2005 by David Emerald. It’s the answer to the sickly triangle that keeps people self-serving, not dealing with their own issues, and unable to give value in a meaningful way.

 

Empowerment-DynamicThe Empowerment Dynamic trades out all three positions for far more healthy characters. Instead of Hero we have a Coach, an empowering influence that helps guide and direct those needing help but does not solve their problems for them. Instead of a Villain we have a Challenger, a less ‘evil’ or divisive position which 1) recognizes that most people are not trying to hurt us but rather are dealing with their own wounds and inflictions, and 2) reframes this position as a question to be answered instead of a statement that is without opposition. We meet a Challenger head on. We don’t cower, we don’t see ourselves as doomed. We brace ourselves and, more importantly, we prepare ourselves for the challenge. We enter into excellence as we face something that is out of our comfort zone and forces us to be better than we currently are. A Challenger refines us, and does us a great service in the process.

As mentioned, sometimes we see ourselves as the Hero in The Drama Triangle, but much more commonly we are the Victim. Therefore, the most powerful paradigm switch is from Victim to Creator. As a Creator, we have resources and abilities that keep us from being on the receiving end of our circumstances. Creators make something new and sometimes it feels like it was pulled from thin air. It’s a position that empowers us and keeps our locus of control with us, not anyone else. We are truly in control of our lives, not simply waiting around for someone to save us.

“Saving” the World

When your goal is to save the world, it’s easy to see everyone else as a Victim. But what if they weren’t? What if they were Creators, powerful individuals seeking guidance and coaching to get to the next level? What if all you are is a Coach, someone who can provide wisdom, counsel and advice to assist these Creators in getting to the next level? Would that be okay? Would that be better than being a Hero?

Wanting to improve conditions on the planet is an extremely noble goal, but our intentions only get us so far. We have to be equipped for the job, and make sure we ‘leave the camp better than when we got there’. That is, we need to make sure we’re actually improving things, not harming them. By being Coaches we help people help themselves, we teach others to be powerful and not wait on anyone to better their circumstances. And we do this for the RIGHT reasons – because we want to bring value in the world, not simply to feed an insecurity within, but because our ‘cup runs over’ with health and happiness and it would be a shame not to share it with others.

What are you going to do to avoid The Drama Triangle and become a true Creator in the world?

-Antonia

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Showing 18 comments
  • Jeremy
    Reply

    interesting stuff … read this after a few beers and started rushing through a ‘What if’ role play about anyone that answers an internet scam promising them zillions … they believe it and act accordingly ordering products, services etc etc … down the line people are working to fulfil the orders and creating wealth … money, happiness, fulfilment etc … there is a point when it becomes successful because its now driven by inertia … inertia is the key … to everything

    • antonia
      Reply

      Mmm… beer. Always make personal development go down easier.

      Re-framing anything is like a gateway drug to re-framing everything. It’s easy to demonize things that appear to be self-serving, but oftentimes the emergent property isn’t what we would expect.

      That doesn’t mean “scams” are good. It just doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all bad. Sometimes the scammiest things are scammy because they WORK, and behind them is someone testing a way to market legitimate and sincerely valuable products.

      So, yes. I agree. 🙂

      -A-

      p.s. Now I must have a beer.

      • Bebii
        Reply

        3cdPerhaps. Unless it proves true. Most peploe have mortgages. Most peploe have kids. Most peploe owe debts. Very convenient to criticize the lack of courage of someone while it costs you nothing. Maybe it is hate speech as you say. But it doesn’t seem like it. It strikes me as more outrage at a travesty. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there was a terrible thing happening at Knapp. What if there was a cabal of leaders who were asserting their will and it was not in the chartered interest of institution. How would you respond? What good would it do to write an angry letter if you are merely an angry employee in a well-run organization? None.. You’d be ignored out of hand. But that is not what we have. We have many signs of things not right. It’s been posted tons so I won’t reiterate. Well, maybe just one. Board of Directors was 12. now it is 7.

    • Jo
      Reply

      Jeremy….what did you just say? you need to have another beer maybe hehe

  • Erick Tippett
    Reply

    Ms. Dodge,

    Quite an insightful presentation you have given here. Let me say that I feel the very faults in hero role playing you so aptly point out in this article describe quite accurately the effect that domestic and foreign policy of the United States and its progenitor the British Empire has had upon world conditions. Attempts to save the world for democracy by a country without that word in its own constitution and which has been repressive of its own people in not only a disastrous war between the states but two civil rebellions (Shay’s Rebellion in 1785 and the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791-94) are only the tip of the ice-berg from an historical perspective that confirm all you have said in relation to these
    hero/villain and victim/persecutor dynamics.

    Erick Tippett
    Retired Musician/Teacher
    Chicago, Illinois

    • antonia
      Reply

      Abso-freaking-lutely. It’s easiest to see how these things play out on a micro level in our lives, but if you really want to see destruction at the hands of this dynamic look at it on a macro level – the very levels you refer to.

      Now, swap all the positions for The Empowerment Dynamic, and think about how much more successful foreign policy would be! Boggles the mind.

      You should go make that happen. 🙂

      -A-

  • Tanya
    Reply

    Wonderful! Very revealing and empowering, thank-you!

    • antonia
      Reply

      Cheers!

      -A-

  • amy
    Reply

    Nice writing, Antonia. You’re doing some seriously cool work, here. I was just talking to my sister yesterday, about how we are realizing that our “hero” work.. how we are always running around trying to help(/save) people.. is so frustrating.. that we are realizing people just usually end up going back to square one anyway.. after all we try to do to (save) because they unconsciously created/want where they are at in life.. and in the end, they will always do what they want to do, anyway.. even as desperate as they seemed with hands out, begging hysterically to be (saved). We were thinking how we are probably using the (saving) pattern/habits, because we are likely unconsciously insecure about ourselves.. and trying to make ourselves feel better about US.. so it is in part, selfish.. and even making those we (help) weaker in the end.. because we teach them to depend on something outside themselves.. unwittingly. So, we were like, “Yeah.. we need to stop being idiots. For sure. Ha.” Then, I opened your email. Serendipity. ; ) Thank you, girl! And p.s. you are super hot stuff! : D

    • antonia
      Reply

      I love serendipity.

      It would be awesome if you could share how altering the positions from Hero/Victim to Coach/Creator would change the result to something better. Can you see ways of doing that in your particular situation?

      Let me know. 🙂

      -A-

      p.s. Thanks for the flattery. Now I think everyone has been throwing back beer. :p

  • Carollyne
    Reply

    Antonia, I saw myself in both roles and now have some ideas of how I would take myself to the position of Coach. Reminding myself that neither role wins alone, but needs each other to be coached objectively, to successfully meet individual world goals.

    Sometimes you need help to learn how to get to see the forest floor from which the trees grows.

    I look forward to continuing my personal training.

    C

  • janet
    Reply

    It has to start at daycare….. children need to be taught that they have the power to chose…. to exercise personal power ….. we are always creating…. some of us are conscious creators …… others, creatures of happenstance ….
    http://youtu.be/SuO_8VlYAfk

  • Laura
    Reply

    This is serendipity for me too. I have been going through some pretty difficult stuff in life and playing the victim lately…although also seeing my own responsibility. However, the victim role has been the one coming through much more since the other party has taken none and has done a bunch of blaming.

    So I’ve allowed myself to become the victim feeling like I can’t move forward until the blaming party “sees the light.” It’s caused some major depression and I have so dis-empowered myself.

    It was just this week that I had a discussion with a good friend of mine about the decision I’ve made to make changes and the plan of action.

    I really identified with much of what you had to say. And I’ve been in all roles.

    I did have an idea though while reading how I could utilize my knowledge of a particular subject to be a coach of sorts. And as far as I know there is no such type of coach.

    Awesome article. Thank you.

  • Ariane Jenssen
    Reply

    I found myself in all roles you describe. Most to a certain point, when I saw it and clear thought began to work and said: Stop! As a victim -I have been a long time- I saw it – but I didn’t do anything. As you say it’s easier to wait for a hero! And there is a fright , what will be when I free myself of that role? But seeing the reasons why I’m a victim and allowing others to make me one. I only can free myself and get myself again – it needs the courage to do the jump into the unknown. And when one reads Tao te king who says: (in my words now!) “Life expects you not more to do as you are able to master.” then its only the decision: jump! Do it!
    All roles of you article sound well known to me, but the victim one is for my opinion the most difficult one. The “develish-bad” one left me – even it was some times a nice feeling afterward – deep ashamed as well as also the hero one, when I thought about that it is some normal thing to help people and be there for your friends in need.

  • David Brown
    Reply

    Great blog! I enjoyed reading it!

  • Mona C.
    Reply

    I must say, it is amazing how everything I have been thinking about is on these pages. You are great indeed. Thks for all the information and compassion you’re sending my way. I feel we always accept others, it show that one is conscious of self and is aware that we not alike and we have differnt paths to take to arrive at the same distiny in the moment, therfore its not good to want to fight for your rights cause you would be fighting against others rights, which are different from yours.This is the burning desire deep down inside of me that stops me from putting all my energy into ‘trying’ to change the world, it just alway look like I was ‘doin something wrong’ to the people on the other side, whom always seem to have some good points as well to ehy they would fight agaisnt my ’cause’. Theremore, I am so gratiful for you putting this idea back in my mind. Thks again

  • Chris ForeverYoung
    Reply

    A very good read. So timely for me personally as I reseach and attempt to educate myself on my own HERO complex and issues with the triangle. Thanks so much for posting! Peace

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