Who is the Victim, Hero and Villain in your Mother Relationship?

(Taken from Gary Harper in “The Joy of Conflict Resolution”)

Tip from Val: As you read this extract, think of your own role in relationship with your Mother. What is written may not seem to be a perfect fit. That’s okay, because it is written with conflict at work in mind.  But please be open to new insights that might be there for you. If you feel yourself reacting with a strong emotion, then you are probably on to something worthwhile learning. Hang in there. The Mother Whisperer journey is one of personal challenge and growth. Marlene and I are right with you!

Image from Hitchcock's RebeccaGary Harper starts out by telling us that in classic tales, we encounter three types of characters: the victim (often portrayed as a damsel in distress or an innocent youth); the villain (a witch, giant or dragon); and the hero (the white knight or prince). We encounter these characters in our everyday life – on TV and in movies, in the workplace and at home. Because we experience our own conflicts as stories, we unconsciously adopt these roles. Most often we see ourselves as the victim – innocent and powerless.

Sometimes we play the hero in order to right a wrong. And occasionally may slip into the role of the villain, venting our anger or frustration on another person. Together, these roles form a Drama Triangle”.

Of course, each person in the conflict has their own story. Our adversaries will see us as the villain and paint themselves the victim, we in turn will defend ourselves and see ourselves as the hero. The drama will continue until we see the other person as someone we must work with to identify and solve a problem, rather than as the villain.

The Victim

We experience conflict as an attack on our esteem or ego. We may see our values threatened or fear someone will take something from us and we feel victimized. When we feel victimized we need a villain to blame.

The victim role includes a sense of powerlessness. We may withdraw and wait for something to change or for someone to rescue us. Some of us will suffer in silence, while others with vent our frustration and blame.

The reward of victimhood is a significant amount of attention in the form of sympathy. We may also be lucky in attracting a hero to “right the wrong” for us. Alternatively we can play the guilt card and hope that the other person starts to feel bad at inflicting pain on us and behaves differently.

In this feeling of powerlessness, we also absolve ourselves of responsibility. We justify inaction by saying it isn’t our fault and the other person has to change. Powerlessness erodes our self esteem and leads to more resentment and frustration.

By playing the victim we trade personal power for sympathy and ironically increase the stress and negativity we seek to avoid.

On a more positive note, the victim role reflects our goodness, sensitivity and compassion. The victim/princess rarely seeks revenge and facilitates reconciliation. These qualities are essential to escape the drama and adopt a cooperative approach.

The Hero

Although we initially experience conflict as a victim, we often shift to hero mode to protect ourselves, defend our interests, and even the score. The role represents courage and action, taking a stand and risking discomfort or judgment.

There is a darker side to the hero role however. That is the fine line between righteousness and self-righteousness. What we may see as clever, others may see as manipulative. What we see as taking charge, others may experience as controlling.

We can justify our own aggressive behavior by saying “they had it coming.” Based on actions alone, the hero is simply a self righteous villain.

Some of us may appoint ourselves as heroes in the conflict of others. Thought our intentions may be noble, this approach reinforces the helplessness of the victim and further entrenches the other person in the villain role.

The Villain

Villains traditionally capture and control the victim for their own purposes. This role can also represent the shadow or dark side of us that is mean spirited and vindictive. This dark side also includes the part of us that is mistrustful, controlling and fearful. The villain acts aggressively, attacking and hurting others to take what they want. When we experience someone controlling us, we quickly cast them as the villain in our conflict story.

The behaviors of the villain are similar to those of the hero, distinguished only by how we judge them.

Internationally – and from US history – the same acts of violence against an existing power are seen by other ideologies as the selfless acts of freedom fighters. It depends on whose side you are on. One person’s justice is the another’s revenge. The villain gets a bad rap, but some qualities include patience, creativity and ingenuity (though we would probably call that behavior manipulative or sneaky).

The key to resolving conflict collaboratively is to apply our patience and creativity to solving the problem, not exacting revenge on the other person.

Beyond the Drama Triangle

The 3 characters in this story form a drama triangle. There cannot be a victim without a villain. Before we can become heroes we must have a wrong to right, and a foe to vanquish. A hero needs someone to rescue (and that someone might be ourselves.)

If you see yourself as a victim or a hero, then you automatically create a villain and conflict. When you see someone as a villain, they in turn will feel victimized by you – and see you as the villain. Behaviors you see as self defense become attacks in their minds. And the walls of judgment and justification are buttressed on both sides.

Our conflicts become populated by a constantly changing cast of victims,villains and heroes.

To eliminate villains from our conflict, we must be prepared to give up being a victim, and the sympathy and security this role appears to give us.

We also need to relinquish the mantel of being a hero, and the self righteousness that comes with that role. The  drama triangle always produces a winner or loser approach, and we will battle ferociously to avoid defeat and claim the moral high ground (of the victim and hero).

Casting New Roles

How can we shift our perspective and approach to allow resolution in which both people get what they need and there are no losers?

What’s the conflict story that you may be holding on to?

Join our community to get useful insights and be a part of our upcoming Mother Whisperers forum call on this topic.

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