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Bring Your Vision to Life


October 28, 2015

Hello, Trailblazer!

Have you been looking forward to anything lately? Something I had been looking forward to for months finally happened earlier this month. We reached October 2nd.

It’s All About Mindset
I had been looking forward to October 2nd because a huge event I was collaborating in planning and arranging took place on October 1st. The arrival of October 2nd meant the event was over! No more planning calls, no more site visits, no more little fires to put out, no more details to arrange. Done!

The great irony of my mindset, which formed and grew as we got closer to the event, is that the training we received at the event applied to my mindset about the event. I learned a lot that day, and having the build-up of helping with the event made the learning more relevant and powerful for me.

The event was to showcase the Prism Award for the North Texas chapter of the International Coach Federation. Organizations that implement a coaching initiative can be nominated for the award, which spotlights the benefits of coaching to the culture and performance of the organization.

And I Fell Into This Mindset Trap
This year, in addition to having a keynote presentation during the meal prior to the presentation of the award, we added a workshop after the presentation. Both the keynote and the workshop were presented by David Emerald Womeldorff, author of The Power of TED*: The Empowerment Dynamic, and his wife and business partner Donna Zajonc, MCC. Together they run the Bainbridge Leadership Center.

I knew about TED* from a previous presentation, and I had read the book after we scheduled them for the keynote and workshop. I knew the concepts well. Imagine how funny it was when I realized I had fallen into the “triangle trap” helping with an event that put the spotlight on that trap. Here’s what I mean.

Let Me Introduce You to TED*

TED* is an acronym for The Empowerment Dynamic. The Empowerment Dynamic is David Emerald’s resolution of a classic model in psychotherapy, the Karpman Drama Triangle.

The Drama Triangle model points out that in many of our interactions with people, we are looking to place people in one of three roles: Victim, Persecutor (or Aggressor or Perpetrator), and Rescuer. The TED* model provides three healthy alternatives to each of these roles and shows how to move from the negative role in the Dreaded Drama Triangle (called DDT in Emerald’s work) to The Empowerment Dynamic.

Why All This Drama?
Though I’m not familiar with Karpman’s process of creating the model, I have a strong belief about why it’s true and why the concepts are so powerful they can draw us in again and again. They connect with archetypes in stories, basic and fundamental story elements that appear in many different forms but immediately resonate with us. Since our minds are configured so that we understand best in story form, archetypes are very powerful. We don’t have to choose to perceive them. We automatically do. And trying to avoid seeing them is very challenging.

In any situation, we can be drawn by the power of archetype to see ourselves as the Victim: Victim of a person, Victim of fate, Victim of events, Victim of our own past… the possibilities are many. And seeing ourselves as a Victim is to ignore or even deny the power we have in a situation. When we see ourselves as the Victim, we see others, not ourselves, as having the power to change the situation.

Victim Perception, Not Real Victimization
David Emerald makes clear that there is a distinction between an act of victimization, which is real and can cause serious damage, and the mindset of Victimhood, which is a mindset that can be chosen or released. A hostage truly is powerless to get free. A college student who feels trapped on a degree path by family expectations is not powerless.

A Triangle Has Three Sides
To be the victim, we need a Persecutor. This is part of the trap. Assigning the Persecutor role to someone or something hands over our power. The Persecutor – opponent, enemy, faceless system, horrible timing – is seen as the reason something difficult is happening. We believe we can’t stop it, because we are powerless. We need a powerful someone else to step in.

The powerful someone else we are looking for is the Rescuer. Again, truly victimized people need to be rescued sometimes, whether it’s by a medical staff in an emergency department after an accident or roadside assistance towing the car and giving a lift. But the college student who feels trapped on a degree path that really doesn’t fit doesn’t need a Rescuer. The power to speak up and make a change is within the person.

It’s Perception So It Shifts Quickly
The biggest struggle caused by the Drama Triangle trap is that the people in the triangle don’t agree on the roles. Daughter “stuck” in a degree plan sees herself as Victim and demanding mother as Persecutor. Mother sees daughter as potential Victim if she doesn’t have a degree that’s in high demand and can be financially independent, so she sees herself as Rescuer.

Here’s where it can get tricky. Mother can see daughter as the potential Victim of herself, of her own impulsiveness or immaturity, making a ‘reckless’ decision that will lead her to a chaotic, financially insecure future, if she pursues a career in studio art. This means mother sees some part of daughter as daughter’s own Persecutor. Daughter is the Victim, especially daughter in the future. Mother is the Rescuer.

Daughter, of course, doesn’t agree! Mother’s insistence and demanding nature are Persecutor in the daughter’s eyes. Maybe she has tried to get her father or a grandparent to side with her and stop mother, seeking a Rescuer. If so, mother would see the daughter’s ally not as Rescuer but as another Persecutor, someone leading daughter down a dangerous path.

The Rescuer’s Trap
One more caveat. A self-identified Victim can see another person – let’s say it’s you – as the Rescuer at first, but then as the Persecutor in the blink of an eye. A friend has a fight with a boyfriend you consider to be a total jerk. You are supportive and compassionate and help her make tough decisions to move on. She’s so grateful. A week later, when you find out she’s back with the guy, you remind her what she said about him. Now you’re the Persecutor! You’re the enemy trying to keep her from this person who has shifted from Persecutor last week to Rescuer today in her perception.

Such drama! Such conflict! No wonder we go rushing in. But it’s tiring and it’s draining. And it’s not even real. It’s a huge distortion of reality most of the time.

The Empowerment Dynamic
David Emerald proposes the healthy alternative to each of the conflicted roles. The healthy alternative to Victim is Creator: powerful and self-directing. The healthy alternative to Persecutor is Challenger: a person who pushes but not too hard, seeing the ability in you and trusting you are capable of stepping up. The healthy alternative to Rescuer is Coach: a person who sees you as a capable, powerful Creator and is focused on how you can embrace that power and create what you desire.

We all fall repeatedly into the Drama Triangle. It’s almost as consistent as gravity. The good news is that we can learn ways to disengage from this particular kind of gravity and step out of Victimhood when we recognize it.

But we will always slip back in again. Even David Emerald and his wife Donna Zajonc do so. They told us that. It just happens a little less often, and there’s a way out so it doesn’t last once you recognize it. Check out the Power of TED* website and read David’s book to learn how.

Application: Start listening to your words and thoughts to identify the cues that you are perceiving yourself as Victim. Listen for blame, listen for excuses, listen for powerlessness, and listen for vilification. The harsher you view of another person, the more likely it is you are in the Victim role and that person is in the Persecutor role. When you catch the pattern happening, pause and identify where your true power is.

Question: What type of situation is most likely to have Drama Triangle gravity for you?

Hopefully you can see the irony in me longing for October 2nd to tell me the challenges of the Prism Award event would be over. Leading up to a day of learning about withdrawing ourselves from the Drama Triangle, I was seeing myself as a Victim of the little hassles and struggles we were facing. The details of the event were my Persecutor. The deadline would be my Rescuer.

It turned out to be a fantastic, memorable day. My Victimhood was over shortly after the day began. I’ll fall again and again into the Victim role, so I’m grateful I have this example of stepping out of that role and into the power of the Creator role.

May you be an agile, empowered Creator on your trail.

Take Care,

Stephen Coxsey, MA, PCC
Professional Certified Coach (ICF)
Self Empowerment and Leadership

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About Steve Coxsey

Steve collaborates with his clients to design and implement a customized plan for success, well-being, and fulfillment for themselves and the people they lead. They thrive on a personally meaningful path and instill a culture of thriving wherever they lead.

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