What We Focus On Expands; How to Stop Playing Victim In Your Life

It is a rainy winter day in Indiana. My dog and I went on a walk early this morning and got muddy and dirty like little kids. Now I am happy to be sipping warm coffee and reading emails from my clients who are making amazing progress in their lives. How lucky am I?

This is the fourth post in the Cleaning Out Your Stuff series. To start the exercise at the beginning go here.

A very important aspect of cleaning out our stuff is figuring out what role we are playing in being stuck. In this instance when I say role, I mean the perspective that is holding you in place. If there is a story that you continue to tell yourself you might not notice it is a pattern until you start examining your stuff. If you have been walking around believing something because it has played over and over in your mind for so long, like a broken record, how would you know to turn it off? You wouldn’t, not without pausing and really examining the track.

For this I want to introduce the drama triangle. The drama triangle is a model of social interaction and conflict developed by Dr. Stephen Karpman. There are three roles in this triangle, The VICTIM, the RESCUER, and the PROSECUTOR. Here is a diagram:

Drama Triangle.png

This concept has evolved a lot of over the years—and one way that I use it in coaching is to try to identify what parts of me are acting like what part of the drama triangle. For instance, my part that I call Shame could be considered the PERSECUTOR—always telling me that I am not good enough and projecting guilt so that I feel bad all of the time and then The Doer part in me could be considered the RESCUER, she always steps in and wants to take action to help things get better. But as you can see here….these parts only function if there is a part of me that is playing VICTIM. The idea behind the drama triangle and the methodology is that if you STOP playing your role—either internally or outwardly to the other participants in the triangle—then the triangle cannot exist and the pattern ends. You can use this tool in your relationships to examine what role you often play and how by playing that role you are A. Holding yourself back and B. Holding the people you love back. For instance, if you are constantly rescuing the people you love..how can you have time for yourself?

So today we are going to see if there is a part of you that is playing VICTIM in any way and we are going to work to end the cycle.

*it is important to note here again about trauma and real victimhood: in no way am I saying that if something terrible has happened that you are responsible. Anytime we are dealing with real trauma and real (physical and mental) abuse it needs to be taken very seriously by a professional. If you think there is an area where this is more serious for you I request that you do not participate in these exercises and you see a mental health professional. I am happy to recommend resources upon request, teresa@teresasabatine.com)

Let’s say you are sitting in traffic. You are late. In the morning you just could not get out of bed and then your dog wouldn’t eat his breakfast and you spilled coffee on your pants. Now you are in the car and the meeting you are supposed to be at in 15 minutes is going to start without you and you are frustrated. What do you choose to do? Do you choose to take a few deep breaths and send a few messages to colleagues and then put on your favorite song? Or do you sit and become more frustrated with the drivers around you? You start blaming the interstate structure and the fact that they built the 405 without thinking about all of the people that would move here and need to drive at 8am. You start wondering why the hell you even moved to LA in the first place, I should have known there would be traffic and that it would be hard and I hate this place. *VICTIM

Or let’s say your partner has spewed her clothes all over the bed in your bedroom because she was stressed that morning and she couldn’t find something to wear (totally guilty of this, by the way). You come home…the clothes are everywhere and your wife is nowhere to be found. You stand there frustrated, you need organization to function well, things must be in their place. Why can’t your wife see that? Why doesn’t she understand that this is important to you? And why can’t she JUST FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET DRESSED? *PERSECUTOR and VICTIM.

Notice how none of these things are ever said out loud. You don’t persecute your wife, because that would be mean. You know better than to outwardly say these things to her but what do you think that victimhood and persecution is doing to your nervous system? All that negativity? Do you think it is seeping down into your bones and making you feel icky? Yes, yes it is. And is it making the clothes disappear from the bed and returning your house to the organized space you need it to be? No.

Let’s dive a little deeper than traffic and a messy home. Let’s say you have ended a relationship. However it ended, it is over. You are a bit heartbroken but some time has passed and you’ve been doing the work to feel better. Now you start to think about returning to the dating world, to “putting yourself out there” and trying to find love again. Thoughts start to bubble to the surface and this comes up. “If he would have just done this…and if he would have just noticed this…and if I return to the dating world…I don’t think anyone will ever be able to do those things…I did my best, I tried everything and nothing worked, it’s never going to work. As a matter of fact it is me that is the problem. I am the problem. I am unlovable.” *VICTIM

Are you getting the pattern here? Any narrative that exists in your mind that has to do with you not having control over how you feel, how you react, what happens to you is a VICTIM narrative. And listen, it is fair and valid to feel this way, but is that how you want to feel? Like you don’t have a say? Like things are just happening to you and this is the way it has to be? I don’t think you do.

We can find a million reasons to feel a certain way. What we focus on, expands. There will always be a persecutor if we are looking for one or if we are playing victim. We will always see the possibility that we could be rescued and that something outside of us could make us feel better. But what happens when our rescuer leaves? Or the thing that made us feel better only lasts for 30 minutes (substances/working out/TV). We will always be left with ourselves, holding the perspective that we choose and feeling the way that perspective makes us feel.

So what can you do? Well first of all, just even thinking about this concept and understanding it, is a step in the right direction. But here is my exercise for you today:


Get a piece of paper and a writing utensil. If you have them, get a few different colored pencils or markers. Now take a few minutes to think about any perspective you hold that is a victim perspective. As you think of them, write them down on the piece of paper with one color. If you are having trouble knowing what a victim perspective is ask yourself a few of these questions:

  • Where in my life am I giving my power away?

  • Where am I blaming?

  • Where am I acting as if I don’t have a say?

  • What activity do I notice most gets in the way of what I want? What is the story behind that activity?

The goal here is to have at least 3 victim narratives identified. Once you have at least 3 (sometimes when I do this I have like 6 or 8!) I want you to think about a different perspective that makes you feel like you have control and takes the blame away from someone else. Use a different color to write these perspectives down on your paper. For example.

Victim Narrative: I can’t believe I have to move again. I am so tired of moving, if I was just married and on the right path I wouldn’t be moving every year.

Other perspective: A new apartment might bring new energy to my life and help get rid of a bunch of stuff! And I would feel like a badass minimalist.

Victim Narrative: My boss is so frustrating. He doesn’t give me any leadership or help me grow. I can’t meet these sales goals without that help.

Other perspective: My boss believes in me and he gives me the freedom to do my job without him interfering. How wonderful that he trusts me! If he thinks I can do it, then I must be able to do it!

As you can see, these new perspectives are a lot more fun. And they also open us up to possibility instead of close the door. Can you imagine how you would feel if you could hold these perspectives more often?

The last step of this exercise is to look around at the new perspectives and choose one you want to embody. Which perspective jumps off of the page for you?


After you have identified this new perspective I want you to make a commitment to yourself to turn to that perspective when you find yourself in victim mode. Try this for a week. Document what comes up for you. How does it feel to think this way? What is possible now that you are holding this perspective? What is one action you can take now that you are thinking from this perspective?

You can use this perspective exercise for more than just playing the victim. You can use it to solve a problem you are stuck in, to make a big decision and get out all of the thoughts surrounding that decision.

Let me know how your cleaning out the stuff exercises are going in the comments below or shoot me an email! teresa@teresasabatine.com


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