So I have this magnet on the front of my filing cabinet – a panda lying flat on it’s back in a bed of ferns, and the caption reads:
Sometimes I think I understand everything
… then I regain consciousness
It’s an experience I’ve had a number of times, and it happened again a couple weeks ago. Exploring at the edges, my edges, is one of my top values, and so I’m not unhappy when this happens – I’m actually excited at what might be possible, and this was no exception.
The center magnet on the top drawer of
my filing cabinet …
This time, the focus was my need to get clearer about what was happening in me when I found myself challenged by a client to recognize the value of being in (what has for me been) the very uncomfortable space of victim.
Her challenge catapulted me into an exploration that’s taken many forms, and included rich conversations with many in the remarkable community that surrounds me, including my husband Bruce, and my friend, colleague, mentor and coach Lissa Boles. My musings below are a distillation and reflection of these.
As Life would have it, the day before that challenge, I’d heard a powerful quote from Bessel van der Kolk. He said:
“Victims are members of society whose problems represent the memory of suffering, rage and pain in a world that longs to forget …”
It is true, for many of us, the voice of victim is an uncomfortable one. When I first heard my client’s request, for a moment I was stunned. It was hard for me to conceive that there might be value in the voice of victim.I’m not keen on being in any of the 3 spaces that are down in the bottom of my model the Cycle of Learning and Growing, and described in much more detail in Sonia Levine’s handout about what’s commonly called the Karpman Triangle. But in my own life, I’m much more familiar with being in the other two spaces – persecutor/perpetrator and rescuer.
While absolutely not a comfortable place to be, over the last couple weeks, I’ve come to recognize the power, potency, and essential value for all of us of the voice of victim.
The 3 magnets on the front of my filing cabinet – possibility, expanded consciousness, & courage
– all important themes for me …
The voice of victim is valuable – and it keeps coming back because in the world we live in, people are repetitively victimized … it’s not just because they’re not letting go, it’s because they keep getting hurt – again and again!
The voice of victim calls us to the places in the world where healing, change, and justice are called for, and until the pain of the absence of this is truly acknowledged, the voice of victim feels under-recognized and unheard.
The voice of victim is valuable because it calls us to the places where something is missing. It is calling for a response, and until we can respond with a deeply witnessing – “I hear you, I recognize your pain, and I won’t ignore it. It’s totally real, you’re not crazy … and I will do my part to make a difference here”, the voice of victim will continue to be heard.
It’s not that they’re ‘not ready’ – that they ‘want’ to stay victims. It’s that it’s not time to be silent. The conditions of victimization are still in place. There’s still stuff happening.
To quote Lissa Boles’ inimitable words, “The voice of victim calls bullshit!” It draws attention to the cumulative conglomeration of trauma, and, even when the most subtle of violations has taken place, the inner knowing that something just happened.
The voice of victim often rises in a way that seems to be an over-reaction that’s out of proportion to what just happened, but when you take into consideration the cumulative trauma of being repetitively victimized and gaslighted, that’s not the case!
Often, neither the victim, nor the persecutor realize that they’re actually facing the cumulative scream of a victim calling “Enough bullshit!” And the persecutor ends up saying “What is wrong with you?! It’s not so bad!”
We can keep our focus ‘out there’ on the victim, because we don’t want to look at (it’s too painful for us to see) the way that we have perpetrated, or are part of the system that has perpetrated, these actions that are so socially acceptable they’re not recognized as violations. We’re often genuinely puzzled, and our refrain is “It’s not me, I didn’t do this, I’m your friend and ally – I’m on your side!”
And the familiar painful dance continues. Feeling that we’re being victimized because we’re being accused, the conversation can turn into a competition around ‘who’s the bigger victim?’. Or, if we stay in the role of the more ‘pure persecutor’, can say something like “You’re crazy!” Either way often keep our focus ‘out there’ on the victim, rather than looking at what’s happening inside of us.
Those of us wanting to be allies are often ‘rescuers’, and get frustrated because we can’t help – can’t fix or make the victims feel better, or act nicer. It’s painful to not have our genuine caring be accepted. So we join in, adding our voices to the chorus of “What is wrong with you, can’t you see I’m trying to help you?!” and with that, we dance back over into the persecutor role … and the old painful patterns we’ve found ourselves in continue.
The reality is that, like the victim, persecutors/perpetrators and rescuers all need safety and space in order to be able to pause and recognize the pain that we’re in as a result of our experiences. And especially when we’re first approaching and acknowledging the ways we’ve been part of perpetuating the systems that victims have been experiencing – whether these are systems focused on ability, age, gender, race, sexual expression, or education, to name a few. Most of us have been in the victim role in at least one of these, and many find themselves at the intersection of a number of them.
While the impulse to do so is completely understandable,
whenever we deny that safety and space to anyone,
we are squandering the power to make a difference that we do have.
Life is calling us all into figuring out how to be us in this bigger space that we’ve not yet managed to co-create. And as long as we continue to dance around in the victim, persecutor, rescuer spaces – because that’s what we humans have done for millenia – we’ll continue to get the same results we always have.
The Bessel van der Kolk quote isn’t only about victims. It’s about our society at large. The system in which each of us participates.
We’re in this together and all have a role to play. There actually is no ‘out there’.
And the recognition of this may be our first step in looking at our part, our role, our feelings – and begin to be curious about and courageous in attending first to the discomfort within us. This’ll free up energy to attend to and make our unique contributions in the arenas in which we long for change, and came here intending to make a difference.
There’s SO MUCH MORE to explore here! And if you feel drawn, I’d love for you to join me and others in our community during our daytime, no cost, At Home with Maralyn & Friends call. We’ll gather again this Tuesday March 13 on our Maestro line at 1:00 pm ET. If it works for you, I’d love to hear your voice then. If you’ve never joined us before, click here to register.
Oh, Maralyn, this is beautiful and just what I needed today – the taking out of shame like a large sliver that has been removed while still seeing the wound and ache left behind. Thank you, thank you.
I’m so glad this was resonant for you Maggie, and what a powerful metaphor you’ve named here! Holding you as you gently tend to that wound and ache that (without the sliver) and with your attentiveness will have a chance to truly mend. This is such an important conversation for so many of us, isn’t it?!