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Caught in a Drama Triangle or Real Victim?

Uploaded 1/28/2021, approx. 44 minute read

Today is the Vaknin Trifecta. Three strikes and you're out. So I'm out.

Apropos trifecta and three strikes. Are you caught in a drama triangle? Vaknin, you ask. What is a drama triangle?

Well, that's what I'm here for, your favorite professor of psychology and the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, and Revisited, and Revisited.

The Cartman drama triangle is a particular case of triangles and triangulation in general, which we're going to discuss a bit later.

The drama triangle is actually a social model and it's a social model of any human interaction. It maps a type of destructive interaction that occurs among people in conflict. The conflict could be in an interpersonal relationship, could be in business, could be among friends, even technically among nations. So there are three actors in the drama, which is why triangle.

The first class of actors are the oppressors or the persecutors.

The second class are victims. The third class are rescuers or saviors.

And the reason it's called a drama triangle is that Stephen Cartman, who came up with the eponymous Cartman triangle, was actually an actor. And he didn't want to call it a conflict triangle because it was, you know, not new wave enough. So he called it a drama triangle because he was an actor.

And the thing is that in his model, people are acting. It's very important to understand.

The victim in his model is not an actual victim. It's someone who is feeling like a victim and above all acting as a victim.

Cartman clearly believed that people act. They are given roles. And these roles are known in family system theory as emergent roles. They are given roles. They are allocated roles. They are allocated roles by intimate partners, allocated roles by society, by friends, by family. And then they either accept these roles or they reject these roles. And once they accept these roles, they act the roles.

His first article, Stephen Cartman's article was titled Fairy Tales and Script Drama Analysis. And he analyzed, believe it or not, Little Red Riding Hood as a model of conflict, reminiscent very much of Bruno Battleheim, who was both a con artist and a brilliant lay psychologist.

Cartman at the time was just a graduate of Duke University. And he studied under Erich Fromm.

Erich Fromm wrote the seminal book, Games People Play, which I cannot emphasize enough that you should read.

And he is the father of transactional analysis, which is an extremely powerful form of psychotherapy.

And so they kind of meshed together and Byrne took the concept of drama triangle and introduced it into structural analysis and transactional analysis.

What is this drama trial? It's the connection between personal responsibility. Remember my previous lecture where I kept calling you to accept personal responsibility for what's happening to you.

So the triangle connects personal responsibility and power in situations of conflict.

And the triangle implies that people are playing roles. And now these roles are shifting. They could shift suddenly from victim to abuser. They could shift from abuser to rescuer.

But usually these shifts are destructive.

So we more commonly we discuss destructive triangles, although in principle, there could definitely be constructive triangles.

And so again, I remind you that three roles in the triangle. There are two up positions, persecutor and rescuer. And there's one down position. The down position is victim.

And of course, if you organize two ups and one down, you get a triangle, an inverted triangle.

What is the victim? The victim is not an actual victim, as I said, someone who is feeling and acting like a victim.

And the position of the victim in the triangle is poor me. Poor me, I'm victimized. I'm oppressed. I'm denied my needs. I'm helpless. I'm hopeless and powerless. I'm ashamed. I'm unable to make decisions. I'm unable to solve problems. I'm unable to progress with my life. I don't take pleasure in life. I'm unhedonic. I don't achieve insight.

In short, I'm dysphoric.

And if the victim is not persecuted, that's bad because the victim has a role and he is used to being a victim. It's like you were given a script and then none of the actors showed up. The movie can't go on.

So what the victim does, the victim goes and looks for a persecutor.

And this process is called projective identification. It's when the victim tries to convert people, for example, an intimate partner to act as an abuser or to act as a persecutor in order to preserve the functioning of the triangle within a comfort zone.

And similarly, the victim seeks a rescuer.

So victims always seek two functions, persecutor and rescuer, a savior who will save the day, but at the same time perpetuate the victim's negative feelings about himself or herself and the environment and other people.

Because if you need saving, if you need to be saved, you're in a really, really problematic place. The rescuer's line is, let me help you. I'm here to help you. It's an enabler.

And rescuers actually feel guilty if they don't go to the rescue.

But rescuing is a negative function, not a positive one, because it keeps the victim dependent. It doesn't allow the victim permission to experiment, to fail, to experience consequences of choices and decisions, to go through pain and hurt and process them. All the coaches and self-styled experts online, they are rescuers. They enable your victim status, your victim mentality and your victim stance.

And that's exceedingly bad for you as far as your mental health. And the rewards to the rescuer are enormous. The rewards are enormous.

The focus, first of all, shifts from the rescuer to someone else.

So it's like by taking over someone else's life, by micromanaging someone else's decisions, choices, partners, they kind of fend off the need to think about their own lives, to focus on their own problems and responsibilities and chores and functions and roles. It's a defense.

A rescuer engages in defensive tactics. He or she cannot or she cannot actually cope with her own life. So she's a busybody. She takes over other people's lives.

And rescuers in studies have been shown to have high anxiety and multiple mental health issues. You're warned.

When you find a rescuer online, who poses as an expert or a coach or whatever, that's someone with serious mental health problems and extreme anxiety.

And you are the instrument for reducing this anxiety. You are their new addiction. You are their source of supply.

The rescue role is pivotal because the actual primary interest of the rescuer is avoidance of their own problems. It is disguised as altruism, empathy, concern for victims' needs, but it's none of the above.

And finally, there's a role of the persecutor, the villain. It's a morality play. Remember, it's a drama because Cartman was an actor. So the persecutor or the villain, his line is, it's all your fault. Alloplastic defenses. It's not my responsibility. I did nothing wrong. I am either misunderstood or I'm maligned and conspired against. That's the paranoid posture, opposition.

The persecutor is controlling. He's blaming, he's critical, oppressive, angry, authoritarian, rigid and superior. In short, a typical persecutor would have very pronounced narcissistic strains.

So the drama triangle arises when someone takes on the role of a persecutor, another person takes on the role of a victim, and a third person takes on the role of a savior.

And there, the drama unfolds. It's a theater play. It's a movie with three participants, each of these three, wants to enlist others, so collaboration emerges organically.

The persecutor also is searching for a victim and a rescuer. The rescuer is searching for a victim and a persecutor.

Only when they areall three of them within the triangle, they feel whole. They feel whole because they identify with their roles. They acquire identity through the functioning of the triangle.

Studies have shown that the rescuer is encouraged by both the victim and the persecutor to enter the situation.

It's not true that only the victim enlists the savior. The persecutor has a hand in it too. He sometimes pushes the victim towards the third party and that third party opposes or pretends to be the savior.

And so these players, these three players, they take roles of their own and these roles are not static.

And so you could have multiple scenarios. The victim suddenly can turn on the rescuer and cast him as a bad guy. And the rescuer then will react by becoming a persecutor. And then the persecutor will defend the victim, protect the victim and become a savior.

So the roles are in flux all the time. And the reason the whole situation goes on, the reason the theater play is never ending in effect is that each participant have unconscious psychological wishes and needs and the triangle meets caters to these needs without having to acknowledge a broader dysfunction, without having to point out the harm and the damage done in the situation as the whole.

And by the way, the damage is not limited to the victim. The persecutor's mental dysfunctions and mental disorders are aggravated and amplified within the triangle.

The savior's mental dysfunctions and disorders are the same. Everyone is worse off for having participated in the destructive triangle. Each participant is acting upon selfish needs. Each participant is highly entitled and narcissistic or egotistic at least.

There's no genuine altruistic response here. There's no real empathy. It's all fake, fake belief, make-belief. It's all not real. It's all unreal. It's renouncing reality.


So as Cartman wrote, any character might ordinarily come on like a plaintive victim. It is now clear that the one can switch into the role of persecutor, providing it is accidental and the one apologizes for it.

So a victim can actually become an abuser. We call it overlay. A victim can suddenly adopt the role of a narcissist or a psychopath and we know that victims of complex trauma, CPTSD, are indistinguishable from borderline and many of them display behaviors which are actually the behaviors of secondary psychopaths, psychopaths with empathy and emotion. So victims can and do become abusers within the triangle, multiply, but as opposed to the persecutor, the victim would say, this was an accident or I was just reacting, that's reactive abuse. I had the right to react this way.

The irony is that the persecutor perceives himself to be the victim in the triangle and so he also is likely to use the very same arguments.

The motivations of the rescuer are the least obvious. We know victim. We know persecutor.

These are classic roles. What's the savior doing there? Why is he there? He has covert motives. He has mixed motives. His benefits are what we call egoic benefits. He being the one who rescues caters to his grandiosity, provides him with narcissistic supply. He has a surface motive and the surface motive is that he's trying to resolve the problem. He is making great efforts to help everybody, especially the victim, but this is facade. This is a veneer. It's fake. It's fake. It's faint because the real reason rescuers rescue and savior save and coaches and experts help you, quote unquote, is actually to not save you, to not rescue you, to not succeed.

They need to perpetuate your victimhood status because this caters to their grandiosity and they need this. They get a self-esteem boost.

To be a rescuer, to be in a rescue status, that's highly dignified. That's respected. That's socially commendable. They derive pride, satisfaction, narcissistic supply, enjoyment. They love that people depend on them and trust them. They love, so they act in a way that looks as though they are empathic and trying really to help, but at a deeper level, they sabotage you. They undermine your healing. They prevent you from recovery. They don't let you grow up. Growing up is only, you can grow up only via crisis and friction with reality and pain. Pain is the engine of growth. They don't let you experience this. They shift the blame and the guilt and everything onto the abuser and absolve you like the old Catholic Church used to do with indulgences. They absolve you from all your sins. They take away your personal responsibility. They teach you learned helplessness, which is a topic we're going to discuss a bit later because they want to continue to have their payoff and so the relationship between the victim and the rescuer is actually what today we call codependency.

The rescuer keeps the victim dependent by encouraging her victimhood. The victim gets their needs met as well by having the rescuer take care of them. The victim infantilizes. The victim regresses to a childhood phase. She becomes a child totally helpless and it is the savior or the rescuer who is there in the parental role.

Remember the shared fantasy?

Rescuers and victims create shared a shared fantasy very much a replica of the shared fantasy with the original abuser. It is therefore a form of narcissistic abuse and so people who participate in the triangle have a primary role. Let's call it a role of habit habitual role. So they are either victims, usually rescuers typically, persecutors gleefully when they enter the triangle.

But they start with the habitual roles because the habitual roles are roles that they had studied as children in the family of origin. They were parentified so they become rescuers. They were rejected and ignored by a dead mother so they become victims or they become persecutors. The family of origin conditions the person, teaches the person the emergent role in adulthood. And this is the emergent role that the adult brings into the drama triangle and participants each have a role. That's very true. They identify with this role and they usually enact this role.

But once you are in the triangle the triangle has a life of its own. It's like the Bermuda triangle. You vanish and you have a life of your and the triangle has a life of its own. And the triangle rotates you and before you know it you find yourself a persecutor. And before you know it as a persecutor you find yourself saving the victim from the alleged savior who had become a persecutor. It's rotation.

Each triangle is a payoff for the people playing inside the triangle.

And how to emerge from this triangle?

Because the triangle is a giant sucking sound. How to get rid of this?

Triangle is a good way of describing trauma bonding for example.

So how do you get rid of it?

You deprive the actors of the payoff and we will discuss it a bit later. You prevent them from getting any payoff. You don't give narcissistic supply to the rescuer. You don't automatically accept the victim who stuns and victim mentality of the victim. And you punish or you incentivize the persecutor to stop persecuting.

You take the payoff away. You empower for example the victim and the persecutor doesn't have power anymore.

So because persecutors are addicted to power, to having power, it's powerfully like in rape. Now the Cartman triangle is one of many triangles. There's a theory of triangulation. It was first published in 1966 by Murray Bowen, B-N. And it's part of his family systems theory which to my mind is the most powerful theory of what's happening inside your head. Most powerful theory of the mind in psychology and my favorite.

Murray Bowen worked mostly with schizophrenics. And I'm not going into details now but schizophrenics give you a window into the mind that no other mental disorder can provide with the exception perhaps of narcissists and borderlines. And that's why perhaps Kernberg thought that narcissists, borderlines and psychotics are one and the same almost.

Anyhow Bowen came up with the concept of triangulation.

Here is what he said originally. Triangulation is a process whereby a two-party relationship that is experiencing tension will naturally involve third parties to reduce this tension.

So when people find themselves in conflict, they reach out to someone else. You know, you have a fight with your wife, she goes to her mother. You had a fight with your wife, your brother, batsim. You had a fight with your wife, she picks up another man in your face.

So these are all forms of triangulation introducing a third person to regulate the environment of the dyad, the environment of the couple.

And the resulting triangle actually is very functional and much more comfortable than the original dyad, the original couple, because it can contain much more tension.

Why? Because the tension is shifted. So even in case of cheating, amazingly, actually cheating, which is classic triangulation, it's introducing a third intimate partner into what should have been an exclusive relationship, even there are improvements in anxiety, tension, and inter-couple conflict.

That's why many men joke that their cheating wives are much more easy to get along with.

So triangulation reduces anxiety, tension, and increases, enhances the functioning of the original couple, strangely.

So he suggested two concepts.

One is differentiation and one is triangles. And he said, he used the word triangle and not triad, because he said the triangles are integral part of relationships, even relationships of two people, couples.

So if you leave a couple to evolve, most couples oscillate between closeness and distance, approach and avoidance. These are minor oscillations.

If one of the members of the couple is a narcissist, or if he has any mental health issue, especially cluster B personality disorders, the approach avoidance will be extreme. But approach avoidance is a repetition compulsion feature of most couples.

We all feel suffocated at times and withdraw and avoid. And we all feel the need for intimacy and love and compassion and being held. And so we approach, this is an integral part of the dynamics of any couple.

And so this creates imbalances. And most of the time, the imbalances can be resolved internally, especially if there is good communication, but sometimes they cannot.

And then the only solution is to introduce a third party.

Now, the third party could be a family member, third party could be a couple therapist, marital therapist, but the third party could be a lover. The third party could be someone to flirt with.

Any third party actually brings forward some resolution of the conflict, some resolution of the approach avoidance.

Now, the resolution could be a dissolution of the couple. If the couple is sufficiently dysfunctional, it causes harm to its members. It's better to dissolve it.

And sometimes the trigger, the push necessary to dissolve it is the introduction of a third party, but that's a positive development, not a negative development because exiting the dysfunctional couple, exiting the dysfunctional dyad, where there's a lot of tension, a lot of depression, a lot of negative emotionality and affectivity.

What's wrong with it? It's a good thing. And very often love affairs are the bridges to the dissolution of such couples, which are not good, not healthy, and should be dissolved.

So in general, triangulation is actually a good thing.

Again, contradicting everything you hear online from one of the experts and self-styled experts.

Bowen introduced it as a good concept.

And so he said that to stabilize the relationship, the couple often seek the aid of a third party to help reestablish closeness. A triangle is the smallest possible relationship system that can restore balance in types of stress.

The third person assumes an outside position, even if he's a lover, it's still an outside position. The couple has primary, it has primacy.

And so even a lover defers to the couple. If push comes to shut, the lover walks away, the couple remains.

When the stress, the outside position is very comfortable and very desired position, very gratifying. The inside position has the anxiety, the inside position has the tension, the fights are between the members of the couple.

The lover, or the outsider, or the therapist, or the friend, or the family, they benefit. They benefit because they're in position of a sage, of a guru, they enjoy sex. They get the benefits, friends with benefits. All the hard work goes on inside the couple.

But this is exactly what generates the emotional closeness that restores the couple.

The outsider serves to preserve the inside couple's relationship.

Bowen said that not all triangles are constructive, some are destructive, but most triangles are actually constructive.


Here's another new thing you're learning, triangulation is healthy.

What about abusers, narcissists, psychopaths, run of the mill abusers? What about them?

Well, they tend to create pathological or perverse triangles.

Nathan Ackerman, in 1968, described a destructive triangle, and he wrote, we observe certain constellations of family interactions, which we have epitomized as the pattern of family interdependence. Roles, those of destroyer or persecutor, the victim of the scapegoating attack, and the family healer or the family doctor.

Ackerman recognized the pattern of attack, defense, counter-attack as shifting roles within a destructive or pathological triangle.

Okay. I said that Cartman, and even I would say Bowen and Ackerman, they all think that the victim is an act. You're acting the role of a victim.

Tomorrow you can act the role of an abuser, easily. The decision is yours. The switch is possible, totally. It's 100% your decision. You're a victim.

In other words, it is implied, but not said because it's politically incorrect and it's taboo, and you're not supposed to say this, but the victim chooses to be a victim. The victim chooses a role in the triangle she could easily shift.

So what's the difference between this and victim playing?

We discussed victim blaming in the previous video. This is not about victim blaming. It's about understanding the intricacies of being a victim, the existential state of victimhood.

So what's the difference between Cartman, Bowen, Ackerman, the triangle, and what is called victim playing or playing the victim card or self-victimization?

The difference is that the victim in triangles maintains reality testing. She usually remembers what had happened. She usually describes more or less accurately. She may exaggerate, but there will be a kernel of truth to what she's saying. It will all be reality-based.

Victim playing is the fabrication, lying about abuse, exaggeration of victimhood to the extreme. And this is done in order to justify the abuse of others, to manipulate other people.

There's a coping strategy because of attention seeking or because of a wish to diffuse responsibility, to push it away, to pass the buck.

So victim playing is very common with abusers, actually.

Abusers play the victim. And with victims who are essentially narcissistic, psychopathic, borderline, secondary psychopaths, and they use victimhood to kind of disguise their contributions and their responsibility in what had happened, in the abuse.

So we have a set of unsavory characters and our empaths, for example, they engage in victim playing, absolutely 100% in victim playing.

It's a powerful indicator that these people are covert narcissists or psychopathic or at the very least borderline because they are trying to create a morality play and they engage in splitting where someone is all bad, the abuser, and someone is all good, the empath, and they aggrandize themselves in the process.

These are strong indications of narcissistic, pathological narcissistic defenses.

Victim playing by abusers is done in a variety of ways, by dehumanizing the victim, by diverting attention away from acts of abuse, by claiming that the abuse was justified because of the other person's bad behavior. The victim made it happen. She caused it. She provoked me. She asked for it, grooming abusive power and control by soliciting sympathy and empathy and romantic emotions from other people in order to gain something, assistance, access, money, sex, whatever, supporting or enabling the abuse of a victim, abuse by proxy.

So all these are forms of victim playing and abusers frequently play the victim and they play the victim for two reasons.

First of all, justification. Even abusers need to feel egosyntonic.

Many abusers have a self-image and self-perception as good people, morally upright people, people who would never harm a fly.

So they need to justify to themselves, first of all, why they had damaged, caused pain, and hurt another person. This is called in transactional analysis, existential validation.

So many abusers would victim play in order to feel good with themselves, to justify themselves, to deal with a cognitive dissonance because there's an inconsistency. There's a contradiction. There's a conflict between the way they treat other people and what they believe about themselves. They believe about themselves. They're good people. Good people don't abuse.

So if good people don't abuse and I'm a good person, I don't abuse. So what I do is not abuse. It's something else.

Reactive abuse. I've been victimized. I'm just reacting.

And similarly, victim playing justifies to others.

And it's a strategy of avoiding or evading, evading blame and guilt and shame, deflecting judgment or condemnation and ultimately deflecting punishment, social punishment or legal punishment.

Manipulators play the victim role. Who is me? Who is me? Poor me.

Well, look what he's done to me. Look how he destroyed my life. Look, you know, this is to play the victim role.

They portray themselves as victims of circumstances, as victims of someone else's behavior that they had no control over, could not have had knowledge of and could not have predicted or anticipated.

Like a natural disaster, like a virus just happened to them. They're totally passive. They didn't do anything. They didn't contribute anything. They're responsible for nothing. They're not adults. They're poor and pure children.

And so this way, they gain pity or sympathy, empathy, compassion, comfort. They get something from someone.

When you see victim behavior that is goal oriented intended to secure something from you, emotional sustenance, narcissistic supply, sympathy, empathy. If the victim wants something from you, your feedback in some way, shape or form, that's victim play.

Caring and conscientious people, cannot altruistic people, empathic people, cannot stand to see someone suffering. Anyone.

And so manipulators target such people. They find it easy and rewarding to play the victim card.

And that way, they get cooperation and sympathy. And it's highly rewarding. And it's highly successful.

Ryan Williams, Ryan William, William Ryan, wrote the following in 1971 in his book, Blaming the Victim.

Victim's talent for high drama draws people to them like moths to a flame.

Their permanent dire state brings out the altruistic motives in other people. It is difficult to ignore, constant cries for help.

In most instances, however, the help given is of short duration.

And like moths in a flame, helpers quickly get burned. Nothing seems to work to alleviate the victim's miserable situation.

There is no movement for the battle.

Any efforts rescuers make are ignored, belittled, or met with hostility.

No wonder that the rescuers become increasingly frustrated and ultimately walk away.

Jordan Peterson has a whole chapter dedicated to this in his book, 12 Rules.


Okay.

Victim playing is therefore an attention-seeking technique.

And for example, Minkhausen syndrome is a form of victim play. It's a strategy to elicit rescue and being saved. And of course, it's a mechanism to obtain a variety of emotional rewards like narcissistic supply, sympathy, empathy, etc.

You secure feedback, input from the environment, and you are enabled and empowered via victim playing.

Victim playing actually empowers and enables people, but in a bad way.

In a bad way because it doesn't allow progress, evolution, personal growth, and development. It gets you stuck in the same place.

It's like a one trick dog, one trick pony. It's the only trick you know. I need something. I'll play a victim. I need money. I'll play a victim. I need empathy. I'll play a victim. I need to get rid of my husband. I'll play a victim. You know, I'll play a victim. It's the only thing I know how to do.

And the language of playing the victim is all over. I mean, you can find it in corporate settings. You can find it when you interact with your children.

It's a boundary issue. It's a boundary issue because the victim invades, bridges and violates your boundaries in many, many ways.

A typical victim is very disempathic. She lacks empathy.

Watch the previous lecture. And it's very demanding, very clinging and very needy. And it's a bit of a dishonest strategy. It elicits an empowering response, but the victim is not seeking to be empowered.

On the very contrary, the victim wants you to perpetuate her state as a victim because it gets you to do things for her.

Okay.

Transactional analysis distinguishes real victims from people who had adopted the role of victim in bad faith. Authenticity versus bad faith. That's an existentialist approach.

Jean-Paul Sartre.

So there are authentic victims and they're bad faith victims.

What's the difference between the two?

Authentic victims want to stop being victims. They dedicate all their energy, all their thoughts, everything to leverage their capacities to improve their situation and stop being a victim.

Bad faith victims also leverage all their capacities and all their resources in order to remain victims because victimhood works for them. And you will always find any number of unscrupulous gurus, coaches, and experts who will help you to remain a bad faith victim, will help you to get stuck in your victimhood stance because it pays, it's profitable.

And so among the most predictable interpersonal games described by Eric Byrne, he described a game common among victim players.

And he said, so Eric Byrne has a book called Games People Play where he describes games. He casts, recasts, reframes, reformulates interpersonal relationships as games.

And one of the games is victim play.

And he said this game revolves around the sentence, look how hard I've tried, look how hard I've tried and I'm still a victim.

The psychiatrist R. D. Lane, who was an iconoclastic figure in the 60s and 70s, he said it will be difficult in practice to determine whether or not or to what extent a relationship is collusive where one person is predominantly the passive victim by consent.

And when these people are not real victims but merely playing the victims.

It's almost impossible just by observing and analyzing. We can't really tell if someone is an authentic victim or a bad faith victim.

You need to observe that person a very long period of time. And if that person remains a victim for years or months, something's wrong.

It's probably a person who is acting the victim because to be a victim is gratifying, aggrandizing, functional, and guarantees favorable outcomes from an empathic altruistic environment.

The problem is even more intense, more egregious.

Once a pattern of victimization has been internalized, it's kind of double bind when victimhood becomes your identity, becomes who you are. Not what you do, but who you are. It's like an actor in a film, in a movie, and the actor gets confused and he thinks suddenly that he is the character.

Not that he is acting the character, but that he is the character.

Object relations theory explored the way that the false self possesses and creates a permanent sense of victimization, a sense of always being at the hands of something external.

Because what is the false self? The false self is not you. It's out there. It's an external entity and you are fully hostage of that false self.

From the age of two or four or six or nine at the maximum, you had been kidnapped by the false self. You had become a hostage.

So of course you will naturally evolve into a victim and adopt a victim mentality.

That's why all narcissists would tell you that they are victims because they are victims. They self-victimize. They surrender themselves, subjugate themselves to the hands of this monarch, this idol, this god, the false self.

It's a form of human sacrifice. They sacrifice the true self in this form of idolatry.

And to break the hold of the negative complex and to escape the passivity of victimhood, that requires to take responsibility of your own life, your choices, your decisions, your desires, your long-term actions. And taking responsibility is very frightening.

Existentially, starting with Kierkegaard, Sartre, you name it, all the existentialists will tell you that angst, existential anxiety is because you have a choice, because you can choose.

And why do we elect dictators? Why do we give power to dictators?

Because together with the power, dictators take away from us personal responsibility.

The message of the dictator is, leave it to me, you're no longer responsible. Things go bad. It's not your fault. You're not to blame, you're not guilty.

We want to get rid of personal responsibility.

And one of the major ways we avail ourselves of the burden of responsibility and angst is by becoming a victim.

Because victims are passive. They're not responsible. Poor me.

And this is, of course, what is known as learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is when someone endured, had endured repeated aversive stimuli. In other words, when someone had been exposed to very unpleasant situations, time and again and again. That's why it's learned. It's learned because you learn to expect bad things to happen to you. Bad things happen also to good people.

So, learned helplessness is your reaction, your fatalistic reaction, your deterministic reaction. Your belief that the world will only meet out to you, give you bad cards. That you will always experience only bad things. That things will never be right. That you will endure only pain and hurt. And that's what you can expect from your relationships, from your intimate partners, from your children, from your business colleagues, from the world at large. This is learned helplessness.

And until recently, we thought that people accept their powerlessness. At the beginning, they try. They flail about. They try to escape. They try to change things. They try to avoid unpleasant, aversive, hurtful and painful situations. They try everything.

But even when they had failed in everything they had tried, they learned to accept that they are helpless. And even when we show them that they are not helpless, that there are other options, they have already learned helplessness.

So, they want countenance. They won't even consider our advice. They want, they would deny that there are any options, any exit strategies.

They are deeply enmeshed, mired in, immersed and embedded in helplessness, end of story. They are unable to contemplate any alternative.

And so, this is what we have believed until recently.

But recently, we are coming to the conclusion that it is helplessness that is learned.

Our natural state is a state of helplessness.

So, sorry, let me repeat. Lately, we have come to the conclusion that it is helpfulness that is learned.

We learn helpfulness. We learn that we can help ourselves. We learn that there are solutions, options, exit strategies, ways out.

But this we learn. We are born and we spend the first few years of our lives helpless.

So, helplessness is not learned. It's the natural state.

We need to emerge from helplessness, to emerge from victimhood by learning that we can help ourselves.

And so, in human beings, helplessness is intimately connected with self-efficacy.

The more we learn skills, the more we acquire knowledge, the more efficient we become in obtaining goals, securing favorable outcomes from the environment, from our environment, human environment, natural environment, the more efficacious we are, the less helpless we feel.

Helplessness and self-efficacy counterbalance each other. The higher this one is, the lower this one is, and vice versa.

We are born with helplessness and we acquire learned self-efficacy.

In the individual's belief, in the innate ability, capacity to obtain goals is the foundation of self-efficacy, sometimes called its self-esteem or self-confidence. It's wrong, but it's close approximation.

The more helpless you feel, and you are 100 percent helpless as a victim, let it be clear, the message that you are getting from coaches and experts and all these con artists, crowd of con artists online, is you're helpless, you're a victim, there's nothing you could have done.

They teach you helplessness, and over time helplessness always leads to and results in clinical depression and other mental illnesses.

I want you to understand that you are risking your mental health. A state of victimhood is a state of learned helplessness, is a state of incipient depression and other severe mental illnesses.

If you have a real or perceived absence of control over your life, over the outcomes of situations, you want to die. Life is not worth living.

An external locus of control is the most horrible thing that can happen to a person.

That's why narcissists in many ways should be pitied, because they have 100 total external locus of control, and they really can't do anything about it, unless they use cold therapy.


So recently, so this is a death verdict, a psychological death verdict.

American psychologist Martin Seligman initiated research on learned helplessness in 1967 at the University of Pennsylvania, and he was actually an expert on depression. He saw so many cases of learned helplessness and depression. Then he said, well, let's get to grips with it. Let's study what this is, what this thing is.

It seems to be the core of depression, self-victimizing, victimhood and helplessness of the core of depression.

And so, his and later many others, Meyer, others, they experimented with dogs, and these are amazing experiments. I advise you to go online and look for videos on Seligman-Meyer experiments with learned helplessness.

And they reach a conclusion that there is only one cure for helplessness.

Seligman discovered that dogs don't try to escape. He had ministered to them on kinds of shocks, and they didn't try to escape.

And he asked himself why the dogs are not trying to escape. He made it possible for them to escape if they wanted to, but they didn't want to. And he asked why they decided to not escape. Why did they decided to endure suffering? Why did they decided, in other words, why these dogs had decided to become victims?

And his answer was because they expect that nothing they do will stop the shocks.

The dogs lost all self-efficacy. The dogs said to himself, listen here, there's nothing I can do about this cruel, sadistic human, Seligman. Nothing I can do. I have to sit here in the cage and be electrocuted. I'm at his mercy. He's my abuser. I'm a victim. I'm a canine victim. And I'm sure that had these dogs lived today, there would have been coaches and experts online catering to their victimhood status.

And so what they, the experimenters tried to teach the dogs to get rid of learned helplessness.

So what they did, they took the dogs and they moved their legs, replicating escape, replicating running away. And gradually, the dogs learned to move their legs and they ran away.

So you need to teach victims and people with learned helplessness, you need to teach them how to help themselves.

You don't need to tell them, yes, you were victims. Yes, you are passing. Yes, you are nobodies. Yes, the abuser. You couldn't do anything. You were helpless. I mean, it's wrong messages, catastrophic messages.

You need to tell them on the contrary, you're strong, resilient people. You could have done some things, but you made a mistake of not doing them.

Here's what you could have done.

One, two, three. You need to teach helpfulness. Threats don't work, rewards don't work. Helplessness and victimhood, very addictive. You need rehab, victim rehab, where you get rid of your victimhood as you would get rid of your drinking or drug addiction.

And so there are numerous experiments conducted later in the 70s, 80s, 90s to this very day, linking depressive effects, depressive states with a lack of control or a perceived lack of control over abuse and other aversive stimulus.

So people, for example, perform mental tasks. Even if they're subjected to torturing noise and pain and so on, they perform mental tasks perfectly. If they believe that they can stop the noise, if people have a sense of, I am empowered, I am strong, I'm resilient, I can solve my own problems, I'm in control of myself, internal locus of control, they can endure anything.

The same group of people when they were told there's nothing they can do about the noise or the pain deteriorated, their functioning deteriorated dramatically. Simply being aware that there is an option, there is a way out, there is an exit strategy, was substantially enough to counter any abuse, any torture, any pain, any aversive stimulus.

There was an animal study not long ago, nine years ago, when animals were given control over stressful stimuli, they were stressed, they were shocked and other things, they were deprived of food, but when they were given to believe that they had control over the situations, their whole brain activity changed. And many of them didn't use the solution, humans and animals, they had options, they had exits, they had ways out, and yet they preferred to endure the torture and the pain.

From a position of strength, not as victims, they chose to not avoid the stimuli. Animals that lacked control failed to act at all and their brain activity is very different.

So a human's reaction to a perceived lack of control is both universal, helplessness, victimhood, but with individual idiosyncrasies.

So land helplessness is very specific to individuals and very specific to situations. It can be sufficiently generalized, but still we need to inspect each case.


Another reason why self-styled coaches, self-styled experts and gurus and other forms of con artists are doing you a disservice because they generalize the victim state, they generalize learned helplessness and it is expressly untrue.

So the variations between the way we experience victimhood and learned helplessness is that they depend, these variations depend on what we call attributional or explanatory style.

Towards the end of the lecture, I will discuss attribution errors and how they affect helplessness and victimhood, how someone interprets or explains what has happened, how someone perceives the abuse, refrains it and analyzes it, understands it, it affects the likelihood of acquiring learned helplessness and subsequent depression.

People with the semistic, negativistic, explanatory style tend to see negative events such as abuse. They tend to see them as permanent. It will never change. I will never change. I will keep attracting narcissists, they will keep abusing me. It's my fault. I can't do anything correctly. So it's personal, it's pervasive, it's permanent and they're likely to suffer from learned helplessness and depression.


There was a scholar by the name of Bernard Weiner, V-E-I-N-G-E-R, and he published the most detailed account of attributional approach to learned helplessness.

He has an attribution theory and there he discusses globality, specificity, stability, instability, internality, externality. These are all features that determine how you experience helplessness and whether you adopt a victimhood stance.

For example, global attribution occurs when the individual believes that the cause of negative events is consistent across different contexts.

Specific attribution is when the individual believes that the cause of a negative event is unique to a particular situation. Stable attribution is when the individual believes the cause to be consistent across time.

Unstable attribution is when the individual thinks that the cause is specific to one point in time, a result of some circumstance.

External attribution assigns causality to situational or external factors or people.

Internal attribution assigns causality to factors within the person that's very close to locus of control.

So those with internal, stable, and global attributional style for negative events are more at risk for depressive reaction to failure, defeat, abuse, other aversive experiences.

Learned helplessness is a factor in a wide range of situations, not only in interpersonal relationships, not only in abuse. In emotionally abusive relationships, the victim often develops learned helplessness.

It's when the victim confronts the abuser, tries to leave the abuser, but the abuser dismisses or trivializes the victim's feelings, invalidates the abuse, pretends to care but does not change, impedes the abuse, the victim from leaving somehow.

So it's true that emotionally abusive relationships involve learned helplessness.

But learned helplessness is everywhere. In the classroom, in my classroom, some students repeatedly fail and I can't convince them that they can improve their performance because they attribute the failure to themselves. They say, unlike that, I can't succeed. So continued failure, loss of self-esteem, social consequences only enhance the learned helplessness, which then leads to failure, etc.

It's a vicious cycle. It's very difficult to break.

And in all this, there's a fundamental attribution error.

One famous attribution error is what we call the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is when people believe themselves to be less fallible and more clever than other people when in actuality, that's not the case.

In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error, also known as correspondence bias, attribution effect, it's the tendency to overvalue dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others and at the same time undervalue situational explanations for those behaviors.

Lee Ross coined the phrase after some classic experiment by Edward Jones and Victor Harris in 1967.

So fundamental attribution error is when people explain the behaviors of others and when they do it, they don't explain.

So it's like when they explain the behavior of other people, they would explain it, the behavior of other people, because these other people are like that.

This is their essence. This is their psychology. They behave in certain ways because they are like that. He's abusing me because he's an abuser.

But when they explain their own behavior, they attribute it to some circumstances. I abused him because I was in a bad mood. So it's like he's abusing people because that is his essence. It's his quiddity. It's who he is. Who is? He's an abuser. I'm abusing people because things happen to me. Circumstances change. I'm reacting. I'm provoked. So this is called attributional error. Situational factors you attribute to yourself. Psychological factors you attribute to others. This is the actor-observer bias.

So let's take an example.

You see someone who is very clumsy, and he fell over and broke a tray with many glasses and so on. Then you judge his behavior.

You say, oh, he's clumsy. He's careless. It's a dispositional judgment. He broke the glasses not because he tripped over something, not because of something external, but because of something internal. He broke the glasses because he is like that. He's a glass breaker. He's clumsy.

But if a minute later you were to trip over and break the same number of glasses, you would tell yourself that something was wrong with the way the glasses were arranged on the tray. Or someone left something, and you tripped over it. You would try to find clues in the environment, not inside yourself. You wouldn't say, oh, I tripped over because I'm clumsy.

In most cases, you would say, oh, I tripped over because ABC in the environment.

So victims, victim proneness or victim blaming that I've mentioned in the previous lecture, it's a form of fundamental attribution error. It's known as the Just World Phenomenon.

I recommend that you read articles by Aronson, Wilson, Aker, and Sommers, an article published in 2016. The Just World Phenomenon is the belief that people get what they deserve, and they deserve what they get.

And this was first described by Melvin Lerner. It's also known as the Just Deserves. Attributing failures to dispositional causes, attributing failures to someone else's psychology, makeup, rather than to situational factors, which are unchangeable and uncontrollable.

This satisfies our need to believe that the world is fair, and we have control over our lives. We are motivated to see a Just World because this reduces perceived threats, reduces anxiety, gives us a sense of security, helps us to find meaning in difficult and unsettling circumstances, benefits us psychologically.

So we would say, he broke the glasses because he is like that.

Now that I know this about him, I can predict his future behavior, and I can control it. I can never give him glasses again. He's an abuser. Now I can control it. I know who he is. I know what he's going to do, what he's going to do. I know how he's going to behave. I'm in control.

But the Just World hypothesis also results in a tendency for people to blame and disparage others.

Victims blame him. Blame and disparage abusers. And abusers blame and disparage victims. Even victims of a tragedy, even victims of an accident, even victims of rape or domestic abuse. So we tend to blame them in order to reassure ourselves of our insusceptibility to such events.

She got raped because she's provocative and promiscuous. I am not provocative and promiscuous. I will never get raped. I abused her because she provoked me. If I were to live with another woman, she would not provoke me. I would not abuse her.

So these are defenses. We attribute to other people badness, corruption. We attribute to other people negative things.

And when it comes to us, we are passive victims of circumstances, of others, of abuses. We are in a way eternal victims of the world.

And this is where you don't want to end because this leads to depression and severe mental illness.

You can go from bad to worse. You can exit an abusive relationship, but if you understand it wrongly, if you reframe it wrongly, if you cast yourself in the role of an eternal victim who did nothing wrong, could have done nothing wrong, is not responsible and contributed nothing, you're going to end up with mental illness.

And I'm not sure which is worse. When your abuser is external or when your abuser is internal in the form of a mental illness, that is really who you are.

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