In the past two weeks, we’ve covered the first two steps: Making the decision to get well and telling the truth. Now we’ll delve into taking responsibility.
Step 3: Take responsibility.
Don’t worry. I’m not asking you to take responsibility for what happened to you. You are NOT responsible for that; you were a victim. The problem comes when we continue to live as victims. To recover, you must step out of what is often called the Trauma Drama Triangle. If you’ve been in treatment for long, you’ve probably heard about the “Victim, Rescuer, Perpetrator triangle.” Even Pascal would disapprove of this triangle.
Once you’ve been abused, it’s natural to feel like a victim. When you’re a child intimidated or sweet-talked by an adult, you ARE a victim. You have no recourse, no way to help yourself out of the situation. Though it is absolutely true that you were a victim, somehow you probably transferred the blame to yourself, and it turned to hatred. I say these things, because I know how I reacted, and I learned from others that this was common.
That hatred is almost unbearable, and as you grew up, you wanted desperately to feel better about yourself. If you’re like most of us, you discovered that helping others did the trick. It helped the balance scales in your mind to tip, momentarily, from “Bad” to “Good.” So you learned to rescue others at every opportunity.
In this case, being a Rescuer means trying to pull others out of a difficult situation when they could do it themselves. Rather than offering encouragement and letting them achieve victory for themselves, you tend to circumvent the process and try to do it for them. On the surface the motives appear to be pure: you want to relieve them of the pain that you have experienced, not realizing that rescuing is not helpful for the person being rescued and, certainly, not for you, the Rescuer.
One of the reasons it’s bad for you is because it becomes an effective distraction. You don’t have to think about your own pain, because you’re too focused on someone else’s. Also, I learned that most of us, if we practice rescuing too often, begin to feel like the Victim again. “Poor, longsuffering me . . . when is someone going to care about ME. “ You know the drill. So you have to learn to accept responsibility for yourself and your actions only and let others learn to accept responsibility for theirs.
And then there’s the Perpetrator. This one is tough. No one, especially one who’s been through what we have, wants to see herself as a Perpetrator. However, we undoubtedly do it completely unconsciously. As I started looking carefully at my life, I realized that I had become a perpetrator to my kids. Oh, not in the same way that my parents had to me; I protected them fiercely from any kind of behaviors that I recognized as abuse. However, my frequent self-mutilation and suicide attempts, threw my family into a kind of chaos that no one should have had to endure.
Should I be excused because of what happened to me? It wasn’t my fault that I felt the way I did, but my actions were my responsibility. I had to face the fact that, as a perpetrator, I had really hurt my kids. I had to accept responsibility, ask forgiveness and move forward, determined to not continue the behaviors. It made all the difference in my relationships with my kids as they learned they could trust me again, then we began to move forward together as parent and children. It also dramatically improved my relationships with friends. Now I have a great group of healthy friends who may need my encouragement, but neither need nor expect me to fix their problems for them, nor do I need them to do the same for me. It’s opened a whole new world, in which I only experience true guilt, which is a topic for another post.