The classic relational dynamic created by powerless people is called triangulation. When you believe that other people are scary, unsafe, and more powerful than you, and when you believe that you need to get them to meet your needs, then you have three possible roles you get to play in relationships: the victim, the bad guy, or the rescuer.
Let’s take a look at the mindset of each of these roles:
Victims are trying to find a rescuer to make them feel happy and safe.
Victims will always find fault in the people and situations around them. They feel powerless to do anything about their own choices or circumstances, so they wait for someone else to dive in to save them. Victims might try to convince you how terrible a person or situation really is to invoke sympathy or to try to win you over to “their side.” Often victims are the source of gossip; by broadcasting what is wrong with all the other “scary” people, and the choices they are making, they hope to attract a rescuer to their side.
Bad guys use control, manipulation, and intimidation to protect themselves or get someone to meet their needs.
Often bad guys will blame their control or behavior on the person who “made” them do it. They might say something like, “I wish you wouldn’t make me so mad” or “If you would just listen to me, I wouldn’t get so angry.” Sometimes a bad guy might have moments of vulnerability that might expose the reason that promoted their burst of anger or intimidation.
Rescuers will take responsibility for someone else’s life in an attempt to feel powerful.
Firstborn children are prime candidates for the rescuer role, because they are often trained from the time they are little to take care of other people who are less powerful. Rescuing people from themselves and taking responsibility for their lives is a familiar role, and feels like love. But it can actually create unhealthy codependence. Rescuers usually have an answer for someone with a problem. They tend to take more responsibility to work on someone’s problem before giving that person the chance to do so themselves. This does not encourage powerful behaviors from the rescuer or the victim.
People who choose to stay in relationships with this dynamic make an agreement to exercise mutual control over each other. The unspoken pact between them is, “It’s my job to make you happy, and your job to make me happy. And the best way to get you to work on my life is to act miserable. The more miserable I am, the more you will have to try to make me feel better.” Powerless people use various tactics, such as getting upset, withdrawing, nagging, ridiculing, pouting, crying, or getting angry, to pressure, manipulate, and punish one another into keeping this pact. However, this ongoing power play does nothing to make them happy and mitigate their anxiety in the long term. In fact, their anxiety only escalates by continually affirming that they are not actually powerful. Any sense of love and safety they feel by gaining or surrendering control is tenuous and fleeting.
Powerless relational dynamics are a result of a powerless mindset, but today is a great day to choose a powerful mindset. If you have recognized some areas in your life with these mentalities and behaviors, remember, you are a powerful person. You are capable of deciding the course of your life, and making daily decisions to line up with your core values.
No matter your past, you have the ability to create your tomorrow.
PS) Making changes in your life and relationships can be so much more successful and rewarding with the right tools and a supportive community. Have you checked out our Relationship Core track at the Life Academy?
PSS) If you found this blog helpful, and want more tools to build a powerful mindset, check out the blog Relational Intelligence: 8 Traits of Powerful People.