When we see an abusive situation, we immediately split it between a perceived VICTIM and a perceived PERPETRATOR. In this, we have a binary situation (bad guy vs. victim) that is easy to see. The perpetrator may be intangible, something that nothing can be done about, like god/devil, destiny, whatever, or tangible, like an abusive relative or a violent person. It doesn't matter for my little article.
Looking from this point of view (bad guy vs. victim), there is one escape for the victim: become stronger than the aggressor (turning ultimately into another aggressor) and many times, the two change roles (unfortunately, victims of abuse often do this).
Many times though, becomming stronger than the perceived aggressor is impossible (as in, "It is my destiny to suffer for this" - who can go against that?!)
To widen the bad guy vs. victim model, let's introduce a new element, the good guy, the RESCUER. Our model now turns into a triangle, with the victim having three choices: suffer, become a bad guy, or become a good guy (and ultimately help others deal with abuse).
I am not smart enough (or thoughtful enough) to have come up with this model by myself. This model is called "Low Drama", or the "Triangle of Disempowerment" and people play it (more or less) whenever they interact with ... well anything really.
It looks like this:
I hope you can appreciate my great MS Paint skills.
Basically, this is a cycle we go through, with no apparent escape from it.
Here are the roles, in detail:
The Victim"I'm not OK, both the Perpetrator and the Rescuer are OK."
The victims try to escape their roles by becomming either a Rescuer or a Perpetrator, usually at different levels (in different triangles, with other players, they will play different roles).
They blame the Perpetrators (direct abuser/life/destiny/partner/friends/relatives/whoever is available), and in extremis, everything bad that ever happens, happens to them.
As the perfect example of a victim, see the definition of a Drama Queen.
Ironically, the victim is the most powerful player of the game: a skilled victim can turn a Rescuer into a Perpetrator ("It's your fault for not getting me out of my situation"), it can turn an innocent bystander into a Perpetrator ("I can't believe you're doing this to me"), and it can even stop the whole triangle completely, by becoming aware of the triangle/pattern.
The Perpetrator"I'm OK, you're not OK, so I'm justified in hurting you".
Usually somebody who is a victim for others and has a need to prove his strength will become a perpetrator. At a certain level, the internal need to be a perpetrator is perceived weakness and the need to compensate for that. From this point of view, a perpetrator is a distorted victim.
As the perfect example of a perpetrator, take your pick, as we are all full of them; just take your pet peeve and see who's doing it to you (yes, you are practicing your low drama also). I do not mean necessarily, that you are a drama queen, merely that there's no escaping the game, and it's a good thing to acknowledge that we actually do it).
The Rescuer"I'm OK, the victim is OK, the Perpetrator is not OK".
On a first impression, there is nothing wrong with the Rescuer, he is the good guy, something to aspire to.
Except it's not. Sooner or later, splitting a situation in victim/perpetrator/rescuer makes you part of the game, propagates the problem further. The rescuer is all about getting into the problem, not about empowering the victim.
You can probably think of people you've seen getting out of an abusive situation, only to get into another one (I know I did).
Saving the victim (actually saving the victim) would mean breaking the low drama completely, helping the victim become aware of the triangle, and the first step in doing that is not to play the game, as tempting to help as that may be.
If this sounds like I'm saying not to help the victim, that's true, with a catch: Only help the victim if the victim asks for help. Mind your own business, or consider that you're actually joining the game. If the victim asks for help, you can provide help without participating in the triangle ... maybe :)
When they don't ask for help, you're just participating in the victim's play and you'll end up suffering for it sooner or later. The way not to suffer for it, is to see clearly that it doesn't involve you, it has no relationship to you, and any involvement you put into that is voluntary.
That was my insight into the dis-empowerment triangle. I hope you had your fun reading it.
Edit: A friend of mine gave me a perfect example of not being engaged in my drama, a few weeks ago.
I had had a quarrel with somebody and needed a way to vent.
I ended up meeting with my friend and as I was ready to begin ranting on what's been done to me and how my chosen perpetrator (yes, she was my chosen perpetrator) had the gall to do all that, my friend interrupted me and told me she refused to listen to me painting the other person with a "bad" brush, as my perpetrator was also her friend (in the end, that meant she refused to sit and listen to me being a victim).
In this case I was lucky: that was enough for me to realize my victim role and acknowledge that the "perpetrator" had just reacted to avoid being hurt (i. e. not to do all that to me as I had been telling myself). My victim role was just me being hurt myself (I guess on a level we hurt each other) and blaming someone else.
Sometimes though, when people don't want to participate in our drama we get angry, as the sympathy we get for playing a victim can be a strong emotional reward (that the listener denies us) and for a ... skilled victim that's just another way to become a stronger victim (they refuse to listen and show sympathy? Do they have no compassion? How can they do this to me?!?).