What approach would you take with a client who has "a deep fear of giving up my victim, for
then, "Who would I be?"
'A victim' is a perspective on a situation which can develop into a perspective on life. The question is, do we also have the choice to be
I don't mean to diminish the terrible things that happen to some people, rather I am aiming to highlight that how we perceive ourselves as a victim is a relationship
between one's self and the world. Which begs the question: how would we like
to relate to the world?
I also wonder, is it possible for someone to completely 'give up' their capacity to be a victim? I doubt it since the capacity to feel victimised is within us all.
My guess is that this fear may not so much be about being a victim, but more about the consequences
being a victim. If we stop considering ourselves as a victim, what then would we have to do? And what would we have to not do anymore? What are we actually giving up?
When a fear is strong enough then just attempting to consider what we would like
can be a challenge. However, that's not a reason to not ask the question – quite the opposite. One of the main reasons Penny Tompkins and I put so much emphasis on seeking a desired outcome
from a client is because this provokes reactions from those aspects of their system that would rather stay the same. As these manifest the client can self-model them directly.
But what if stating a clear desired outcome is not yet within thier capacity? When they recognise that their victim is a perception of a relationship, that knowing can be embodied (in metaphor), and they can then set an intention to relate to the world in some other way – even if they don't yet know what that is. If they set an intention, the contradictions in maintaining a victim
position are likely to become more and more apparent. But maintain it they will – if it serves them enough. You may only be able to take a
horse to water, but the more times you do the stronger the message gets. Until, hopefully, the horse realises drinking is in its own long-term interest.
"For then, Who would I be?" is a question that creates a perpetual bind
. How can they know the answer until they are
that person? Again their is a choice: They can either continue being who they are for many years to come (which presumably is
unsatisfying), or they can evolve into the unknown. Only at that point will they be
able to decide whether our new identity is satisfying enough, and if
not, the process will need to continue.
I have found that, paradoxically, before a
person can evolve their identity they often have to acknowledge who
they are - warts and all. I am referring to a deep acceptance
of 'what is'. When we accept in this way, change is relatively easy. I am not suggesting acceptance is a precondition for identity change (whatever that is), I am saying this is what I have observed happening in a numerous cases.
bottom line is, do we really want to change? Of course not. We all have a wish that our problems would just go away. However, when that doesn't happen, sometimes we are prepared to do what it takes. Then we can start doing little
things that are aligned with our
preferred identity. Mahatma Gandhi wasn't messing when he said "Be the change".
If we are unsure what our preferred identity is
then we can make a best guess, try it out and get some feedback from
the world. Then we'll know whether we want more of that, or to try
something else instead. This may be difficult and painful, but no one
ever said that change had to be easy, simple and painless. Sometimes it
is and sometimes it isn't. Again no one can know until after
attempted to make the changes.
A couple of archetypical patterns seem to be involved here:
The need to know how things will be before taking an action to change when there can be no guarantees and there can be no prior knowledge.
Change is a risky business. And being scared of change is just part
of the process. As I see it, recognising, acknowledging and embracing
our fears and still stepping into the unknown is what the path of
personal development is all about. And it doesn't matter whether we are
at the beginning of the path or 20 years along.
(b) The common belief that change needs to occur inside before there can be a change in external
behaviour. This is particularly prevalent within many psychotherapy
schools. I believe that change can also happen by changing the outside
which in turn will influence the state of our internal world. From a
systemic point of view 'internal' and 'external' work as a single system. That means they
work in tandem, each simultaneously influencing the other.
How can we make small behavioural changes at the same time as working to evolve our
inner world? This approach has a valuable byproduct. If we start to
make changes behaviourally then our system may react to what Stephen Covey in, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,
calls "our private victories". And the manner in which we react will be information about
where we need to put our attention next. On the other hand, if we can't make
even a small change then what prevents us from doing so will also be
where our attention needs to go next.
Pursuing this approach can eventually lead us to one or more core patterns. The answer to: 'What would you like to have happen?' then becomes the direction for our next developmental step.
Naturally our system will divert, distract, ignore and use hundreds of
other ways to not address this question. That's okay. Once it is
established that these patterns needs to be focused on, then we can learn to face the
issue – or to decide we not yet ready. Either way, it becomes our choice – and that's a change.[Amended 31 Jan 2011]