When I was a kid at camp, I learned a silly skit. I would hold a paper napkin in the middle so that it fanned out on either side and then hold it under my nose like a mustache. I would say in a growly, sinister voice (meant to imitate Snidely Whiplash in the Dudley Do-right cartoon) : "You must pay the rent" . I would then transfer the napkin to the side of my head like a hair bow and with a falsetto imitation of Nell would simper and whimper : "But I can't pay the rent". I would repeat this a few times with the building dramatic intensity and then put the napkin at my throat like a bow tie and in the ringing, bold tones of Dudley the hero proclaim : "I'll pay the rent!". Then the bow to the head again "My hero!" and back to under the nose : "Curses, foiled again!"
This is a modification of the classic Karpman drama triangle with the persecutor, victim, and rescuer. I am focusing on the evildoer of the trio for this post and will use deliberately a wide variety of synonyms like perpetrators and predators as well as classic fairy tale villains and troublesome life events interchangeably to expand the imaginative field a bit.
The roles in the above skit are fairly fixed, but it is actually a fluid triangle. For instance, in the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, Red starts out as a rescuer of Grandma, then becomes a victim of the Wolf. The Wolf is the persecutor of Red and Granny and then becomes the victim of the Woodman. The Woodman is simultaneously a persecutor and a hero.
This drama does not just play out in fiction, but is evident in our daily interactions with the people in our lives. When we are playing the victim, there is always a villainous spouse or ex, the bad boss or nasty politician. We self righteously tell ourselves (and everyone else who will listen) that we are innocent victims of these scoundrels.
We believe heroes and victims are good and predators are bad. But sometimes when we think we are being a rescuer, others perceive us as persecuting them. Also, victims can be a terrible drain that can feel like vampires to those they relentlessly complain to or appeal to for rescue. And we are all ruthless predators at one time or another. Even the most highly spiritual, vegan, peace activists.
Furthermore, we all have an internal versions of all three roles. The vicious inner critic/bully, the wounded, hungry orphan, the uber-diligent fixer and an entire cast of continually morphing characters -- often wearing the napkin hair-ribbon, mustache and bow-tie simultaneously. All of these aspects have useful functions in some limited way- or at least at in our past they were helpful, but we tend to unanimously vilify the persecutor.
Exploring the connections between the roles we play in our stories and real life events is complicated and has far reaching implications. I can't wrap it all up neatly in this post, but I hope to invite you to open up an internal dialog.
If you feel outraged about my advocating for dangerous beasts (especially cuddling or coddling human criminals) or my belief that your worst life experiences are a good thing, I hope you will keep an open mind and keep reading as I develop these topics further. I have spent hundreds of hours researching this seemingly unpleasant topic and pondering what it means. Surprisingly, what I am discovering makes me feel excited and optimistic.
So what is good about the bad guys?
Let's go back to fairy-tales for a moment. If you have never seen the Disney movie "Enchanted", this is your spoiler alert. The movie begins with an excruciatingly precious Princess-to-be named Giselle who, in the space of a few minutes, falls in love with her handsome prince, and is preparing to marry him the next day. Mercifully, this cloying and insipid cartoon beginning is short.
The viewers are rescued from gagging by the welcome appearance of the evil queen, Narissa who shoves the innocently naive, bride-to-be down a wishing well, to a place where, the villainess cackles; "there are no happy endings."
When Giselle emerges from the New York sewers, immaculate in her wedding dress through a manhole, the movie switches to live action. And this is where she meets her real truelove (a cynical divorce lawyer), and finds her creative calling.
Click this image for a hilarious encounter between the heroine and her new reality
But she doesn't get to experience authentic love until she gets in touch with the heretofore unknown feelings of anger and sadness. Her character is further deepened when she is forced by Queen Narissa (now morphed into a dragon), to become a strong and brave heroine who rescues her new "prince".
If the evil queen had not intercepted the treacly sweet, and annoyingly naïve damsel, she would have married her shallow, self absorbed and not very bright prince and lived a flat life with no hope of ever evolving and deepening into who she was truly meant to be. That does not sound like a happily ever after to me.
We think we want life to be perpetually sunny and cheerful, filled with love and light, totally safe and secure with no unpleasant surprises. Fortunately, Life sends us the crafty dragons, big bad wolves and snarling tigers and with their sharp teeth and claws, through life circumstances such as losses like divorces, diseases, deaths, and other traumatic events.
This is a real photo taken by an intrepid (possibly insane!) photographer
The image of the surprise tiger has become almost synonymous with traumatic stress in the world of somatic healing. But in the words of Peter Levine who wrote the book, Waking the Tiger, "The Tiger has become a symbol of our aliveness, our innate nature."
We actually need to be shoved into the dark mysterious wells that take us to new worlds (and this includes death). We need those tigers to leap out unexpectedly and traumatize us. We need the proverbial wolves prowling and howling outside our doors. We need our metaphorical dragons to challenge us. We need that lying, cheating partner to break our hearts.
Even though we are biologically and culturally programmed to resist pain and fear and to crave safety and security, this is not how life works on this planet. Our conditioning has served us well, in that we wouldn't be here if we had not run from, fought, and built shelters to protect us from the saber-tooth tiger.
But there aren't that many actual wild cats preying on us anymore (although I did encounter one in a gated community once!). And we no longer have rites of passages like our ancient ancestors had for sending young people out on a wilderness excursion to prepare them to enter the adult world.
We have secure locked dwellings, institutions like science, religion, politics and education for controlling chaos and solving mysteries, with computers and televisions to watch other people have adventures. We have many ways of keeping the wild aspects of life tamed.
As for the predators, the animal, and many of the human, killers in the lives of the likely readers of this post are mostly (but not always since random killers can strike anywhere) in cages or far away.
I want to point out that we are not at all consistent in our prejudices. Many of us keep dangerous feline predators in our home (check out this truly evil looking creature). Observe your cute little kitty's eyes as she makes that funny noise while watching the bird on the other side of the window. Those are the eyes of a killer wild cat. You put bows on her collar and cuddle her as she is contentedly purring after stalking and murdering a sweet, innocent, little songbird.
It is a good thing not to be eaten or to have that very real possibility in our everyday lives, and modern civilization has some pretty awesome benefits, however without some wild, chaotic, inexplicable, unpredictable adversity, we do not evolve. And that's we're here to do. It's not optional.
We can try to create security and remain immobile, but all that does is tie up our energy in attempting to thwart natural laws. Our artificially created, temporary delays of painful progress effectively send an invitation out to a helpful perpetrator.
Of course this does not mean we should become masochists calling out "here kitty, kitty, kitty" to invite the tiger or to become limp pacifists that lie down offering their soft under-bellies to be eviscerated by the hungry wolf.
We need healthy boundaries, and even then, we can fall victim to real harm. There are times when we need to protect ourselves or innocent victims - sometimes with violence or cages. But there is a difference between being a victim of circumstance and creating a story of victimhood where we choose to adopt the role of the victim even after the event has passed.
There are also times when we need to relax, soften our resistance and allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open to the lessons that the dreaded villains or dreadful circumstances provide. No matter what happens, we don't need to turn it into a constraining story of disempoerement.
If instead of resisting change, we do the counter-intuitive, courageous and really difficult (but ultimately, infinity rewarding!) task of leaning into the inevitable distressing feelings that accompany our most challenging transitions and perhaps even consider gratitude for the other participants, we can step out of the drama triangle and learn to become more present. When we are operating from that conscious (vs the unconscious from which is in charge 95% of the time and was formed before we were 6 years old!) part of us, we have better discernment to know how to engage with that which scares or threatens us.
The Power of TED (click on the "dreaded drama triangle" at the top to find out more) recommends that the victim adopt the alternative role of creator, view the persecutor as a challenger, and enlist a coach instead of a rescuer.
If we view persecutors as the vital and important challengers rather than loathsome villains, we can become powerful co-creators of our lives. Rather than relying upon rescuers, we can become adventurous heroes and heroines. But instead of being knights in shining armor that slay dragons, we can learn from the wily beasts and become wise mentors to ourselves and others.
Narissa the dragon queen (pictured above) was actually taken out by Giselle's loyal chipmunk friend, but to the aspiring heroine's credit she does attempt to save her guy by chasing the dragon through a wild storm up a tall building with a sword.
If there would have been a way to magically mash-up Giselle and Narissa, that would have been a truly interesting character and a much better movie. None of us are one dimensional and all of us could benefit from both sweet princesses (yes, men too!) and clever dragons.
And did I mention that dragons have treasures?! They don't give them up easily, but these gifts are all the more precious for the perilous encounter we need to undergo in order to attain them.
Enjoy this Wolf Full Moon in Leo - the first Full Moon of 2016. Do something wild and unpredictable, but don't bite anyone!
If you have time, and have not already seen it, be sure to check out the video of how wolves were the rescuers at Yellowstone Park. An excellent real life example of how vital predators are to the world.
And last but not least - an announcement:
The wolf ate my groundhog which is my updated story of "the dog ate my homework". Blaming the predator is a time-tested excuse!
What this means, for those of you who are loyal readers and are curious about the latest iteration of Sparks & Leaps (which was slated to be revealed on Groundhog's Day) is that you will have to wait just a little bit longer. Probably those 6 more weeks of winter. I am aiming for the Spring Equinox. I promise I will not be the "girl who cried wolf"; this new version is coming soon and it will be worth the wait!