Refusing the victim or villain role requires exercising self-responsibility for one’s own actions, words, and feelings. Neither victims nor villains are behaving responsibly. Victims are denying self-care and self-motivation. Villains are denying care of the other and often behaving as if their actions are justified as retaliation for something the victim has done to them. Both believe that forces outside themselves–usually their partner–have created the situation in which they find themselves.
It can be quite challenging to help couples understand that it is the nonconscious portion of both their brains that has created their struggles. Most people want to believe the common phrases “You made me feel this way” or “You made me do it”, thereby turning themselves into a victim and the other into the villain. It is counterintuitive to people to know that another person cannot create their internal world or that they aren’t being forced into some sort of “natural” reaction to another’s provocations. All of us adults have a lifetime of experiences and the feelings that go with them stored in our brains–this is what creates our reactions to others’ behavior. So in order for couples to be safe with each other, they have to stop believing that their partner creates their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
In Neurodynamic Couples Therapy, safe couples learn how to use mutual emotional triggers that begin a conflictual encounter to access feelings from childhood that are waiting to be discovered. I often use a metaphor of the starter in a car to characterize the initial reactions that couples have to their mutual emotional triggers. The starter in a car finishes its job in only a few seconds before the running of the engine takes over. The circumstances that provoke a couple in the present are the “starter” that is happening in order to initiate a potentially healing emotional drama that is fueled by the “engine” of feelings from childhood. They are not “making” each other behave or feel. They are both following the dictates of the nonconscious material in the right hemisphere of their brains to mutually create feelings that need to be healed. When partners learn to take responsibility for their own feelings, thoughts and behaviors, they will transform their experience of “You are hurting me” to “We are giving each other an opportunity to heal.”
It bears repeating here a statement I made in my first post about safety. Safety in couples treatment requires that the troubles of the partners are seen within a framework of equal vulnerability and equal responsibility.