The Victim Tyrant Cycle

This paper is about adults and not children. Children don’t have a choice when they are victims (they can’t leave their situation and if they do speak, often they aren’t heard). Adults have choice when they can see beyond the pattern that keeps them in a victim place.

The victim is inseparable from the tyrant—where you have one you have the other. Being a victim means we feel like something has been or is being done to us and we usually feel we can’t do anything about it. When we are in the victim place, we are stuck in the “victim/tyrant” cycle, which means that we can easily move from the victim into the tyrant, when we try to control the situation (usually with anger and sometimes just with ourselves or our friends). The tyrant wants control, and so they fight back and/or (try to) dominate. The victim feels they have no power, that things are unfair, and there is nothing they can do (at least in this moment), and so they feel victimized. The tyrant is a response to feeling hurt, invaded, out of control, loss of power or loss of connection, or fear of losing power or connection (all things that a victim feels), and so the tyrant position is an attempt to fight the cause of the victimization and gain control. The victim attracts the tyrant and visa versa.

When we are victims, it seems we have no power and when we are tyrants, we are in the fight—neither position being conducive to change. Being a victim/tyrant means that we will manifest more of that cycle because that is where we are and how we are attempting to change our position (or not change in the case of a victim). Much of what we see on the news and how the government deals with threat is with force—by being the tyrant. This just keeps us stuck in the cycle and models an ineffective way of coping. There is no way out of the cycle if we fight. We will be victims again because we are in the cycle.

If you rally support, making the tyrant wrong, it unites the group against the tyrant, and results in a split in the group. The tyrant is victimized by someone else’s victim, which increases the fight and entrenches the system further in the victim/tyrant cycle. If getting support is a way of fighting the tyrant, then you are still in the cycle. This is why advocacy often doesn’t work in the long run. The victim gains support by fighting the tyrant (often with intent to punish the tyrant and often with the result of the victim becoming the tyrant), and they stay locked in the cycle. Yes, there are times when we need support, but if a split and fight are created in order to get that support, you are still stuck in the cycle.

Passive aggression comes from a desire to gain power/stability. Typically the victim feels like they can’t go against the tyrant (at least by themselves), so they resist (fight) passively to gain control and/or take away power from the tyrant, and/or to get him back for being a tyrant. This keeps the cycle going because passivity can trigger the tyrant—often what the victim (unconsciously) wants to do to prove that the tyrant is a tyrant and they are a victim—so the victim is engaged in the fight though not identified as the problem. Typically, these conflicts are difficult to see and deal with because the fight is subtle on the part of the victim and so difficult to pinpoint. The tyrant looks like the problem because they are easily identified as the angry one and the victim can gain the upper hand and support from others (usually unconsciously) by making the tyrant look bad when he or she responds aggressively to the passivity.

You can’t get anywhere when you are stuck in the cycle. You either fight or feel powerless or both, so you stay stuck in an old pattern. When you are stuck in an old pattern, you are blocked from your full potential because you operate from the powerless/fight position, so you can’t see creative options.

Signs you are in the cycle:

  • You feel powerless or trapped;
  • When you are complaining, gossiping, blaming or bad mouthing others;
  • When you are trying to prove something (that you are lovable, good enough, smart enough, valuable, etc);
  • If you are making assumptions that others should know how you feel and what you need instead of making a request (this is a child pattern where the parent is responsible for figuring out the child’s needs; this is not a healthy adult pattern—others, even our significant others, are not responsible for knowing what we need);
  • If you are mad because “they” aren’t doing what they “should” be doing;
  • If you find yourself garnering support by talking about an authority/parent/boss/teacher, saying or implying that they are a tyrant;
  • Worry is a way of being a victim;
  • When you are trying to be “better than” (look they are bad because they are so angry);
  • If you are fighting to get control of yourself or a situation;
  • If you are resisting your feelings, you are in the cycle—you are in the fight;
  • If you are resisting reality;
  • If you are angry, and you stay angry.

Using any of our protective shields means we are still in the victim tyrant cycle. Our shields are about protection, safety and belonging and they include:

  • fight: pushing, challenging, arguing, blaming, accusing, pushing for connection;
  • flight: passive aggressive, getting away, leaving without speaking our truth;
  • immobility: freezing, acquiescing, rescuing, giving in, fear of not belonging, staying silent even when we disagree.

The way to step out of using shields is to clear old patterns, to come from a compassionate place and speak our truth.

Imagine stepping out of the cycle into a position where you have the power to create your own reality—step out of your weakness and into your strength. This does not mean we step into violence or anger—that is a reaction to someone having power over us or feeling hurt, or out of control. When we step out of the cycle, we have more energy than if we are victims and there is more possibility of seeing our part in the cycle and what keeps us stuck, and then creating change. We can’t worry about changing the other because we can’t do that. We only end up in the fight when we do that. We can only change ourselves, whether we are an individual, an organization or a country. Fighting will only sustain the fight. Those who lose will most likely stay stuck in the fight to try to create change.

What we resist persists, which is another way we stay in the cycle—we resist how we feel. When we accept what is, we are in our strength and can step out of the cycle. Accepting what is not mean there will be no change, it just means we can see reality and thus better see what options exist. Once we accept reality, then we can feel the feelings involved. It takes courage to be vulnerable enough to feel what is occurring within to fully understand the situation and how we are triggered (if a shield is up we are triggered). It takes courage to acknowledge that we are feeling victimized and then see what our part in this is. Where does this pattern come from? What have we done or not done to get ourselves into this situation, and what we can do to about it? How can we take steps to change? Sometimes our part is that this pattern of victim/tyrant was established when we are little and so we are reliving it because the pattern is how we were taught to see and be (for example we decided we just had to take their abuse to belong). Once the body has fully processed the feeling, we will have an insight regarding the origins of the feelings (historical triggers, current situation) and the needs we have now and what we can do about the situation. If we don’t fully feel the feeling; find our unmet need and own our part, we will tend to off-load the feeling onto others rather than being in our strength and making a request for what we need.

In order to create change, we have to feel what it is like to be out of that cycle; not stepping into force to make it happen, but getting out of the fight and not being a victim or a tyrant—again, as long as we are fighting or avoiding we are in the cycle. We may need to speak up—our part may be that we let situations we dislike unfold without saying anything. Or we may feel that when others are mad, we are being unfairly treated, so we lash out. Either way, being a victim or a tyrant just brings more of that, so it behooves us to feel and deal differently. And know that when you change others may try to get you back into the cycle.

When you go to your feelings, understand the origins, and see what it is you do to stay in this pattern, then you can step into a place of strength, and then you can see what steps are possible. Clearing of this victim/tyrant pattern in your life may be assisted by using energy psychology.

In a group setting, create an environment of listening where each side can voice their thoughts, feelings and needs. Get curious about what is happening. Bring compassion for both the tyrant and victim. Help people get into each other’s shoes. Warning to those in power: if you get triggered or lose your temper, you will reinforce the victim’s stance and dig deeper into the cycle. Sometimes, if the pattern is entrenched a third party can help create enough safety to hear one another.

NOTE: Obviously there are other more emotionally destructive or dangerous relationships that require additional interventions such as safe houses, court orders, etc.

Rumi’s quote wisely suggests a different way: “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field—I’ll meet you there.”

Julie Roberts

Julie Roberts lives in Pennsylvania one hour west of Philadelphia. She consults with groups, individuals and children to help them move into their full potential. She specializes in personal and professional change so individuals overcome obstacles to productivity. She utilizes energy psychology, muscle testing, visualization, counseling, and Family Constellation work to help individuals clear the blocks in their life. She conducts workshops that improve leadership skills, teaches CLEAR®, and guides individuals through a healing change process. She has taught CLEAR in Russia and Nigeria and she is certified by the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP).