Whenever we take Tiger to the dog park, I like to step back and observe the interactions of the dogs and the owners. On the best days, all are relaxed and a singular, calm and happy energy flows through the park. On other days, the energy is divisive rather than unifying, a sense of unbalance and unease transmitted from creature to creature within the fence. It only takes one anxious and unstable dog (or more often, owner) to create the seeds of chaos.
When an unbalanced dog enters the arena, the other canines are quick to assess. Most of them will seek to avoid the negative energy. While others try to correct or eradicate it through physical means, usually growls and nips. This is when the observations really get interesting. Much of the time I see the owner of the unstable dog step in to rescue his or her dog from the perceived attack followed by a coddling session. This affection given while the dog is anxious only seeks to reinforce the behavior. It is teaching the dog to be a victim. It is also preventing the dog from learning how to solve its own problems as it comes to rely on its owner stepping in and white knighting the situation.
In more successful outcomes, the owners of the involved dogs will watch the interactions, looking carefully for a potentially dangerous situation that requires intervention but remaining hands off as much as possible. When this happens, the unstable dog tends to a minor beating but it also learns. It learns where it stands in the pack, it learns how and when to fight back and stand up for itself and it learns that it can solve its own problems. After a few moments of rough and tumble and vocalizations, all involved usually trot off happily and the energy balance is restored. The instability has been corrected.
Now humans are obviously not dogs. We don’t live in hierarchical packs and we don’t usually teach through teeth and growls. And luckily, our greetings do not usually involve butts and/or noses. But we can learn from observing our canine friends, whose lessons come from a much simpler world than ours.
People perceived as victims in our society tend to face one of two reactions – blame or enable, neither of which help to change the energy balance in the interaction.
I’ve written before about the danger of victim blaming. This perspective is used to justify the attack on the victim, shifting all of the responsibility onto the damaged party. Most recognize the fallacy in this thinking and reject the idea.
But we are much more willing to accept imbalance in the other direction. When the victim is enabled, it nurtures unstable behavior. It shifts all of the responsibility to the other party. It tells the victim that he/she does not have learn how to solve his/her own problems; someone will step in for the rescue. In essence, we are like the dog owner swooping in to pick up the anxious dog before the lesson is learned.
Whatever you nurture, grows.
When we enable victims, we cultivate victims.
So, then, what do we do? How can we support victims while encouraging them to no longer be victims?
Watch Before Intervention
Just like the informed owners at the dog park, watch the interaction before donning your Superman costume. Be ready to intervene if the situation becomes dangerous but give the participants a chance to work it out for themselves first.
Support Rather Than Nurture
When interacting with the victim, especially if he/she is anxious or unstable, provide support and reassurance but do not nurture the anxiety. When someone is anxious, it is better to be clinically kind (think good bedside manner) than motherly.
Encourage Growth and Stability
When the victim is not in crisis, help him/her address the underlying issues. Teach them how to remain calm. Show them how to be centered and in control of themselves. Encourage them to take responsibility for their choices and reactions.
Empower the Person, Not the Behavior
When working with someone who has been victimized, be careful not to permit the behaviors that accompany the victim state as that serves to sanction that behavior. Rather, seek to empower the person behind the behavior so that they can learn to emancipate themselves from victimhood.
Blaming and enabling only serve to create more victims as the power is held unevenly and instability is rewarded. Whereas, if we can learn to cultivate anti-victims through support and encouragement, the great dog park of our lives can be filled with more wagging tails and fewer growls.
This post is Tiger approved.