Say it ain’t so Charlie Rose! Not you. We all thought you were one of the good guys. A kind sincere son of North Carolina, Duke educated with true southern charm.  “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” That question was directed at the then senator Joe McCarthy by a lawyer at his hearing in 1954.  What’s next, we find out that Mr. Rogers, Phil Donahue and God forbid even Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America were all too touchy feely! The entire thing just makes me want to vomit.  Seems like each day as I turn on the news I’m holding my breath waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Given what I do for a living, one would think that I for one would not be shocked, yet in my own wanting to see the world through better eyes, I still gasp. Through the years mental health professionals have done extensive work to try to understand the internal dynamic at play in this kind of abuse. The most well-known of all this work is the Drama Triangle.  A social model that was conceived by Stephen Karpman, M.D., a student studying under Eric Berne, M.D., the father of transactional analysis. Berne encouraged Karpman to publish what Berne referred to as “Karpman’s triangle.” Karpman’s article was published in 1968. Karpman received the Eric Berne Memorial Scientific Award in 1972 for this work.

Through popular usage and the work of Karpman and others, Karpman’s triangle has been adapted for use in structural analysis (defining the conflict roles of persecutor, victim, and rescuer) and transactional analysis (diagramming how participants switch roles in conflict)

The Karpman Drama Triangle models the connection between personal responsibility and power in conflicts, and the destructive and shifting roles people play. He defined three roles in the conflict; Persecutor, Rescuer (the one up positions) and Victim (one down position). Karpman placed these three roles on an inverted triangle and referred to them as being the three aspects, or faces of drama. Interestingly this latest barrage of reported complaints is coming from the entertainment industry. Karpman, who had interests in acting and was a member of the Screen Actors Guild, chose the term “drama triangle” rather than the term “conflict triangle” as the Victim in his model is not intended to represent an actual victim, but rather someone feeling or acting like a victim.

  1. The Victim: The Victim’s stance is “Poor me!” The Victim feels victimized, oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless, ashamed, and seems unable to make decisions, solve problems, take pleasure in life, or achieve insight. The Victim, if not being persecuted, will seek out a Persecutor and also a Rescuer who will save the day but also perpetuate the Victim’s negative feelings.
  2. The Rescuer: The rescuer’s line is “Let me help you.” A classic enabler, the Rescuer feels guilty if he/she doesn’t go to the rescue. Yet his/her rescuing has negative effects: It keeps the Victim dependent and gives the Victim permission to fail. The rewards derived from this rescue role are that the focus is taken off of the rescuer. When he/she focuses their energy on someone else, it enables them to ignore their own anxiety and issues. This rescue role is also very pivotal because their actual primary interest is really an avoidance of their own problems disguised as concern for the victim’s needs.
  3. The Persecutor: (a.k.a. Villan) The Persecutor insists, “It’s all your fault.” The Persecutor is controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritative, rigid, and superior.

These current alleged crimes can run the gambit from fear [you’ll never work in this industry again!] and intimidation, indecent sexual liberties to rape. What they all have in common is that the abuser has power connected to an entire industry. That power whether real or imagined leaves the victim in a state of confusion, frozen and feeling powerless. Even if the perpetrator follows through on this threat/promise and delivers on the agreed contract the internal cost is just too high. At the end of the day it’s a brutal bargain no matter what the outcome and the scare never does go away. Just ask that grown woman in Alabama who alleges she was molested by Roy Moore as a 14 year old. Listening to her speak you can hear the trauma even though it was decades ago.

Another well-known cycle of abuse was described by Lenore Walker (1979) when a narcissist is the abuser. Walker states that the cycle looks different.

Narcissism changes the back end of the cycle because the narcissist is constantly self-centered and unwilling to admit fault.  Their need to be superior, right, or in charge limits the possibility of any real reconciliation. Instead, it is frequently the abused who desperately tries for appeasement while the narcissist plays the victim. This switchback tactic emboldens the narcissist behavior even more, further convincing them of their faultlessness. Any threat to their authority repeats the cycle again.

Here are the four narcissistic cycles of abuse:

  • Feels Threatened. An upsetting event occurs and the narcissist feels threatened. It could be rejection of sex, disapproval at work, embarrassment in a social setting, jealousy of other’s success, or feelings of abandonment, neglect, or disrespect. The abused, aware of the potential threat, becomes nervous. They know something is about to happen and begin to walk on eggshells around the narcissist. Most narcissists repeatedly get upset over the same underlying issues whether the issue is real or imagined. They also have a tendency to obsess over the threat over and over.
  • Abuses Others. The narcissist engages in some sort of abusive behavior. The abuse can be physical, mental, verbal, sexual, financial, spiritual or emotional. The abuse is customized to intimidate the abused in an area of weakness especially if that area is one of strength for the narcissist. The abuse can last for a few short minutes or as long as several hours. Sometimes a combination of two types of abuse is used. For instance, a narcissist may begin with verbal belittling to wear out the abused. Followed by projection of their lying about an event onto the abused. Finally tired of the assault, the abused defensively fights back.
  • Becomes the Victim. This is when the switchback occurs. The narcissist uses the abused behavior as further evidence that they are the ones being abused. The narcissist believes their own twisted victimization by bringing up past defensive behaviors that the abused has done as if the abused initiated the abuse. Because the abused has feelings of remorse and guilt, they accept this warped perception and try to rescue the narcissist. This might include giving into what the narcissist wants, accepting unnecessary responsibility, placating the narcissist to keep the peace, and agreeing to the narcissistic lies.
  • Feels Empowered. Once the abused have given in or up, the narcissist feels empowered. This is all the justification the narcissist needs to demonstrate their rightness or superiority. The abused has unknowingly fed the narcissistic ego and only to make it stronger and bolder than before. But every narcissist has an Achilles heel and the power they feel now will only last till the next threat to their ego appears.

Once the narcissistic cycle of abuse is understood, the abused can escape the cycle at any point. Begin by coming up with strategies for future confrontations, know the limitations of the abused, and have an escape plan in place. This cycle does not need to continue forward.

I support these women for coming forward even if their accusations smash my personal view of who these public figures actually are.  Just another sad illustration of all that glitters isn’t gold. I loved you Charlie Rose but I never really knew you.

A wise man once told me that a good man knows the difference between taking and getting.  Seems simple enough one would think. When we go to the great art museums of the world and gaze in amazement at classic nudes like The Birth of Venus painted by the renowned artist, Sandra Botticelli 1485 – 1487 or Chloe created by the hands of Jules-Joseph Lefebvre in 1862 or Klimt’s Judith I [1901]. The two things we know for sure is #1 you can’t touch it and #2 you can’t take it home. Good lesson for men to remember, even in the work place!

If you’re having difficulty with personal sexual boundaries or some compulsive sexual behavior there is help and you are not alone. Misery is optional. Call me.


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