June 26, 2013
Founder, Mindful Games Institute LLC
My good friend’s 5-year-old daughter, London, is obsessed with superheroes. She still loves princesses, but when it’s time to play, it’s all about superheroes. Of course, during the game, she gets to be Wonder Woman and makes me play the Troll she has to fight. She always wins.
We learn the villain-victim-hero aspect of drama at an early age. Turn on the TV and you will see the archetypes on every channel or just listen to the person complaining across the table from you. And the person telling the story never sees themselves as the villain. That role is always given to someone or something else.
I remember one of my villains. He was a boss who seemed to be taking every opportunity to pull the rug out from under those who worked for him. I was sure he changed things on a whim just to watch his employees squirm. All the while claiming he was meeting the needs of the business, staying on the cutting edge.
In the two years that I worked for him we went through three organizational changes in which I lost employees, projects and a manager. I cringed every time we had a team meeting or saw his name on caller ID.
I was feeling powerless and believed I was being treated unfairly. I was playing the victim in this story. I had plenty of company. Other co-workers were just as upset. Some had even called the confidential complaint hot-line, the Bat Phone so to speak.
Longing for the hero to come in and destroy the evil villain, I was counting on the day that this savior would see how wrongly I and my co-workers were being treated and let justice prevail. Maybe it would be the mighty compliance department or the super human resources area. There might even be a chance that the evil villain’s own boss would open her eyes and see the destruction and despair happening within her realm and banish the tyrant forever.
In the meantime, I was spending most of my energy staying out of the villain’s way. I was afraid to venture far from my office- miserable and in a constant state of fear.
When we are caught in our own dramas, it plays out in our heads a lot like the comic book movies. You can tell who is who in the story. The villain is pure evil, the hero is spotless and the victim is totally innocent.
I was tired of being the victim and feeling despair. I became determined to change the story line. Re-arranging the roles wasn’t the way. Becoming a hero to rise up and vanquish the villain would still keep me in the drama (and be too Hollywood.) I wanted to get back to thriving.
So instead, I threw out the drama roles altogether.
When I stepped back and asked myself what I wanted in my life and my career, it was to make a difference for people through the work that I did. I had become completely distracted from this goal. Most of what I was doing was determining and justifying how everyone fit into their particular role of victim, hero and villain. I had become too busy directing and starring in this drama to pay much attention to the part of my job that was meaningful for me. To step out of the drama, I had to let everyone step out of their roles. It took conscious effort to abandon the story line but the results were worth it.
I quit waiting for a hero to come save me. In doing this, I realized that waiting was telling myself that I was not strong or capable enough to handle the situation. In reality, this was treating myself just as badly as I thought my boss was treating me.
The moment I stopped seeing my boss as an evil enemy, I found the courage to interact with him and voice my perspective, adult to adult. I was able to engage with him from a place of respect while valuing my own strengths and capabilities. This totally altered the nature of our relationship for the better.
Shedding the roles didn’t change the circumstances immediately. The department was still going through changes. But it did transform how I felt about myself in the situation and the possible ways I saw that things could turn out well. I was then able to refocus on making a difference with the work that I did.
Nowadays, I find I have no need to see anyone else as an evil enemy or spend the effort playing a victim. Drama turns out to be exhausting and the ending of the story too predictable.
So, I have fun playing the villain to London’s superhero, grateful for the freedom I have knowing that it is just a story and not the story of my life.