The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

June 13, 2016

Are You Choosing To Be a Victim? Pt. 1

Every time you complain — about anything at work or in life — you make yourself into a victim. Not that you should deny when bad things happen to you. But you get to choose whether to wear the cloak of Victim about it.  As The Power of TED*s David Emerald explores with Jim & Steve, you have options for how you respond. (Part 1 of 2)

View Transcript

Speaker 1: It’s a Northwest Lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. Now a show for anyone who is or has a boss, this is The Boss Show with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Steve Motenko: Hey there, welcome to The Boss Show. I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy. I am a Harvard educated leadership coach here in  the Puget Sound region …


Jim Hessler: Someday we’re going to find out you didn’t actually go to Harvard, you went to like East …


Steve Motenko: You promised not to tell.


Jim Hessler: East Minnesota State Normal Teacher’s College, or something.


Steve Motenko: Now we’re going to get letters from East Minnesota State.


Jim Hessler: Yes, all the faithful alum, yeah.


Steve Motenko: EMSU, yeah. Go EMSU.


Jim Hessler: I am Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy, I’m the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development, and the author along with Steve of the book, Land On Your Feet Not On Your Face. Good to have you with us.


Steve Motenko: Today on The Boss Show part 1 of victims and victimhood. We’ll talk with the author of a groundbreaking book that we recommend to all our clients, my executive coaching clients and our leadership development clients, Jim and me, about escaping the victim stance. We’re going to spend two episodes on this because both of us, Jim and I, believe it’s hugely important in terms of human development, growth and as well as organizational health. Jim I think you’ve heard me quote this, a mentor of mine once said something to the effect of … When he said this I remember driving along the road and it struck me so powerfully that I just wanted to replay it, it was on a teleconference and I wanted to replay it in my mind and try to remember the exact words. It was something like this, “In the later stages of human development the work is all about identifying and letting go of ever subtler layers of victimization.”


Jim Hessler: I like it. Yeah, they are subtle. You’re victimhood is something that isn’t always obvious. It can play out in very subtle ways.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, the obvious ones are obvious, we all see ourselves as victims of things.


Jim Hessler: Woe is me.


Steve Motenko: Any time we complain about anything we are branding ourselves in that moment as a victim. If we complain about the weather, if we complain about our children.


Jim Hessler: Traffic.


Steve Motenko: Yeah.


Jim Hessler: The high cost of gasoline. Whatever it is.


Steve Motenko: Food, the high cost of food, whatever it is. Most of us are complainers in some at least small way and in that moment we’re victims. I think the subtler layers for me often have to do with being victims of our own constrained way of thinking.


Jim Hessler: Yeah, of course.


Steve Motenko: Being victims for example of self-limiting beliefs. Being victims of our own personality style and not being able to break out of it.


Jim Hessler: Yeah, we tend to personalize or personify I guess victimhood in the sense of a victim is a victim of a person, another person’s actions, but you can be a victim of anything.


Steve Motenko: Right, we’ll be talking a lot more about that.


Jim Hessler: It’s all your mindset.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, and of course at work, the example we mentioned, traffic, weather, so forth, are personal life examples but of course at work the things that we find ourselves to be victims of are endless. We’re victims of overwork, of low pay, of a bad boss.


Jim Hessler: Right, this is the show for anyone who is or has a boss. This victim stance is often pointed at the boss, that’s one of the reasons I think bosses get such bad press, is it’s a convenient victim stance in this idea that somebody more powerful than me, it’s almost attractive to take a victim stance in regard to that person so you don’t have to be held responsible for the outcomes.


Steve Motenko: Right, and I know this is a soapbox that you’re often on.


Jim Hessler: Oh yeah.


Steve Motenko: It’s one thing to complain about your boss, because there are a lot of bad bosses out there.


Jim Hessler: We don’t deny that.


Steve Motenko: It’s part of the reason we do the show. The question is, what can you do? What can you do about the situation? What’s possible in your sphere of influence? We want to make the distinction between … Because sometimes we are the victim of forces beyond our control.


Jim Hessler: Of course.


Steve Motenko: But we want to make the distinction between that fact and taking on a victim mentality, or victimhood. That’s the critical difference between, in one way of putting it psychological health and psychological disease. When we come back from the break we’ll be talking to the author of a book called, The Power of TED, David Emerald Womeldorff is with us and we will get a lot of insights and practices for breaking out of this victim stance. Stay with us, you’re listening to The Boss Show.


Speaker 1: It’s a Northwest Lifestyle weekend on KOMO News, The Boss Show continues.


Jim Hessler: Hi, I’m Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy. You can reach us on Facebook and Twitter if you’re interested in what we do, you want to make comments about the show or ask us to air an episode on a particular topic. Go to our website,, you can contact us there. We love to hear from you, we really do.


Jim Hessler: Yes, we really appreciate the listener comments. They really help create some really interesting content for the show. Please …


Steve Motenko: As you’ll know if you keep listening to the show.


Jim Hessler: Yeah.


Steve Motenko: We have in studio with us David Emerald Womeldorff who’s an executive coach and keynote speaker, who lives just across the water from us here. We broadcast here in the shadow of the great space needle. David is the author of, The Power Of Ted. David, welcome to The Boss Show.


David Womeldorff: Pleasure to be here with you Steve and Jim in the studio.


Jim Hessler: Yeah.


Steve Motenko: The book that you wrote is autobiographical, which I didn’t realize until I did a little bit of research. I found the book and was turned on by it, I don’t know, a number of years ago. It’s been out for about 10 years, you published the 10th anniversary edition. Tell us about the autobiographical component.


David Womeldorff: Actually the total book is not autobiographical, it is a fable that is based in autobiography in that there’s a central character named David, oddly enough.


Jim Hessler: What a coincidence.


David Womeldorff: Yes. Who at a point in his life was facing as, again it’s autobiographical that about 25 years ago facing the loss of my dad at a very young age, who I was very close to, finding out that I couldn’t have kids and as a result of that my wife and I divorced and the marriage dissolved. One of the healthiest things that I did was to start working with a psychotherapist and dealing with those kinds of life changes. That’s where I first learned about the Karpman Drama Triangle, which I will talk more about [inaudible 00:07:05]


Jim Hessler: You were seeing yourself as a victim of these 3 things, your divorce, your infertility and the loss of your father.


David Womeldorff: Yeah absolutely. Definitely feeling victimized by that, luckily at the time I was in a good job, and I know this being focused on work, so luckily that wasn’t going on but in was all on the personal side.


Jim Hessler: Right. This therapist turned you on to the Karpman Drama Triangle, which, what is that?


David Womeldorff: The Karpman Drama Triangle is made of 3 roles, which we’ll talk about in more depth. The victim role, the persecutor role and the rescuer role. I felt persecuted in a sense by these 3 events in my life. One of the things that was, for me learning about it for the first time was a blinding flash of the obvious, what I call a BFO, in that it really helped describe a lot of my life experience and allowed me over time to get up on what I call the balcony and reflect on how I was being in life. Some of what you were talking about in the first segment, about our mindsets have a lot to do with whether or not we experience life from a victimization place. I always love Steve your distinction between victimhood and victimization, because that’s a very important distinction, because we all get victimized.


Steve Motenko: Yeah. If you’re mugged on the way home from work, that’s not something you created in your own mindset, that’s something that actually happened to you.


David Womeldorff: Yeah, and on the subtle side it’s like, “Oh I’m in the wrong line in the grocery again.”


Steve Motenko: Right.


David Womeldorff:


Right, but interestingly if you’re mugged on the way home from work, you clearly are a victim of this circumstance.


Jim Hessler: Absolutely.


Steve Motenko: But say a little bit about, and we’ve only got about a minute, but about the Viktor Frankl piece, the ultimate example.


David Womeldorff: To me the ultimate example of what later we’ll call a creator is Viktor Frankl who found himself interned in 3 different Nazi concentration camps in Word War II as a young psychiatrist. In his very famous, very powerful book called, Man’s Search For Meaning, he wrote about the fact that he came to the realization that given that harshest of conditions that he had one final freedom that his captors couldn’t take from him. That was his freedom to choose his response to the situation he found himself in. In having that realization he took himself out of any sense of victimhood while still acknowledging the victimization that he was experiencing but not wallowing in it. He still saw a choice in that space.


Jim Hessler: Astonishing book, everyone should read, Man’s Search For Meaning [crosstalk 00:09:49]


Steve Motenko: It is and we’ve been recommending it to clients for a long time. Even in the most horrific of circumstances, the most horrific of victimizations, there is a way to create an attitude that takes you out of the woe-is-me stance and that makes your life again worth living. We’ll talk about these 3 roles more when we come back. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Speaker 1: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko, this is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Jim Hessler: Hi I’m Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy. In studio with us today is David Emerald Womeldorff, the author of, The Power Of TED. We’re talking about the victim role and the other roles that depend upon it.


Jim Hessler: Steve, real quick, I’m sorry.


Steve Motenko: Yeah.


Jim Hessler: Let’s make sure people understand, if they look for the book on Amazon or anywhere else, they should look under David Emerald, the pen name David Emerald is what the title is under.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, thanks for that.


Jim Hessler: Yeah.


Steve Motenko: David, we were talking about the role of victim, about victimhood compared to victimization before the break.


David Womeldorff: Right.


Steve Motenko: Let’s get into this role of victim a little more. What are the, I want to say qualifications? It’s kind of the wrong word. What are the criteria of [crosstalk 00:11:08]


Jim Hessler: Criteria, but I also use the word, “What’s the attraction to being [crosstalk 00:11:11]?”


David Womeldorff: Oh boy, that’s a big question and I’ll come back to it. Let me start with a bit of a description in that, we are in the victim role any time, and you said this earlier, any time we complain we’re in the victim role. But to take it a little bit deeper, when we are in the victim role, when someone is in the victim role, they feel hopeless, they feel powerless. What I have found is that the victim, that there is some dream or desire, something they care about, that they feel like they no longer have access to for whatever reason. As a result of that it can be, “It’s not my fault,” or, “I’m not to blame,” or, “Life is happening to me,” rather than really looking at my relationship with life. It really is a place of, at its extreme, giving up, giving up on the dream or just saying, “I can’t go after what I want in life.”


Steve Motenko: One thing that I’ve found really intriguing that I’ve noticed in myself over the years, is that the appeal of victimhood, I’m interested in what you’re going to say to this, and Jim you too since you brought it up, the appeal of victimhood the way I would frame it is, there is a rush of self righteous energy when I see myself as a victim. That in a perverse way feels good.


David Womeldorff: Right. It lets me off the hook for taking responsibility to do anything about it, again because it’s all happening to me. In my time in the workplace I’ve seen that in many different shades, many different colors. I remember very early in my own management career having 2 people who reported to me and I allowed, I didn’t know this stuff at the time, I allowed myself to get into a triangulation where one of them would come in and complain about the other because they’re feeling victimized. The other would come in and complain about the other, they’re feeling victimized. Perhaps later I’ll share what I eventually did with that. It can show up as you said also in the opening segment, it can be very subtle and it can be also very pronounced and very apparent.


Jim Hessler: It’s so hard to even recognize when we’re in that mode. We use the term story a lot with our clients. Everybody has a story they tell and the victim story is a story that potentially explains everything about what’s wrong with our life.


David Womeldorff: You bet, actually my wife who co-leads a webinar on TED for coaches, has a whole segment on, what is your victim story? Some of us have victim stories that really have defined our life and how we show work and work in life.


Jim Hessler: Yeah.


Steve Motenko: That takes some self awareness.


Jim Hessler: It does.


Steve Motenko: To be able to acknowledge, identify and acknowledge [inaudible 00:14:08]


Jim Hessler: Sometimes some brutal honesty with ourselves, sometimes it’s really hard to admit, to get passed this victim stance. We have to be very honest with ourselves.


Steve Motenko: Right, and sometimes it takes others to be very honest with us in order to be [inaudible 00:14:22]


Jim Hessler: Yes, that too.


Steve Motenko: David, in one word, you can’t be a victim without a …


David Womeldorff: Persecutor.


Jim Hessler: That’s what we’ll talk about next. Stay with us, you’re listening to The Boss Show.


Speaker 1: KOMO News, The Boss Show is back on a Northwest Lifestyle weekend. Here’s Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Jim Hessler: Hi I’m Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy. If you want to listen to any of our past episodes go to www, I don’t even need to say it anymore.


Steve Motenko: No.


Jim Hessler: No,


Steve Motenko: You’re dating yourself.


Jim Hessler: Thebossshow, that has 3 Ss in the middle, dot come. You can listen to any of our previous episodes.


Steve Motenko: They’re all stellar.


Jim Hessler: They’re all worth listening to.


Steve Motenko: We’re very humble.


Jim Hessler: Yes.


Steve Motenko: Yes, in talking about our stellar [crosstalk 00:15:01]


Jim Hessler: If you listen frequently you’ll see how humble we really are.


Steve Motenko: Or maybe not. We have again in studio with us David Emerald Womeldorff who’s the author of, The Power Of TED. David you spoke a couple of segments ago about the Karpman Drama Triangle, and how when you were in therapy around your divorce and your father’s death you discovered this through the therapist. The triangle, the drama triangle implies there’s 3 points. Of course we’ve talked about victimhood, but we mentioned before the break that you can’t be a victim without a persecutor. This is the second of the 3 roles, say a little bit about it.


David Womeldorff: Absolutely. When Dr. Karpman first articulated the Drama Triangle he was articulating it specifically within the realm of interpersonal communication, interpersonal dynamics. What I’ve come to realize is that given my life experience and the little bit of autobiography that is in the book, is that the persecutor certainly could be a person, could be a difficult coworker, it could be a bad boss. But it also could be a condition, like a health condition, it also could be a circumstance, whether it’s a natural disaster, whether it’s a turn in the marketplace, a new competitor. They’re all kinds of forms that the persecutor can take.


Steve Motenko: Traffic, weather, as we’ve said before. Yeah.


Jim Hessler: Monday morning is my favorite.


Steve Motenko: Yeah. People see themselves as victims of Monday morning.


Jim Hessler: Yeah or, “I can’t work yet because I haven’t had that first cup of coffee.” It’s so pervasive.


Steve Motenko: Or business.


Jim Hessler: Or business.


Steve Motenko: “Oh my God, I’m so busy.”


Jim Hessler: Yeah, we’re going to talk about that in another show here pretty soon.


Steve Motenko: “I can’t take on any more projects.” Yes. Go ahead.


David Womeldorff: I was just going to say one thing that interests me about this persecutor role, and actually about how interdependent, intertwined and complicated the model is as we’ll get into more as we go along in this episode in our part 2 next week, is that if I’m talking to a victim, to someone that I see as taking a victim stance constantly, I’m seeing myself as the victim of that person. I see this victim in front of me as a persecutor to me. I may not be aware of it but that dynamic is going on.


Jim Hessler: If you’re calling out their victimhood they’ll see you as a persecutor.


David Womeldorff: Right. You guys are both really onto it. What you’re onto is what I call the game of, victim, victim, who’s the victim?


Steve Motenko: Can we play?


Jim Hessler: I think we played that at boy scout camp or something.


David Womeldorff: I mentioned these 2 people early in my management career, both coming in to me. They were very much in seeing each other as the persecutor and each of them feeling like they’re the victim. That’s a very, very typical game. I use the term game on purpose because this comes of, Dr. Karpman was in the field of transactional analysis and the games people play. It is a game that I see all the time and it’s really hard to break that pattern without one person being able to at least step out of the roles that they’re playing.


Jim Hessler: Right, which requires self awareness around that.


David Womeldorff: Right.


Jim Hessler: Yes, or a good coach.


Steve Motenko: Yeah.


Jim Hessler: Who can lead you to self awareness.


Steve Motenko: Right, 2 of the 3 of us in this room are that.


Jim Hessler: Yes.


Steve Motenko: One doesn’t want to be.


Jim Hessler: I’m terrible, I’m just worthless [inaudible 00:18:27]


Steve Motenko: I want to be clear that this is part 1 of a 2-parter and we’re talking about the dysfunctional roles in this part.


David Womeldorff: Correct.


Steve Motenko: You really do want to listen next week, if you’re listening to the podcast, download next week’s podcast about how to escape these and how to turn these roles that each have what David has posited as an antidote, that makes them healthy instead of unhealthy, that breaks this victimization cycle. Each of the Karpman Drama Triangle roles, the dysfunctional ones, they reinforce each other.


David Womeldorff: Absolutely.


Steve Motenko: The third one very briefly is …


David Womeldorff: The rescuer, and perhaps in the next segment we can talk more about that.


Steve Motenko: Exactly, that’s what we’ll do. We’ve covered victim, we’ve covered persecutor and we’ve seen how they both reinforce each other. We’ll talk about the rescuer when we come back, it’s The Boss Show.


Speaker 1: It’s a Northwest Lifestyle weekend on KOMO News, The Boss Show continues.


Jim Hessler: Hi I’m Jim Hessler and I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko, I am the psychology guy. Trying to come up with different ways to say it. We’re talking with David Emerald Womeldorff author of, The Power Of TED. David we just mentioned before the break the third of these dysfunctional drama triangle roles is the role of rescuer. How does it play in?


David Womeldorff: The rescuer completes the triangle obviously. The rescuer could come into the picture several ways. The victim could start looking for a rescuer, a rescuer may impose themselves into the system. The reality is sometimes a rescuer is what we call a hoped-for rescuer, the best example I can think of is, you’re driving down I-5 and some jerk passes you on the highway, that hope that we all have that that person will go around the curve and there will be a police officer sitting there and pull them over. That’s the [crosstalk 00:20:34] I also want to say that the rescuer does not have to be a person. I want to say a little bit more about the downside about being a person as a rescuer but a rescuer can be anything that helps the victim [numb out 00:20:47] from or distance themselves from their sense of victimization.


Steve Motenko: Like drugs and alcohol.


David Womeldorff: Could be drugs and alcohol, it could be surfing the net too much, staring at TV without any real purpose.


Steve Motenko: Interesting, yeah.


Jim Hessler: I hadn’t thought of it that way.


David Womeldorff: Yeah. The reality is we all play all 3 roles but the downside of the rescuer role is that, as a person, is that the rescuer often inserts or comes into this system well intended, they’re willing to help the victim or help the situation, but what they don’t often realize is that in doing so they are reinforcing the powerlessness of the victim. They’re saying, “I’ll take care of it for you. Let me fix you,” or they may in some way assert against the persecutor as a way of protecting the victim.


Jim Hessler: They’re [gaining 00:21:39] their won ego value and telling their own story about their role in life, which is to fix people.


David Womeldorff: Yeah, exactly. If someone takes on the role of rescuer as their core identity in life, they need victims, because victims give them a sense of purpose.


Steve Motenko: Right, and it’s often difficult to distinguish between the kind of higher self rescuer intention, which is, “I want to be of service, I want to help,” and the ego driven rescuer intention which is, “In order to feel good about myself, I have to make everything okay for you.”


Jim Hessler: Yeah, “I want to be the hero.”


David Womeldorff: I want to go back to something that Jim said in your opening segment, about how very often in organizations the employee sees the boss as persecutor. What’s really ironic in our experience in taking this into organizations, is that you ask most managers and leaders which role they think is their primary role in drama, and it’s the role of rescuer.


Jim Hessler: Yeah. Actually we would agree with that. Yeah, we have a real big challenge getting people to stop being heroic rescuers in the organization. It’s a very unproductive role to play really over the long term.


David Womeldorff: What that does is it makes the system, the employee or the system, dependent on them for the answer. It’s one of the hardest things to help someone let go of, that ego gratification of being the answer guy or gal.


Steve Motenko: Part of the reason for that is that people tend to be promoted because they got it done, they got the work done themselves, and then they get promoted from individual contributor where that’s critical, into a management role where the job is to get work done not by yourself but through other people. The rescuer role works against you.


David Womeldorff: One thing that I do want to add is that the reality is we all play all 3 roles and we can switch between those roles in a nanosecond.


Steve Motenko: Right. Stay with us, we’re talking with David Emerald Womeldorff author of, The Power Of TED. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Speaker 1: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Steve Motenko: Hi, I’m Steve Motenko, I am the psychology guy.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy. David Emerald has been our guest today. We’re referring to him by 2 different names, we want to make sure that you understand that David’s book is published under his pen name, which is David Emerald. David, thanks for being on the show. We’re looking forward definitely to having you again on next week’s show. Tell us about your website and how people can contact you and what kind of information they might find there.


David Womeldorff: Sure, they can find me and find our work at There is a segment in there, given the nature of this show, for TED For Organization so take a look at that. It’s been a delight being with you guys.


Steve Motenko: Thanks David. Again as Jim said we’re really looking forward to part 2, especially since we get out of the drama in part 2.


Jim Hessler: Right, we’ve presented the problem, now we’re going to present some really forward looking solutions.


Steve Motenko: Exactly. The Boss Show is produced by Boss Media Productions. Our sound engineer today is Kevin Dodrill.


Jim Hessler: If you missed any of the show you can get it in its entirety online at That’s where you can also go to subscribe to the podcast or to contact us for any reason at all.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, including maybe bringing us into your workplace.


Jim Hessler: Absolutely, we do good stuff.


Steve Motenko: Next week, part 2 of victims and victimhood with David Emerald. Thanks for listening.


Jim Hessler: Don’t forget rule number 6.


Steve Motenko: Rule number 6.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *