Characteristics of the Persecutor’s “It’s all your fault!” Role:
Criticize and blame the Victim -they must have someone to blame
Keeps the Victim feeling oppressed through threats and bullying
This is a projection of how they feel about themselves
Sets strict limits
Controlling, rigid, and authoritative
Angry and unpleasant
Can’t be flexible, can’t be vulnerable
Fearful of being victimized
Yells and criticizes, but doesn’t actually solve any problems or help anyone else solve the problem
Denial about their blaming tactics
They are always right
Believes everything they do is warranted because they felt attacked and therefore needed to protect themselves
Relates as though they are better, stronger, smarter, or more together than the Victim
Core beliefs: “The world is dangerous” and “You can’t trust anybody”
Thinking: “I need to hurt you before you hurt me”, which is their mode of self-protection
Persecutors are punishers, because they automatically suspect you are aiming to take advantage of them over even minor instances of disrespect
Instead of preventing an incident of feeling taken advantage of by holding boundaries and saying no, they lunge with some kind of attack, and feel justified by this
As a Persecutor, they may be playing out this role because they learned it from their abuser -the abuser would have been overpowering, strong, and unafraid, which is exactly what the abused needed, but now becomes to take care of themselves in the unsafe world -unfortunately, that means they continue the cycle of an abuser
Belief that if they can overpower others, they can overcome their feelings of shame and helplessness
As compensation for these feelings, there will often be statements that highlight a superiority about themselves: constant reliving of the past when they were popular, a winner, or job successes, messages that everybody loves them and thinks they are great
Attempts to “reform” others through discipline and manipulation, sometimes with force
Their greatest fear is powerlessness.
How did the Persecutor come to be?
Behind this role is someone who received mental and/or physical abuse during their childhood. The consequence of that abuse is a deep inner volcanic rage that is shame-based and prevents vulnerability. Without access to vulnerability, connection in relationships is weakened.
To survive their childhood, they must learn to repress that rage, but also the deep-seated feelings of worthlessness that go with it. They have to hide their pain behind a mask of indignation and detachment. You might often hear, “I don’t care,” as a way for them to detach from the fact that they really do care. This motivates how they interact with others and how they live their lives.
Persecutors need someone they perceive as weak to prove to themselves that they are not the weak one, they are not the victim. Because they believe they are simply doling out justice, they can push all of their inadequate feelings onto the Victim. The bad person is “out there”, because it is not me. But that also is a projection to deflect the deeply covered belief that the bad person is me, and that’s why I was hurt in the first place.
Here’s one way that plays out:
You have put dinner together to be ready by the time your partner usually gets home. An hour goes by, still not home. The dinner is cold and just sitting on the table. You are angry, and your anger grows by the minute. Your thoughts automatically go to, “They are doing this to me on purpose.” Which is an attack thought. Obviously, it’s on purpose, because they could have called. This is pure disrespect.
Your partner makes it home, but by now you don’t even care about the why. Your anger has gone volatile. “You told me you would be here on time, and you weren’t! You always lie! I can’t trust you.” Your partner tries to explain what happened, but you are past listening and continue escalating the interaction. You justify your rage and response by explaining that they have hurt you and therefore deserve this. This is classic Persecutor reasoning. But it leaves the other person completely bewildered by the reaction, and also losing trust in the relationship.
So here’s what you do:
It is difficult for someone in the Persecutor role to take responsibility for how they are hurting others. That would go right back to the intolerable shame and worthlessness that they carry. In their mind, the other is the bad person and thus deserves the harsh treatment. All they are trying to do is protect themselves in an unsafe world, where people will hurt you if you don’t get to them first.
This is a serious conflict for them, because this does not promote stable relationships where they can be loved and accepted. This pushes people away, and alienates them. Which then triggers the shame and the worthlessness and the need to continue with this role.
It is also true that you prove that the world really is an unsafe place by creating more enemies. By always being primed for a fight, you will always find a fight, and then your worldview is rendered true by this default. In this way, you’ll be fighting for the rest of your life and you will never be safe from what you are trying so hard to prevent. You become a victim of your own beliefs. You become a victim of an unsafe world of your making.
Granted, to stop and have to face their vulnerabilities will most likely feel very threatening for the Persecutor. To do so feels like blaming themselves, which only intensifies their internal condemnation. But the reward for being willing to face this part of themselves leads to being able to direct all that anger and blame towards the people it actually belongs to.
Adapted from Karpman's Drama Triangle and Lynne Forrest's The Victim Triangle.