By Kristen Carter
It’s so easy when we have breast cancer and when we experience awful side effects to think of ourselves as victims of our circumstances.
While it absolutely sucks to get cancer and its side effects, it’s how we think about it – and the actions we take – that can make the difference between feeling like helpless victims or empowered participants in the treatment process. (It’s even true that we choose to be treated; technically this is up to us.)
There’s a construct in psychology called the drama (or victim) triangle that describes the victim situation perfectly. Fortunately, there’s also a positive alternative, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, here’s a little more information about the victim triangle:
First, there’s the victim, us, to whom breast cancer happens.
Next, there’s the persecutor – the thing or person that causes us to feel victimized - in this case the breast cancer itself.
Finally, there’s a rescuer, who swoops in to help us – in our case, doctors and treatment.
You can see how disempowering this scenario is; it removes virtually all sense of personal agency from us.
If you ever feel a bit victim-y, here is a new way to think about things. It’s called The Empowerment Dynamic, or TED for short. Developed by consultant and author David Emerald, TED offers us the opportunity to choose our responses to life, regardless of the circumstances. In it:
The victim becomes a creator who is aware they have the capacity to create outcomes and choose how to react to life’s challenges.
The challenger, as the antidote to the persecutor, is simply a fact or circumstance that offers the opportunity to respond to and learn from all of life’s experiences.
The coach takes over for the rescuer and offers the ability to learn from asking powerful questions without swooping in to fix things for us. The coach can be a friend, an actual coach, or even yourself, using the TED book or workbook.
At the heart of the empowerment dynamic is learning to shift from reacting to choosing our response to what happens to us.
I first discovered TED in 2018, the year of my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. It resonated deeply with me because of my cancer, but also because it turned out I’d learned some victim-y behavior from my family. As a result, I made 2019 my ‘year of creativity’ and made something – and posted it to Facebook – every day that year. Sometimes it was as simple as sharing a photo I took of a wildflower, but I did it.
It was life changing. My mindset shifted and I thought, felt, and behaved differently.
I went from occasionally feeling powerless and sorry for myself to feeling more focused on what I wanted to create, that I was dedicated to my continued growth as a person despite my diagnosis, and that I had the choice of how to think about and interpret what happened to me.
Instead of giving up and having little energy for positive action, I started taking more responsibility for making choices and then taking steps toward what I wanted to bring about in my life and in the world.
After my year of creativity, I even started a weekly newsletter and blog called “So now what?” to share what I’d learned with other people going through challenging circumstances. In 2022, I started writing for Surviving Breast Cancer as well.
The result has been more connection with awesome people, a sense of meaning and purpose, and a feeling of accomplishment.
I truly wish for you a minimum of feeling helpless in the face of your cancer and all that goes with it, and empowerment within your life. If you have any questions about evolving from a victim to a creator, please email me at email@example.com. I’d be happy to help.