Unit 102: Language: Toxic Words and Phrases

 

Competencies and Learning Objectives:

  1. Knowing which words and phrases are likely to put you into the role of Victim
  2. Recognizing the impact of toxic Victim words and phrases on your relationships, thinking, and dreaming
  3. Knowing which words and phrases are likely to put you into the role of Persecutor
  4. Recognizing the impact of toxic Persecutor words and phrases on your relationships, thinking, and dreaming
  5. Knowing which words and phrases are likely to put you into the role of Rescuer
  6. Recognizing the impact of toxic Rescuer words and phrases on your relationships, thinking, and dreaming
  7. Developing a plan to eliminate toxic Victim words and phrases in all three realms
  8. Developing a plan to eliminate toxic Persecutor words and phrases in all three realms
  9. Developing a plan to eliminate toxic Rescuer words and phrases in all three realms.

Why toxic words and phrases matter

Toxic words and phrases are elements of our childhood scripting that we internalized by conversing with our parents, siblings, and peers. As such, they normally exist below our radar: they are so much a part of how we think that we don’t give them a second thought. Because they are emotionally loaded in toxic ways, they evoke emotions that engage us in the Persecutor, Victim, and Rescuer roles of the Drama Triangle. As a consequence, they not only damage relationships but undermine our self-esteem. They contribute to unhelpful emotional reactivity that colors how we experience our dreams and how we interpret them after awakening. 

Words and phrases that are likely to put you into the role of Victim

There are two major Victim words to watch out for and eliminate from your vocabulary, “can’t,” and “but.”  As we shall see, while there are some legitimate uses for both of these words, on the whole they serve as invitations into the Drama Triangle. 

Can’t

The word “can’t” often reinforces a sense of limitation and inability, generating feelings of powerlessness and helplessness associated with the role of Victim in the Drama Triangle. When you use “can’t,” you are essentially affirming your inability to change a situation or take control of your own circumstances. Is that what you intend to do? Is that what you want to do? 

“Can’t” also reinforces your status as a Victim. Do you want others to see you as a Victim and treat you like one? Probably not! Then why do we continue to use “can’t?” 

The problem is that there are important secondary gains or benefits that accompany using “can’t.” It absolves us of responsibility for being late, forgetting, ignoring, misbehaving, or otherwise screwing up. Admitting we failed or made a mistake is to say we lost control, are incompetent, immature, lazy, or just plain stupid. We lose face. Few people stop and think that losing a phony, superficial face is a good thing, and that one of the most humanizing, bridge-building things we can do is to admit our faults. Instead, we are taught we “can’t” do that. Why not? Do we want to waste our lives living in fear of what other people may think of us?

The use of can’t is pervasive in the thinking and speech of most people. If we say, “I can’t lose weight,” we are implying a sense of defeat or resignation, communicating to others that we believe we are unable to achieve your goal of losing weight. If we say, “I can’t make anyone happy,” we are conveying a sense of inadequacy or hopelessness in influencing the emotions or satisfaction of others, suggesting a lack of agency in interpersonal dynamics. If we say, “I can’t get a better job,” we are communicating a belief that external circumstances or barriers prevent us from advancing in our career, fostering a sense of stagnation or helplessness.  If we tell ourselves, “I can’t save money,” we can feel resigned to our financial struggles, perceiving our situation as beyond our control. If we think, “I can’t learn this,” we are reinforcing a fixed mindset in which we believe we are inherently incapable of acquiring new abilities, fostering a sense of stagnation and limiting our growth opportunities.

Whether we are telling others or merely thinking “can’t,” we are reinforcing a belief in personal limitations or external constraints, contributing to feelings of powerlessness or helplessness, perpetuating a sense of victimhood, diminishing our ability to take proactive steps to address our challenges or pursue our goals.

Of course there are situations where we really are powerless or helpless. If you say, “I can’t lift 1000 pounds,” you are stating a fact. That is very different from saying, “I can’t help you,” or “I can’t make the appointment.” Yes, you could be helpful if you changed your priorities. Yes, you could make the appointment if you changed your schedule. 

These examples point the way toward substitute words that are both more accurate and not disempowering. For instance, you could say, “I would like to help you but I lack the tools/expertise.” Saying you don’t have time, however, is a dodge. You DO have the time; you just want to use it in a different way. You could say, “I don’t want to make the appointment,” which is stronger, because it is both stronger and more authentic than saying, “I can’t make the appointment.” Another healthier option is to say, “I’m not willing to…” or “I’m not comfortable doing that…” Neither communicates helplessness or powerlessness. They are much more assertive. They do not perpetuate a cycle of disempowerment, in which we present ourselves as at the mercy of external forces, unable to influence or improve our circumstances. They don’t maintain feelings of being trapped and unable to break free from our perceived victimhood. By catching and avoiding the language of “can’t” and reframing situations in terms of what is possible or within our control, we can begin to shift out of the Victim role and take more proactive steps towards empowerment and self-determination.

“But”

A second very common word that tends to throw us into the role of Victim in the Drama Triangle is “but.” “But” often signals a contradiction or qualification that can negate or undermine the preceding statement. If we say, “I’m sorry, but I was really busy,” we are offering an apology with an excuse.  In this example, the use of “but” diminishes the sincerity of the apology by introducing an excuse, shifting the focus away from our taking responsibility for the action. When we attempt to avoid legitimate responsibility, we put ourselves into the role of Victim in the Drama Triangle. If we say, “I hear your concerns, but I don’t agree,” we are invalidating the other person’s perspective by introducing a contradiction, blocking effective communication and collaboration. If we say, “I’ll help you, but only if you do this for me,” we are making a conditional promise because the use of “but” introduces a condition that undermines the sincerity of our offer to help, making it contingent on the other person meeting our requirements. If we say, “I understand your point, but it’s not relevant,” we are appearing to acknowledge the other person’s perspective but then dismissing it as unimportant or irrelevant. If we say, “That’s a good idea, but I’m not sure it will work,” we are conveying doubt or reservation, undermining the enthusiasm or support expressed in the first part of the statement.

Notice that these uses of “but” can look and feel assertive, like you are standing up for yourself, your position, and your principles. However, this is a phony assertiveness, because it involves excusing yourself and avoiding responsibility, or frames standing up for yourself in a way that shuts down conversation. The first moves you into the position of Victim while the second may well end up portraying you as a Persecutor. 

The underlying point is that these uses of “but” introduce an unnecessary and unhelpful contradiction, qualification, or condition that can hinder effective communication, undermine trust, and create barriers to resolving conflicts or reaching agreements. There are two easy substitutions for “but” that avoid these problematic aspects. First, you can simply say the first phrase and leave off “but” and the part that comes after it. You will be making a much stronger and authentic statement. Secondly, consider adding the second phrase as either a stand alone sentence or as a question: 

“I’m sorry.” “I was really busy.” 

“I hear your concerns.” “I don’t agree.” 

“I’ll help you.” “Could you do this for me?” 

“I understand your point.” “How is it relevant?” 

“That’s a good idea.” “Will it work?”

Can you hear how much stronger those simple rephrasings are? 

We feel more comfortable using “but” because it softens something that we worry the other person might take offense to. In a sense, “but” communicates, “Please don’t think less of me because I am disagreeing or not doing what you want me to do.” However, think this through. Do you have any ability to control whether other people think less of you or not? Is it really your business? Speaking out of your fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy: you are teaching people to think less of you!

Toxic Victim Phrases

Here are some phrases that are to be avoided because they will tend to throw you into the role of Victim in the Drama Triangle: 

“I can’t handle this.”

“Why is this always happening to me?”

“It’s not fair.”

“Nobody understands me.”

“I’m always the one who gets hurt.”

“I never get any support.”

“I’m just unlucky.”

“I’m so powerless.”

“Life is always against me.”

“I’m just a victim of circumstances.”

These expressions typically convey a sense of helplessness, blame, and a lack of agency, which are common characteristics of the Victim role in the Drama Triangle.

How Victim words and phrases are likely to negatively impact your relationships

Victim words and phrases can negatively impact your relationships in several ways. Continuously expressing victimhood can lead others to perceive you as helpless or incapable of handling challenges. This can result in them feeling burdened or frustrated by having to constantly provide support or assistance to you. Relying on victim language can foster a sense of dependency on others for validation, support, or problem-solving. This can strain your relationships by creating an unequal dynamic where one person feels responsible for constantly rescuing or supporting the other. Hearing victim language can lead others to feel resentment or frustration toward you. This resentment can build over time as others feel pressured to constantly provide reassurance or assistance without seeing any effort from the victim to improve their situation. If there is no improvement, if you are a Rescuer, you move toward burn-out. If you are not, you stop and wait for a request. When and if one comes, you do a better job of clarifying expectations and defining what meaningful change looks like. If the person is sincere and wants to move out of the Victim role, he or she will appreciate that structure. If they are not sincere, or simply addicted to playing the Victim, they are more likely to ask for “help” somewhere else and leave you alone. This allows you to spend your time and efforts with those who are ready to heal, balance, and transform. 

Victim language often focuses on blame and external factors, which can hinder effective communication and problem-solving. Instead of working together to address issues, conversations may become focused on assigning fault or expressing despair, making it difficult to find constructive solutions. Constantly positioning oneself as a victim can strain trust within relationships. Others may begin to question the validity of the victim’s complaints or feel skeptical about your ability to take responsibility for your actions or decisions. Using victim language can also hinder personal growth and development. Instead of taking ownership of your experiences and actively seeking solutions, you can become stuck in a cycle of self-pity and helplessness, which can be frustrating for both yourself and those around you,

A great way to learn to stop using these toxic words and phrases and to improve your relationships at the same time is to ask your family members and friends to catch you when you use “can’t,” “but,” or one of the above toxic phrases. They will generally love doing so, because it empowers them to play “parent” or “teacher,” something kids in particular like, since they are generally in the role of “child” or “student.” The added dividend is that you are at the same time teaching your family members and friends to be aware of and to think before using these toxic words themselves, which improves the quality of communication for everyone and tends to move relationship dynamics out of the Drama Triangle.

How Victim words and phrases are likely to negatively impact your thinking

Using victim language can narrow your perspective, causing you to focus primarily on your own suffering or challenges. This is tied in with the emotional cognitive distortion of “personalization,” in which everything is about you, how tough/unfair life is, and how people don’t understand you. It also erodes resilience by reinforcing a belief that you are powerless to change your circumstances, leading to feelings of helplessness and defeat, making it difficult to overcome obstacles or bounce back from setbacks. Victim thinking can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you can come to expect negative outcomes and interpret events in a way that confirms your victim status. This perpetuates a cycle of negative thinking and behavior, ultimately leading to the fulfillment of your negative expectations. By placing blame on external factors or blaming others for your problems, you foster a mindset of passivity and resignation, resulting in feelings of powerless to effect positive change in your life.

Victim thinking will also cause you to be less inclined to actively seek solutions to your problems. Instead, you are more likely to dwell on your perceived injustices or wait for others to come to your rescue, rather than taking proactive steps to address your life challenges. Constantly viewing yourself as a Victim contributes to a negative self-image and low self-esteem, undermining confidence and self-worth, making it difficult to assert yourself or pursue goals with conviction. Victim thinking can also negatively impact relationships by fostering resentment or dependency on others for validation or support. This can strain relationships as others may grow frustrated by your constant neediness or lack of accountability.

How Victim words and phrases are likely to negatively impact your dreams

A Victim mindset carries over into your sleep and pollutes your dreams. Constantly using victim language and thinking in that way during your waking hours can contribute to feelings of anxiety and stress, which can carry over into dreams. Your dreams may then reflect these negative emotions, manifesting as scenarios where you feel overwhelmed, threatened, or powerless. Unless you learn to interview such dreams, such feelings remain your lived reality, meaning that they are reinforced by your dreams and then carry over into your waking life, strengthening your imprisonment in the Drama Triangle.

We have seen how Victim words and phrases create a sense of helplessness and powerlessness, and these are likely be reflected in your dreams in situations where you are unable to defend yourself or escape danger, mirroring feelings of vulnerability experienced during your waking life. Engaging in victim thinking can also contribute to the recurrence of nightmares and distressing dreams. The themes of victimhood, fear, and perceived threats can manifest repeatedly in dreams, reflecting underlying anxieties and unresolved issues. Again, if these are not interviewed, your misperceived dream experiences reinforce  waking toxic drama and stress that can show up as chronic health issues over time. Victim language and thinking can manifest in your dreams as scenarios in which you feel misunderstood, unsupported, or unfairly treated by others, reflecting underlying concerns about relationship dynamics. Victim words and phrases can contribute to a distorted self-image, characterized by feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness. Your dreams can reflect this distorted self-perception, portraying you in a negative light or experiencing situations where you feel powerless or inferior.

Words and phrases that are likely to put you into the role of Persecutor

Blaming and shaming 

Persecutor words are all about blaming and shaming. Shaming language involves using words or phrases to make someone else – or yourself – feel guilty or inadequate. For instance, “You should be ashamed of yourself for making such a stupid mistake.” “Blame shifting” is a common manifestation of this toxic communication tactic. Instead of taking responsibility for our actions we can blame our co-worker, the voters, our spouse, or child. For example, “I wouldn’t have been late if you hadn’t distracted me.” “The dog ate my homework.” “Putin.” “Hamas.” 

Blame and shame are negative communication tactics that are damaging to relationships and interactions. The critical word here is “tactics,” meaning that they are manipulative strategies to gain power and control in communication and over the behavior of others. If I blame you I not only avoid responsibility; I may be able to get you to change your behavior to be more to my liking. The broader goal is for you to internalize guilt and shame as forms of self-control and “conscience,” relieving the need for me, your family, or your society, to spend time regulating your behavior. 

Withholding affection or approval is a powerful and effective way to use both language and behavior to blame and shame others into compliance. For example, a parent might imply to their child, “I’ll only be proud of you if you become a doctor like I always wanted to be.” Rather than finding solutions or understanding the perspective, needs, and wants of the other, shaming and blaming focuses on generating compliant behavior by shifting responsibility to the other person.

Have you ever been called out or criticized in front of others? Did you feel embarrassed or shameful? If so, those strong negative feelings are powerful motivators not to cross power or authority in the future. Public humiliation, for example, a boss berating an employee in a team meeting, is a particularly powerful and effective tactic for using toxic language to avoid responsibility while maintaining power and control. 

Passive-aggressive behavior is also a form of blaming and shaming. It includes subtle expressions of hostility or resentment, often through indirect communication. For example, “Oh, I guess some people just don’t care about keeping promises,” said with a sarcastic tone after someone cancels plans. The reason this is effective is that it often passes beneath our radar. We don’t recognize it as a manipulative tactic but instead take the words to heart: “Maybe I don’t really care about keeping promises.” Again, we see a shift of responsibility and subject. It is not difficult to see how unfair and cruel this is to children, in particular, who have not yet developed reasoning skills. They have no defenses against such tactics. 

The amazing thing is how often this manipulative dodge works. The basic cognitive error is that we allow the subject of the conversation to be changed from who is responsible to some other party. This is a logical fallacy and a good example of why learning about logical fallacies is an essential component of clear thinking. 

Name calling 

This is also a logical fallacy called “ad hominem,” “to the person.”  Instead of challenging the argument, which would be a rational response, we change the subject from the argument to the character of the individual: “Tucker Carlson is a “useful idiot” of Putin.” Name calling is a form of blame shifting. If a person hasn’t developed skills in clear thinking they are likely to get defensive and either attempt to defend themselves or counter-attack, both of which have nothing to do with addressing the argument itself. When you do this, you have been had by a pre-rational ploy or tactic designed to deflect responsibility from someone who probably has run out of ways to counter the actual argument. Name calling is toxic, pre-personal thinking that identifies the user as someone who doesn’t respect your opponents and probably lacks the ability to rationally refute your arguments. That is how you are likely to be viewed by people who can and do think clearly if you use ad hominem name calling. 

Guilt tripping 

Guilt tripping is another common variation on blaming and shaming. It involves manipulating others by making them feel guilty for not meeting expectations. For instance, “If you really loved me, you would (remember to clean the kitchen/give me sex when I want it/take me to the Alps to ski/.” The impact of guilt tripping on children is particularly toxic, causing them to grow up feeling self-critical and afraid of losing the love and approval of others. The conscience they develop will be persecutorial.

“Should” 

“Should” statements often imply judgment and can make others feel inadequate or criticized. They may create unnecessary pressure and conflict. “You should have known better!” “I shouldn’t have done that” is you persecuting yourself, in the role of critical parent. It reflects a problem rather than a solution focus. It is commonly referred to as “shoulding on yourself.” “What can I do differently next time?” is a solution focused alternative to using “should.”

“Ought” 

 “Ought” is very close to “should” and accomplishes the same goals of blaming and shaming to coerce behavioral change. “You ought to study harder;” “You ought to be more kind to yourself.” When we say these phrases our intention is generally nurturing and supportive: we think we are giving helpful advice. In terms of Transactional Analysis, we are taking the role of “nurturing parent.” However, “ought,” as well as these other blaming and shaming words, are easily heard as manipulative, judgmental, self-righteous, and persecutorial. We may see ourselves in the role of nurturing helper while the recipient feels victimized by someone who is in the role of Persecutor. We are most likely in the role of Rescuer, attempting to Rescue ourselves or someone else. The Transactional Analysis term for this perspective is “critical parent,” and we can take that role both toward others and ourselves, in our own thoughts. 

“Must” 

“Must” is stronger than “should” or “ought” but is motivated by a similar intent. “Must” is a demand; it ups the pressure we are putting on others or ourselves. It is often combined with “always” or “never,” as in, “You must never be late!” “You must always remember to brush your teeth!” “Must” carries an implicit threat of punishment. If you don’t do what is commanded, there will be consequences, and they won’t be pretty. “Must” therefore implies intense persecution, bordering on intimidation. It generates either docile submission and obedience, which is the desired outcome, or generates determined rebellion, which may either be hidden or explosive. Again, our intent is almost always nurturing: “You must always look both ways before crossing the street.” “You must never cheat.” It involves the use of the stick of fear rather than the carrot of acceptance to motivate us to change our behavior. 

“Fault”

 

“This mess is all your fault!” “She left me, and it’s all my fault!” “Fault” is perhaps the best example of a “problem focused” toxic word. It expresses no interest in solutions. Instead, it wants to find and punish the person or behavior that is out of favor. “Fault” is an excellent toxic world to excise from your vocabulary and thinking. You can’t use it without throwing yourself into the role of Persecutor, either toward someone else or, in your own thoughts, toward yourself. Since as we treat others we are treating those aspects of ourselves that they represent, when we tell others, “It’s all your fault! we are, at the same time, persecuting ourselves. 

“Always/Never” 

These polarized opposites never fail to put dynamite into a relationship. Absolutes like “you always…” or “you never…” are exaggerations and verbal distortions. “You’re always late!” “You never put down the toilet seat!” “You never listen to me!” Aways and never express absolutes that very rarely exist in reality. That is why they are exaggerations. All the other party needs to do is remember one time they were on time or remembered to put down the toilet seat, or listened, to feel justified in ignoring your entire point. Therefore, using “always” and “never” are guaranteed ways to destroy both your argument and your credibility. 

In addition, “you always…” and “you never…” are accusations. Accusations create defensiveness, which means that instead of listening to your argument the other person is busy protecting themselves. These toxic words are also generalizations, meaning that they do not hold up well to scrutiny when applied to specific situations. That means using them further undermines both your argument and your credibility. Finally, “always” and “never” escalate conflicts rather than resolving them. They do so by polarizing the conversation and teaching the other party to use the same language with you, which you are likely to find unfair and unreasonable.

If all of these very good and important reasons to not use “always” and “never” exist, why do we use them? Why do they persist, handed down from generation to generation? The answer lies in the fact that they feel true. On the level of our emotions, of how we feel, “always” and “never” are true! So when we are identified with our emotions, as when we are very angry, afraid, or sad, “always” and “never” feel right, true, and authentic. In the process of authentically communicating our emotions we make rational, cognitive errors that the other person hears and responds to – generally in a negative way. This is called a “crossed communication” or “crossed transaction,” in which we expect our emotional intent to be heard when what is communicated is a persecutorial cognitive distortion that creates confusion, defensiveness, and hurt feelings. 

The point is not that our emotions are wrong or false but that they reflect a pre-rational authenticity of who we are. That means that they reflect our identity on a level that does not need to make sense or even want to make sense. When we are sad, scared, or angry we don’t care if we make sense or not. What we care about is that our feelings are heard and respected. As a result, those who are listening to us are very likely to misunderstand. This is because they are trying to make sense of what we are saying, which is a rational exercise. They are trying to understand. As a result, they are very likely to seize on the pre-rational nature of our language, particularly if they feel attacked and defensive. This is the basic reason why we need to not use “never” and “always” even when they are true, authentic, and honest representations of how we feel. 

Persecuting phrases

Other words or phrases that are likely to put you in the role of the Persecutor in the Drama Triangle include:

“You’re so incompetent.”

“Why can’t you get anything right?

“You’re never going to change.”

“I told you so.”

“You’re just like [negative comparison].”

“You’re making this difficult.”

“You’re the problem here.”

“You deserve what’s coming to you.”

How Persecutor words and phrases are likely to negatively impact your relationships

Because children are not emotionally or cognitively prepared to understand or defend against persecutorial toxic words and phrases, using them on children constitutes abuse. They will internalize these words and phrases and apply them to themselves, significantly damaging their self-esteem and leading to feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness. In addition, they are taught by our example to use them on others, meaning we are condemning them to conflictual relationships and making it highly likely they will pass on these toxic behaviors to their children. 

Constant criticism, blame, and judgment from a Persecutor erodes trust within a relationship. The targeted individual may feel unsafe or defensive, leading to a breakdown in communication and intimacy. Persecutor language often triggers defensiveness and resentment in the targeted individual. They may feel attacked or unfairly treated, leading to counterattacks or withdrawal from the relationship. They may also emotionally distance themselves from the Persecutor to protect themselves from further harm. This can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection within the relationship. Persecutor language often escalates conflict within relationships, leading to a cycle of blame, resentment, and further criticism. This cycle can perpetuate negative communication patterns and prevent the resolution of underlying issues. Persecutor behavior can undermine collaboration and teamwork within relationships. Instead of working together towards common goals, you may become focused on defending yourself or attacking the other person, hindering cooperation and problem-solving. Persistent exposure to Persecutor words and phrases can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and depression. Ultimately, Persecutor behavior can lead to a deterioration in the overall quality of relationships. The constant negativity and hostility can overshadow any positive aspects of the relationship, leading to unhappiness and dissatisfaction for both parties.

How Persecutor words and phrases are likely to negatively impact your thinking

If the destruction of relationships wasn’t bad enough, persecutorial words and phrases create internal conflict, damage our self-esteem, and generate stress and anxiety. Persecutor language often involves harsh criticism and blame directed at ourselves. If we are using these words in our vocabulary, it is highly likely we are thinking them as well. Internalizing these words and phrases can lead to heightened self-criticism and negative self-talk, undermining self-esteem and confidence. Constant exposure to Persecutor language can create a filter through which you perceive the world, focusing primarily on negative aspects and faults. This negative filtering can distort perceptions and lead to a pessimistic outlook on life. Persecutor words and phrases can also reinforce limiting beliefs about yourself and others. You may come to believe that you are inherently flawed or unworthy of success, leading to self-sabotage and a fear of taking risks. 

We have seen how persecutorial language and blame-focused thinking can prevent us from taking responsibility for our actions or seeking constructive solutions to problems. Persecutor words and phrases can also contribute to rigid thinking patterns, where you see situations in black-and-white terms and are unwilling to consider alternative perspectives or solutions. This rigidity can hinder creativity and problem-solving abilities. Constant exposure to Persecutor language can increase stress and anxiety levels, as we may constantly feel under attack or criticized. This heightened stress can impair cognitive function and decision-making abilities. Persecutor language can diminish feelings of self-efficacy and competence, leading us to doubt our abilities and avoid taking on new challenges. This can create a self-perpetuating cycle of self-doubt and avoidance. Persecutor thinking can also impair relationships by fostering a hostile and critical mindset towards others. We may struggle to trust or connect with others, leading to social isolation and loneliness. It interferes with goal setting, assertiveness, problem solving, meditation, breathing, and setting healthy intent.  

How Persecutor words and phrases are likely to negatively impact your dreams

Constant exposure to Persecutor language during your waking hours can contribute to heightened anxiety levels, which may carry over into your dreams. Dream scenarios may then reflect feelings of stress, fear, or insecurity stemming from the persecutorial words and actions. Because persecutor language involves criticism, blame, and hostility, it can manifest as themes of conflict and confrontation in dreams. Such dream scenarios involve arguments, confrontations, or power struggles with perceived aggressors. Persecutor words and phrases can also create a sense of vulnerability and powerlessness, which may be reflected in dreams. Dream scenarios may involve the dreamer feeling attacked, belittled, or overwhelmed by external threats. Persecutor language also contributes to negative self-image and low self-esteem, which may be reflected in dreams. Dream scenarios may involve the dreamer experiencing feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, or failure. Persistent exposure to Persecutor language and behavior can contribute to recurring nightmares or distressing dream themes. Dream scenarios may repeat patterns of conflict and victimization, reflecting underlying anxieties and unresolved issues. Persecutor thoughts and emotions can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to frequent awakenings during the night. Disrupted sleep can impact the quality and content of dreams, potentially intensifying negative dream experiences. Negative dream experiences stemming from Persecutor language can contribute to mood disturbances and feelings of distress upon waking. The emotional toll of unsettling dreams may linger throughout the day, impacting your overall well-being.  Persecutor language can influence dream scenarios involving interpersonal relationships, involving conflicts with authority figures, peers, or loved ones and reflecting underlying tensions in waking relationships.

Words and phrases that are likely to put you into the role of Rescuer

Rescuer Words

“Need” 

We all have needs! There’s nothing wrong with that. There are plenty of life situations in which people express legitimate needs for which our assistance is both appropriate and appreciated. Maslow has identified, in his famous hierarchy, basic “needs” that are shared by all humans. The problem arises when we become emotional vampires, suffocating others with our neediness. It is important to learn to differentiate between legitimate needs, in which generous and nurturing support is appropriate, and those situations, and those that are invitations into the Drama Triangle. In either case, the word “need” should raise questions in your mind. “Does this person “need” my help or do they want it?” “Do I need to say or do something or do I want to?” “What are the actual capabilities of this person?” “How much of this need can they meet by themselves?” “By assisting them, do I risk making them dependent on me?” “By assisting them am I keeping them from learning self-reliance and developing self-confidence?” “Am I looking to them to validate my worth or to provide me with love or security?”

There are no easy or final answers to these questions, and in fact the answers are not as important as your ability to ask them. That is because to formulate in your mind such questions reflects an ability to be empathetic, to sound out what is going on beneath what words are being said. 

The word “need” can throw you into the Rescuer role of the Drama Triangle in several ways. When someone expresses a need, you may feel compelled to step in and fulfill that need, especially if you perceive yourself as a helpful and caring person. Or, if you seek validation to boost your confidence, proving you are more than helpful can be an effective approach. This leads to the role of Rescuer, where you take on the responsibility of solving the problem or meeting the need of the other person in order to validate your own self-worth. 

Constantly fulfilling another person’s needs without allowing them to take responsibility for themselves can create a dynamic of dependence. The person being rescued may become reliant on you for solutions, perpetuating the cycle. Notice that if your self-esteem, confidence, or income depend on your dependency on another, you have incentives for taking the role of Rescuer because you are emotionally and/or financially reinforced for doing so. Rescuers tend neglect their own needs and well-being in favor of focusing on others. Receiving a sense of validation or purpose from being needed can lead to a pattern of seeking out situations where we can fulfill others’ needs.

In the Drama Triangle, Rescuers often enables Victims by providing solutions or assistance without addressing underlying issues. This can perpetuate the drama and prevent the Victim from taking agency and finding real solutions to their problems. For example, if I interpret your dream for you, regardless of how “on target” or helpful you might find it, I have taught you to depend on an outside source for interpretations of your reality. This is why in IDL offering our interpretations comes only after the dreamer has first offered their associations, one or more dream characters have been interviewed to receive their interpretations, and the dreamer has again been asked how they interpret what they have heard. 

Ultimately, the word “need” can trigger you to step into the Rescuer role by eliciting a sense of obligation or desire to help, even if it’s not in the best interest of all parties involved. 

“Needy” words and phrases: 

“Let me fix this for you.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything.”

“You shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

“I’ll handle it for you.”

“You can rely on me.”

“I’ll protect you from this.”

“I know what’s best for you.”

“You just need to listen to me.”

“I’ll save you from yourself.”

“You’re too weak, let me help.”

These expressions often convey a sense of over-protection, taking control, and assuming responsibility for others’ problems, which are common characteristics of the Rescuer role in the Drama Triangle.

How Rescuer words and phrases are likely to negatively impact your relationships

Rescuers may use language that undermines the autonomy of the other person. Phrases like “Let me fix it for you” or “You can’t handle this on your own” can make the other person feel incapable or disempowered. Constantly swooping in to rescue someone can foster a sense of dependency. Phrases like “I’ll take care of it” or “Don’t worry, I’ll handle everything” can discourage the other person from taking responsibility for their own actions or problems. Rescuer language can create resentment over time, as the person being rescued may feel smothered or infantilized. They may start to resent the rescuer for not allowing them to solve their own problems or make their own decisions. Constant rescuing can fuel feelings of insecurity in the other person. They may start to doubt their own abilities and become overly reliant on the rescuer for validation and support. Rescuer language can hinder effective communication by preventing open and honest dialogue about problems. Instead of addressing issues directly, the rescuer may try to sweep them under the rug or downplay their significance. Rescuer language can create an imbalance of power in the relationship, with the rescuer assuming a dominant role and the other person becoming increasingly submissive. This imbalance can lead to feelings of resentment and frustration on both sides.

How Rescuer words and phrases are likely to negatively impact your thinking

When you use Rescuer language, you may start to doubt your own abilities to handle situations independently. It can erode your self-confidence and self-efficacy, making you more reliant on others to solve your problems. Rescuer language can reinforce a mindset of dependency, where you come to expect others to always come to your rescue. This can prevent you from developing essential problem-solving skills and coping mechanisms, ultimately hindering your personal growth and development. Constantly being rescued can also contribute to a Victim mentality, where you perceive yourself as helpless and powerless to change your circumstances. This mindset can limit your ability to take initiative and control over your life, leading to feelings of frustration and disempowerment. Rescuer language may discourage you from speaking up for yourself or asserting your needs and boundaries. You may become accustomed to others taking charge and making decisions on your behalf, which can diminish your sense of agency and autonomy. It can contribute to codependent dynamics in relationships, where your sense of self-worth becomes dependent on how much you are able to rescue or care for others. This can lead to unhealthy patterns of behavior, such as prioritizing others’ needs over your own or seeking validation through caretaking roles. Relying too heavily on rescuer language can hinder your ability to develop effective problem-solving skills. Instead of proactively addressing challenges and finding solutions, you may default to seeking assistance from others without fully exploring your own resources and options. Constantly rescuing others can distort your perceptions of them, leading you to view them as incapable or incompetent. This can create a dynamic where you feel superior or more competent, which can strain your relationships and undermine mutual respect.

How Rescuer words and phrases are likely to negatively impact your dreams

Constant exposure to rescuer language may manifest in dreams where you feel helpless or incapable of managing challenges on your own. You may find yourself in situations where you’re in need of rescue, but no one comes to help, reflecting feelings of dependency and vulnerability. Rescuer language can create underlying tensions and power imbalances in relationships, which may surface in dreams as conflicts or strained interactions with others. You might dream of arguments or disagreements with people who play the role of rescuers or those you feel dependent on. If rescuer language contributes to feelings of dependency or insecurity, it could lead to nightmares centered around themes of abandonment or rejection. Dreams may involve scenarios where you’re left alone to face threatening situations, reflecting underlying fears of being unable to cope without external support. Dreams may reflect feelings of frustration or inadequacy stemming from an over-reliance on rescuer language. You might find yourself in repetitive or chaotic situations in dreams, where you’re unable to resolve problems or escape undesirable circumstances, mirroring a sense of helplessness or stagnation in waking life. Rescuer language may manifest in dreams through imagery related to control or domination. You might dream of being trapped, restrained, or manipulated by external forces, reflecting anxieties about losing autonomy or agency in relationships or situations. Dreams may uncover underlying feelings of resentment or guilt associated with rescuer dynamics. You might experience dreams where you’re either resentful towards those who constantly offer help or feel guilty for relying too heavily on others, highlighting internal conflicts around dependency and independence. Rescuer language may trigger dreams that delve into questions of self-worth, competence, and the balance between independence and interdependence in relationships.

How to catch key toxic words and phrases and stop using them

Pay attention to your own language patterns and how they impact your interactions with others. Notice when you use toxic words or phrases and reflect on the effects they have on your relationships. Identify the situations or emotions that tend to lead you to use toxic language. Recognizing these triggers can help you become more mindful in those moments and choose healthier responses. Practice being present in the moment and observing your thoughts and words without judgment. When you notice yourself using toxic language, pause and consider the impact it may have before responding. Instead of using blame, criticism, or absolutes, try using language that fosters empathy, understanding, and collaboration. Use “I” statements to express your feelings and needs without blaming others. Acknowledge when you’ve used toxic language and take responsibility for your words and their effects. Apologize if necessary and commit to communicating more effectively in the future. Actively listen to others without interrupting or formulating your response while they’re speaking. Pay attention to their words and emotions, and respond thoughtfully rather than reactively. Ask trusted friends, family members, or colleagues to provide feedback on your communication style. They may be able to help you identify patterns of toxic language and offer suggestions for improvement. Celebrate your successes in using healthier language and communication strategies. Positive reinforcement can help reinforce new habits and motivate continued growth.  Changing ingrained habits takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself as you work to unlearn toxic language patterns and replace them with healthier alternatives. Stay committed to practicing new communication skills consistently over time.

Developing a plan to eliminate toxic Victim words and phrases in your relationships, thinking, and dreaming

Recognize the presence of victim words and phrases in your language, both in your interactions with others and in your internal dialogue. Pay attention to how these words and phrases impact your relationships, thinking patterns, and dreams. Identify triggers that lead you to use victim language, such as stressful situations, conflicts, or feelings of insecurity. Notice patterns in your thinking and behavior that reinforce a victim mentality, such as blaming others for your problems or focusing on past failures. Challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to victim thinking. Question the validity of statements like “I can’t” or “It’s not fair” and replace them with more empowering alternatives. Practice reframing situations in a more positive light, focusing on opportunities for growth and personal agency rather than dwelling on perceived injustices. Practice assertive communication techniques to express your needs and boundaries in a constructive manner, without resorting to victim language. Take ownership of your thoughts, feelings, and actions, and avoid blaming others for your circumstances. Focus on what you can control and take proactive steps to address challenges, Cultivate resilience by developing coping strategies to deal with adversity and setbacks. Focus on building inner strength and resilience rather than succumbing to feelings of helplessness. Practice self-compassion and kindness towards yourself, recognizing that everyone experiences difficulties and setbacks. Treat yourself with the same empathy and understanding that you would extend to a friend facing similar challenges. Surround yourself with supportive others who encourage and uplift you rather than enabling victim thinking. Seek out friends, family members, or mentors who offer constructive feedback and support your growth and development. Practice positive self-talk to counteract negative thought patterns and reinforce a mindset of empowerment and resilience. Affirmations and self-affirming statements can help reprogram your subconscious mind and promote a more positive outlook.

Consider starting a journal to record instances where victim words and phrases arise in your relationships, thinking, and dreams. Reflect on the emotions and situations surrounding these instances. Engage in mindfulness meditation or other mindfulness techniques to increase awareness of your thoughts and language patterns throughout the day and during sleep, Identify common triggers that lead to the use of victim language. These could be specific situations, interactions with certain you, or internal emotional states. Notice recurring patterns in your thinking and behavior that reinforce a victim mentality. Look for links between victim language, emotional states, and behaviors. When you catch yourself using victim words and phrases, challenge the validity of these thoughts. Ask yourself if there’s evidence to support them or if there are alternative, more empowering interpretations. Replace victim language with assertive, solution-focused language. Instead of saying “I can’t handle this,” try saying “I will find a way to deal with this.” Identify goals and aspirations for your relationships, personal development, and nighttime dreams. Focus on actions you can take to move towards these goals, rather than dwelling on limitations. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge your strengths and accomplishments. Treat setbacks as learning opportunities rather than evidence of your victimhood. Surround Yourself with Positivity: Surround yourself with supportive others who uplift and encourage you. Limit exposure to environments or relationships that reinforce victim thinking. Share your goals with a trusted friend or mentor who can hold you accountable for your progress and provide encouragement along the way.  Establish a calming bedtime routine that includes activities such as reading uplifting literature, practicing relaxation techniques, or journaling about positive experiences. Before sleep, visualize positive scenarios and outcomes related to your goals and aspirations. Focus on feelings of empowerment and success. Repeat affirmations or positive statements related to overcoming challenges and achieving your dreams as you drift off to sleep.

Gratitude as an antidote to toxic language

Notice that when you feel thankful or grateful you are not feeling angry, sad, scared, or confused. Gratitude is an emotional antidote to prepersonal emotional entanglement and drama. Following this line of reasoning, the use of language that supports, evokes, or elicits feelings of thankfulness are important substitutions for Victim and Persecutor toxic language, but perhaps most importantly for Rescuer enmeshment.

Whenever you are experiencing resistance, it is most likely a “have to,” which is a form of self-rescuing by shifting responsibility from yourself onto some persecuting compulsive force. You can neutralize that dynamic by substituting “I get to.” 

Instead of saying, “I have to,” say or think, “I get to.” For example,

“I get to exercise.”

“I get to see my family and friends.”

“I get to pay my bills so I can enjoy my home, car, water, and electricity.” 

“I get to eat good food.”

“I get to experience new things.”

“I get to make someone’s day better.” 

“I get to meditate.”

“I get to practice pranayama.”

“I get to do interviews of myself and others.”

“I get to remind myself of my intent.”

“I get to do my homework because I get to learn.”

“I get to go to work because I get to pay my bills and serve others.”

Experiment with these substitutions and see what happens.

Assignments and Homework 

Reading: 

Under “Essays and Interviews,”  read:

Don’t Let Yourself Be Cowed!

Videos:

In the IDL video curricula, watch:

  

Identifying and Avoiding Toxic Words

“Toxic Words” are words that throw you into one of the three roles in the Drama Triangle. “Can’t” is the major word to avoid if you want to escape the Victim role in the Drama Triangle. “Always,” “never,” “should,” “ought,” “must,” “blame,” and “fault” are words to avoid if you want to escape the role of Persecutor. “Need” can throw you into the role of Rescuer. The reasons these words are so toxic are explained and suggestions made as to how to break our addiction to using them.

    

Quizlet

Check for study questions and/or create some of your own.

Interviewing:

Toxic words may show up in dreams if there is dialogue, but also look for them in unspoken form. Are any of these words implied by your behavior in the dream? Are any of these words implied by the behavior of other characters in the dream? For instance, does a character imply that it “can’t” do something or that you “can’t” do something? 

At a minimum, do one interview a week, getting experience with both dream and life issue protocols.

One week, interview yourself.

One week, interview a subject. It can be a fellow team member, a family member, friend, or client.

One week, be interviewed by someone else. 

Submit your written interviews to your supervising team member. To have your interviews automatically created for you, use the on-line interviewing format on this site.

Questions

  1. Write down your answers to the following questions. 
  2. Share your answers with your other study team members.
  3. Discuss.
  4. Submit your written answers.

What toxic words do you find yourself most likely to use?

 What toxic words do you notice your family members, friends, and co-workers commonly using?

What is your plan for catching and eliminating your toxic words in your relationships and thinking?

Setting Intent

What do you want to take away from this unit to improve your life?

How would you like it to influence your dreams tonight?

How can you format that as a statement of intention to read over to remind yourself, before you go to sleep, to incubate in your dreams tonight?

For more information, contact joseph.dillard@gmail.com. While IDL does not accept advertising or sponsored postings, we gratefully accept donations of your time, expertise, or financial support.