Our language reveals how we see the world and our role in it. When we become conscious of
how we express ourselves, it’s easier to identify the places where we abandon our power. Our
personal power resides in each of us—we can’t “give it away.” When we don’t use our power,
we look outside of ourselves to explain our situation. By changing our language, we can
remember our innate power and step back into it.
This practice is particularly useful for those in a relationship with a victim-perpetrator dynamic,
like Michelle. She came to see me because she felt stifled in her marriage and controlled by her
husband. “He won’t let me go out with my friends after work. I have to come home and make
dinner for him. He makes me so mad, and I don’t know how to get him to treat me better,” she
said in our first session.
What Michelle revealed—hidden in her language—is how she perceives herself in her
relationship with her husband. Phrases like “he won’t let me,” “I have to,” and “he makes me”
are key indicators that she abdicates her freedom to her husband and believes his desires are
more important than hers. This way of speaking frames him as an authority over her and doesn’t
acknowledge her role in this dynamic. She believes she has no power and that he is the
problem, and her language reflects this.
The victim-perpetrator dynamic does a disservice to both parties. When two adults interact,
ideally they act as adults; when they adopt a parent-child dynamic, both parties lose. Michelle
looks to her husband for permission in the way a child would look to a parent, expecting him to
make a decision and take control of the situation. Until she sees her part in their dance, she will
not find a way to step back into her power.
One way to help Michelle shift perspective from the mindset of a victim to someone who is
taking responsibility for themselves is to have her change her language. In this example, if
Michelle were to be honest with herself, she might say, “My husband doesn’t like it when I go
out with my friends after work. Because I want him to be happy and I’m afraid he’ll get angry, I
come home and make him dinner and then blame him that I didn’t do what I wanted to do. It’s
easier to resent him than to take responsibility for doing what I want and risking his disapproval.”
While we may feel uncomfortable taking 100% responsibility for ourselves, it’s essential to
having healthy relationships. The shift in language illuminates the truth about the dynamic of the
relationship to Michelle and opens the door to the idea that she isn’t dependent on her husband
to change this dynamic. If he is not the perpetrator and she is not his victim, she is free to take
ownership of her behavior and make her own choices. When she does, the balance of power in
the relationship will automatically shift.
Taking responsibility for her choices might mean that she decides to meet a friend for dinner
one night. She might say to her husband earlier in the week, “On Thursday night I’m going to
have dinner with Pam after work.” Since this is an experiment, we don’t know how her husband
will react. He may be just fine with it, he may have a legitimate reason why that night might not
be the best, or he may be unhappy. If he’s not pleased and tries to manipulate or pressure her,
Michelle’s challenge will be to tolerate his unhappiness and stay steady with her plan. Over
time, either he will shift to follow her lead, or it will become clear that he is looking to control
Michelle, in which case she may decide to leave the relationship. Either way, Michelle frees
herself from living with resentment and anger, so she can be more loving to herself and others.
When we take the path of least resistance, we unconsciously set the stage for a dynamic that
isn’t what we truly want. Being conscious takes effort, but the rewards are great. When we are
honest in our language, we move away from our unconscious stories about our relationships
and see things as they really are. From this new perspective, we can make different choices.
This is the path to freedom.