You may remember TheAndy Griffith Show, which was a sitcom airing on CBS from October 3, 1960 to April 1, 1968. When I was a child, reruns of the show ran in the afternoons along with programs like Gilligan’s Island, Leave it to Beaver and I Dream of Jeannie. I would lie on the carpeted floor of my childhood home on Dianne Drive, watching these and other 60’s programs in syndication – eating grilled cheeses and drinking Coca-Cola poured over ice from two-liter bottles we kept in the refrigerator. On Saturday mornings, I watched cartoons. The night before, I would freeze Coke in a plastic cup to make my own version of a slushie —chopping out the frozen drink with one of my mother’s teaspoons.
Otis was a character on Andy Griffith. He was the town drunk who had a access to the Sherriff’s office. If the building was locked, he would let himself in and then imprison himself using the oversized key dangling prominently on a hook between two jail cells. Once safely in a cell, he could easily reach through the bars to put the key back in its place.
Obviously, Otis was a prisoner to the disease of alcoholism, but he was also a detainee “by choice” in the Mayberry jail. He found comfort in the bottle and in his self-imposed breaks from society. Otis probably saw himself as a victim.
I recently sat with a woman who also chronically typecast herself in the role of victim. She is married to a narcissist, so her adaptation comes with the territory. When the person to whom you are married creates constant drama, one learns how to act in the production to survive. My potential client expressed that her life experience was one of being controlled by her partner. She suffered constant attacks —living through real and perceived hardships, and constant feelings of helplessness. Mistreated and discounted, she was completely out of control of her own narrative.
I started thinking about Otis while talking to her. To make a point, I reached inside my desk and found a key which had been there for years. I had long forgotten what it unlocks. When my potential client finally took a breath, I handed her the key. I asked her if she was familiar with The Andy Griffith Show. Like most Generation Xers, she was. I told her she reminded me of Otis. A victim mentality had her imprisoned, but the key to her cell (like Otis’) was hanging within reaching distance. I gave her my key as a physical reminder of the power over her own life she held in her hand.
The Karpman drama triangle is a social model of human interactions proposed by Stephen B. Karpman. The triangle maps destructive interactions often occurring among people in conflict, which is our specialty at Robertson + Easterling. The triangle of actors in the drama are Persecutors, Victims, and Rescuers. Karpman described the fluidity of these roles as the people in conflict attempt to achieve a conscious or unconscious agenda. When the dust settles, the actors in the theatrical display feel more justified and entrenched, but there is often little or no change to the presenting problem, and other more fundamental issues giving rise to the dispute remain unaddressed. Unhealthy people are always playing one of the three roles, and I even find myself across the triangle from time to time with particularly challenging clients –as the attorney-client relationship is like a marriage and built upon the foundation of communication, trust and mutual respect.
The Empowerment Dynamic, or “TED”, is a positive alternative to the drama triangle. It takes a mindset shift. When the change happens, the actors move into roles as Creator (the antidote for Victim), Challenger (the remedy for Persecutor) or Coach (the solution for Rescuer), and they achieve greater awareness and happiness in their relationships. Boundaries are also essential. A boundary is the line one creates between behavior they will and will not accept in relationships. Boundaries are based upon one’s own set of values. We need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what is not, and to help us pivot from drama to empowerment. Dr. Henry Cloud wrote a great book on the subject.
I may have told you about my counselor friend, Phil Hardin, who hosts a Men’s Coaching Weekend he calls Deer Camp. I did a podcast with Phil a while back, and you can read about Deer Camp at this link. Men’s Coaching Weekend is a unique experience for men committed to learning a new relational template to replace the familiar roles of Persecutor, Victim, and Rescuer. Throughout the weekend, which takes place at a small venue about 45 minutes north of Jackson, men learn new skills and benefit from interactions with other participants, many of whom have attended Deer Camp in the past. While Otis never completed the program, many men who constantly imprison themselves are exposed to better, more boundaried life choices. The goal for each man is to learn how to communicate their story openly and assertively and to receive constructive feedback which may serve as an introduction for growth in all areas of his life. At the end of the weekend, Phil asks each participant to find an item to serve as a physical reminder of his experience and the new journey upon which he is to embark. Phil calls the item a “Zakar.”
Zakar is the Hebrew word for man —the one who remembers. Our ability to remember is what separates us from other living creatures. While I did not make the immediate connection to Phil’s concept embodied in the word “Zakar” to my impromptu decision to give a potential client a key to represent the power she holds to change her own life, upon reflection, it seems so obvious. One can use a key to open doors, locks and gates. It is a tool for a person to move from one place to another. A key is needed to drive a vehicle or open a safe. A person in shackles needs a key to be freed. Keys are symbolic of power and access, and we each have the authority to make personal choices which will set us free too.
The feedback I received from my client was so profound, I wanted to recreate the experience to help others. So, I bought a bunch of replica antique keys, and I have given them to many more people to encourage their abandonment of a part which they have likely played for many years —moving from Victim to Creator. We are, after all, made in the image of God, who is Elohim. Creator God. The Strong One.
As humans, we all fall into the roles of Persecutors, Victims, and Rescuers. No one is exempt. However, if we find ourselves constantly toggling between these three points on the drama triangle, we must take affirmative steps to abandon the familiar for the healthier life-cinema of Creator, Challenger and Coach. We all hold the key to our own destiny and we should not limit our potential like Otis, just because it is familiar. Instead, we should humbly accept our birthright as something more, reminded by our chosen Zakar to be like Elohim.
God is Creator, and so am I.
Craig Robertson is the founder of Robertson + Easterling. For over 24 years, he has practiced exclusively high net worth divorce and complicated family law in Mississippi. You will want him in your corner because he knows the things you care about deeply are at stake, and he will direct you toward wholistic modalities to foster overall health and wellbeing. Lately, he loves to hand out keys as symbolic representations of the freedom within reach to each of us.