One very important aspect of working with the shadow comes from the work of Cliff Barry, who has separated the shadow into four different quadrants—four different aspects of the shadow—to help people understand the energies that are often in shadow for us. His belief is that these energies are essential parts of who we are and they are either working for us or against us. If we become more aware of them, then we will be able to have them work for us more than against us.
One of Cliff Barry’s shadow aspects is the predator; one component of this is the perpetrator–victim dynamic. Even within the area of shadow work, this is a broad area of inquiry and discussion, so we will just touch on it here. First, let’s take a look at how this dynamic is created.
If at some point in your life you were unable to protect yourself, take care of yourself, or you were hurt by an outside force, whether a person or an institution—then in this experience you intimately learned about being a victim. What is less talked about is that victims through their experience learn about being perpetrator as well. This is not to say that they are perpetrators but rather that they understand both sides of the coin. Through being victimized we understand the realities of perpetration.
Victims usually vow never to be like the person who hurt them. And this sets up a shadow dynamic. They either act out the perpetration while denying its effects. For example when someone experiences abuse and then perpetrates it on someone else. Or, they turn the abuse on themselves.
In situations were the person replicates the perpetration they experienced, they often do this because the pain is so significant that it is unmanageable. So, they use a variety of methods to minimize the pain disconnecting them from themselves and the results of their actions. They often make a vow to themselves, usually unconsciously, never to be in a powerless position again. Often this person thinks along the lines of “I don’t want to be the victim.” But because, they believe that the same situation will in one way or another play out again –it is usually all they know- it is supportive of their survival not to remain in the victim role.
Someone who has not been through this kind of experience might wonder how a person, after experiencing such a horrific experience, could go and do the same thing to others. The reason is more complicated than can be explained here, but for our purposes the dynamic is that the victim is simply trying to take back power in a situation where they felt powerless so as to avoid the pain of that event.
Conversely, sometimes the victim will say something like, “I will never do that to another person.” But, because they have not resolved the dynamic, they play it out inside themselves. For example, they might be horrified at the idea of hurting another person, but they might be cruel to themselves on a regular basis. In this version, the perpetration is turned inward toward themselves, which might manifest as a strong critical voice, self-sabotage, or even a lack of self-care, all of which may or may not happen consciously. Very often, this person, even though they try their hardest not to let this inner perpetrator out, will inadvertently do just that. This can sometimes cause them to be even harder on themselves and continue the cycle.
Even if we are not aware of a shadow dynamic, it still is expressed—we just don’t have control over the expression.
To learn more about the Victim–Perpetrator Shadow Dynamic, watch this video: Free Yourself From the Victim Perpetrator Dynamic