The Disempowering Triad: The Bitch, The Martyr and The Victim

“How come I end up as ‘The Bitch’ with my children and ‘The Martyr’ with my husband?” This is something that I see time and again with my clients. 

Lets explore the archetypes in more detail, and look into this question further.


Superwoman is the archetype of our times. And if her standards seem unattainable, you’re right they usually are. But it doesn’t stop her from trying. The fuel of Superwoman’s focus is adrenaline, which is fine for 15 minutes but many of us are living there for weeks, even years. 

There are other disempowering archetypes which we can think of as the cousins of Superwoman. If you spend an extended time in Superwoman, these three tend to show up hot on her tails.

The Bitch

The Bitch is like a volcano that erupts, shaming and blaming others. I notice that I slip into this archetype when I’ve run out of energy, particularly after a long day I can be easily triggered by my children. 

The Martyr

The Martyr is focussed on everyone and everything other than themselves, pleasing and sacrificing. For me, The Martyr is definitely my go to disempowered state!

The Victim

The Victim is when you feel at the effect of life and there’s nothing you can do to change the outcome. I would have categorically said that I’m never in Victim but this week, I reflected that I used to be like this a lot when I had to give presentations. Assuming that it was always going to go a certain way and I couldn’t change that so tried my best to avoid them.

The Bitch-Martyr Dynamic

We all have a ‘default’ disempowered state, but these can be situational and person dependent. 

One of my clients said that she felt awful because every morning she was shouting at her children to, “get your shoes on!” This quickly descended into, “why can’t you do what you’ve been told? You NEVER, do what you’re told. I’m sick and tired of this…..” She was upset because it was the same everyday and she didn’t want to shout at her children but equally didn’t know how to change things. 

With her husband though, she was completely different. She would see that jobs round the house needed to get done and would get on with it without asking for help. However, inside she was silently seething because she felt the imbalance of it all. “Why should I have to ask for help? Surely he can see what needs to be done and should just get on and do it.” Overtime, suppressing these feelings can lead to being hardened or disconnected from that person and responding to them in a short and snappy way.

The Boundary Theory

The research shows that when dealing with our own children, there is an underlying caveat of unconditional love. No matter how our children behave (even if they throw poo at the wall and it slides down onto the stairs and you step in it – true story) it doesn’t matter, because you will always love them and forgive them.  

The most natural response to crossing a boundary, such as not putting on shoes when you have been asked in a nice way multiple times, is anger or “The Bitch”. Responding this way is perfectly normal. The key is to not let the boundary be crossed in the first place (more on this another week).

So why is it different if your partner or husband crosses a boundary? 

Well, the theory is that we no longer feel 100 % secure that we are loved, no matter what. There is an underlying fear that if our behaviour is not acceptable, they have a choice and they could leave. If you are prone to worst case scenario thinking, then this can quickly lead onto, “then I won’t be able to support my family, we will end up homeless and unloved under a bridge.” This is all processed at the unconscious level, but in the moment, a choice to stay silent is made, “The Martyr”.

First Steps

There are specific tools that I can show you to respond differently and elicit the response that you want.

The first step to stepping out of these states is to bring awareness. 

What disempowering state do you habitually go into and under what circumstances?

What was the impact on yourself and others?