Do you want to change the way you are with other people? 15th Feb 2016
Then get off the drama triangle!
In my training as a counsellor one of the many illuminating theories I learned about was The Drama Triangle. It was an idea conceived by Stephen Karpmann in 1979.
The idea is simple – imagine a triangle where at each corner there exists a special role:
Corner 1 – Persecutor
Corner2 – Rescuer
Corner3 – Victim
Often in our relationships we take one or more of these positions on the triangle. The other person in the relationship takes one of the other positions. “Not me,” I hear you say! “I don’t do that!” Ok – let’s look at the roles:
Persecutor: This role involves an attack on the other person, perhaps verbally, perhaps through silence, perhaps through control. It involves being one-up on the other person, showing them they’re wrong or bad or weaker than you. Do you recognise any of your behaviour in this description? Or do you recognise someone else’s behaviour?
Rescuer: Do you ever feel a powerful need to do things for others? To make things ok for another person? Do you try to solve the problems of others? Or do you know someone who does this with you – perhaps even when you don’t want them to?
Victim: If you’ve ever found yourself unhappy of uncomfortable on the receiving end of a Persecutor or a Rescuer then you’ve been in the Victim position. Or if you are sometimes the Persecutor then you have been relating to the other person as a Victim.
Does any of this sound familiar? Do you ever find in your relationships you are drawn to one of these positions? Perhaps with your boss you tend towards the victim position fearing persecution? Perhaps with your some of your friends you feel a pull to rescue them? Perhaps with your husband, wife, partner you move between Persecutor and Rescuer? We are able to take different positions in different relationships without being consciously aware we are doing it.
Life is complex – sometimes it is right to rescue someone, be it emotionally, financially, physically and so on. Equally, sometimes it is justified to persecute someone for their wrong-doing and the hurt they have caused. But the question is – how much do we actually thrive on being in these positions?
According to Karpmann and his theory we all engage in lots of drama within our relationships. In fact he believes we each have a need to re-enact it based on how we’ve been shaped throughout all of our relationship history, particularly our early relationships with parents, family and other caregivers.
So what happens when we do become aware that we take one of these positions? What can we do with this knowledge and awareness? It depends on how your relationships are! If your relationships all feel healthy, equal, balanced and fulfilling then I guess you need not read on. Indeed, some relationships thrive when one person does all the rescuing. If on the other hand you find some of your relationships are not so good or are no longer working as well as they did, perhaps you could look at which positions are being taken by each person and consider whether the adoption of roles by some or all of the players could be why things are not going so well.
So what if you see that someone is persecuting you, or attempting to Rescue you without invitation? How can you change them? The bad news is - you can’t! The good news however, is that you can change your position.
If you choose to get off the triangle – to relinquish your position on whichever corner you find yourself, you break the drama and you are free from the relational dynamic which was affecting you. The persecutor no longer has a Victim. The Rescuer no longer sees a Victim in need of Rescue. Giving up on your need to Rescue, Persecute or be the Victim within any relationship will change everything. But triangle-getter-offers beware! The other actors in your drama may not want to change their positon and may try to lure you back. The Drama Triangle is a very lonely place to be when you’re the only one on there!
Meet the family - of Ego States - 10th June 2015
Many clients come to counselling struggling with their feelings and the power those feelings have over them. Many people struggle with unwanted feelings and thoughts for years, pushing them aside and carrying on regardless, either pretending they don't exist or don't matter, or masking them with temporary distractions. One of the key concepts I use with many such clients is Ego States, developed as part of Transactional Analysis by the late, great Eric Berne in the 1960s.
A tool for awareness...
I use Ego States to give my clients a framework for awareness - a mechanism they can use to identify what their thoughts and feelings are doing. Using Ego States it is possible to regain (and retain) awareness of what we are experiencing in any given moment - and to decide and control what happens next.
Modes of thinking and feeling...
Ego States are modes we go in to at different times. We can move rapidly between them or we can get stuck in a particular Ego State for some time. There are three main Ego States: Parent, Adult & Child.
Meet Your Parent...
Your Parent - is the mode you go into when you are responding to the rules and values you have learned in life. In your Parent Ego State you are likely to be controlling, critical or judgmental. Conversely while in your Parent you might be nurturing, caring or hospitable. There are two sides to our Parent ego state. Most people however haven't come to counselling because they're feeling too nurturing.
Meet Your Child...
Your Child - is the mode of pure feeling. You are in your Child ego state when you are sad, afraid, lonely or confused . You are also in your Child ego state when you're playing and having fun. There are two sides to our Child ego state. Most people however don't seek counselling because they are experiencing too much fun.
We are the sum of all of our ego states...
Moving into Parent and Child mode is a normal part of being a human being.
We move into Parent mode because we often need to take control of situations and other people in our lives. We often encounter difficult situations where other people behave in a way which conflicts with our rules and values. In those situations it is normal to judge, or feel anger or hostility towards others.
Meet your Adult...
Your Adult! The mode of the moment. The mode which engages you in the here-and-now. The mode in which you find the space to engage in full awareness of the thoughts, feelings and actions you are experiencing at this exact point in time. As 'normal' functional human beings we engage in Adult ego state often - when we are concentrating on a task, completing a transaction or solving a problem.
The pain of Parent and Child...
Many clients find themselves dominated by their Parent or Child ego states. While it is normal to 'bounce around' our ego states, it's not normal to get stuck in them. Some clients find they can't stop being angry - they are consumed by their Parent ego state, where criticism, anger or resentment burn strongly. Sometimes this Parent activity is directed inwards - manifesting as intense self-criticism, self-reproach or hateful self-talk. This takes huge energy and can result in negative behaviours as a way of letting off steam or trying to escape the energy-draining emotional burden.
Equally, many clients find themselves sunk into Child, swamped by feelings of hopelessness and despair - unable to escape or see a way to feel differently. This can become a downward spiral, interspersed only by periodic shifts into Parent mode to inflict negative and damaging self-criticism.
Use your Adult to set you free!
We're all different and nomatter how the above scenarios may manifest themselves in each of us - we all have access to our Adult Ego State; our internal voice of reason; our mediator; our logical processor of facts; our fairness-administrator. Accessing our Adult means engaging in the here-and-now, this very minute, and seeing what is real versus what is not real - what we really need to respond to versus what we are responding to through habit. It is about taking ownership of the package of thoughts and feelings which are happening within us right now, and putting them under our own spotlight for examination.
Our Adult will ask questions:-
* What am I feeling? Sad? Lonely? Jealous?
* Why might this be happening?
* Do I know why?
* Can I be ok not knowing why?
* What do I need in order to feel better?
* Can I accept it's not my fault?
* Do I have to care what others may think of me?
* Can I challenge my beliefs?
* Can I do something different which might help me escape my stuckness?
By engaging in this type of Adult questioning we can find counter-arguments to our repetitive and negative thoughts and feelings; we can shift our energy out of the pain of the past or dread of the future into all that really exists - the present moment and the choices that exist within it.
Further Reading: 'TA Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis' - 1987, Ian Stewart, Vann Joines.