Reese Harper, CFP®
Reese Harper, CFP®

Article's Author

I Couldn’t Avoid the Drama Triangle, Again by Reese Harper

Today one of my close friends told me, kindly, that he felt like I didn’t have time for him.

Initially, I was just frustrated. I had heard this same thing a few times today and I felt really frustrated. Unconsciously, I jumped onto the drama triangle.

Stephen Karpman first described the drama triangle in the 1960s to illustrate common, but ineffective, responses to conflict.

There are three roles: the victim, the rescuer, and the persecutor. I first learned about them from my business coach, and practice talking through the thoughts and emotions that correspond to each role. In my discussions with her, I try to exaggerate my feelings just a bit which helps me let go.

Here are the slightly exaggerated thoughts that were going through my head:

First, I played the victim. Victims often feel trapped and helpless, and think they are at the mercy of life. Poor me, the CEO, the person who everyone needs at the same time. Why can’t everyone just be okay and let me enjoy my own kids and family tonight? I don’t even have time for my family because I’m always helping everyone else. I’m stuck. Life sucks.

Then, I played the persecutor. Persecutors tend to lash out, and take out their frustration on other people. They set pretty strict and firm boundaries. They tend to think that they must win at any cost. I was thinking of people by name, and angry at them for being disappointed in me. I envisioned each person who was being “too demanding” and I actually got pretty angry with my two older boys who weren’t helping me with the dishes, just being “lazy” and “forcing me to do everything.

“Then, I shifted over to the rescuer. Rescuers constantly intervene on behalf of the victims and try to save victims from perceived harm. They feel guilty standing by and watching people drown. Rescuers may have all the good intentions and strive to help other people as they see necessary. Sometimes they burn out and become resentful, too. I was thinking “I’ll just get through this like I do all the time, that’s why I’m in charge. I can handle all of it! I’ll just hold space for all of these people, and take a few extra hours, like I always do.”

To complicate matters, it was my daughter’s birthday, too. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t be present because of all the people who needed me. I wanted them to just leave me alone. More blame, more staying stuck in the drama triangle.

I was, as they say relative to conscious leadership, way below the line. When you’re below the line, you’re closed, defensive, and more invested in being right rather than being curious (above the line). But staying in that space, in the drama triangle, below the line, where I was trying to protect my ego and satisfy my survival instincts, felt yucky. And not at all productive.

I went on a walk with my dog and Barbie, and she said something really nice about me. I thought I was going to cry. “You’re doing such an amazing job of holding it all together,” she said.

I couldn’t say anything back, I just shed a tear in the dark and kept walking.

I love the dark silence, the stars, and the mountains. I enjoy the quiet nights where no one is complaining, texting, or trying to slack me. I love to write, to think, and to read. Maybe I’m just a lot more introverted than I realize. But in my current role, I’m asked to do a lot more than read, think, and write, so it’s hard for me when I have a full day of meetings.

But after finally choosing to shift, which I normally do when I’m writing, I started to float back up above the line.

I think I’m up here now, wanting to learn, and feeling open to whatever the truth is about the conflict I was feeling today.

Up here, above the line, there’s no threat of being wrong. It’s a place where I’m just really wanting to learn, and I can start to feel something productive.

Maybe my friend was right. Maybe I really have been a little closed off. I miss him. And I miss a lot of my friends right now. Things have been really hard.

Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by all of “my stuff” that I might not remember to pay it forward. At least not as often as I think I should.

I was thinking about a bible verse in Matthew 16:25 tonight: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

I think that’s the call for me right now. To lean towards those who are calling out. Listen a bit more, at least a little bit more than I have in recent months.

I hope everyone out there who has helped me feels appreciated.

I think I’m off the drama triangle…for now.

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