Mental health

How to escape repetitive drama and thrive in our relationships

Have you heard of the drama triangle? It’s a way of explaining a position we naturally find ourselves gravitating towards within relationships (victim, persecutor or rescuer). Often we find ourselves repeating patterns of unhelpful/unhealthy behaviour with certain people in our lives. However, there are ways we can do things differently in order to have happier, healthier relationships.

I find conflict so difficult, I naturally gravitate towards the position of victim. Either other people put me there because they want to persecute or rescue me or I put other people in the the positions of persecutor or rescuer. Even if someone tries to put me in the persecutor position (if, for example they want to be a victim), I find being a persecutor so abhorrent, I will try to place myself in victim position at all costs. All of this occurs at an unconscious level. I’m more aware of it due to the vast amounts of therapy and, now, counselling training I’m undertaking where self awareness is vital.

Do you wonder why you appear you repeat unhelpful patterns of behaviour in certain relationships? It may be that when conflict occurs, you find yourself “going around in circles”, or you think “why is this happening again”, no matter how hard you try to do things differently. Even if you naturally gravitate towards one position, particular people might push you towards a different position and this can feel disempowering. It can often be easier to spot behaviours in other people but self reflection can help you notice your own preferences too:

Victims

  • “I’m not ok and everyone else is” e.g. “how come everyone else has got life sussed?” or “what’s wrong with me?”
  • Feels shame, oppressed, misunderstood and helplessness
  • Seeks out rescuers to validate above feelings
  • Refuses to or finds it difficult to seek help, self care, solve problems or change behaviour

Persecutors

  • “You’re not ok but I am” e.g. “you need to do things my way or it won’t work” or “what’s wrong with you?!”
  • Critical, nit-picker
  • Puts others down (may be as a way to make themselves feel better)
  • Blames and finger points
  • Rigid-thinking
  • Will seek out victims in order to carry out dominating behaviour

Rescuers

  • “You’re not ok but I can fix that” e.g. “you know you need me” or “it’s ok, I’ll help you out”
  • Provides support even when it’s not wanted or needed
  • If not undertaking fixing behaviour can feel guilty and anxious
  • Feels connected and capable when victim becomes dependent

Perhaps different relationships have different set ups? Do certain people put you in specific positions? Do you have any thoughts about how or why some relationships appear more habitually P/V or V/R than others? There’s no shame in any of the roles, the more self aware you are the more hope there is of growing. Have you done anything to try and escape to role? How has it gone?

Do you have someone in your life who tries to take over and when you challenge them seems offended and says something like “I was only trying to help”? This is a rescue/victim situation.

What about that nag who insists things are done their way? It may sound harsh but there’s a persecutor/victim being played out, either party may have set it up but both are probably perpetuating it.

Bullying scene

I recently found myself in a tricky situation where I felt I’d done something wrong and upset someone but I had no idea what it was. This person appeared to be angry with me but wouldn’t tell me why. I felt as though they’d put me in the persecutor role but this felt really uncomfortable. I quickly (unconsciously) took up the victim role. I felt anxious and worried about the situation but as a victim I couldn’t solve the problem because I put myself in a helpless position. I went to another person, instead of confronting the individual concerned. At the time it didn’t feel as though I could have managed it in any other way but if I’d taken myself out of the victim role, perhaps there was a more healthy alternative?

As a counsellor or anyone in the caring profession, it can be natural to want to take up the position of rescuer. Clients can come into the room feeling helpless. It’s important to give the power back to them otherwise they will become dependent. It’s also common for counsellors and psychotherapists to feel like victims. Taking on other people’s problems can feel overwhelming, but we need to reframe this and look after our vulnerabilities instead of behaving like victims.

So how do we get ourselves out of these roles and create happier, healthier relationships?! Anyone of the roles can decide to break free and stop the cycle mid-flow. There are a couple of ways of looking at it, they are “The Empowerment Dynamic” (TED) and “Winner’s Triangle”. I’m going to combine the 2 as I like both of them and I think they both contain more helpful ways of thinking:

From Victim to accepting our Vulnerabilities and Thriving

  • “I have real feelings and that’s ok”.
  • “I can accept myself just as I am”.
  • “I can do it”—even if things are hard, needs can be met and problems can be solved without resorting to helplessness.
  • Learn that problem solving is a positive step forward.
  • Be responsible for your own feelings needs and wants
  • Assess what you want, consider how you can get it in a healthy way, take part in the action that’s needed.
  • Acknowledge your strengths and what you’re doing well and remember you’re stronger than you think you are.

From Persecutor to being Assertive and Challenging

  • Use “I” messages (instead of pointing fingers).
  • Be responsible for your own feelings needs and wants.
  • “You can do it”—negotiating and encouraging without resorting to aggression.
  • Call forth learning and growth.
  • Provide others with choices rather than demands.

From Rescuer to being a Nurturing Coach

  • Show care and understanding and only give help when asked/needed by the other person.
  • “How will you do it?”—being supportive without taking over. (Give someone a fish and they’ll eat for a day, help them make a rod and they’ll eat for a lifetime).
  • Work in a supportive and assistive way, giving the message that you know others are capable.
  • Facilitate change by asking questions rather than taking over.
  • Be responsible for your own feelings needs and wants.

You may notice that all 3 roles need to take responsibility for their own feelings. There are 2 important lessons here, we can neither expect others to look after our feelings nor take responsibility for anyone else’s feelings.

Challengers and Coaches can listen to and support Thrivers with their problems without making them their problems. They can also set clear boundaries and expectation so that everyone knows where they stand.

For example, if a victim is struggling with a problem, a challenger or a coach can state that they will listen to them for a set period of time and ensure this boundaries are adhered to. Suggesting a range of choices rather than taking over can enable the a Victim to realise that they are vulnerable (and that’s ok), but having set boundaries means they’re enabled to go on to become an empowered Thriver.

If you’re trying to make the transition from Victim to Thriver but feel Persecuted, you still have a choice to take some power; simply having the thought “I don’t need to be a victim”, is a great start.

Martial arts scene

Being a Victim can feel as though you’re being treated like a child but remembering that you’re an adult, capable of making your own choices and decisions is important. You can ask for help/support but you’re capable of stating your boundaries, for example, “I don’t need you to fix this situation, I’d just like to bounce some ideas around and hear your opinion.”

If others in your life are unwilling to change it can feel hopeless but you can only be in control of your behaviour. When we make changes to our behaviour (for the better) others can find it really hard that we’re upsetting the status quo—they may be unaware that their behaviour is unhealthy, unhelpful or having a negative impact on you. There may be an upset that the relationship is changing but you have to make a decision about whether you want things to continue as they are or do you ultimately want healthier relationships? Perseverance is key.

If you’re interested in more depth, check out this Counselling Tutor podcast.

If you think you might need help working on your relationships, it’s important to find the right therapist, check out this blog How To Find The Right Counsellor For You.

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