My most popular blog of this decade was a reflection on two different triangles of behaviour that live inside us: the Drama Triangle and the Health Triangle.
They are two sides of the same coin; two sides of ourselves.
We start with the Drama Triangle which describes the shadow side of life; the often unconscious roles people play.
The victim says ‘Poor me!’ Here is the victim, convinced they are weak. Perhaps this suits them; it means they can deny personal responsibility.
They tend to be super-sensitive requiring kid-glove treatment. They deny responsibility for their negative circumstances and blame others.
They also deny their personal power, their agency in this situation; there’s nothing they can do. They are the victim, after all. They are the done to, things happen to them.
While they deny their personal power, they gain the power to imagine themselves all good and others all bad. They are the saints and others are the demons.
The Rescuer says: ‘Let me help you!’
They work hard to help and take care of others. They need others to feel good about themselves while neglecting, or not taking responsibility for, their own needs.
Classically co-dependent, they intervene in people’s lives, they like to find solutions. And they need their victims dependent and/or grateful. They may feel guilty if not rescuing someone. And their work is never done.
They can end up feeling harried and tired, caught in a martyr-complex. Feelings of resentment may fester inside them at their lot in life or the ungrateful behaviour of others:
‘Do they not realise how exhausting it is trying to save them!?’
The Persecutor says ‘It’s all your fault!’
They criticise and blame the victim, and can be controlling and rigid.
There is a clear template inside them of what should and should not be. Others must adhere to this.
They set strict limits on what is acceptable. There is a ‘them and us’ mentality inside the persecutor; they may well use threats.
‘This is what I want you to do’ is their approach to conversation and relationship. There may well be emotional bullying or backstabbing.
There will certainly be punishment, active or passive.
In this bleak drama triangle, people may well switch roles. The victim can very easily become the persecutor, and vice versa.
The thwarted rescuer can also become the persecutor or the victim.
So roles can change; and some may never leave the triangle. It’s the triangle most soap operas are based on; but it’s also a triangle familiar in work and family settings.
The Health triangle is different, bringing the shadow side of ourselves into the sun light where it can be better lived.
The victim knows ‘I too have suffered’. The victim is an important figure in the health triangle.
We need to access and allow the victim in us, the wounded inner child. Damage has been done to us down the years, much of it in our formative years, which
makes aspects of our lives difficult.
The neuro-scientist Doug Watts calls them the ‘unforgettable but un-rememberable years.’ We can’t remember them; but they still live in our bodies and neural pathways.
The Victim inside us allows us to feel. They remind us that we’re not robots; the accessed victim can create empathy in us.
Those who gag the victim in themselves will obviously be harsh when they find it in others. Both Hitler and Stalin denied their childhood trauma; and in power created that trauma on an institutional basis. There was no mercy.
We are all victims to some degree, and it’s not enough to say ‘Well, I’ve got nothing to complain about. Look at the people in Syria.’ The people in Syria aren’t helped by the persistent denial of my own feelings.
The victim inside us needs a voice. They don’t need to rule. But they do need to be heard because they have a story to tell.
The Activist knows ‘I can make life better’. As we’ve seen in the drama triangle, in the form of the rescuer, the activist can be in compulsive, needy relationship to others.
Their care or action is often a substitute for feeling or an escape from themselves.
Their self-image may be ‘I am someone who cares’ but in truth they might not care that much. They’re really doing things for themselves – their super-ego requires the applause, the saving or the dependence of others.
Or perhaps they worship the god of doing, because to stop doing is too frightening.
But the activist is another important voice inside us. They remind us there are things we can do to make life better.
It’s good to set up the P.T.A at school/to name injustice and to work against it/to start exercising/to create a community choir… or whatever
It’s helpful to hear the activist inside me. The world needs the activist, people who do things, initiate things.
The activist in us reminds us there are always things we can do, large or small, to make life better.
The Contemplative knows ‘There is nothing to judge’.
The third figure in this triangle, the contemplative, is the one who looks at reality without judgement. This is the opposite of the persecutor, on the other side of the coin.
Some will be thinking, ‘That’s ridiculous. How can you look at reality without judgement? Reality’s shit! How can I not judge it?’
But in the contemplative space, we put down our template of ‘how things should be’. We give up attempts at control and allow what is.
We hold what is. We give space in which others can thrive.
We become a container of the world’s feelings; but not a stirrer of the pot. It is not necessarily a comfortable place to be.
We can’t always be here. But the contemplative reminds us things pass; allows us to detach from our obsessions, to look at reality without judgement, which, crucially, starts with ourselves.
Those who sit in judgement on the world, sit first in judgement on themselves.
The contemplative approaches themselves with kindness. They behold themselves without judgement; and from that space, offer self-kindness and delight to the world.
We move in and out of these spaces, visiting them all; we can move between triangles in the same day, the same hour.
The genius is to notice the different transactions occurring; and to notice where we happen to be in this moment.