|If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
– Dalai Lama
Last day of 2020. Wow.
I’ve had so many things I’ve wanted to talk about my brain has felt like exploding .. but I’m going to keep it simple and focus on one concept – the drama triangle – and how understanding and becoming a compassionate witness to this dynamic allows for more presence, love, acceptance and happiness in your life.
Let’s start with a story
So, today I got ‘rescued’ by a surf lifesaver at Valla beach. A playful way I like to push my limits is in the surf, where I love to swim out into the deep, taking calculated risks and trusting my survival instincts. Wild nature is something I love and the sea is one of my favourite and easiest ways to access it.
I’d decided to celebrate the end of 2020 with a cafe breakfast with Joey and a swim in the ocean. When we arrived at the beach I was surprised to see, for the first time, the surf lifesavers had set up with flags. This tends to be a minus rather than a plus for me as I feel obliged to swim between the flags and I’m conscious of being watched which for me detracts from the experience.
I swam way out deep to frolic in the choppy surf and big waves, and was still enjoying myself when I turned to find a surf lifesaver on a board behind me. He asked if I was okay which I said I was. But now, with him there, I figured my fun was over and I should go back to shore. He hung there as I started to swim back. Except now I felt under pressure and under surveillance. I did a burst of swimming only to look up and find I’d been swept in the opposite direction. With time I’d have found my way back, but given the situation I decided to accept the ride.
There was no drama and it ended up as a nice connection. I got a surf back to shore with this young, super nice, spunky gay body builder. I even felt like I made a friend. I also chose to see it as a positive sign of moving towards my desires – sexy male surfer – bring it on!
But I could just as easily have stepped into a victim role and felt ashamed, oppressed, judged and defensive, in other words stepped into the ‘drama triangle’ and experienced this beautiful connection as a shameful and unpleasant experience.
The conflict inherent in ‘rescuing’
This story fits in with what I want to talk about because it involves a Rescuer .. which in turn often implies there is a Victim.
I said that I was going to talk about love, and how to experience more love (including self love). So I’ll start with what love is not .. and this might sound controversial. Love is not rescuing another person. In fact, rescuing can be seen as an act of conflict.
The Drama Triangle
The Drama Triangle is a dynamic model of social interaction and conflict that consists of three roles: the Victim, the Rescuer and the Judge (or Persecutor). When we are operating in this dynamic, love is not present.
We tend to play these roles unconsciously, falling into, and drawing other people into the unhealthy dynamic. We also play this conflict out in our heads, moving between victim, rescuer and judge, taking us out of the present and into a destructive mental battlefield.
The Drama Triangle is a trap that every human falls into at times. We all have a role that we gravitate towards, but we rarely stay fixed in that role.
What is so great about understanding this dynamic is that once we see it and are conscious of it, we can choose to step out of it. When we get caught in this ‘trap’ we are perpetuating a dysfunctional social dynamic while missing out on healthy relationships. This includes our relationship with ourself.
As we become the Witness to this dynamic, we are able to choose an empowered rather than disempowered perspective.
Following is an overview of the three ‘positions’. We take on all three parts, but we will tend towards one as a starting point.
The Victim asks, Why is this happening to me?
Sees themself as oppressed, powerless, helpless, hopeless and ashamed. The Victim is convinced they can’t take care of themself.
The Victim feels they don’t have the power to change their circumstances and thus denies responsibility for their life.
They have a real difficulty making decisions, solving problems, finding pleasure and recognising their self perpetuating behaviours.
The Victim is looking for an external saviour and anyone who fails to do so becomes a persecutor (judge) – including the self.
The Rescuer rushes to the scene with a soothing voice ready to help. But the Rescuer needs a victim. The Rescuer works hard to help others (while neglecting their own needs) in order to feel good about themselves. Over time though, the Rescuer becomes tired, burnout and resentful. But they feel guilty when they’re not ‘helping’, and so the pattern continues.
Also, when the Victim is ‘rescued’ they feel disempowered and helpless, so the Rescuer efforts are often met with anger and resentment.
The Judge sits back observing the scene, directing blame and punishment – ‘it’s your fault’, ‘you deserve it’.
This ‘part’ is self righteous, and a bit of a bully. The Judge (or Persecuter) blames and criticises the Victim, keeping them oppressed through blame, shame, threats and bullying. They refuse vulnerability out of fear of being a Victim and in doing so give up their ‘humanity’.
How each role is rewarded
Every role has it’s own reward.
The Victim gets taken care of. They believe they are blameless.
The Rescuer gets to feel good. They believe they are doing a good thing by helping.
The Judge gets to feel superior. They believe it’s a hostile universe and life is out to get you.
Healing the Victim
The Victim is really just any wounded inner child ever. We don’t ‘fix’ it. Pain and suffering is not something we fix. And we don’t judge it either. We hold space for it. We accept whatever happened, and how it has affected us. And we stop holding on to ‘stories’ so we can move forward.
Evolve or repeat. Those are your options.
You are in a trap. To get out you need to stop playing the game and instead, to witness it with compassion and curiosity.
Stepping out of the triangle
The triangle must have all three parts to exist.
When you step out of the triangle, you allow for a healthier, more loving dynamic to exist. You are no longer participating in the game. You become a compassionate Witness and in this way the Victim, or wounded inner child, is able to heal.
In my defencelessness my safety lies.
– A Course in Miracles
When you give up identifying as a Victim, a Rescuer or a Judge, you can let go of your defences and simply observe with mindful, neutral awareness.
Defence is the first act of war.
Becoming the Witness
Instead of participating in the drama triangle, you can step out of it and witness it with compassion and curiosity.
You can be a compassionate Witness – accepting, defenceless and simply observing. You’re not trying to change, fix or judge anything. You see every option. You are curious and honest. Every attack is seen as a cry for love and love (acceptance) is the response.
You are responsible for yourself and rather than look for a saviour, you look within. You challenge your ingrained beliefs and everything you know to be true. You own your feelings, thoughts and reactions. You are helpful and supportive and act without expectation.
As a Witness you empower with faith and trust and allow for things to transform.
From a space of compassion:
The Victim becomes the Author
The Rescuer becomes the Restorer
The Judge becomes the Teacher
Take back your life
One of our greatest strengths is taking responsibility for ourselves. As you step out of the Drama Triangle, you break a destructive cycle. You are able to be in the moment rather than in your head. You can be the creator of your life.
And with that, I wish you a super happy and successful year in 2021!
See you on the other side.
On December 22 I started #apoemaday practice on Instagram – inspired by an interview with Mary Oliver. Today is Day 10 and though I haven’t set a goal, I’ll be carrying this practice into 2021. It’s scary, imperfect and vulnerable .. but it’s also fun, inspiring and challenging. You can check it out HERE.
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With more time I’d have made this email much clearer and more succinct. But right now, action trumps perfection. Thanks for reading!