I’ve talked a lot about Karpman’s Drama Triangle and how those nonconscious (learned but automated) and embedded patterns (they are in place by the age of four or five) can muck up our parenting, without us even realising it. This post went viral: TANTRUMS: Do You Make Them Worse or Help Them Ease?
(This is all true for our adult relationships, too.)
It is a a sure sign that people are caught up in the drama of relationship when they are either bitchy or nastily sarcastic (as opposed to the fun of sarcasm when we are bantering or teasing with the intention to amuse and emotionally connect). These are the people for whom the identification and expression of their emotions has been messed-up.
For these people, the sensations of discomfort created by either seeing, hearing or doing something they are not familiar with, or that challenges their core-beliefs, are huge. They might also feel uncomfortable when they are faced with a real consequence or information they don’t like, or when they see someone who is succeeding in some way, that they are not – relationship, academic, financial, health, promotions etc.
They have little practise at identifying their own emotions, which, like all of us, begin as sensations in their bodies. They don’t know what to do with the discomfort. They might not be able to tell anyone else they feel uncomfortable. They might not even be able to consciously identify those sensations as discomfort.
Despite what many of us think, they don’t feel uncomfortable because they feel threatened. They feel threatened because they feel so uncomfortable; they experience their bodies as unsafe places to be. The discomfort comes first. And they don’t like it. And they want it to go away. And they have no idea the discomfort is inside themselves. So they identify a ’cause’ or target and lash out.
In our society, where violence is not an acceptable way to deal with our problems, one of two things happens – or sometimes a combination of both – they either become subversive with their physical attacks, ensuring others don’t see them hurt the other – or they become verbally abusive, perhaps pretending to be sweet all the while meaning something very different. This is passive-aggressive behaviour and it’s very unpleasant and can be deeply damaging for those on the receiving end.
As far as Karpman Roles are concerned, consider these:
The Victim: This is not the actual victim, who is on the other side of the bitchiness and sarcasm, this is the person who is taking the role of a Victim. As soon as someone challenges their role in a mean or bullying situation, they do their very best to twist the situation around so that they appear innocent or blameless. They might pout and make their eyes all big and surprised-like. They might cry. They might stop taking care of themselves. They will try to find someone or something else to blame . They will lie. The more they are challenged, or believe they are not being allowed to slip into this role, the more desperate and extreme their behaviour will become.
The Rescuer: This person won’t try to help the actual victim, they will comfort the person taking the Victim stance. They make it their job to keep the Victim happy and reassure them that they have done nothing wrong. They will help the Victim to blame the real victim or the person/people challenging them. They will perpetrate any lies the Victim invents. They give up their own identity to protect their relationship with the Victim, even though it’s a very unhealthy (possibly codependent) relationship.
The Persecutor: Anyone who challenges the Victim about their bitchiness or other nastiness toward the real victim will be labelled as a Persecutor by the Victim and Rescuer.
Persecutor is also the label a Victim will give to someone who stops Rescuing them. (Got that? It’s a bit confusing, I know.)
The real persecutors are those being bitchy or nasty, feel uncomfortable, find a target and lash out.
What happens, more often than we would like to accept, I suspect, is that when we are asked to deal with a bitch or a bully, is that we too take on a role in the Drama Triangle.
It’s easy to forget we are observers and need to stay observers. Too easily and too often, we become part of the problem. Too often, we see what we want to see. People are built to find evidence that supports what they already believe.
We might become Persecutors, and blame the real victim.
We might become another Rescuer, and try to save the real persecutor who is acting the role of a Victim. Even if we don’t do that, if we take on this role (and it can be difficult not to) it is likely we will pat ourselves on the back when we come up with a solution that suits us or seems right to us. This is not because we are mean or any more self-centered that anyone else, it is just because we have become involved and have forgotten to remain detached observers. Or we didn’t realise that was a more appropriate role.
We might become a Victim, and remind everyone just how much we are doing and how hard we work and how it’s not easy being a parent/teacher/boss, and how we didn’t get enough sleep last night, and how our husband ran away with another woman, and how the financial pressures we are facing are immense and how our childhood wasn’t ideal and how the cat vomitted on the carpet this morning and blah, blah, blah.
Yeah, nah. None of these are helpful.
As a parent, I know how much we all want to believe our own children are telling the truth. They want us to believe that too. What we think of them, matters to them. For some children, it’s a desperate need to feel connected and protected that will drive them to be bitchy, nasty or otherwise bully. It’s not attention, it’s a plea for emotional connection, freedom to explore at their own pace, and/or sensible edges to their world.
What to do instead?