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JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS - February 2016 - Kansas City
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
The holiday recovery period is over and we now have time to reflect on the unfolding new year in a calmer light. Our individual experiences of family and friends during the holiday may be a reminder of the good things and, perhaps, some of the areas that need some work.
One of the biggest challenges in any family system is working with ‘triangles.’ A triangle is a three-person relationship system that is the building block of larger emotional systems. The two-person system is unstable as it tolerates little tension before involving a third person. The triangle can contain the intensity without involving another person.
A common pattern in the triangle first written about by Dr. Stephen Karpman in 1956 is the ‘drama triangle.’ There are three roles, unconsciously chosen, in the triangle. They are the Persecutor who blames, disrespects or attacks the Victim inviting the Rescuer to defend the victim. People can shift roles within the triangle and often develop other interlocking triangles involving other people.
The triangle is an arena where we make an effort to assure our emotional attachments to important others, manage our reactions to too much intensity and taking sides in others’ conflicts. Though the triangle is more stable than the dyad, it creates the odd person out, which is a very difficult position for one to tolerate. Anxiety caused by anticipating being or being the odd person out is a powerful force in triangles. You will probably notice these triangles in your every day life.
Most interestingly, everyone develops their own ‘inner family’ of Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer. Think about it. You have a voice that puts you down, criticizes you and may blame you for all kinds of things; the Persecutor. Then, of course, there is the part who never feels good enough, full of flaws, or looked down upon; the Victim. The Rescuer voice chimes in to make you feel better, tell you to cheer up or not to pay any attention to the negative voices. Now that is really enough to make your head swim!
Where do all these ‘voices’ come from and what are we to do with them? Our inner voices are most likely those of our family of origin or people in our early experiences. When there is abuse, neglect or trauma, the messages become more deeply imbedded. They may be repeated in school experiences, and into adulthood in our current family and work environment. It is helpful to know the roots of the voices so we can begin the work of separating the voice from our current way of thinking. We are actually changjng old neural pathways and developing new ones as we develop a healthier ‘inner family.’
Once we accept and understand both our inner and outer triangles and the roles they play, we can make choices about what we want in the place of the triangle roles. We can be more direct with people in our lives, letting others know when we have feedback, appreciations, constructive criticism or support. That means not talking to someone else about how I am upset or angry or hurt by a third person. That rarely does more than release pressure and does not solve the problem. If someone comes to you, listen to them and encourage them to share the feeling or thought with that person. This will help build more honest, stable relationships that do not exclude anyone.
The “Break the Cycle” website, www.sfhelp.org, gives detailed lessons on working with relationships. Lesson four is about how to ‘Spot and Dissolve Divisive Relationship Triangles.’ I know your new year will be much happier as you develop healthier habits with new inner voices and better relationships.
Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC, is a counselor, educator and author. For counseling appointments, seminars, training, speaking engagements or information on Neurobehavioral Programs or Imago Couple therapy call 913-322-5622. For more information about Jude LaClaire or the Kansas City Holistic Centre go to