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122. Where Do You Go in a Crisis?

Have you noticed that some people seem always to be the ones who rush to people's aid, always the first to step in and take control of a difficult situation, always the ones to try and help fix a person's problem? Have you noticed that some other people seem inclined to adopt 'attack' mode as a solution to a problem, tending to distrust and blame others, always on the offensive? And still others who have an aura of helplessness, unable to take care of themselves, wanting others to step in and help them? Don't forget, if you or your friends would like to view past tips, you can do so by clicking here. And if you'd like to forward these tips to a colleague or friend just click below.I love it when I find something that explains my experience, or that frames it in a way that helps me to understand it better. One such framework for understanding is the 'drama triangle', first coined by transactional analysis teacher and psychiatrist Stephen Karpman in the sixties. If you're not familiar with transactional analysis, most simply put it is a theory about the way people interact with each other, a transaction is an interaction. The drama triangle describes what happens when we feel at the mercy of outside events. It sits on its point and consists of three different 'victim' positions: At the top two points are Rescuer and Persecutor, and at the bottom is Victim. We all move through all of these, but we tend to have a favourite, a default position that we start from. The Rescuer Rescuers are the ones who always step in to fix and organise, a role that they've usually been playing since childhood. When operating from this point, we see ourselves as caretakers and helpers. Rescuers abound, of course, in the helping professions. The underlying belief of the rescuer is that they are only valuable while they are helping. They need someone in trouble in order to feel good about themselves. As a result they forget themselves and their own needs. The persecutor The persecutor, on the other hand, sees themselves primarily as a victim, although they wouldn't thank you for suggesting this. The motto 'The best form of defense is attack' was written for them, as attack is their default position. When we're operating from this point we are aggressive and blaming. The underlying belief of the persecutor is that the world is against them and that they need to be on the offensive in order to protect themselves. The victim While all positions are victims, this is the only one that openly plays that role. When here we feel 'done to' and quite helpless to do anything about it. We desperately feel the need to be rescued. The underlying belief of the victim is that they can't help themselves. The beauty (or tragedy) of the triangle is that they all feed each other. Rescuers need victims, and victims, of course, need rescuers. Persecutors need victims to make them feel strong and safe, and victims need persecutors in order to keep feeling like victims. Rescuers also need persecutors, because persecutors create victims that the rescuers can then help, and so feel good about themselves. And they also get to feel superior to the persecutors. Genius! This triangle plays out in families, between individuals, between groups and even between countries. It's usually used to help individuals but it's interesting to see how it plays out in international politics.... Russia - well no prizes for guessing which point of the triangle they are usually on. They have a history of not trusting anyone. The tsars didn't trust the people so they oppressed them, the communists didn't trust the people so they oppressed them. Putin is just continuing an old tradition. You can't trust these gay people, or these slutty women. Give them an inch and who knows where it will end? You can't trust Ukraine to govern themselves. They might turn their tanks on us one day. The response is, like the darleks, 'anni-hil-ate'. What about the UK? Well we have a very long tradition of feeling a little superior. We colonised countries whose inhabitants 'needed our help'. We coined the phrase 'Noblesse Oblige'. We have a welfare state. We think it is our duty to rush in and support people we see as victims in other countries. We gladly wear the mantle of being generally good eggs. Yes, we are bone fide rescuers. And what about Israel and Palestine? Jews have a long long history of persecution. They have been victims again and again and this is now part of their identity. Palestinians have now been victims over a long period as well. Our favourite position on the triangle becomes our identity. We're either the good guys, the strong guys or we're the victims. But, and it's a big but, we all dance around the triangle on a regular basis. Take the UK. We see ourselves as the good guys, we have democracy, human rights, the NHS. Other people have totalitarian states, they torture people, they fail to care for them when they are sick. We like to be nice but if you overstep the mark, like attacking other countries, or your own people, then first of all we get very upset (victim) and then we get very cross. We then bound over to the persecutor point before you can say 'democracy rules' and send our troops in. You could see this in operation when the Malaysian Airways plane was shot down. It is extraordinary how quickly the UK (and USA) went into persecutor mode, accusing Russia of doing this awful thing. It was instant. No questions, no investigation, just attack. And why? Because we are used to Russia being the persecutor. Russia does not have a track record of handling disputes diplomatically. Sending tanks in is much more their style. And who can blame them when they are living in a world that accuses them at the drop of a hat? Israel learnt this lesson a long time ago. Victims may always feel like victims, but they build resentment over time. And when that resentment boils over they head straight for the persecutor point. They may do bad things here but it is all justifiable because of the way they have been treated. And when people criticise them for shelling the Palestinians they say, 'Well what's new, people are always against us'. And aggression towards Palestine simply confirms Palestine in their victim position, from which they too gladly go to 'persecutor'. At times Israel has stepped on to the Rescuer point - maybe a cease fire, a peace agreement, a handing back of territory. But sooner or later something happens to trigger the hurt and they are back round the triangle again. What an unbelievable mess this all causes. And what a lot of pain and misery. So what can be done? Well of course it is not simple, but in general the way out of the triangle lies in taking these distorted behaviours and distilling the qualities. Rescuing is a distortion of kindness and good action. Persecuting is a distortion of strength and assertiveness. Victimhood is a distortion of vulnerability. To achieve this what each point needs to do is to address the beliefs that keep the distortions going. Challenging these can begin to resolve the underlying insecurity, of all three positions, that drives the behaviours. Rescuers need to question whether they really are only valuable when they are doing good. Persecutors need to check whether people actually can be trusted, whether they really are always in danger. Victims need to ask whether it is in fact true that they cannot take care of themselves. If these countries did that, what might happen? The UK might realise that the way it interferes in the affairs of other countries, with its constant judging and fixing, might be counterproductive, and they might send aid instead. That might allow other countries to take charge of themselves. Russia might feel more at ease, less needing to oppress and more able to find tolerance for people who are different. That way they would make more friends and feel even less threatened. Israel and Palestine might take an inventory of their obvious strengths and capabilities, and realise that they don't need to keep fighting in order to survive. They might be able to let go of some power which, in turn, would lessen the aggression against them. Try this: 1. Which of the three points is your favourite starting position? Do you like to be the good guy? Do people sometimes say that you're aggressive? Or are you always hoping that someone will look after you? 2. What is your life like as a result of this starting position? Being the good guy can be very tiring, and often thankless. You will no doubt have discovered that not everyone wants to be helped, and that people don't always take your excellent advice. Being the strong one may mean that you regularly sacrifice relationships and harmony. Maybe your life is a bit of a battle field? Being the weak one can leave you feeling very resentful, often towards the very people on whom you depend. 3. Considering at the underlying beliefs mentioned above, what if it were not true that you're only valuable when you are helping people, that people are always against you, or that you can't take care of yourself? What would your life be like then? Have an interesting week. Love Anita