After growing up in a highly dysfunctional household, you may find yourself repeatedly engaging in the same relationship patterns later in life without knowing how you got there.
Dr. Stephen Karpman devised a simple way to understand how these kinds of relationships typically work. He calls it the “Drama Triangle.”
The Drama Triangle consists of 3 roles that each relate dysfunctionally to each other:
1. The Perpetrator:
- Believes they have all the power and control
- Bullies and blames to get what they want
- is aggressive/passive-aggressive
- Scapegoats the Victim and ropes the Rescuer into covering for them
2. The Victim:
- Believes they have no control
- Gives up on making their own choices
- Feels worthless and helpless
- Feels powerless against the Perpetrator and dependent on the Rescuer
3. The Rescuer:
- Focuses only on others’ needs
- Ignores their own needs
- Tries to control how others feel
- enables the Victim and makes excuses for the Perpetrator
Different family members will usually gravitate toward one or two of the roles, but over time the roles can start to flip around too. For example, the rescuer in the family may get so burnt out trying to help the family victim, that they start to feel victimized themselves, and begin to view the victim as a perpetrator.
Or the victim may begin to see the rescuer as a perpetrator if the rescuer gets too drained, leaving the victim feeling abandoned. Sometimes the perpetrator may also play the victim role to try to get someone else to rescue them from the consequences of their own actions.
What do all three roles have in common? Everyone on the triangle neglects to take responsibility for their own emotions. The perpetrator blames others, the victim waits to be rescued, and the rescuer focuses on saving others from their emotions instead of acknowledging their own.
Unless someone else is around to consistently model healthy relationship roles, kids born into highly dysfunctional families can grow up to assume all relationships follow this same unhealthy pattern. Then when they encounter similar relationships as an adult, they easily fall back into old familiar roles. It feels normal. When you don’t know what healthy roles look like, it’s also possible to accidentally assume someone is being a perpetrator, victim, or rescuer when they’re actually relating in a healthy way.
In a future post, I’ll talk about what healthy relationship patterns look like in comparison to the Drama Triangle. Stay tuned!
You can check out this quiz if you’re curious to see which role you fall into most: https://cdn.website-editor.net/848c74c539684751972b4649bf55aae7/files/uploaded/Drama%2520triangle%2520quiz.pdf
Have you ever let your kid’s backpack go too long without being cleaned out? It’s like the creature from the black lagoon’s habitat in there! There’s no telling what you may find but you can be pretty sure it will be horrifying.
Kids also need to clean out there emotional backpacks on the regular!
I got caught talking so my teacher wrote my name on the board.
So I stuff embarrassment, anger and injustice (because my friend started the conversation) into my emotional backpack.
I finally figured out that math concept I’ve been faking that I understood for days but couldn’t celebrate because I wanted everyone (including my teacher) to think I already got it.
So I stuff frustration, deferred pride & self-hatred into my emotional backpack.
My best friends were pulled for a special project and I wasn’t so I had to hustle all of recess to find new kids to play with.
So I stuff sadness, loneliness and feelings of inferiority into my emotional backpack.
Some kids like to verbally unpack their emotional backpacks and a feelings chart can be helpful. You can ask which of these feelings did you feel today? Encourage them to list more than one and then say, “It was important enough for you to carry (enter their feeling word here) with you all day & you brought them home. What do they want to say?”
Some kids like to creatively unpack their emotional backpacks. Encourage them to build paint or journal their feelings. A prompt that might help would be, “It sounds like you felt really proud of yourself today but you didn’t get to shine. Can you show me that shine with your markers & glitter or magnet tiles.”
PSA: Playdough is great for cleaning up glitter
Some kids like to physically clean out their emotional backpacks. You can offer the opportunity to write out difficult feelings and tape them to a punching bag, trampoline or bury them in the back yard.
Cleaning out our emotional backpacks should help mitigate meltdowns, sibling squabbles and rigidity after school.
Parents might want to try cleaning out their emotional work bags too!
Littles and Pre-K Kids
No Drama Discipline – By Daniel J. J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
- This is a parenting book on how to stay calm when your child isn’t calm. This book helps you combine connection and clear limits every time your child needs discipline.
The Way I Feel – By Janan Cain
- A simple book on feelings. We like to read it to our kid clients and ask them about times they’ve felt those feelings.
Charlotte and the Quiet Place – By Deborah Sosin and Sara Woolley
- A great description of what it feels like when you’re overstimulated and overwhelmed and what they can do about it.
Moody Cow Meditates – By Kerry Lee MacLean
- This books is really cute and I think many parents with more “outspoken” kids will relate to it! It does a really good job describing anger and how to calm the internal storm.
Jabari Jumps – By Gaia Cornwall
- This is an inspiring story of a kid struggling with anxiety around trying a new skill, his dad supported him and celebrated with him when he did it.
Sitting Still Like a Frog – By Eline Snel
- This book introduces mindfulness techniques in a child-friendly way
Blessing of a Skinned Knee – By Wendy Mogel, PhD
- This book is helpful for parents struggling with over-parenting, wanting to raise self-controlled, self-reliant children.
Whole Brain Child – By Daniel Siegel & Tina Bryson
- This book explains the Interpersonal Neurobiology of Children and how to work with them to help regulate their emotions and enjoy childhood more mindfully.
Brainstorm – By Daniel J Siegel
- This explains the changes that happen in the adolescent brain and it also provides discussion guides for parents and children.
Untangled – By Lisa Damour, PhD
- This book guides parents through seven important transitions from childhood to womanhood addressing a girl’s inner and outer world.
The Care and Keeping of You (Revised): The Body Book for Younger Girls – By Valorie Schaefer
- This book is forthright description of a girls changing body. I recommend parents read it first so that they’re prepared to answer questions and discuss the topics further with their girls.
- Also, read The Atlantic article about this book here: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/08/the-puberty-book-embraced-by-preteens-and-sex-educators/569044/
Parenting is difficult in every generation. Currently though, it is so hard because we are dealing with not only how our parents parented us, how our friends are parenting their kids, and what the latest parenting book says. We are also faced with how influencers on social media, experts on podcasts and literally every person we’ve met since high school (thank you social media) is handling every minute problem of parenting. There are so many voices and they all have an air of importance and authority. How can you know what is best for your family? How can you get off this wild carousel?
What about learning to parent from a place of personal values instead of peer pressure or indecisiveness?
Consider these questions and process them with your co-parent to identify your values:
- Where do we spend the majority of our time and our money? When we have to choose between two important things, which one usually wins out?
- If I have a day where I feel like a great mom/dad what have I spent the day focused on or what feedback did I get from my kids?
- Whose approval really matters to me as a parent (note: not whose approval should matter or whose I wish matters but whose really does).
- If I have a rough parenting day, when my head hits the pillow I think, “that was a dumpster fire of a day but I hope my kids still know__________________.”
- Imagine that your child is a young adult coming home for a visit with the person they are seriously dating. You have some time alone with their significant other, and they say to you, “I’m grateful to be in a relationship with someone who (fill in the blank).” Try to come up with a list of at least three and no more than five things. It could be hardworking, empathetic listener, gracious with those in need, spiritually attuned, etc. Try to be as specific as you need to to identify what it will take to parent this kind of person.
Once you identify your values, quiet the voices that go against your parenting values. This may mean unfollowing some social media accounts, taking certain books to the used book store for resale or repeating a mantra when your Aunt Karen gives you parenting advice that doesn’t fit for you. It could be something like, “We will parent from a place of value, not of pressure.”
If you need more help sorting through your value system in order to parent from a place of value consider seeing a therapist for parental coaching. If you have any questions about this topic, feel free to contact me (Kate) here at East Dallas Therapy!
We support families in East Dallas in all sorts of ways.
Kids sometimes need someone to talk to other than their parents. And parents need a sounding board, a support person in helping their kids be a success. We like to bring families more peace in their homes. We help you focus your parenting strategy and build consistency and security in your family.
Here are some reasons families come to us for counseling:
- Parent coaching
- A child has a mental health diagnosis: ADD, ADHD, Spectrum Disorders, Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, PTSD
- A child is differently abled and needs help coping with big feelings
- A family is grieving a loss or a recent trauma
- A child needs help being assertive
- A child needs learn to calm down anger outbursts or other big emotions
Kate Miller, LPC is our family therapist and can meet your kid where they’re at and give them the tools they need to succeed. Read more about her here.
By Morgan Myers, LPC therapist to burned out mamas (read more about Morgan here)
1. Your kids are as anxious as you are!
We’re all anxious as we think about the risks of returning to school during a pandemic! The visual of walking up to your kids school, everyone in a mask, no one social distancing, germs, and coughing and all of it! It’s overwhelming! Your kids are taking in all of that too. They are processing the fact that they haven’t been in a classroom for 6 months. We all know what our anxiety feels and looks like. Kid’s anxiety can look like:
- Whining and complaining
- Fixating on the plan and the variables
- Wanting to escape
- Getting aggressive
- Extra tired
- Overly emotional
- Bigger fits and meltdowns
2. Your kids NEED socialization
Whether you’ve decided to send your kids back in person or keeping them home until the risk lessens, we’re all having to juggle all of our kid’s needs. Obviously their physical health is really important, but consider their emotional health and social development. In case you’re feeling guilty about planning play dates, or getting them back in school, they will benefit from being with other kids. Their brains need to be reminded about social skills, self-control in the classroom, not being bossy (speaking from experience!), learning competence, etc etc. So as their parent, remember not to leave out this aspect of their little bodies and brains! It’s easy to focus on the physical risks, but there are benefits to being around other kids too!
3. In light of all of this above, be kind to your self and show your kids some grace.
We’re all taking in A LOT of change right now! Our lives are almost unrecognizable from what it was this time last year. So show yourself some grace, and when your kid is balling on the floor, or whining for another snack, or trying to control the outcome of everything, give them some grace too. This is how kids respond to situations out of their control (and I would guess its the way we respond to situations out of our control too).
For more on parenting and motherhood, check out my side project @Motherlift on instagram.
You (& your child) get to decide how and when to share your child’s diagnosis and details related to their functioning with people even when they ask. Being curious doesn’t entitle someone to an answer. It can be helpful to have a planned response for such times, such as: “ Thanks for being concerned/interested in (child’s name). We choose not to discuss that with you right now.”
1. Have an “elevator pitch answer” ready to go.
Sometimes people will ask about your child’s difference and you may want a quick way to explain it. Think of this like the elevator pitch that salespeople learn. They have a speech where they can pitch their product in the time it takes the elevator to get them to their floor. I have Cerebral Palsy and my elevator speech to a curious adult is, “Thanks for asking. My diagnosis is Cerebral Palsy. It is a neurological problem caused by premature birth and it affects my balance and the tightness of the muscles in my legs.” I also explain this to kids a lot, in the playroom at work and in public places like the grocery store. I usually say something like this, “ You’re really paying attention! You noticed that I walk differently from other people. I have Cerebral Palsy, that means that my brain which is like a big computer has a little difference. Instead of telling my muscles to work like most people’s do, my brain tells my muscles to be tight all the time and my body is always a little off balance.”
2. Look to your child to see how much is appropriate to share.
If your child is able, discuss with them how and when they want to discuss their difference with friends, classmates, etc. If they are unable to communicate verbally, pay attention to the ways they do communicate with you to gauge their awareness and level of comfort with these conversations and adjust accordingly.
3. Sometimes it’s helpful to officially share about your child’s differences
For some families, it feels most helpful to have the child address their class at the beginning of the school year and explain their difference so that they can have some more control over how their difference is understood.
4. This isn’t the end all be all, you can adjust the way you communicate at each developmental stage.
These conversations will need to be tweaked over time as your child grows both developmentally and socially. Sometimes different people or situations will require different conversations. Be willing to shape and change your explanations, as it feels right to you, your child and your family. Trust yourself and your child when navigating these situations. Also, be patient with yourself and your child. These conversations may bring up difficult feelings or painful interactions.
5. Remember to prioritize self-care!
Having conversations where you or your kid explain their difference can be difficult but even when they are good conversations they can still leave you feeling depleted. Self-care is important. This could be journaling, going for a run or making time to talk to trusted friends. Your child also needs self-care during this time. It can be time alone doing a favorite activity or engaging with family or friends to play or talk through their feelings.
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