This post has been updated and moved to my professional website. You can find it here: www.justinkhughes.com.
This blog post has been updated and moved to https://www.justinkhughes.com/jog.
References (the first two describe reciprocity):
Influence by Robert Cialdini
Business Networking that Works: It’s Called Quid Pro Quo by Forbes
Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman
Dad is the tough one; when he comes home, the two kids know there will be a “blow out” if he finds out about their behavior. He functions as the Persecutor, letting off his steam at Mom and the kids. But Mom is the Rescuer, jumping in to tell Dad he’s being too hard. And the kids know they won’t ultimately face consequences, because their parents will fight each other, both becoming a Victim and burned up that they are not respected by anyone in their household.
The Drama Triangle (founded by Dr. Steven Karpman, 1968) brilliantly describes certain scripts found in relationships marked by dysfunction. These are generally unconscious “game plans” that take shape early in childhood. Here’s what the 3 roles look like:
- Statements: “Get your act together!” “You are an embarrassment to this family.” “I am the one who has to whip people into shape- no one else will do it!”
- Behaviors: Yelling. Silent-treatment. Verbal put-downs. Blaming. Aggression.
- Internally: Driven by shame, anger is a cover for other avoided emotions. Though in denial, will blame and attack others.
- Psychology: Delivering “just” punishment.
- Statements: “I guess I’ll just be the one who has to do this.” “This is for your own good.”
- Behaviors: Focused on others, fixing problems, ignoring own needs, advice-giver.
- Internally: Driven by guilt, high anxiety, low sense of self. Feels sense of importance when someone is rescued (enter the victim). Sees themselves as a helper or caretaker.
- Psychology: The classic codependent (and enabler).
- Statements: “No one appreciates what I do.” “Here I am, helpless, left all alone.”
- Behaviors: Makes excuses, blames others, pouts, won’t apologize, shuts down.
- Internally: Feels disappointed, believes they are not cared for, thinks they do not count, overlooked and overwhelmed.
- Psychology: Worthless and damaged; “Murphy’s law.”
Sarah continued to watch her friends get married off, one by one. She is sick and tired of being the one no one wants, the Victim. Her circle of friends after college is getting smaller by the week, and the ones she still talks to are more difficult to relate to, because they have their busy lives with their families. She meets Nate, and he loves making her feel special. She quickly thinks she’s in love. Nate feels incredible that he can help Sarah with all her problems, her Rescuer, and finds identity in this. However, when he decides to spend a weekend with the guys, Sarah objects, with Nate exploding as the Persecutor, telling her she needs to stop suffocating him, and Sarah withdraws into herself as the Victim, realizing it is her lot in life to be rejected.
In the Drama Triangle, though there is a primary role, sometimes referred to as the “starting gate,” a person will/can switch between different roles. In the diagram above, the two roles at the top are placed there because of their relative “one-up” position. But if a person functions anywhere on this triangle, they will eventually end up as the victim.
Why continue on this defective course? There are many reasons, or “pay-offs.”
- Meeting legitimate needs for love, respect, and intimacy in illegitimate ways.
- Denial- avoids painful truths and real emotions.
- Poor emotional regulation and reacting rather than being proactive.
- An identity is provided- a sense of direction can be felt when a person fills a role, even if harmful.
- Offers a sense of closeness (ever felt closer to someone you argue with vs. apathy?).
- Offers a position of power over another.
- Avoids personal responsibility.
- Inner drama is converted externally.
- Cycle of shame- feeling defeated enough that a person continues to choose defeat.
Lynne Forrest (2008) poignantly observes, “Whenever we refuse to take responsibility for ourselves, we are unconsciously choosing to react as victim.” When we don’t take responsibility, we miss out on the blessings and avoid the natural consequences that help us grow up. Shielding from reality turns sanity into insanity. If you’re looking for a way to feel miserable, wait for everything outside of you to change before you can be content. However, there are ways to give up the drama.
Trading in your Role. Sorting through genuine beliefs and feelings, owning them, and pursuing solutions, options, and personal responsibility are all a part of being a healthy adult. You can choose well-being, even if others don’t. Negotiating boundaries is not about controlling another person. It is about truth rather than drama. It is about respect rather than demoralization.
Empower instead of disable others- instead of making someone dependent on you or being dependent on another for salvation, a place of humility is needed. Humility generates the best self-esteem; it is seeing yourself and others with a clear, respectful lens.
- Identify and communicate in suitable ways how you truly think and feel.
- Maintain, implement and follow-through with boundaries.
- Admit you make mistakes regularly.
- Negotiate options. Often, there are many options available.
- Avoid talking down; dialogue.
- Grow in self-awareness. Seek to understand what others really think by asking them.
- Stay teachable and willing to learn.
- Realize relationships are complex- there may not be an easy answer, and your perspective is only one.
- Unify your heart and head (be not only intellectually intelligent, but emotionally intelligent).
- You can’t have it your way all the time. Learn to sacrifice.
Steve wasn’t “on his first rodeo.” As a classic Rescuer who was the oldest child and the trusted man of the house when his father abandoned the family, he learned to find value in fixing broken things. He would say yes to projects at the church, neighbors’ requests, girl scouts, 70 hr./week workloads- and then he crashed. After ending up with suicidal thoughts and deep resentment (Victim and Persecutor) that others didn’t care for him like he cared for them, it was in therapy that his counselor first introduced him to The Drama Triangle. When he realized he was creating his own chaos by living out unhealthy and, often, unseen patterns, he developed “muscles” around saying no, having limits, and allowing margin (aka, breathing room) in his life. And he finally found that he stopped attracting other women who took advantage of him- because he allowed it in the past. Now Steve is conscious that well-being requires daily work, but finds the reward of not living out of obligation and guilt, but rather choice and love.
The holiday season is coming to a close. 2014 is upon us. If you are like most Americans, you have spent a fair amount of money in the past month. Whether consciously or not, you have made a substantial number of financial decisions.
How much did you drive? What did you spend on food? What led to the purchasing decisions you made? What brought about changes or continuity in how you spent money? How are you planning to spend or save in the next week? What are your goals for next year?
These are all money questions. Whether we like it or not, it is integral to daily life. Even right now, as I type, I am using electricity, wearing down the life of my computer, using time, and re-educating myself on decision-making. This all affects money. And money affects it all.
Money is neutral. Good or evil can come from it. It is a great tool to reveal what is important to us, and it will quickly reveal the true investments of our hearts- what matters to us. So when I work with couples and individuals dealing with relationship problems, it’s no wonder that this is a regular dispute zone.
In The 5 Money Personalities, authors Scott and Bethany Palmer present 5 personal styles to handling money. We each have styles, just like we have personalities- equal, yet different. There are strengths and weaknesses in each style. How a person comes to the table- their beliefs and attitudes- considerably impacts their actions and emotions.
First of all, the Spender gets a genuine rush from spending- big or small. This type of person lives and breathes in the moment- seeking to make life enjoyable now and create memories. Spenders love to buy for others and get much happiness from helping others and giving gifts. However, impulsive decisions, a tendency not to communicate about money, regret, and sticking to a budget are some unhelpful results that can ensue.
For the Risk Taker, risk brings a thrill, a challenge, a joy. They will think about the big picture. Entrepreneurial possibilities are their life-blood. The hunt invigorates- and this person moves quick. Instead of looking at the data and following a standard path of conventional wisdom, their gut is often consulted. Conversely, vulnerability to loss, ignoring reality, impatience, and a lack of empathy are some of the risks that can follow.
The Security Seeker is a researcher. Just like the motto of the Scouts, they live by Be Prepared. Future focus allows them to be willing to give up on immediate gratification for long-term gain. Faithfulness with resources is an almost inevitable outcome. The down side is the tendency to be negative along with having anxiety, possibly becoming a killjoy, getting stuck in analysis, and lacking in creativity.
The Flyer may seem out of place in a discussion on money- they hardly think about it. This person is not consumed or obsessed with money. They are content, centered on relationships, and usually not motivated by dollars and change. The flyer may not pay enough attention to money, make decisions based on emotion, lack money skills, or lack in responsibility and initiative.
Finally, the last money personality the Palmer’s introduce is the Saver. They love to, well, save. Getting something for less is exhilarating to them. Organization and stability are this person’s namesake, avoiding debt and calculating buying decisions. On the contrary, financial goals can lead this personality to lose sight of the present, form anxieties around plans, goals, and saving (which can be not-so-fun), and they may also be just plain cheap.
Exciting, huh?! This knowledge can certainly help understand the motivations and drive behind money decisions. Many people, though, are like John and Kate, who approach money in very different ways. When everyday decisions arise, they quickly get into conflict because they assume the other person is ignoring their needs and not being helpful. The more a person is “vilified” for their style, the more they will shut down. You (and those around you) will benefit if you learn to appreciate the person and personality without treating them like a villain.
Here is the thing: changing behavior- not just observing it- is the challenging task. You will be successful in your relationships if you can really listen, show understanding and respect, and give generously. Let money be your servant, not your master. And when you handle money this way, will you ever look back and regret it?
Justin K. Hughes
As the U.S. heads into the heaviest holiday season of the year, an interesting blend of emotions often come up. Even for those who find great joy in time with family, it can also be a stressful time. Join me on a little journey of psychology through some of these dynamics.
Expectations. We all have them, and most are unspoken. This is one of those big surprise areas for couples when they first get married. Do you: Like to relax by being at home or going out? Sit down at the table for all meals or sit in front of the TV? Spend your time talking or doing activities? Spend money or save it? Navigating differences takes patience and effort with one couple alone. Now consider the impact of bringing family together with as many routines, styles, and personalities as a house can hold.
Boundaries. Can you draw clear, respectful boundaries? In families, boundaries often get mixed up. Boundaries are really no more than understanding what’s mine, what’s yours, and what’s ours. Being around the same people day in and day out, it is easy to expect that situations will just work themselves out- and rest on the comfort of familiarity. However, being healthy in relationship requires speaking the truth and showing grace. Do you tell others your needs and wants, or do you guilt them into doing what you want? Do you really listen to understand? Do you fear ‘rocking the boat’ and don’t speak up? The error arises in being overly passive or overly aggressive (passive-aggressive is just a form of aggression). These extremes involve not taking enough responsibility OR taking too much responsibility to change that which is not in our care. This is a basic definition of drama, and what ends up happening is hurt feelings, resentment, and helplessness. This can be countered by love- speaking up when necessary and being quiet equally as well. Love is not guilt and obligation, though you won’t always enjoy loving, because its highest form involves sacrifice and patience.
Family rules and roles. Ever feel a sense of freeness and independence away from all of your family only to revert to a frustrating old pattern when you are with loved ones? Such as how the youngest sibling “performer” gets all the attention? How your normal patience goes down the toilet when you hear incessant complaining about your life choices? The realization that you sound like your dad though you always swore you would be different? Family dynamics are deeply rooted. See the next point to understand why. It is easy to slide back into the old patterns. Don’t put unrealistic pressure on yourself or others to change deeply rooted dynamics quickly. Also, points of growth must be happening at other times during the year- consistently.
Old habits and brain pathways. Think of it. When dressing, which leg goes first into your pants? What side of the face (or which leg) do you shave first? Habits and routines are ingrained into our brain chemistry. They can change, because the brain is “plastic,” but it takes work and time. Now bring together good and bad habits with people you may or may not enjoy spending time with, and there are bound to be some sparks of tension.
Differentiation. Healthy family functioning requires interdependence. This is being mutually dependent on each other for the good of everyone involved. Additionally, healthy families will encourage what’s known as differentiation- being connected, yet being a unique, independent human being. Raising a child means transitioning this little marvel from total dependence to total independence- in a few short years. Being over-connected (enmeshed) or disconnected (diffuse) will create problems real fast.
Truly, time with family needs patience. And it often takes work. It can be wonderful, too. You may want to have a plan going into the holidays to make it successful. Don’t forget to remember what you are grateful for and the incredible blessings you have. It’s easy to lose vision when it seems like your family is driving you crazy. This is where I reflect on a great example of love: Jesus had a bunch of guys that abandoned him- every one- when support was most needed. But he loved. I need this love. It’s a love that speaks truth. It’s a love that shows kindness. It’s a love that has courage. And I pray I can show it well during the holidays.
Possibly the simplest definition of intimacy is this: knowing another and being known. Intensity is defined as strength, power, or force- in relationship terms, it’s getting a surge of whatever makes a person feel good. Intimacy is developed over time, with patience, with love, with understanding, with compassion, with sacrifice. Intensity happens quickly and fades quickly- it is not long lasting. Those that trade it for intimacy will find themselves dissatisfied and using people like objects.
The implications of this are profound. It has changed the way I look at relationships. I have been a “thrill-seeker.” Oh no, you never would see me cliff-diving, jumping out of airplanes, or swimming with sharks. I learned to seek intensity in subtle ways- especially with people. I would feed off of the praise of others; I would pursue the “high” of new connections; I would live for recognition. I became aware of this through support, seeing my own counselor, and study. You see, I made a major error- I substituted intensity for intimacy.
They are not the same thing.
This concept is important in understanding Addiction, Bipolar, Personality Disorders, and just plain ol’ dysfunctional relationship patterns. For instance, with addiction, a person adapts to the world and copes using a substance or person or thing as if it were a relationship- gaining comfort, support, investing time and energy, and to soothe pain. I commonly hear addicts say that their addiction became their best friend. Of course, the problem with relying on an intense “high” to feel better is that our brains weren’t made to sustain constant highs. Our brains will normalize to constant surges of feel-good intensity (aka, dopamine highs), and then we naturally begin to feel depressed when we don’t have this now “normal” high. The classic term for this is ‘tolerance.’
Healthy relationships don’t run on constant highs. Hear me out: good, healthy relationships can give the greatest satisfaction and offer wonderful highs. But this is not all the time. They require consistency, work, patience, suffering, and perseverance. This goes way beyond just romantic relationships. Running after intensity leaves a person “high and dry,” trying to be satisfied in ways they were not created to be fulfilled. The substitute kills. The real thing fulfills.
Watching dysfunctional conflict offers a lot of useful information. I myself have had many fruitless arguments- trying to be heard and forcing a point. It ends with drama, little resolution, and feelings of hurt and anger.
Let me introduce you to “conflict algebra.”
Person 1: Issue A: “Why don’t you be more considerate?”
Person 2: Issue B: “You always do this, complaining about everything I do!”
Person 1: Issue C: “It’s time for you to see what you do to others.”
Person 2: Issue D: “This is ridiculous; I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Person 1: Issue E: “We’ve been through this again and again. I’m tired.”
Here are five statements with five different underlying issues being brought up. No resolution. When communication attempts to force another person to listen and does not address the root issue, not only will there be no resolution, but the other person will become hardened, lose trust, and develop resentment. Over time, this destroys relationships.
So what is healthy communication? At a basic level, it is relaying a message and/or information from one conscious being to another- and to be fully functional, it is understood on both sides (not necessarily agreed with). Communicating well is an art we often don’t see modeled in everyday conversation. When I consider front-and-center examples, there are a lot of truly terrible models:
Movies/TV. Magic relationships- amazing how they just happen, huh? (Check out the actual follow-up track record of relationships in shows like The Bachelor or The Bachelorette).
Politicians. With the goal of elevating a campaign or agenda (this isn’t necessarily bad), rarely do we see politicians truly attempt to understand another person or party’s position. The name of the game is defeating the opponent.
Marriages/Families. Who hasn’t seen the wreckage of a dysfunctional family? This includes the “cold shoulder,” avoidance of important issues, abuse, shaming, and so forth.
Business. Where the love of money is present, so will there be control, inappropriate manipulation, and abuse. A business might be “successful” utilizing these things, but relationships will not be.
Here’s the good news: WONDERFUL examples of strong communication exist. Just like the disciplined athlete, the savvy entrepreneur, or the skilled musician, it takes work. It takes practice. It takes failure. If being able to do conflict- and do it well- is the best predictor of marital relationship success (ala Drs. John and Julie Gottman), there is wisdom in this for all relationships. Get communication down well, and you will not be disappointed with the effort it takes. There are a lot of ways to do this. Acknowledge the need for help, read a book, listen to a talk, go to counseling, talk to a pastor, or find a person to mentor you. Something different is needed in order to get a different result. Best wishes to you!
How did this happen again? Do I have a sign on my face that says, ‘Take advantage of me’?
A common counseling topic is addressing habitual and self-destructive patterns in relationships. For the person that keeps getting stuck and attracting the same jerk over and over again, I have good news: there are clear, identifiable characteristics that actually do make you a magnet for certain types of people.
Addictions, compulsive, and impulsive behavior. Each of these keep us from feeling true emotions; they insulate us from reality. And in so doing, they keep us from seeing things as they truly are.
Betrayal Bonds and patterns of abuse. In the classic work, Betrayal Bonds, renowned addiction specialist Dr. Patrick Carnes poignantly notes that people who experience trauma in relationships (and who don’t deal with the trauma) are often bound in some way to the same person/type who deeply, and often repeatedly, hurts them.
Codependency. A person who is codependent finds their identity in fixing others and ensuring everything goes well. In so doing, they often lose their own sense of self and boundaries. See Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.
Cognitive distortions. If you have harmful thought patterns that are not based in truth, you won’t be in touch with what’s really going on or what is actually needed to be healthy. See Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns.
Depression. Low motivation and energy along with hopelessness all make healthy decisions difficult, especially if another person fills a void.
Lack of Direction or Spiritual Anchor. Confusion as to who you are and what you are doing with your life goes hand-in-hand with picking the wrong person. If you don’t know who you are, how can you express yourself and be understood?
Law of Complementary Personalities. The saying, ‘opposites attract,’ often is true when it comes to negative relationship styles. For example, a passive person pairs with an aggressive person, often attracted to their leadership (or on the flip side, attracted to how easy-going the other is). Someone who is pathologically controlling must find someone who can be pathologically controlled. The two fit together like sweet tea on hot Texas day.
Learned Helplessness. Elephants who are originally chained down will later believe they can’t escape when they only are held by a flimsy rope connected to a stake in the ground. Have you learned helplessness? Do you stay in a relationship because you don’t think it will get any better, or because it would get a lot worse if you made changes?
Love Addiction. When a person is addicted to the “high” of falling in love, often they miss important signs and signals and get into unhealthy relationships. Check out Pia Mellody’s Facing Love Addiction.
Poor Emotion Management. Not knowing how to identify and regulate emotions leads to a lack of self-control and direction.
Training. I love the phrase: We train others how to treat us. Examples are letting people into your personal space, not letting someone know they’ve harmed you, and not telling others your wants/needs. All of these train others. Do you stand up for respect and honor for yourself and others?
Self-Esteem Issues. If we look hyper-negatively at ourselves, any person who seems to boost our self-view will make do.
Self-sabotage. Due to insecurity, a person fears getting something good, so they inadvertently or intentionally damage opportunities. Too much potential threat is involved.
Toxic Shame. If you consistently see your value as worthless, you won’t make decisions to secure respect and love. A great read on this is John Bradshaw’s work, Healing the Shame That Binds You.
These are just a beginning. Knowing underlying patterns is only a start to changing them. If you see yourself in these descriptions, write it out and talk to a trusted person about what you want to change. After all, acknowledging a problem is the BIG first step. If you need more help, this is why counselors exist!
From a counseling perspective, when I study communication between politicians, businesses, and portrayals in the media, I often shake my head. It’s pretty bleak. Some of the very same dysfunctional communication that happens in unhappy and unsuccessful relationships is often present in these environments- and shown as an example.
Effective communication, like most anything else of value, takes work and practice. Unfortunately, a lot of models of communication from environments like those listed above are about winning and being “one-up” from another person. You will never get very close to another if this is your stance. True intimacy is knowing someone and being known by them- not putting another down, trying to win, or being “right.”
When I was a counseling intern, I was struck by a question my supervisor posed to a client in group therapy: “Do you want to win the argument or keep your spouse?” Good question. What are our priorities? It’s a good idea to look at them. Because whatever you ultimately are seeking will come through in your communication patterns. Do you truly seek to understand, to know, and to connect? Or are you trying to win, to defeat, and to be the big-shot?
Here’s a few helpful pointers on assertive and kind communication:
-Mutual respect (their thoughts/feelings matter, and so do yours)
-Reflect (share) what you think you heard
-Strive to understand what the other REALLY means
-Ask lots of questions
-Be concise, if possible
-Say no when it’s called for
-If reasonable, thank the person for sharing
-Let another person know they are important
-To love and care for another requires that you set healthy boundaries
-Ask the other person how you can approach something
-Use “I” statements (saying “you,” especially in conflict, often comes across as blaming)
-Remember you are human– be patient with others as they are, too
“Contrary to some prevalent notions, smooth-running relationships between individuals- in the family, in the workplace, and even in summit meetings- rarely if ever happen by accident. Rather, those extraordinary relationships that everyone seeks develop over time, when adults relate to each other in principled ways. Few people are aware of what these principles are, however. Furthermore, well-known and widely taught principles can often make things worse.
“Often what people accept as ordinary relationships too often are not working very well.”
From Roberta M. Gilbert in Extraordinary Relationships (Page 3).