A few years ago, I (Donna) took a cross-country trip with my three adult children. The last night of our trip, my son enjoyed a night out with friends, feasting on hot wings and a few beverages. As the family headed to the airport early the next morning, it was obvious that he had a painful bout of indigestion.
Arriving at the airport, I made a beeline to a convenience store to buy him a roll of antacids. I also came up with several ideas about what he should eat for breakfast before we boarded the plane.
As the Rescuer in me took full flight, I unconsciously handed him the antacids and asked him what he had eaten the night before that had caused his painful indigestion. He confessed that he knew a heaping pile of happy-hour hot wings would upset his stomach, but it was easier to simply go along with what his friends were eating.
As I continued to make several suggestions about how to “fix” his painful indigestion, his older sister calmly said:
“Being responsible isn’t always convenient.”
I stopped in my tracks and simply held that statement in my mind for a few moments.
Suddenly I saw my family Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) dynamics in action. I viewed my son as a Victim to his Persecuting indigestion and defaulted to my role as Rescuer for him, even though he had not asked for help. My role as the rescuing mother emerged automatically as soon as I heard that my son was in pain.
My oldest daughter, however, decided not to play the family drama game. Instead, she stepped into the TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)® Challenger role. The Challenger in us is that part that tells the truth without judgment, with no desire to control the situation or blame the person or the circumstances. She simply stated the fact—that taking responsibility is not always convenient. It became a powerful Challenger statement to us.
The Victim mentality is rooted in the belief that one is powerless to life’s conditions and events. Life comes at you, rather than you stepping into life and focusing on what you want and need.
The powerful question we suggest for the noble journey from Victim to Creator is to ask yourself: “Given the situation, what do I really want?” However, as this story illustrates, sometimes it isn’t enough to simply pause and ask what you want in the moment. The next step is to take responsibility for your actions.
My son may have figured out a way to relieve his pain on his own. But why should he take responsibility when he knows, at some level, that his mom will step in and be the Rescuer? Taking responsibility isn’t always easy or convenient, but it’s almost impossible when a Rescuer takes charge and disempowers the other.
Many people tell us that they have a difficult time learning to be a Challenger. They tell us they understand the Victim-to-Creator shift, and the Rescuer-to-Coach shift, but the Persecutor-to-Challenger shift isn’t as obvious.
My oldest daughter nailed the Challenger role with her brief statement. Her intent and tone of voice was about learning and truth-telling; not winning, being right, criticizing, or shaming.
With her statement she also exposed my maternal Rescuer role that is so easy to slip into, especially as a parent. Taking responsibility can be hard and inconvenient. It is even harder when a Rescuer interjects themselves into a situation without being asked.
All relationships, especially family dynamics, are at risk of slipping into the DDT. Thanks to experiences with my adult children, I learned that lesson when I least expected it.