Category Archives: insight

The Drama Triangle

Do you ever meet someone and feel it in your bones they will play a profound role in your life? You don’t know how or why but you know this fact to be true and you find yourself stubbornly devoted to making all those fantasies you dreamed up a reality.

With time you realize his/her presence in your life did, in fact, fundamentally alter your soul in a way very few people in this world do. But for many of us, the role we envisioned that person playing in our lives doesn’t pan out in the way we initially dreamed. This realization provides opportunity for self-reflection and self-introspection. What was their purpose in my life? What did I learn about myself?

And this is what I want to write about today. I’ve tried talking to the one friend I feel would get me on this subject but they always seem too busy so today, dear ones, I am going to talk to you because when I look back at two important people in my life – one from my past and one from my present – I see something in myself that I don’t particularly like.

For nearly four years I was trapped in a state of emotional confusion with a man I thought I would marry but as much as I was a victim of his emotional and mental abuse I begrudgingly admit I emotionally and mentally abused him as well. This realization doesn’t paint me in a particularly good light but that is how it was between us. I would become entangled in the role of Victim while he took on the role of Persecutor. Then we would trade positions. We were constantly fluctuating between acting helpless and lashing out at one another. It was as if we had a vested interest in keeping the dysfunctional game going because if we really did end it and truly allowed our souls to heal then who else would we play with?

I once again find myself trapped in another state of emotional confusion with a good friend but not in the same emotionally volatile and violent way I felt trapped before. The first time I met this person I felt immediately comfortable in his presence, like I did not have to hide behind this facade I had built up. I could be honest, even about the fucked up, dark, and scary things inside me and there was no fear, no judgment, no misunderstanding. Only compassion and kindness and big ears to go along with his big head. But timing is everything and as it turns out the fairy tale ending I dreamed up is not my reality. Respecting and nurturing our friendship is made more complicated by a deeper emotional and physical connection and I find myself floating between the roles of Victim and Rescuer while he floats between Victim and Persecutor (at least from my standpoint).

I described these sorts of habitual, emotionally dysfunctional relationships in a previous post but given the circumstances of my life at that moment in time my comprehension and interpretation of the concept (known as the Drama Triangle) was rather one-sided. So I’ll try again.

You can gather from above that the three roles in the Drama Triangle are: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. The Victim is the person who is always suffering; the Persecutor is the person who is inflicting the suffering on the Victim; and the Rescuer is the one who tries to step in and save the day.

We all fall into one of these roles (Hello, everyone! My name is Lindsay and I’m a professional Victim) but inevitably we end up switching roles with the people who are trapped in the Drama Triangle with us. The Victim builds resentment at having been mistreated so they lash out and become the Persecutor and the Rescuer becomes the Victim when they feel victimized or, if they feel manipulated by the person they are trying to rescue, they become the Persecutor. So basically the Drama Triangle sucks.

Being enmeshed in this never-ending cycle of doom is evidence of my obsession with misery and torment. My participation in these dysfunctional relationships is an act of self-violence that I have mistaken for heroism and martyrdom. But where is the heroism in abdicating responsibility for my own happiness and misery? Where is the heroism in giving myself over and over until I feel so completely drained that I have nothing left to give? Where is the heroism in the depression and the grief and the emptiness I seem to burrow inside? And where is the heroism in my willingness to burn at the stake time and time again out of an absurd sense of loyalty.

There is none.

Because I crave love and affection so intensely, I continually seek out these moments of pain and suffering and more often than not they are self-inflicted. I think I even like playing the role of Victim, which is REALLY hard to admit because that definitely doesn’t paint me in a pretty light. It’s sick and twisted, I know. But as some people are held prisoner to their addiction to drugs and alcohol, I seem to be held prisoner to my own suffering. This is how addiction works. And that is the part of me I do not like.

Two important people in my life have awakened my soul. This is the role they have played and will continue to play in my life. It didn’t pan out in the way I had hoped but they brought me closer to myself.

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Filed under Drama Triangle, insight, relationships, self-awareness, self-introspection

I’d rather be interesting than happy

My friend M is one of the few people in my life who consistently challenges me to examine and articulate my thoughts, beliefs, and how I perceive the world around me. In fact, he inspires a lot of my blog posts and articles, which is one reason (among many others) that I am beyond blessed to have him in my life.

Recently, he asked me what I thought about life, which is a pretty loaded question. But in that conversation he said something that has since stuck with me. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “My goal in life isn’t to be happy. I just want to live. And whether that’s a good existence or a bad existence or a mixture of both, I don’t care. The only thing that matters to me is that I experienced as much as humanly possible in the one life I was given.”

He wasn’t saying he wouldn’t like to be happy. He just acknowledged that happiness doesn’t last forever because human emotions are temporary states of mind. Sadness, joy, grief, sorrow, envy, shame, doubt, disappointment, loneliness, petulance, wonderment, belonging, obsession, inspiration….

Whatever the emotion, we never fully settle into it. Because you know what? Life happens. So why, then, would our goal in life be to attain something that is essentially temporary?

M was the first person to introduce this idea to me and you guys, I love it. Truly, I do. It makes so much sense.

When I think about it, my goal in life isn’t to be happy either. I just want to be interesting.

I’m only 27, though, so really I’m not all that interesting yet. I have a lot of years left to live. But one thing I am confident in (and which maybe I didn’t realize until recently) is that I am persistent in my search for interesting.

When I got done with college and realized I didn’t know anything I started traveling the world so I could know more. I wanted to experience new people, places, and things. I wanted to understand how the world worked. I wanted to not be so freaking narrow-minded or wrapped up in my own small universe. And because of those desires, I’ve had a lot of interesting things happen to me.

I’ve seen the sunrise over Tikal. I was detained because I matched the description of a solo female terrorist traveling through Mexico. I bribed my way across the Guatemalan/Belize border. I sailed down the coast of Belize, camped on a deserted island, and saw (for probably the first and last time ever) the curvature of the earth in the night sky. I went boarding down a volcano. I met and became friends with Keith Colburn from Deadliest Catch. And, I have no doubt, there will be many more interesting things to come because I’m just getting started.

In recovery, you might think my goal is to be happy. I mean, that would make sense having lived in a perpetual state of depression for many years. But truthfully, happiness has never been my goal in recovery. I’ve just wanted to be healthy. To embrace what I was given with open arms and an open heart. To use my pain and experience for something good. To find meaning and purpose and commitment to something greater than myself. To see the grace in those impossible moments.

I have shared these tender, vulnerable moments with you and with the world through my writing. But I always wrote those pieces for me as a way to make sense of everything that has happened in my journey. My mental illness isn’t a burden. It’s a blessing. It makes my life interesting. It adds character and depth to my writing. It’s certainly inspired me. Out of that experience, I’ve had stories published. My pieces have prompted people to write me and thank me and say it has helped them in their own journey. I’ve also had people say they hate what I write and question it’s authenticity but you know what, that makes life interesting too.

Last weekend when my aunt was in town I took her to gallery night and the most interesting thing to come from that was my impromptu sign-up for a 7-week watercolor painting class. The only thing I was doing on Tuesday evenings was sitting on my couch and watching TV. Interesting wasn’t just going to happen to me; I had to make interesting happen. I have no idea how to paint. NO IDEA. But I think it would be kind of cool to learn. And learn I will!

I guess as I am getting older, I find the sort of people who only strive for happiness to be incredibly boring. And I mean no offense because I used to be one of those people. But really, can you not imagine a more remarkable, creative life than just happy?

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Filed under beliefs, friends, happiness, insight, life, self-introspection, values

Mutual respect or shared values?

I just spent a week and a half in Ireland (I promise a post is forthcoming) and it reminded me that what I love most about traveling is the people I meet along the way and the conversations we have. One conversation in particular has stuck with me since returning home, when on a bus traveling north to the Antrim Coast I sat next to a 24 year-old Romanian. We talked about family, why we were traveling, how hilarious it was to watch Trump in the GOP debates, and inevitably our conversations turned to relationships (just like they always do no matter where you go).

What I particularly loved about this part of our conversation is that his questions were thought provoking. Usually I just get the “Do you have a boyfriend?” to which I respond “No” followed by “Well, why not?” and “How old are you again?” I remind them I am 27 and they balk “Better get a move on it, honey.” I hate these conversations. So, much to my chagrin, I was relieved when he asked me, “Which is more important – mutual respect for your partner or having shared values?”

To be sure I understood what he meant I asked him what his definition of mutual respect and values were. They matched my own; mutual respect being that we appreciate how our values, beliefs, and the way we live our lives may differ from someone we care about and want to be with. We don’t try to change our partners because we love them perfectly as they are no matter how different they may be from us.

Values, on the other hand, are the fundamental beliefs we hold about life and the world. They guide the choices we make in our life, from what we do in our free time to the career we choose to the religion we practice (or choose not to practice) to sex and everything in between.

So which is more important to me? Well, I suppose if I had to choose one or the other it would be shared values. Why? The simple answer is because shared values can coexist with mutual respect while mutual respect will unlikely lead to shared values.

We form our beliefs at a young age and they rarely change over time. Or, if they do, they don’t change all that much. That isn’t to say there can’t be differences in interests or the way we perceive the world, but at the end of the day, if you and your partner don’t share similar values it’s unlikely the relationship will be successful in the long-term.

When I reflect on my past relationships I see how differences in our core values were often the root cause of some of the ongoing frustrations I had with my significant other. I respected and appreciated our differences because it meant we were both being authentic to our wants, desires, and expectations in life and the world. However, in my experiences, the core values which guided those differences were so disparaging it was a constant struggle to find common ground.

Take my last relationship, for instance. Something just didn’t feel ‘right’ in my gut. It was an inner feeling I had almost from the beginning of our nearly 4 year relationship, yet I went along with it anyways. We had similar interests, of course, but I observed over time the fundamental differences in our values. For example, because he had two children, I was able to see how he parented and though he was an exceptional Dad, I often disagreed with his choices. Not to say he was wrong in how he chose to raise his kids, just that it was different from how I would raise mine, which surely would be a point of contention if we were to get married and have kids of our own.

When it came to religion, he was a devout Catholic. His relationship with God was a priority in his life and though I also grew up Catholic and frequently attended church with him, I knew my relationship with Him would never quite measure up to his own. Moreover, I didn’t want to send my kids to Catholic school and that, absolutely, was where his kids would go, no question.

When it came to our careers, I worked to live. He lived to work. It was an ongoing argument between the two of us because I wanted to spend quality time together and for our relationship to be a priority in his life. Of course, there were more differences than just those I listed here (like the fact I’m a Libertarian and he is extremely Conservative), but the point is that because of the fundamental differences in our values, I was always uncomfortable and unhappy.

When I was recently asked what the longest amount of time I spent in a depressive episode was, I thought back to this period of my life and, sadly, I believe it was the 4 years I spent with him. In hindsight, I see how I tried to change my values to align with his and along the way I lost who I was. This is the stage I am at in life right now. Wondering how much of who I am is because of him and how much is authentically me. The silver lining is that I gained a deeper understanding of myself, although that didn’t necessarily happen until after the break up.

I certainly don’t believe my values have to perfectly align with my partner’s. I just believe that the most important ones should. The longevity of a relationship is tested during those big life-altering decisions we have to make and if compatibility doesn’t extend beyond shared interests, mutual respect, and passion, we will never be in tune with one another.

I’m curious what other people think. Do you agree? Disagree?

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The absurdity of friends with benefits

B is a good friend and co-worker of mine. We walk every day during our work breaks and more often than not we spend our 15 minutes making obscene jokes and coming up with absurd “life is like” metaphors. For example, “Life is like a bump in the road. Everything is going fine and then BAM! And you’re freaking the fuck out, but really it’s nothing.” On a rare occasion, though, we actually have insightful and thought-provoking conversations and today was one of those days when I read an article about how awesome friends with benefits relationships are and it pissed me the fuck off. So thank you, B, for listening to my rant this morning and for challenging me to examine my own beliefs about the subject. Here it is, folks.

Friends with benefits – aka FWB – is not black and white. It occupies a gray area that extends beyond casual sex, yet lacks the explicit commitment of monogamy in a long-term, serious relationship.

A common misconception about FWB relationships is that it is usually with someone you barely know. In reality, though, the likelihood that this person is someone we know fairly well and with whom we share some level of emotional intimacy is high. It is not impossible to find success in a FWB relationship but it does require a separation between love and sex, which for many of us can be hard to sustain.

I don’t know what it is about us as a species that sharing our bodies with another person evokes a sense of ownership over them but undoubtedly most of us will experience a sense of jealousy when we see our FWB flirting and talking with other people or if we see someone else pursuing them. Yet, we also don’t feel like we have the “right” to be jealous given the sense of casualness and detachment a FWB relationship implies.

When we fully realize the other person isn’t bothered by us being with someone else and in fact may even encourage it, we can’t help but feel like they don’t care. Though s/he may try to convince you it doesn’t change the way they feel towards you or that you share something special together, their lackadaisical attitude makes us question if we are just a muse – a “placeholder” until something better comes along.

What is even more aggravating is the set of rules we must abide by. Do not fall in love. Do not introduce them to your friends or family. Be sure to go out with other people. Do not get jealous. Do not cuddle.

This is the absurdity of friends with benefits. We are human beings. We are not devoid of emotional attachments. Part of our attraction to someone is not just their appearance but their brains and their heart and their soul. They hold some sort of significance in our lives. It is foolish to think otherwise.

We can argue that any amount of genuine feelings for another human being is worth any future pain and disappointment we may feel but the only thing I see at the end of a friends with benefits relationship is hurt and the fact that I would inevitably resent and possibly even hate the other person.

Plus, that sort of arrangement – when one person starts to develop deeper feelings for the other – only serves to fuel our sense of inadequacy. What is it about me that makes me not good enough? Why doesn’t the person I am falling for find it worthy of their time to actually be with me? Am I that unlovable?

You are good enough. You are worthy. You are lovable. But if there is one absolute when it comes to relationships, it’s that no one will ever love you because you demand it. It must be given of their own free will.

We can justify sacrificing our desire for something more for the fun we are having now, but ask yourself if that fun is worth the emotional fallout in the end. If you have been in a friends with benefits relationship and found it unfulfilling after a certain period of time, did you not know in your gut that continuing that arrangement was the wrong thing to do?

I’ve asked myself if it is possible for the friendship to still be in tact even after the “benefits” are over. Depending on who you ask, some may say yes and others will say it is unrealistic. I don’t think either answer is wrong and I myself am not entirely sure where I stand on the subject. But I do know that we all deserve love and if the person you are falling for tells you they cannot – or do not want to – offer you what you ultimately desire, believe them. But do not fault them for that either.

From personal experience, I know it is difficult to change the circumstances of a friends with benefits relationship in order to preserve the actual friendship but be brave enough to do it anyways. In the end, really good friends who have sex – while it sounds ideal – is a lonely place to be.

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Thoughts on anger

I read a line in one of my self-prescribed self-help/do-good books this weekend that made me pause. For the most part, I loved the book because it was about embracing your messy, fucked-up life but there was one chapter in particular that talked about forgiveness, saying we must always forgive because “Forgiveness helps quiet the anger.”

What gave me pause wasn’t that we should aim for forgiveness so much as it was the idea we should quiet any negative emotions we feel for fear of how others will perceive us. Anger is not meant to be quieted, it is meant to be expressed in whatever safe and healthy medium that we identify with. For me, I choose to express my anger through writing and running because both activities leave me feeling empty of hate instead of consumed by it. For others, anger is expressed through painting or even smashing plates on the sidewalk (Liz can attest to how much fun this actually is). Whatever medium you identify with, expressing your anger is far better than stifling it.

I think back to the day I found myself curled up in a ball on the hardwood floor of my parent’s bedroom sobbing and gasping for air. I kept telling myself the best thing to do was to forgive and let go. The reason I didn’t – couldn’t – do that is because I was not capable of forgiveness at that point in time. As much as I would have liked to say I forgive you and I wish you happiness and love because I have loved you so much, I just couldn’t. I still can’t. Why? Because that’s not actually how I feel. In fact, at the risk of sounding maniacal, this is what I really feel: I hope he loses all his money because he prizes stance and stature more than anyone else I know. I hope he gets divorced as quickly as he got engaged and married. I hope his new wife cheats on him and gets pregnant by someone else (because he did that to me twice and I would really love for him to know how that feels). I also really hope he ends up unhappy and alone and the sooner that happens, the better. I am not ashamed to say I feel any of this because this is HONESTLY where I’m at.

The point of sharing this is to illustrate that we can only hope to reach forgiveness by going through all of the other emotions we feel, not around them. Whether its depression, anger, hate and bitterness or just plain hurt feelings, we are so often taught to quickly release those emotions as soon as we feel them because they’re exhausting and they consume our energy. Yes, they are all of these things, but I can honestly say that quieting those emotions and jumping to forgiveness before you are ready to do so does not get you past the visceral pain you feel right now – it only prolongs it. To forgive someone before you actually feel it in your bones is not forgiveness. It is something else entirely. We must endure the ugly side of hurt even if it brings out the most un-redeeming qualities.

I believe the idea that we must always forgive (and well before we are ready to) creates an undue pressure and hardship on our hearts. I also believe it is not necessary to forgive in order to let go. It is only necessary that you first be kind to yourself and second that you love yourself more than anybody else could. The only way to do both is to honor what you feel by going through your journey, not around it. To promise to show up every single day and embrace the ugly side of hurt. To express the emotions that rise up because otherwise (like me) you spend years forcing yourself not to feel. You really only need reach acceptance in order to let go. Quieting the anger is not an option but releasing it is.

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Double-dip feelings

My sudden awareness of being emotionally abused has triggered double-dip feelings: anger and sympathy. Although I know the experience of conflicting emotions is common it doesn’t negate the fact it can be uncomfortable and exasperating. Sure, I imagine this person’s face when I hit the bags at the gym, but the part of me that has an open, bleeding heart wonders what he went through growing up to drive him to treat people the way he does. Recognizing this has beckoned some level of sympathy inside me because, well…it is sad.

When I brought this up to my counselor she indicated that feeling sympathy towards an abuser isn’t uncommon. In fact, it’s perfectly normal and okay. However, there is a fine line between feeling bad for someone and being overly compassionate towards them. My overly compassionate side is what kept me in an otherwise unhealthy relationship for years. Thankfully, that part of me has taken a back seat.

In the last few months it has been easier to digest the trauma of what I’ve gone through by focusing on me (because that’s something I can control) but now that the rose-colored glasses have been thrown to the wayside, I accurately see who this other person is. The urge to rush to forgiveness is no longer there. Instead, I only seek acceptance. In direct contradiction to my open, bleeding heart, I accept the fact that not everyone is good and that some people are just cruel.

Being comfortable with this idea (while simultaneously believing everyone has the capacity to be good) has been difficult and liberating. Difficult because compassion comes naturally, especially towards him; liberating because it holds him accountable. It is the first time I do not accept blame for his actions. It is the first time I choose not to forgive him, ever. It is the first time I realize not forgiving him does not make me a bad person.

Unbeknownst to him (and perhaps even to myself), there is a warrior inside of me fighting like mad towards the light. My anger has been a powerful tool for transformation and self-introspection. It’s allowed me to dig myself out of the deepest, darkest hole I’ve ever known. And although I found sympathy to be a frustrating emotion at first, I welcome it with open arms now because it affirms I am not blinded by rage. It reminds me that my heart is well-intentioned and good.

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*Affection training

I left counseling this week feeling challenged and changed in a fundamental way, which is to say I did a complete 180 compared to my first session (spent sobbing into a box of tissues while recounting the last four years of my tumultuous relationship). At the end of that first session, my counselor said, “Get angry! Stop blaming yourself! You have every right to feel the way you do and until you understand what prevents you from expressing that anger, you’ll be stuck in a place characterized by complacency and victimization.” When I left that first session, I felt deflated and beaten up. It didn’t make me feel better. It actually made me feel worse.

One of my main goals in counseling is to understand and change my behavior so I don’t carry those mistakes into future relationships. Knowing this, my counselor  gave me a few books to read and asked me to highlight passages that stuck out to me, especially where I recognized my own behavior patterns. Books in hand, I did exactly as she asked. I devoured every word.

The book that struck me the most was about training animals, called Don’t Shoot the Dog. It had nothing to do with relationships per se but the underlying theory of training animals to respond in specific ways has implications for human behavior (after all, we are animals too). The basic idea is that without understanding and knowing how behavior is shaped, you can’t actually change the way an animal responds.

There is one chapter in particular where I saw my relationship from beginning to end and which provided a possible explanation for all the “why” questions I so often ask. In this chapter, the author talks about the powerful effect of using invariable schedules to train animals. The premise is that the rarer and more unpredictable the reinforcer (or reward), the harder the animal works for it and the more likely you’ll get the desired response. Basically, if you never know exactly when you’ll get your reward, you’ll do exactly as the trainer wants every single time just in the hopes of getting it. I practically highlighted this whole chapter, making lots of side comments in the margins. All of a sudden, I realized was the dog in my relationship and had unknowingly been conditioned to respond to one reinforcer in particular: affection.

Here’s how it played out:

  • A charming, fun, sexy guy and I have really great moments. There is lots of love and affection. I’m in my happy place.
  • Something happens. I get upset. I voice being upset and the blame is projected on to me. Affection is withheld.
  • I accept blame. I apologize in an attempt to smooth things over. Affection is given and I feel loved again.
  • Over time, those moments of love and affection become increasingly rare and more unpredictable (probably because other problems start to creep up and I keep getting upset). But I know he has it in him somewhere because I’ve seen it.
  • The rarer and more unpredictable those moments, the more I pursue or work to make them happen. I want to be loved after all!
  • The more I pursue, the more he emotionally distances himself.
  • I do whatever I can to feel love and affection again. Nothing seems to be working so I leave.
  • Affection magically appears either to get me to stay or to get me to come back (if withholding hasn’t gotten me to come back on my own). For a few days it’s all rainbows and unicorns.
  • Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
  • For nearly four years.

I understand now this is what emotional abuse looks like. I couldn’t see it before because all I wanted was to be loved. I see it clearly now and it is fucking scary. My desire to be loved in return was used against me as a form of manipulation and control. I cannot convey how much recognizing this ignites a fire deep within me but for the first time in years, I actually feel the shackles to this person give way. I see the pattern. I see my part in it. And now I have the freedom to quietly walk away from it all. I can stop obsessing and start expressing the anger I have felt for years (justifiably) instead of bottling it up inside.

This is the heavy shit I’m working through. After my life was turned upside down in June, I couldn’t get angry at all. I was just sad. But coming to this particular realization about my own behavior (all on my own) has only fueled my desire to learn more, to understand, and to change. When I talked about this with my counselor she reminded me that the way other people behave with us has something to do with the way we behave with them. She pointed out that I can’t change who he is or the cruel way in which he treated me at the end, but I can look at it as an opportunity to learn, to change, to grow more fully into my own self.

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