Category Archives: self-awareness

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

Dating organically

Have you ever found it challenging to let relationships evolve organically? It’s something I’ve struggled with recently and I think that is perhaps because of my prior relationship experience – when I spent nearly four years with someone only to never have them fully commit to me. Moving forward with my life, I’ve found that is something I’m not willing to compromise on. For anyone I date, my expectation is that both of us communicate what we want and are respectful of each other’s feelings. Somehow, though, I’ve come to equate feeling safe and secure in a relationship with a requirement that the other person profess a level of commitment to me early on instead of letting the relationship progress naturally. But I ask myself this: what is wrong with reveling in the status of your relationship exactly as it is? What is wrong with taking things slow? What is wrong with nurturing the connection you feel to this other person? Nothing Lindsay. Nothing at all. And perhaps that is exactly what you need to be focusing on right now – bonding, understanding each other (particularly your differences), and learning to communicate openly and without judgement. Aren’t these necessary qualities for any relationship to be successful in the long run?

I think this is a concept everyone, at some point, has probably struggled with. Particularly people in my generation because of the pervasive “hook up” culture we operate in, which gives us the permission to not commit and easily walk away. To combat that, we push and push and we try to force a pledge to one another before either of us, truthfully, are ready to take that next step. Men do this but I think women do it more.

If anything, I’m learning that letting love flow naturally is not the same thing as being passive. It doesn’t mean compromising your wants, values, and expectations/intentions. In fact, it requires reflection and self-awareness. In those moments of reflection, especially in recent weeks, I’ve realized how I react and the things I do have contributed to my disappointments and kept me from the love I desired.

In particular, I’m talking about assumptions and control. When the person you are dating says or does something to cause you to doubt or question the status of your relationship, it is easy to add your own meaning to his/her words and actions. You interpret those situations as what you think is going on instead of what is actually happening. I know for me this is likely due to all those fears I hold, of being vulnerable and open about my feelings.

And, when it comes to control, when we are uncertain about the future and what it holds we try to force things to happen in the manner in which we hope it will turn out in the end. But the more we try to force something and the more we try to control what is happening, the more things don’t work out exactly as we planned. I think this urge to control is often because of a lack of trust, even when that person has given us no reason not to trust them. For most of us, this is probably shaped by negative or traumatic experiences we’ve had in the past. But remember that who you are dating now is not the same person you used to date. You have to stop assuming (there’s that word again) they are. People do terrible, awful things all the time. And yes, there are bad people out there. But there are also a lot of good people. Nothing will happen if you don’t give the other person a chance to show you that.

In the end, falling in love will happen organically. It arises out of friendship. So be present and enjoy each other’s company. Everything will turn out exactly as it is supposed to.

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Good riddance, 26!

I often put puzzles out on the filing cabinet that sits outside my office at work. I also have a white board hanging there, both of which I use as a means of engagement with my coworkers. Puzzles are fun for breaks and what I put on the white board varies by the day. Anything from “What are you grateful for today?” to “Goals for the week” to “Let’s play hangman!” It’s a fun way for me to foster a positive work environment and if you’ve ever worked in state government, you know we could use a little light-heartedness at the office.

I’ve had a running countdown in the corner of the white board since January, keeping my coworkers guessing for months what it could possibly mean. This week they finally figured it out. What was the countdown for? My 27th birthday, of course!

April 30 is a day I’ve been looking forward to pretty much since the day I turned 26. FINALLY, I get to kick my 26th year to the curb. Sianara, sucker! Good riddance! Adios! I most certainly will NOT miss you!

I started out 27 by spilling coffee all over my shirt but coworkers were quick to the rescue with tide-to-go pens and shout wipes (I should really start carrying those) so it turned around quite quickly. Everyone has made my birthday feel special – from sending flowers and cards to taking me out for lunch to sending me loving and thoughtful messages. But the best birthday present of all?! The birth of my nephew, Sawyer Dean. It is so cool to share a birthday with him!

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Even though 26 was a trying year and I’m happy I never have to live it again, I learned some not-so-bad things too.

What I Learned About Life
Everyone, everywhere basically wants the same things: to love and be loved in return; to be joyful and happy; to feel like we belong; to have a sense of purpose that is greater than ourselves; to feel validated; to have a sense of security; to have enough money to enjoy things beyond our basic needs.

It doesn’t matter where I am in the world or who I talk to, it seems like this is always what my conversations circle back around to. Early on in my twenties and up until this past year I was fairly ignorant about that. I thought that no one else could possibly understand what I felt or what I was going through or the things I desired. I was wrong. And at some level, in the back of my mind, I already knew this. But now, I know for sure.

What I Learned About Love
I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to about love in my 26th year. I couldn’t possibly list them all here but what sticks out to me the most is this: at 26 I realized people do things to each other all the time that are awful, disappointing, and devastating. The way I was treated and the things that happened to me at the hands of someone else were flat-out cruel and deeply traumatizing. I don’t know why what happened to me did. But it did. It happened. And even though it makes no sense to me and I don’t have the answers to all the “whys” I can at least acknowledge that despite its horror, it transformed me (and for the better).

Now, at 27, I realize people also do things to each other all the time that are beautiful, uplifting, and genuine.

What I Learned About Myself
Put simply: I am brave, courageous, strong, and willing to both challenge and question myself. I am worthy of good things happening to me.

What I Learned About Work
In December 2014 I accepted my dream job. Six months later I quit.

I am unwavering in the values and beliefs I hold about creating a positive work culture – it’s probably the number one thing I look for in an organization. When a leader does not share those same values and instead abuses their position of authority, it lights a fire so deep inside me. I didn’t know this about myself until I actually experienced it.

I was fortunate enough to work for someone who became like family in the 4 years prior to accepting this particular position. With affection, we called her Mama Bear because she was fierce and firm in protecting us. If you find yourself in a situation where your supervisor does not do this and instead treats you like less than a human being, please stand up for yourself. Their authority does not give them the right to abuse you or your coworkers. No job is worth creating unhappiness in your life.

What I Learned About Family and Friends
I’m quite honestly horrible at keeping in touch regularly with my friends and family. We may only talk every couple of months but if any of us are suffering or hurting there is no doubt we will come out of the woodwork in waves to lift each other up.

I spent a long time presenting one face to the world, which had little resemblance to who I was at home alone. In fact, I was a skilled magician creating an illusion where people only saw what I wanted them to see. When that mask came off I shouldn’t have been surprised to see how many people loved and cared about me. But I was. They are the most important in my life. I didn’t fully realize how much until I hit rock bottom. I have mad love for you guys!

What I Learned About Water Parks
Best way to celebrate your birthday. Ever.

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The pursuit of love and finding power in vulnerability

I wanted to switch gears from writing about mental health to share some thoughts on the pursuit of love and finding power in vulnerability.

A friend and I have been talking about this subject for a few weeks so when I woke up last Saturday morning to a Facebook newsfeed full of anti-Valentine’s Day statuses (ones like, “This holiday is stupid!” and “It sucks to be single!” and “Valentine’s Day is an overrated holiday invented by Hallmark”) I got kind of irritated.

On a day meant for celebrating love we instead find ourselves focusing on how much we hate it. Behind all that cynicism, though, is an expression of our desire for love. When we find it we are boastful and happy. When we lose it we are devastated and full of despair. When we are single we begrudge others who have it.

I find this topic intriguing because it seems as if we base the existence of love in our lives upon some public display of attachment. An attachment built on wanting, clinging, neediness, lust, and self-interest – none of which are true expressions of love.

Moreover, we believe love is limited to our romantic relationships. We fail to acknowledge that love exists in other aspects of our lives. It exists in our relationships with our family and friends. It exists in our social relationships with co-workers. It even exists in our daily interactions with strangers.

It isn’t surprising we maintain such a limited view of love though. Just like we’ve learned how to tie our shoes or ride a bike or cook a meal, we’ve learned that love will eventually “find” us. This kind of mentality sets us up for failure because it leaves love to chance. Love is thus confined and limited from flourishing in our lives. Really, there are so many ways to love and to be loved in return. So why not pursue all kinds of love instead of waiting for it to manifest in our lives in the form of romanticism?

You may ask, though, what exactly does it mean to pursue love? To pursue love means to act with intention and purposefulness. It means to love for the sake of loving, with no expectation of something in return. It means to be vulnerable, which, by the way, I’ve learned is not synonymous with weakness. Vulnerability implies having the courage to be yourself and to accept others exactly as they are and exactly where they are in their lives –  both emotionally and mentally.

Everyday we face an opportunity to practice being vulnerable: calling a friend who’s been admitted to the psychiatric unit, telling someone you like them, admitting you made a mistake at work, or asking someone for help. The opportunity exists, we just have to decide if we’ll take it.

In my own life I’ve found I fear vulnerability because I fear rejection and authenticity. That if I truly show who I am and take my cloak of self-protective armor off it will have the opposite effect of what I hope for: that opening my heart to another will in turn make them want to open their heart to me. Recognizing this has marked a pivotal moment in my life because I am trying to un-learn what my brain has been hard-wired to do.

In all of my relationships I’ve spent more time hiding the truth than speaking it. And as a result my relationships suffered. I suffered. Last year was the hardest year of my life. It left me in crippling despair and led to a humiliating and devastating emotional breakdown. But the grace in that experience is it has made me more comfortable in the presence of vulnerability. I’ve found that vulnerability really is the safest place to be: there are no pretenses and no hiding, just truthfulness and authenticity.

To quote Brene Brown, “Show me a man who can listen to a woman and not try to fix her problem but rather just listen to her and be there for her, show me a woman who can sit with a man who shares this vulnerability and still love him the way he is, and I’ll show you a man and woman who are courageous and have done their work.” While Brown is speaking specifically to romantic love, the premise and underlying lesson is relevant to all of our relationships: that the vulnerability we try desperately to avoid is actually the key to having a successful relationship.

So pursue love; don’t wait for it to find you. Find power in your ability to be vulnerable because the more open and loving you are the more loveable you become.

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Filed under authenticity, intention, love, purposefulness, quotes, rejection, relationships, self-awareness, vulnerability

Kicking perfectionism to the curb

I have always believed that the desire to do well creates an impossible responsibility to be perfect. To be fair, though, the push to excellence is mostly self-induced. As a perfectionist I believe that everything (my work, writing, and relationships included) are never good enough. There is always room for improvement because everything is a work in progress. Ultimately this desire for perfection has negatively impacted my sense of self-worth because I believe that any kind of disapproval or perceived failure is equivalent to a shortcoming in myself. I’ve found that I am excessively sensitive to criticism and that the underlying motivation of why I do what I do has more so been tied to wanting validation and praise from others than it has been for the sake of doing what I love. Understanding these underlying behaviors is key to kicking perfectionism to the curb. What I’ve realized is that we must strive for authenticity, not perfection.

Perfection is contingent on external judgements (attention and validation) while authenticity comes from within. Praise from others may make us feel validated and important but if the desire to do well isn’t fully rooted in our own search to be a better version of ourselves, then it will never truly lead to happiness. The only path it will lead to is the one called self-doubt. And self-doubt is our worst enemy. It is a malignant tumor that eats away at our minds, our work, our creativity, and our desire to contribute something meaningful to the world. This makes the perfectionist impossible. In my darkest days it has eaten me alive.

A perfectionist will set unrealistic and unattainable expectations for themselves and others around them. Even under impossible deadlines and life circumstances we set such high standards that we rarely, if ever, reach. From the beginning we set everyone up for failure and thus our friendships, romantic relationships, work, creativity, and sense of self-worth suffer. But here’s the truth about perfection:

If you want a perfect body you will never have it. All you can strive for is a healthier, more fit version of you. Similarly, if you want the perfect friend or boyfriend or girlfriend know that it doesn’t exist. If you can get 80% of what you want out of your friend or partner, that’s pretty damn good. When it comes to your job, know there will always be moments of frustration and doubt. While you may land your dream job or be doing something you’re truly passionate about, the pressures of making ends meet and getting burn out will inevitably rear their ugly heads from time to time.

The gist here is that people are human and to be human means to be flawed and imperfect. Setting the highest standards for ourselves and for others sets each of us up for failure. Instead of focusing on the “if only s/he/I did this” and “I wish s/he/I were” we should instead show up and put in the work to be stronger versions of ourselves. All of this requires self-awareness, vulnerability, and intimacy. And that requires putting aside our insecurities and fears, which can seem like an impossible leap for the perfectionist in all of us.

I don’t claim to have conquered my battle with perfection. But I am always in search of a better self. I’m even beginning to love my imperfections, which is a big step forward.

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Filed under expectations, flaws, imperfection, pefectionism, self-awareness, self-doubt, vulnerability