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  • Writer's pictureKitty Edwards

Stepping Out of the Drama Triangle

Caregiving is a relationship between you and the person you are caring for.

In all relationships there are rocks and rapids that can toss us into anger, anxiety or depression.

This is a part of being human.

Yet it is important to recognize when this is happening and avoid getting stuck in an emotional whirlpool.

On occasion, I stepped into the swirl when caring for my father after my mother died.

My three brothers and I banded together to create a team to care for Daddy, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Once a month, I flew in for a week of caregiving, which included training aides, setting up new programs, and visiting.

Upon my arrival, Daddy would be happy to see me.

We would chat about his activities, the television programs he watched, and how he was feeling. Three days into the visit, he would remember that I would be leaving at the end of the week, and would become sad, expressing his desire for me to stay. He would tell me that I was the only one who understood him and claim to be ignored by both his aides and my brothers, who lived nearby.

This made me feel terrible.

I felt guilty for leaving and concerned that my brothers weren’t doing their jobs. I cross-examined the aides to ensure they were offering the best care. By the time my weekly visit was over, it seemed that we were all mad at each other.

After six months of this routine, I realized that I had stepped into the Drama Triangle.

When I flew in to fix everything that needed fixing, I was a rescuer.

Once my father fell into his role of victim, I began to ask accusatory questions of others, and I became a perpetrator.

By the time I got home, I was the victim – extremely tired, guilty and sad that I could not make him happy.

I realized that Dad wanted me to fix his loneliness and isolation.

Before his disease made it difficult for him to get around, Dad had hosted meetings with retired colleagues and joined friends for lunch several times a week.

So, on my next visit to Albuquerque I interviewed Certified Nursing Assistants, (CNAs), asking if any had cooking experience. I found a delightful and experienced CNA whose dream was to open his own restaurant. I hired him.

For the next six months, Dad invited friends and colleagues to come over for lunch. The food was good and the conversations were fun. The food bills went sky-high, but Dad was happy and no longer focused on when my visits were coming to an end.

One thing I did that still stands out for me was organizing a vanilla milkshake contest.

Mike, Dad’s closest friend, created a poster with a rating chart with one to five stars. I then set up a care calendar on which folks could sign up to bring milkshakes from various restaurants around town. On Sunday afternoons, the designated person would show up with a milkshake. Conversations and comparisons would follow. Stars were awarded and posted.

Long after the milkshake contest was over, when Dad could no longer have conversations, friends stopped by with a milkshake in hand just to let him know he was loved and remembered.

Stepping Out Ritual

Dancing is a great way to shake off difficult situations in caregiving. I like to do the Hokey Pokey to make myself laugh.

Tips for Stepping into More Peaceful Relationships

The relationship between a caregiver and the loved one being cared for is special and unique, so it may feel important to protect it by prioritizing a peaceful and stress-free environment.

Yet conflicts are a normal part of any relationship.

The Drama Triangle demonstrates how, in our conflicts, we tend to act as a rescuer, a victim, or a perpetrator.

We may move in, out, and all around the Drama Triangle in a single interaction with our loved one. But, by doing so even the smallest disagreement can escalate.

There is a way to step out of this cycle, although, first, it’s important to realize you have stepped into one of these roles with your loved one. Then, you can choose to step out.

Know the roles.

1. In the rescuer role you find yourself spending too much time and energy giving advice and fixing your loved one’s problems. And you may even get upset if they don’t let you.

2. In the victim role you find yourself getting too focused on what isn’t going right. You may start blaming your loved one or others for your unhappiness in the situation.

3. In the perpetrator role you find yourself getting impatient and overly critical with your loved one, or with a situation that involves them. You’re getting bossy and needing things to go your way.

So be on the lookout when conflicts begin to arise.

Remember, the key is recognizing you have stepped into the Triangle, so you can then choose to step out, even if your loved one is playing a role as well.

Your move alone is the way to quicker resolutions and healthier, more peaceful relationships.


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