During last year’s 4 month lockdown I realised there were a couple of friends in my life who I felt really drained by after we caught up.
I would avoid catching up with them (individually) until I had loads of spare energy, so I wouldn’t be depleted when my reserves were already low.
I loved both these friends, so it seemed strange that I would leave our catch ups feeling neutral at best, drained at worst.
It was like there was some strange leak in our dynamic that was sucking all the energy out of our connection.
Like when I accidentally leave my bedroom window open and all the lovely warm heatery air makes an escape.
I made a list of my close friends and divided them into “mostly energises me, mostly drains me, and mostly feels neutral”.
Then I multiplied it by the square root of π. My calculations indicated that most of the time, most of my friendships give me more energy, not less.
I wiggled my earlobe as I pondered.
Nothing much became clear.
Then I talked to my coach about what to do about these two friendships. In one sentence he lit up everything I knew but couldn’t see.
I had become a coach for both these friends.
Da-oh, not again!
I felt valued by them for my wisdom and support. I cared about them deeply, but I didn’t feel seen, heard, understood or supported by them.
We had somehow set up a weird dynamic in which I was the one doing the supporting, and they were the ones venting about all their problems. For years.
As my coach pointed out, we had accidentally entered into the Karpman Drama Triangle.
I nodded sagely.
“The what now?”
He explained. I had taken on the role of ‘the rescuer’. My friend had taken on the role of ‘the victim’. One friend had assigned the role of ‘the persecutor’ to her ex boyfriend, while the other had assigned the role of ‘the persecutor’ to her unpleasant boss.
Of course, these triangles (I was in two separate triangles) were an incredibly unhelpful and flawed dynamic for all of us.
Disempowering for them and draining for me.
I had to get real with myself. Why was I enabling their victim behaviour and acting as their rescuer?
This rung a few too many awkward bells from my childhood.
For as long as I can remember I have ended up in (and likely manoeuvred myself into) dynamics where I’m the supportive ‘wise’ one, supporting and guiding someone who is having a hard time. Or in the case of a close loved one — not got their shit together whatsoever due to a drug and alcohol problem.
Because I learnt to compartmentalise and dissociate from my own emotions from a very young age, I became a pro at being “fine” when others were not. I could handle their pain, because I didn’t feel all that much.
Somewhere along the line I developed an identity as the rescuer. It gave me a sense of being useful, wanted and needed in friendships (I didn’t feel I was inherently worthy of friends’ love unless I felt I was supporting them).
My ego was getting a kick out of being the wise, supportive coach.
It took some very honest looks at the woman in the mirror to admit this to myself.
As soon as I admitted it, I knew I needed to get the feck out of these drama triangles.
Caveat: I feel enlivened and energised by my 1:1 coaching sessions with my clients. They WANT to be coached and are WILLING to grow and improve their lives. They are empowered and seeking support in their growth, not choosing to stay stuck in victim mode.
It’s also a fair exchange of energy – I support and empower my clients to grow, and they exchange money for my expertise and time. I get SO much reward from seeing them grow, and we have clear boundaries on our time together.
This is entirely different to the situation I had gotten into with these two friends. Not only did it feel as though the exchange was mostly one way (me perpetually supporting them while receiving little in return over long periods of time), but also – one friend in particular was significantly more keen to vent and blame her ex than to take any responsibility or control over her situation nor heal and grow from it.
I had some hard decisions to make.
I felt safe to talk about the dynamic with one of the two friends. We were able to iron out the weird dynamic between us – both of us had created it, but neither of us enjoyed it. It worked.
I tried to talk about it to the other friend too, and 100% owned my part in creating our dynamic.
I didn’t nail the delivery, and she became defensive and reactive. She was unwilling to take on 50% of the responsibility for anything in her life, including our challenging dynamic. After a lot of consideration, openness, time and effort, I decided that we were too much on different pages, and that our friendship was no longer good for either of us.
I ended the friendship.
I had probably kept that friendship going for a few years longer than I wanted to, because I felt she needed support. She had pushed many of her other friends away with her consistent negativity and unrelenting victim attitude towards her circumstances.
I’m sure she didn’t actually need or want me to rescue her.
Even though we can get ourselves into these drama triangle roles very easily – none of the parties involved usually like being in them.
I wrote about breaking up with this friend, and about how selfish I initially felt for ending the friendship (until something quite unexpected happened) – you can read about it here: Breaking up with friends who drain you (again)
Through this process, my coach pointed out that NO relationship is good for one person and bad for the other.
Wise words from a very wise coach with a mullet and handlebar moustache.
Ask yourself — are there any relationships in your life where you might be playing one or more of the roles in the drama triangle?
Are you the victim, blaming someone or something else for things going wrong? Feeling powerless and stuck?
Are you the persecutor, accidentally dominating someone with your behaviour (or being blamed as the persecutor by a victim/ rescuer)?
Are you the rescuer, riding in on your high giraffe with sage words of advice?
It takes a lot of honesty and a bit of ick to really look and see where you might be playing out these roles in your life, even subtly.
But as Alcoholics Anonymous reckons, apparently:
Awareness is the first step to recovery.
[*By which I mean onomatopoeia-cly, not the Association for Geoconservation Hong Kong 😁]