The Winner’s Triangle

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I have previously written about The Drama Triangle, and suggested how to recognise you are in one and how to get out of it.

The other side of The Drama Triangle coin is the Winner’s Triangle.  It also has three participants, but is a constructive system rather than a destructive one.  The idea of it has been around since at least the 1980s, and may have been first described by Acey Choy.

The Drama Triangle roles are Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer.  Each of the roles in the Drama Triangle has a corresponding role in the Winner’s Triangle:

Victim —> Vulnerable

Persecutor —> Assertive

Rescuer —> Caring

Note how the roles in the Winner’s Triangle are descriptions of behaviour, rather than labels of people.  This in itself gives suggestions of ways to move from a Drama Triangle to a Winner’s Triangle.

In the Drama Triangle, the Victim can often feel powerless but can end up holding quite a bit of power by manipulating the other participants.  By embracing and accepting their vulnerability they can, paradoxically, discover their own strength.  By being supported but not having everything fixed for them, the Victim can develop resilience and problem-solving skills.

Persecutor can move to Assertive by using their energy to solve issues rather than blaming, shaming, punishing or putting down.  At the same time as maintaining their own boundaries, they do not overstep someone else’s.

Rescuer can move to Caring by supporting and listening to Vulnerable and believing in their ability to solve the problem, but not doing everything for them.  This is a service in the long run, because it enables Vulnerable to grow and develop their own resources.  This position also helps Caring to develop their own ability to say no when necessary.

These Triangles can be played out between individuals, large groups of people and everything in between.  Just about everyone has been involved in a Triangle at some point.

A final note: beware the Bystander role!  This is the fourth role in the Drama Triangle that sits just to one side of it.  The Bystander observes what is happening but chooses not to get involved.  This might be because they think it is none of their business, or that they themselves might suffer for getting involved.  This can, of course, be true – and personal safety is a valid and important consideration.  However, the Bystander can also help maintain the Drama Triangle by appearing to give tacit approval to what is happening.  Throughout history, Persecutors in particular have felt supported and validated by Bystanders.  This can increase the feeling of powerlessness in the Victim – and even encourage other Persecutors to join in, spiralling the system into further destruction.  If you find yourself in the Bystander role, try to see the situation from a compassionate viewpoint.  Put yourself in the Victim’s place – what would be genuinely helpful, halt the destruction and assist everyone in moving into a Winner’s Triangle?  These are big questions, and only you can answer them for yourself for any given situation.  What do you want your role to be.

Juggling

juggling
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We are all juggling various things.  Not  throwing various objects around, but keeping up with the many tasks, jobs and obligations we have every day.

At what point does it become too much, and what can you do?

Only you can decide what you can handle, but you can become so bogged down with things that you can’t even think straight.  At times like this, you might even end up compromising on the quality of what you are doing rather than the quantity.

This is not necessarily wrong – but if you find things are getting worse, it could be worth re-examining what you are doing any why.

I’ve written before about Saying No, but how do you know at what point to actually do it?

  • Are you compromising important aspects of health and self care, such as sleep and food, in order to get tasks done?
  • Is your mood dropping because you’re so overstretched?  Have you started snapping at loved ones?
  • Are you spending what should be down-time worrying about your list of tasks?
  • Have you totally given up the things which bring you pleasure and relaxation in favour of a list of jobs?

If you are saying yes to any of these, you might be juggling too much.

So what can you do?

For a start, look at the tasks you have and work out what actually needs doing and what doesn’t.  You can mentally group tasks into “necessary”, “not necessary but would be nice to have done” and “unnecessary”.  Be ruthless about it!  Much as we would all like to have a sparkling kitchen with alphabetised spice racks, sometimes it’s better overall to just settle for a clean space where we can find things reasonably easily!

Are your thoughts getting in the way?  Perhaps you believe things will collapse or people will think much less of you unless you Do All The Things.  This might not be a conscious belief, so it is worth examining carefully what you fear might happen if you stopped doing certain things.

Next, you could look at your tasks and check what you are really responsible for and what you are not.  So often the bulk of work in a household can fall to just one person, something which is being discussed more and more on social media lately.  Writing lists of what tasks fall to which person can be eye-opening!  Are you doing certain things just because that’s the way it has always been, despite lifestyles and working hours changing?  Do you cause yourself enormous disruption and difficulty to avoid someone else having to put up with a little discomfort?

Are you juggling more than you can manage because you find it difficult to ask for help?  It can be so hard to ask for help, as we might fear we are letting people down or damaging their view of us.  Only you can decide at what point the risks of asking for help are less than the risks of buckling under.  It’s also a good idea to be really specific.  It is easier for people to respond to a specific request than a general, “help me!”.

Which juggling ball will you put down today?

Book: “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin

happiness
“The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin (2011, Harper)

“The Happiness Project” is Gretchen Rubin’s report of her year-long exercise to increase her happiness through self-discovery and trying various activities.

Rubin describes how she started with small “happiness resolutions”, with different (and more difficult) ones each month.  For December, she decided to try to keep to all her resolutions from the whole year.

Rubin challenged herself to find out what her ‘rules’ were and how following them (or not) changed her happiness.

A part that stuck out to me was “you can’t choose what you like to do, you can only choose what you do“.  What Rubin means is that forcing ourselves to do things we strongly dislike because we think we ‘should’ doesn’t increase happiness.  For example, Rubin wants to be the kind of person who listens to cool jazz music rather than pop, perhaps because she feels that as an adult and professional that she ‘should’.  But she doesn’t.  So why did she force herself to listen to music she dislikes rather than accepting she likes what she does?  Discovering this and accepting it provided a great example of how she could take control of her happiness.

Of course, some tasks are unavoidable.  Rubin tries to reframe them and view them in ways that don’t drag down her mood.  She finds ways to see pleasure in even mundane things, until the habit becomes second nature.

Rubin is flexible with her time and wealthy in a city with lots of opportunities, so her experience may seem unachievable.  This book is less a “how to” guide than a “this is what I did” description.  However, it might give some ideas of how to carry out your own “Happiness Project”, in ways that suit your lifestyle.

What rules do you live by?  What do you do because you think you ‘should’ rather than because they make you happy?  Are these things you can stop, or reframe?  What made you happy to do as a child (acting, painting, singing?), and what caused you to stop?  Could you start again?

You can read a sample chapter of The Happiness Project here.

You can read Gretchen Rubin’s blog here.

New Year, New You? Not necessarily…

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At this time of year so many of us make New Year’s Resolutions that are meant to change to way we look, feel and behave.  However, it’s also pretty common for them to fail.  So what can you do?

I’ve written before about SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-limited).  SMART goals are a brilliant way to decide what you want to achieve and plan how to do it.  It’s also a useful way of breaking down bigger projects into smaller steps.

But if you’ve written out your SMART goals and still aren’t getting anywhere, what then?

First of all… why are you doing this?  Where have your goals and resolutions come from?  If a goal is based on the wishes of someone else, it can be more difficult to achieve.  Especially if you don’t really want to! You might decide the goal isn’t actually right for you at all, which might have consequences (good or bad) for your relationship with the person.  Or you might have to work a bit harder to appreciate how achieving the goal could end up being a good thing for everyone.

What will be the final outcome, and how will it help you?  So many people, for example, resolve to lose weight.  How will that help you, long-term?  What part of your life have you put on hold until you are ‘thin’ – and what stops you from doing it now?  Are other goals actually holding you back this way?

Do you really want this, or are you doing something you believe you “should”?  Perhaps you have an image in your head of the kind of person you ‘should’ be, but is it who you really are?  I am a big believer in the idea that self-acceptance is the first step towards happiness.  Two of my favourite quotes come from Carl Rogers, in his book On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy.

“We cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.”

and

“It becomes easier for me to accept myself as a decidedly imperfect person, who by no means functions at all times in the way in which I would like to function. This must seem to some like a very strange direction in which to move. It seems to me to have value because the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change.”

That is why I have said “Not necessarily” in the title of this post.  The quotations above mean that you are far more likely to make lasting changes that benefit you if you can start by accepting yourself as you are.  That can be difficult and scary, as it may mean looking honestly at parts of yourself you would rather not.  You might have flaws you have been trying to hide.  You might even be hiding good things about yourself, because it can be just as scary to think about what showing those things off might mean!

So what do you want to do?

Getting through Christmas

christmas
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I’m sure you’ve heard people complaining that “Christmas starts earlier and earlier”.  It does seem to start sometime around August lately.  If you love Christmas and everything that goes with it, this is excellent news!  However, if you are feeling Christmassed-out, you might be worried about the upcoming week or two.

The enforced jollity and pressure of social engagements, preparing for activities and the requirement to “be HAPPY!” might be exhausting and overwhelming.  It can be very difficult to admit to not really feeling it, especially if people around you aren’t willing to accept your feelings.

Matt Haig recently wrote an article about his experiences of battling depression at Christmas and what he learned from it (content warning: depression, suicide).

I’ve written before about various ideas to get through the Christmas period if it isn’t going well for you – including looking at your ‘shoulds’, mindfulness, grounding and using support networks.

Recently KentOnline published an article, “Where can I escape Christmas in Kent?”.  Please note that a couple of the listed events have now passed, but there are still some good ideas there.

It can be especially difficult to say “no” at Christmas.  Some people will use the season as an excuse to ramp up expectations and use emotional blackmail to get you to do what they want.  Perhaps you’ve heard “But it’s Christmas!” or some reference to “goodwill to all” used in this way?  Fortunately, The Pool has recently published an excellent article with suggestions of techniques you can use to tackle this.

Maybe you feel it is too late to change things for this year now.  So, this year might be a chance to take stock of what works for you and what doesn’t.  You can start making changes early enough next year that people can get used to it.  It’s okay if you would rather stay home at Christmas.  If you would prefer to have a ‘quiet one’, that’s fine.  If you want to skip some events and go to others then do so.  You are not obliged to justify yourself!

I wish for all of you to have the Christmas which brings the most happiness to you, whatever that looks like.  I will be closing on Wednesday 20th December 2017 and reopening on Tuesday 2nd January 2018.  Any texts, calls or emails during this period will be answered as soon as I can do so after reopening.  If you need to talk to someone between these dates, there is a list of other organisations and their contact details here.

Acts of kindness

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Acts of kindness towards others could boost our own well-being and even help ease depression.

They might boost serotonin or dopamine levels – these are neurotransmitters associated with feeling good.  They might even reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure.  These effects can also happen in the person the kindness is directed towards, and even those who witness it!  Acts of kindness can also strengthen relationships and bonds with other people – and improve our self-image and relationship with ourselves.  If it feels too scary to walk up to someone and offer a random act of kindness, there are ways to do it without even being present.

It can, of course, be very difficult to do this because depression steals energy and encourages withdrawal from others.  It can be hard to even think of what to do, or find the motivation to do it.  That is why I rather like Action for Happiness’ “Kindness Calendar” which can be downloaded as an image file or a pdf here.  The Kindness Calendar has a small suggestion for each day in December – and its not too late to start.  You could print it out and tick it off, or share it on social media.  There are also ideas of things you could do here.  Acts of kindness could be something you do alone, or get together with friends.

While acts of kindness for others appears to give the biggest effect, remember to be kind to yourself.  It’s not necessary empty your own reserves or cause yourself severe unhappiness, for the sake of someone else.  Do only what you feel comfortable and secure in doing, and remember it’s okay to be pleased with yourself for it.  You might worry that you aren’t doing something that is “enough” – but where might that come from?

Who decides what is “good enough”?  Only you.

Creativity

creativity
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In my last blog post, I spoke about joy.  In that post, I said, “We feel safe, cherished, fortunate and vibrantly alive when we are joyful.  However, that exuberance is often associated most with children, and is something we are encouraged to put away when we ‘grow up’.”  I also suggested you might like to “Dance.  Run.  Play.  Splash paint.  Sing.  Jump in puddles.”  I believe that joy and creativity are strongly linked, especially in childhood.

I’d like to look at this a little more, because I have been really struck by two things lately:

  1. That children are vibrantly, joyfully creative and gain much from this self-expression.
  2. That adults often see themselves as “not creative”, no matter how much they might have been as a child.

What happens between childhood and adulthood to cause such a change?  In many cases, it seems that the Inner Critic developed as our creative expression was judged by those around us – both formally (such as in school) and informally (by peers, family and even strangers on social media).  We are also fed a narrow range of what “creativity” means – usually limited to specific arts and musical endeavours, and specific ‘standards’ in those things.

However, I think creativity can be so much more than that.  Do you enjoy putting specific outfits together in harmonious colours?  Or applying fun makeup?  That’s creative.  Are you good at baking?  Or putting together meal plans and using or making recipes?  That’s creative.  Do you daydream about people, places, situations and imagine what might happen?  That’s creative!

The Inner Critic might be dismissing this, finding some reason it ‘doesn’t count’ when you do those things.  You might think that your work isn’t as good as someone else’s, or see flaws that spoil it for you.  Your Inner Critic is trying to protect you from deeper fears – maybe failure, shame or embarrassment.  It is hard to indulge your creativity when you don’t know what the result will be!  If you can view your Inner Critic more compassionately in this way, rather than fighting with it, you may find it much easier to stop it holding you back.

So, what if your creativity is still blocked?  Fortunately, there are a number of ways you might work through it.  Various artistic hobby groups and classes are available both online and locally.  Take time to find a space you feel safe and welcomed in, where you feel supported and free to let those creative juices flow.

If you would rather try alone, then you might like a self-paced course such as The Artists’ Way, Mindful Art Studio classes, or one of the free courses listed here.

You may find it hard at first to get going, and you may struggle to see ‘improvement’.  However, if you can let go of your idea of the ‘perfect result’ and instead be in the moment with the process, you may not only enjoy things a lot more but also end up going off in unexpected and exciting directions!  Plus, it is worth remembering that being bad at something is the first step towards being good at it!

What will you discover in your creative journey?

 

Please note, I have no commercial links or affiliations with the classes I have linked to – they are simply things that I have enjoyed myself.

Joy

joy
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I started my ten-part series about the ten positive emotions identified by researcher Dr Barbara Fredrickson a little over two years ago, and today I will be finishing it.

It is worth reiterating why I decided to do this in the first place.

Mostly, it was because learning about Positive Psychology challenged my assumptions of it.  I expected the course to be ‘fluffy’ – light and not particularly scientific, presented by smiling people who insisted everyone’s lives would be better if they just “thought positive!”.  It wasn’t like that at all.

Not only was there a great deal of rigour involved, but it also connected mental stress with physical stress and the bodily disruptions caused by chronic stress.  What came out of this was a message of hope.  Hope that the disruption and damage caused by stress can be mitigated and undone.  I was struck by the explanation that positive emotions are so often overlooked because they tend to be fleeting and not very intense compared to negative ones.  They are so easy to miss if we aren’t looking for them.

There is also the Inner Critic, who tells us that we are deserving of negative emotions and undeserving of positive ones.  The Critic tells us that the only way to learn and to grow is by going through bad experiences and negative emotions.  I don’t think that is the whole story.  I think it isn’t enough to just learn to process and work through negative emotions.  It is important, necessary even, to also work towards welcoming positive emotions into our lives.  Positive emotions are fragile things, needing to be nurtured like an orchid while we battle the bindweed of the negative ones.

Joy, I think, is easily overlooked in this way and needs that nurturing perhaps most of all.  Joy is unbridled and passionate.  We feel safe, cherished, fortunate and vibrantly alive when we are joyful.  However, that exuberance is often associated most with children, and is something we are encouraged to put away when we ‘grow up’.  Moments of joy, the moments when we laugh and feel expansive and could dance around the room… We squash it.  We come up with logical-sounding reasons not to indulge and enjoy ourselves.  The things that made us joyful when we were children are deemed, by ourselves and by others, as inappropriate now we are adults.

But who made those rules?  Why do we follow them?  What benefit do we get from reining ourselves in this way?

Try indulging your joy for a few moments, and see what happens.  Choose to let it loose instead of stepping on it.  Dance.  Run.  Play.  Splash paint.  Sing.  Jump in puddles.

What will you do?

Interest

interest
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I have almost finished my long-running series on the 10 positive emotions identified by Dr Barbara Fredrickson.  Previous posts in this series can be found here.  Today I am looking at interest.

Fredrickson defines the emotion of interest as the desire to learn new things.  The feeling of being curious about and open towards new experiences or knowledge.

Unfortunately, many of the things we need to do in our everyday lives can be really quite boring.  However, we often fail to set aside time and energy for interesting things.  It can be easy to make excuses not to, especially when the people around us aren’t supportive of our desire to stimulate our interest.

For example, you might feel compelled to justify it.  Many people believe that if something has no concrete outcome, such as “earning more money” or “fixing the house”, then it is valueless.  However, engaging your interest by obtaining new knowledge or a new skill can have value that cannot easily easily measured in monetary or physical terms.  Stimulating ourselves mentally can promote well-being, reduces stress and increase life satisfaction.  For example, I recently saw this article on social media about the health benefits of knitting.

What is the balance of interesting to boring things in your life?  When was the last time something really got you interested?  What were you interested in as a child?  What is preventing you from engaging in something that interests you?  Are you being held back by negative assumptions (such as, “I’m too old!”… says who?!)? Or fear of how others might view it?  Have bad experiences at school put you off?  Are you acting under “The Tyranny of the Should” rather than doing something you actually want to do from time to time?

The first step is to find out what you are interested in.  This might sound simple, but if you and your desires have been buried under the expectations and opinions of others, it can be difficult to discover who you are and what you want.  You might like to browse the free courses on offer from providers such as FutureLearn and Coursera.  Such online courses can be done without having to make a set commitment, at a time of your choosing and privately at home.  Or, you could join a local club or hobby group.  Many national hobby societies have websites which will direct you to your local group.

If you are really lost, here is a great list of ideas.  Work through the list slowly, without self-judgement – and see if anything makes you say, “Ooh!”.

The Tyranny of ‘To Do’s

to do
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In January last year I blogged about Goals and “To Do” lists.  I have decided to revisit this to address why To Do lists can go wrong, and how to tackle that.

Most of us carry a rolling To Do list in our heads, giving mental energy over to them not so much through need to remember but due to fear of forgetting something.  Unfortunately, the constant reminders to ourselves, the running internal commentary of “mustn’t forget, mustn’t forget” can potentially cause more stress than the task itself – and feeling stressed is linked to poor memory.  Ironically, making such an effort to avoid forgetting or missing something can bring about the very thing you fear.

My previous blog post suggested ways to manage this, such as using streamlined and prioritised written lists or phone apps.  This can be helpful for many people, but doesn’t tell the whole story.

I recently read this book (language warning!), which asks us to re-examine the things we care about and whether those are the things which we really want or need to care about.  We all have limited energy and time to devote to things, but often get bogged down by the routine tasks which “must” be done.

It is worth asking ourselves what we think the outcome might be if some of these ‘To Do’s did not get done.  Are we looking at a worst-case scenario?  What might a realistic view be?  Are these tasks things which really matter to you, or are they things which were drummed into you as “musts” when you were growing up?  For whose benefit are these tasks being done?  Are we taking on a share of work which rightly belongs to someone else?  Do you have anyone else who can take on some of these tasks?  Why aren’t they doing so?  Does the thought of letting them do something their own way, possibly doing it badly, cause you anguish?  What will the effect on you be if they do the task badly?

In many households, one person feels they are carrying the weight of the routine ‘To Do’s that keep everything running.  That can not only be draining and frustrating, but also very isolating.  Drawing a boundary by saying, “I cannot do any more” and insisting others take responsibility can be very hard.  Many of us were raised to be “helpful” and “hardworking”.  The thought of saying “No, that is your responsibility” can be frightening because it means letting go of those expectations from self and others.  It can just feel easier to accept the draining daily grind than to risk rocking the boat.

If you want to start a conversation about this with those around you, it is helpful to use ‘”I” statements’ to keep communication lines open.  Saying “You always…” or “You never…” might well be true, but it also encourages defensiveness and closing of communication by the other person.  For example, how might you react to “You never complete this task and I am fed up with it!” versus “I feel utterly exhausted by completing this task every day.  I feel upset that I am not receiving help from you”?  This can also be managed by considering the roles you might be playing in a Drama Triangle, and how that causes things to go round and round rather than resolving.

What is on your ‘To Do’ list today?  How much of it is really yours?  What would you like to let go of, and can you give yourself permission for that?

If you would like help with some of the issues raised by this blog post, please contact me to make an appointment.