Saturday, August 8, 2015

Savoring the Summer

I can't believe how fast the summer is going or the fact that it's been almost TWO WEEKS since I last blogged!!

Meanwhile, I have company coming for a visit next week, so I need to get cracking.

So what have I been doing?  A few stints at the beach.  A whole bunch of bike rides.  Several swims.  A few nice lunches out.   I think I'm fast realizing that the summer will soon be over, and I want to make sure I spend as much time outdoors as I possibly can.

That said, I've been reading Carlos Bulosan's America is in the Heart (1943), his memoir about his experiences as a Filipino migrant worker in California and the West in the 1920's and 30's.

I also found a lot of food for thought in Robert Taibbi's essay, "The Relationship Triangle."  Taibbi bases his work on Stephen Karpman's concept of the "Drama Triangle," and the extrapolates from that premise to consider its role in adult relationships in general.

As a reforming (or recovering?) "Rescuer," I liked the fact that this essay offers a great ego-check.  Because I think that often, Rescuers do tend to delude themselves into thinking that playing the Rescuer role somehow proves that they are a "good" person.

They may very well be.  Odds are, though, that, like all of us, they're a mixed bag.  Some good motives, definitely, but some sketchy ones in there as well.  

The point is, I think Rescuing is a role that is easily entangled with a sense of one's moral values, and as a result, trying to escape from it (or simply stop playing it in general) often carries a very large sense of guilt.

Rescuers are particularly prone to succumbing to emotional sabotage in the form of claims that they are being "mean."  And while people may say, "Well, but that's just silly, you have to take care of yourself, obviously!", to a Rescuer it is in no way obvious that this is the case.

As Taibbi's essay points out, Rescuers are created in childhood, and their behavior is the result of years of a kind of conditioning that repeatedly insists that 1) their own feelings aren't really valid, and 2) that "caring" about someone means putting the other person's needs ahead of their own, even if that person's needs are unreasonable or overwhelming or downright crippling.

I like Taibbi's point about how, in a sense, rescuing enables to Rescuer to "fix his own anxiety" by focusing on someone else's problems instead of looking inward. 

Because really, for most people, looking inward really isn't always all it's cracked up to be.

One of the things I've personally found particularly helpful is, when confronted with the potential to play the Rescuer, to recontextualize the situation as if it were unfolding between myself and one of my friends who don't "require" rescuing, even when their lives are in turmoil or disarray.

Because the fact of the matter is, Rescuers don't typically rescue absolutely everybody.  They just have a particularly demanding cohort of friends or family who tap into their tendency and use it to keep the Drama Triangle up and running.  

Put simply, I think it's helpful for Rescuers to imagine the interaction unfolding as if they won't be compelled to adopt a Rescuer role: what would they say about what they want or how they feel under those circumstances?

The point being, Rescuers have to regularly remind themselves that there are contexts in which being "the strong one," the one who "fixes everything," the one who always "shoulders the burden," and behaves as if s/he is impervious and invulnerable isn't the norm and isn't what is (by default) expected of them. 

And when it isn't what is expected of them, things turn out just fine for everyone.  Funny thing, that.

In those moments, a Rescuer can begin to realize, "Well, now, wait a minute: with Person X I can say and do Y and they don't think I'm 'mean' at all.  They don't even bat an eye about it, actually.  But with Person Q, it's always about how 'mean' I am when I try to say 'no,' even though I always try to say it as kindly as I possibly can...". 

As Taibbi points out, the key to stepping out of the Drama Triangle and its dynamics is to recognize the roles that you are playing and the assumptions that you are making about what "has" to happen in your interactions with others that end up keeping you locked into it.  

One way of becoming more aware is to strategically remember the times and situations in which you play a very different role and then consider what would happen if you transposed those behaviors and exchanges onto the currently-unfolding Rescuer dilemma.

It may not cause the Drama Triangle to collapse, but it will make its trajectory and the lines of energy between all of the players much clearer.  And with that clarity will come, I think, a better sense of what works best for oneself.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."