In the interpersonal relationships, we all shift in different roles in different relationships. As I mentioned above, we even play these roles with ourselves at times. However, if we regularly locked in specific roles in our lives, we lose the flexibility to live our lives here and now. That is, we lose the flexibility to behave based on the situation and people involved. We become to live the life to fulfill the expectation of that particular role. No one wants to continually rescue other people. No one likes to be frustrated and critical of other people’s behaviors all the time. No one wants to feel like a victim and powerless in his/her own life all the time. When we are fixed at a certain role, we lose the joy to live our lives to the fullest potential. We also start to accumulate resentment and dissatisfaction.
However, we locked in these roles for a good reason. From Transactional Analysis Theory’s perspective, these roles are generally developed in our relationship with our parents or as needed in the family system. For example, if you grew up in the family with parents with addiction issues, you might be the rescuers to your parents or your siblings all the time.
The bottom line of the drama triangle is to understand that we are still playing the same role as if we were children in the current adult interpersonal relationships. We might even be attractive to people who play our parent’s role to keep ourselves to play the same role because it is familiar.
In my dissertation research, I found that the couples might interact with each other based on their role developed as a child or in coping with their parents’ abusive behaviors. That is, some people copied their parents’’ behaviors while some people continued to use their coping roles in their adult life. When one of the partners copied the parents’ role while the other one continued the coped role developed as a child, they somehow maintained the same family dynamics as their families of origin, which, sadly, often is what the clients wanted to get rid .
If you have done the reflection questions I provided in the previous article, what have you learned about yourself and the roles you play? Did you find the similar pattern as I described above?
As we examine the roles we play consistently, it is essential to recognize that “You are OK now.” You do not need to stuck in these roles anymore. To get out of these roles you play, you first recognize how and why you play these roles. Then, you understand how these roles ties with the way you grew up.
Next, the most important question is: If I don’t play these roles anymore, what role do I play? The answer is: “Me, I play the role of me.” That is, you can play any role based on the situation you are in with the people who are involved in the situation.
You need to go back to the relationship with the person you have now and ask yourself these crucial questions:
- What is the current situation? Be matter of the fact.
2. What are your feelings about the situation? Not your judgment of the people involved but your emotions.
3. What’re your preferences of the solution if any? Why does that solution make sense to you based on the situation?
4. What are you needs to be fulfilled in the situation?
Let’s take the most commonly seen fight in the couple relationship: sex, as an example. I am going to make up a hypothetical case of the couple John and Jane. John wants more sex and Jane doesn’t have any interests. As a couple’s therapist, I am often asked by the clients to judge whose needs about sex is more appropriate, in which, everyone knows that there is no way to decide that.
In the “I am OK, and You are OK” statement, here is what the conversation can look like:
John: We have different needs about how frequently to have sex (current situation). I feel frustrated that I am the one who always has to initiate the intimacy with you. I feel frustrated, angry, and hurt that you don’t want to be with me unless I ask for it (emotions). I don’t know what’s the solution is for you, but the answer for me is that I need to feel needed, wanted, and intimate with you (solution for needs fulfilled). If we are living like the roommate, I am not sure what makes our relationship different from other relationship.
Jane: We have different needs about the frequency of sex(current situation). I felt tired and exhausted at the end of the day (emotions). I want to go to bed because tomorrow is another day to take care of the kids, the house, and the work. I need to have enough energy to live through the day (needs). I am not sure what’s the best solution, but for me, to have sex, I need to feel relaxed and worry-free (solution for needs fulfilled).
Well, how is this conversation different from your discussion with your spouse if you happen to have similar issues with your spouse? Both John and Jane assume a position of “I want and I need” but not playing any role of the victim (“poor me that I don’t get enough sex.”), the persecutor (“you always ask for more sex.”), or rescuer (“I guess I have to have sex no matter what to make you feel better.”). That is, in the interchange of the interpersonal relationship, we are both OK to express what “I” think, feel, and need from the situation. Now, Jane and John can brainstorm what to do to take care of the household needs to make them both relaxed enough to enjoy their intimate time. And, by the way, the discussion of taking care of the household chore as a team also creates the innermost feelings. Right?
Do you feel regularly lock into a specific role and still unable to get out of it even after the reflection?
Do you think those reflections we did in the previous section brings up too many unpleasant childhood memories and experiences?
Do you feel those reflections makes your brain spin and race but not taking you anywhere?
If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, please seek professional help. You deserve to live a satisfied and fulfilled life, and you do not need to figure this out alone.
Extended Readings: My “Change” series
Drama Triangle Series: