By Vikki Layton
As mums, we can find that we have to adopt different rules of communication with the various people in our lives. It can be a struggle to switch between our various communication modes at work and at home, especially for mums returning to work after a career break. Under pressure, we can find ourselves at risk of talking to our colleagues like we do to our toddlers, our contractors like we do to our teenagers, and ourselves like we do to a bad driver who cuts us up. To determine the best behaviour, language, and approach to achieve success in a conversation is one of the many skills we have to learn, considering the large number of “hats” we wear. It is tempting to talk to a disgruntled customer as if they were a toddler having a tantrum because instinctively, we respond through emotion, and our reactive brains recognise these situations as not being too dissimilar. A fantastic way of reflecting on these social interactions and your role in them, is to look at the ‘Drama Triangle’.
The triangle can help us determine where we stand in a conversation, the role we may be playing, and what we can do about it. So let’s break these down:
Very much the ‘helpless’ role in the triangle where individuals feel victimised, oppressed, bullied, hopeless and tend to have a ‘poor me’ outlook. They will come across as being very sensitive to feedback and criticism. Victims will more often than not find problem solving and decision-makingproblem-solving, really difficult, and it can be hard to shift their mentality and outlook (particularly if they have a persecutor on them and a rescuer always there). Victims look for rescuers and if individuals refuse to play that role, victims may view them as persecutors.
The hero of the group…until you dig a little deeper. The rescuer is always there with a “let me help you” approach. They are seen to look after others, take on extra work to support other people, and will give a lot of themselves to their own detriment. Rescuers, however, do need victims to help – this is their purpose, and may deliberately inhibit progress or keep a victim in a position where they continually need the rescuer. They can be as co-dependent as victims and if there is no one to rescue, it can make them feel guilty or at a loss.
Or bully if we are being frank. These are the blamers, criticisers, micro managers, and over-bearer, who do not accept failure from others, are not flexible, are judgemental of others, and often have strict expectations. Prosecutors often lose their temper, can be aggressive, and, controlling, and resort to bullying to get what they want. As they do not want to be a victim, and being rescuers, is not in their best interests, they will often focus on the victim as a scapegoat or outlet for their inability to problem solve or be productive.
During an interaction, we may shift and move between these roles but the best thing to do is to remove yourself from the triangle completely. Why is this important for us mums, also that nowadays working from home is so common?
As mums we are givers, and as such society expects us to be so too which means we get a lot of pressure. This makes it so easy for us to constantly step into the rescuer role at home and tend to take that with us when returning to work. Although we are rescuers with our children, family, etc. we don’t perform it to the extreme where we manipulate or sabotage our child’s progress to have them dependent on us, but we do have an innate urge to help them, to do things for them, to give to them and often whilst neglecting our own needs. Having a rescuer role in the workplace and during interactions may sit well with us because of our caretaking, and identity outside of work. As mums we have a million things to juggle, we are doers, we work from home and so what is one more additional thing for us to do? Indeed, as you are a mother, colleagues and bosses may see that you should naturally be a rescuer (there’s a whole other discussion to be had about this), especially within the context of conversations or conflict, after all, we are all caring of everyone right? So in moments of heated discussion in the workplace, all eyes may be on you to perform as a rescuer, because you know, you’re a mum!
It is also important to recognise that people may not see the roles they are playing during the event, and this includes ourselves. If you are trying to discipline your child but someone else tells you to go easy, you could be perceived as the persecutor even though you may feel like
the victim. You can see how this simple scenario can create a rotation through the roles (when we feel we are being undermined we may want back up in the form of a rescuer, or we may feel anger and take the persecutor role to the next level). So as mums returning to work after maternity leave or taking a long career break, we have a lot of opportunities to be put into a drama triangle with the various things we do at home and work. What can we do to make sure we do not get sucked into the triangle and fall into one of the roles…, particularly rescuer?
· Step back and recognise the game being played
Once you realise that the situation you are in is causing these roles to play out, take a moment to recognise it. Once in the victim role it is difficult to get out, if in rescuer mode you are seen to hold responsibility, and if in persecutor mode you may have created some negativity amongst those present. This game can be broken by simply stepping back. If you need to interject, then explain the observations and ask how you can go forward together.
Be aware of the language you use as this could trap you into a role in the triangle (and in life). All of us have had negative automatic thoughts or an internal narrative that doesn’t serve us well. This can make us fall into any of the three roles (“I’m rubbish at this” – victim, “I’m busy, but yeah, I’ll add it to my list” – rescuer, “why can’t you just do it my way” – persecutor). Avoiding such language and demands will help in positioning you outside of the drama triangle and in a much safer space.
· Self-aware and self-care
Constantly being the rescuer is exhausting. Not only are the expectations of solving all the problems and getting it all done high, but the role sets you up for burning out. Being a rescuer sounds great and helpful but by measuring yourself against the ability to take on other people’s problems, work, and issues, it is draining you of your energy and the chance of self-care. How can you care for yourself if you are so focused on caring for others, not only while on a career break but when going back to work? Be aware when you are trying to rescue everyone, there may be no one to rescue you…only you can do that.
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Let your light shine is an online programme about you and your mindset. It is packed with tools and advice from top coaches to face the challenge of getting unstuck, believe in yourself, and feel empowered to move towards your goals with confidence aside from your unique role of being a mum. Find out more and register here!