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Psychotherapy

Are you reactive or irrational?

Here’s an idea for you: Humans are by nature irrational. That’s because, as complex beings, we are constantly being pushed and pulled by our many intertwining emotions. Greed, fear, jealousy, joy, lust – our behaviours and activities tend to be largely driven by such forces, with balanced thought and logic sometimes taking a back seat.

As natural as it is to be irrational, it is normally considered a risky way to behave. Why? Because when we are not present within our adult minds, and too driven by our feelings, we tend not to make the best thought out decisions. The consequence? Challenging life experiences and strained interpersonal relationships.

What does it mean to be irrational or reactive?

Irrationality refers to the absence of logic or reason. Reactive refers to showing a response to a stimulus. When we react irrationally, it means we have responded to a stimulus in a way that is devoid of balanced reason.

There are said to be two types of irrationality:

  1. Fundamental irrationality: This is a low-level, constant state of irrationality that everyone around you is a victim of. It forms within you a set of imprinted biases that dictate your behaviours and reactions. For example, David functions on a level whereby any mistakes must be the fault of others, rather than himself. So, when a mistake occurs, such as David being late for an appointment, David’s instant bias is to become irritated with those around him, criticising them for this mistake even though they cannot have logically caused his lateness.
  2. High grade irrationality: Unlike fundamental irrationality which is constant and low grade, high grade irrationality is a less frequent and more intensely felt form of irrationality that flares up in response to specific stimuli. One example might be a sudden and unexpected failure, such as not getting a job you want. This failure can trigger intense fear of future interviews, and prevent you from applying for more jobs, even though there’s no logical reason to respond this way.

In either case, we can see that these forms of reactive irrationality are harmful to yourself and others. The problem is, however, that those suffering from irrationality can rarely see their own behaviours clearly – especially when it is fundamental. Often, it is other people who spot this character trait and it is not uncommon in couples therapy for one person to accuse the other of irrational reactions, while the other totally denies this is the case.

Therapy helps us to break down the behaviours into more management chunks and explore them in a safe way, often through the help of transactional analysis.

Transactional analysis and irrationality

Transactional analysis is a psychoanalytical theory that has been utilised by therapist for more than 70 years. It seeks to explain human behaviour (such as irrationality) and has been summarised as:

“…a system of psychology for understanding human behaviour, changing human behaviour and predicting human behaviour.”

The basis of the theory is that we are constantly motivated by unconscious areas of our personality, known as ‘ego states’. There are 3 primary ego states, which you can read more about here. These are ‘parent’ (often a mirror of the parenting we received as a child), ‘child’ (the more reactive and emotional state) and ‘adult’ (the state that allows us to process information and make rational decisions based on logic).

When discussing irrationality, we can assume much of this comes from our child state. Therapy helps us to move away from this state and into our adult self, so that we can make more rational choices.

Let’s revisit David for a moment:

David acts on a fundamentally irrational level and is blaming others for his missed appointment. He decides it must be the fault of the receptionist, who didn’t call him to remind him of the appointment. He decides it must be the fault of his ex wife, who caused him to feel stressed that day so that he couldn’t think straight or plan his day. He decides it must be the fault of the cab driver who didn’t show up on time. Or the company that kept him on hold on the phone for 2 hours that morning, messing up his schedule. Everyone is at fault except for David. What can transactional analysis tell us about David’s functioning?

  1. David’s child state is someone who cannot handle criticism or challenge, perhaps because he was overly scalded for mistakes as a child. Or perhaps his upbringing, which was quite chaotic, meant he never felt safe to own his feelings and behaviours, including his mistakes. Therefore David’s child state rules his life into adulthood, disallowing him the power and liberty of making mistakes in a healthy way.
  2. To move into an adult state, David must learn that it is safe to take responsibility and make mistakes. He needs to shift his thinking from perpetual victimhood, to a state where he can process information more logically.

How does he do this? The answer is therapy. If you can identify with David in any way, or if he reminds you of someone close to you, I would love to hear from you to explore that further.

Getting the support you need

I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.

We can also go for a walk.

My pledge

Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.

Next step

Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.

Categories
Psychotherapy

When marriage feels like a parent child relationship

How often do you nag your partner? Do you ever have to request the basics, as though they are a child? Perhaps you yourself see your partner as an overbearing parent, constantly on your case and telling you how to behave?

This is not uncommon. I see it a lot in my practise and transactional analysis can help us to explain and explore it.

What is transactional analysis?

Transaction analysis (TA) is a well known psychoanalytical theory developed in the 1950s and still plays a fundamental part in therapy today. The theory suggests that, in all interactions, we are motivated by unconscious parts of our personality known as ego states. There are 3 primary ego states. These are:

Parent: Behaviour and activities that replicates the behaviours, thoughts and feelings of parental figures from childhood.  This ego state often works on autopilot and can manifest in two forms, nurturing and caring, and also critical and controlling.

Child: This is an emotional ego state whereby you react and feel in a similar way to when you were a child. For example, you might react negatively to a loud noise if you learned in childhood that loud noises were threatening. Much like the parent state, it can manifest in two forms: The excited Free Child or as the helpless Adapted Child.

Adult: An adult ego state is a focus on the here and now – it is a state where we can process information logically and rationally from a variety of sources. Reaching an adult state is desirable for having healthy interactions with others.

When I hear partners in couple therapy describe challenging situations, it is often the case that transactional analysis can help us explore the unconscious motivations behind behaviours. For the sake of this article, we’ll focus on romantic relationships whereby one person is frequently in ‘parent’ role and the other is in ‘child’.

When equal partners are not equal

In any healthy romantic relationship it is expected that the balance of power is more or less equal – that both parties have roles and responsibilities, and a mutual level of respect between one another.

Often, this is not the case, and we can get stuck into some destructive habits.

Let’s look at a real life example:

Samantha and Chris have been together for a couple of years. They are raising 2 children from Samantha’s previous marriage. Chris loves snowboarding, windsurfing and paddle boarding in his spare time and spends a great deal of time focused on these activities. Samantha finds herself having to do quite a lot of ‘boring adult’ activities such as preparing kids lunch boxes, doing laundry and organising calendars. She often resents Chris’s lack of responsibility, and envies his freedom. She doesn’t feel Chris takes his role as Step Dad as seriously as she’d like, but also doesn’t feel she can burden him with children that aren’t biologically his. Instead of having a dialogue about this, she nags, criticises and complains, causing Chris to want to spend more time away from the house and with people who have fun with him, rather than people who nag him.

In this scenario, we can see a disbalance. Samantha is seen as ‘dull’ by Chris, but he also burdens her with the ‘boring’ adult responsibilities while he enjoys carefree outdoor pursuits. Samantha sees Chris as a child in a Peter Pan state of never quite growing up, yet also feels jealousy about this.

In therapy, when both partners come into their adult state, they can more clearly explore the feelings associated with this, and set out some boundaries that allows both parties to have fun and be responsible with more equality.

Growing up can be tough

There’s a common assumption that we grow up as soon as we come of an adult age. I disagree. Growing up is something we do throughout our lives. It’s a process and not a linear one either. If you ever find yourself ‘acting out’, it could be that you are having a child response to something. For example, one of my clients, when faced with constructive challenge, quite literally runs away or kicks out the person challenging her. Her child-self cannot handle the mirror being reflected back at her, and reacts in a child-like, fear-fuelled way. This gives her a sense of control and power, all while enabling her to mask her true self and never grow. Does this sound familiar? Perhaps you do something similar? Therapy can help…

Getting the support you need

I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.

We can also go for a walk.

My pledge

Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.

Next step

Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.

Categories
Psychotherapy

My partner is cheating on me – I feel like dying inside

I was recently asked an interesting question. What is worse… your partner cheating? Or your partner dying? They seem to be quite unordinary comparisons, right? However, I found it to be a fair question and one worthy of attention. After some thought and discussion, what became clear to me was that there is tremendous overlap between both tragedies. This might explain why you feel like you’re dying inside when you discover infidelity or even wish your partner were dead. Reactions like these are completely understandable and certainly worth some exploration.

Why does cheating hurt so much?

A survey has shown that 1 in 5 people admit to having affairs. And those are just the ones prepared to admit it! No matter which population gets surveyed, you are likely to find a large portion of infidelity. It is common. We all know someone who has experienced it, or we may have experienced it ourselves. So, why are we SO bothered by something that is so prevalent? Here is my view… The reason it hurts so much is because it is the ultimate betrayal. Sex, intimacy and forming families are incredibly special, sacred experiences and when your partner explores this elsewhere, on your watch, the pain can be unbearable. We are suddenly filled with self-doubt and have hundreds of dark questions:

Do I really know this person?

How do they view me?

Do they love her/him more than me?

What is wrong with me?

How did this happen?

And it can work both ways. As quick as we can be to villainise, the person cheating can also be in pain. Perhaps they have had a nervous breakdown and are acting out to soothe other problems. Perhaps they feel immense guilt for their momentary slip-up and will self punish for years. Perhaps an event has led them to seek affection elsewhere. As an experienced therapist, trust me when I say – when it comes to infidelity, there are no winners. So, what does this have to do with death and dying? Well, as I explained already, there is much overlap – which we will look at now.

Why does death hurt so much?

The subject of why death hurts so much has been debated by scholars for centuries. Death happens to us all and we know this our entire lives. So, why do we care? From a religious perspective, some believe we grieve death because we were made to be immortal, and that the fall of man explains the terrible burden we feel when someone dies. Some scientists put it all down to our brain chemistry – the more we associate someone with comfort, happiness and ‘happy hormones’, the more we ‘withdraw’ when they are no longer here, causing all manner of physical and psychological symptoms. Evolutionary perspectives can explain death as something we need to actively avoid to survive, and therefore we link extreme feelings to its presence.

Whatever the reason, death is the ultimate challenge. So why does infidelity also feel this terrible? And how are they similar?

Is cheating worse than death?

As I said before, death and infidelity have much overlap. They are both terrible, unfair and difficult circumstances for the ‘left behind’ partner to handle. Both induce grief and longing – grief for the person who dies, or grief for the relationship that is harmed by the infidelity. And longing for what was once a happy, harmonious partnership.

Both experiences also mark the end of something. The death of a partner marks the end of the relationship and the beginning of new life. In infidelity, if you are one of the 45% of people who try to stay together after the affair, you mark the end of the relationship as you knew it, and have to form a new way of being with one another. Or, if your relationship ends there and then, you are suddenly thrown into a whole new way of life without the presence of your partner – which can feel like a death of sorts. If you are in the terrible situation of having to watch your partner move on with someone else – such as the person they had the affair with – it can be excruciating – far, far worse than if they had died of a faultless illness and left you with only fond memories.

No matter what happens next, the road to recovery is tough – which is why I recommend therapy in these circumstances.

Moving on from infidelity

Trying to move on from infidelity can be a minefield, regardless of which way you go. Your options are vast. You can have a clean breakup, there and then. You can take a break from one another. You can try to make a go of things. You can change your entire relationship dynamics. The options are endless. Therapy is a great way to explore these options in full, as well as to try and bring some harmony to the circumstances surrounding the infidelity. I provide a safe, trusting environment for couples to explore some of the most painful and challenging conversations possible to have. There is no right or wrong outcome – but one that makes you both feel comfortable and confident about the future.

Getting the support you need

I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.

We can also go for a walk.

My pledge

Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.

Next step

Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.

Categories
Psychotherapy

Understanding transactional analysis – how we shift ages in mere seconds

Have you ever had what appears to be a friendly, flowing conversation with someone, only for the atmosphere to shift rapidly to uncomfortable and awkward? I have… And I bet you have too.

When dynamics change and you aren’t sure why, it is very likely that ‘transactional analysis (TA)’ can explain it. I’d like to look at this more closely with you, because TA can help us to better understand our relationships as well as our inner selves.

What is TA?

TA was developed in the 1950s by psychiatrist Eric Berne. It seeks to explain human behaviour and has been summarised as:

“…a system of psychology for understanding human behaviour, changing human behaviour and predicting human behaviour.”

The basis of the theory is that when we interact with one another, we are doing so from an unconscious part of our personality, known as an ‘ego state’.  As this position is unconscious, it means we are never fully present within our interactions with others and are influenced by forces deep within us. Transactional analysis allows us to move into better awareness, giving us control over our inner and outer lives.

Let’s look more closely at this:

The ego states

The ego states identified by Berne explain the thoughts, feelings and behaviours exhibited by a person at any given time. They are as follows:

Parent: This ego state is crucial for survival an replicates the behaviours, thoughts and feelings copied by parental figures from childhood. These events are stored in the brains of children and mimicked in their own adulthood. A basic example is, always say please and thank you. This ego state often works on autopilot and can be seen in two forms, nurturing and caring, and also critical and controlling.

Child: This ego state is based on feelings from the past that are learned in childhood. For example, safety comes from physical touch. Loud noises are scary. The child state is reactive and more vulnerable. Much like the parent state, it can also show up in two forms: The wilful, excited Free Child or as the helpless Adapted Child.

Adult: An adult ego state comes from a child’s ability to gather and process information from different sources, and come to rational and logical decisions based on this. This state focuses on the here and now. When we are in our Adult ego state, we are calm, thoughtful and present.

In any relationship, we can be motivated by (and reactive to) any of these ego states. They are always at play, influencing our communications.

Let’s look at how this might play out in a relationship dynamic.

June and Ruth are developing a new friendship and getting to know each other. They meet for coffee every Wednesday and enjoy a civil, warm and mutually respectful relationship with much in common. On one afternoon, June makes a joke about a politician, who was recently publicly embarrassed on television. June does not respond to this joke well at all. In fact, she becomes cold, withdrawn and seems uncomfortable in Ruth’s presence. The atmosphere changes and Ruth isn’t sure why this joke wasn’t well received, especially as the whole world appeared to be laughing at this politician – everyone except June, that is. After this encounter, Ruth feels more wary about her friendship with June and begins to skip their Wednesday meetups out of fear that she’s doing something unknowingly wrong.

How could transactional analysis help to explain this?

It could well be that June ‘hit a nerve’ when making a joke about someone who has been publicly humiliated. Perhaps Ruth herself has been the butt of a joke, or experienced bulling or shaming behaviours in her childhood. It could be that Ruth’s adapted child ego state is reacting to the joke by becoming withdrawn and defensive – just as she would have done as a child when other people laughed at her.

You might now be asking yourself – why can’t it just be that Ruth didn’t find the joke funny? Well, because the adult ego state would process that differently, with Ruth merely failing to laugh or saying “come on June, that poor guy”! Instead, Ruth went cold, distant and actively changed the atmosphere in the room without explanation.

Had Ruth been more self aware, she might have had more control over her reaction to June’s joke and been able to save that friendship from confusion or interruption.

How TA and the Drama Triangle interact

Transactional analysis and The Drama Triangle go hand in hand. The Drama Triangle is model that was first identified by Dr. Stephen Karpman in 1968. It assists in explaining destructive and unresolvable conflicts we can find ourselves in. The theory suggests that in any relationship conflict, we play one of three roles – the victim, the persecutor and the rescuer. You can read much more about the Drama Triangle here.

Much like with TA, the roles we play within the Drama Triangle can shift in seconds depending on what’s showing up. Let’s apply this to Ruth and June for a moment.

Once the conflict arose (the joke about the politician), Ruth moved into her Adapted Child self. She also placed herself in the victim role, assigning June the role of persecutor for making (what she felt was) an inappropriate joke. June then had to slide into rescuer, by removing herself from the dynamic altogether to prevent future conflict, and also found herself in Victim mode too, where she felt fearful of Ruth’s ‘strange’ reaction to the joke.

Complicated, isn’t it? And yet, without consciousness of self, neither Ruth nor June would have understood the game they found themselves in.

Individual psychotherapy can help you avoid these sorts of dynamics by bringing awareness to your child, adult, parent states – and acknowledging how these play out in the context of the drama triangle.

Getting the support you need

I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.

We can also go for a walk.

My pledge

Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.

Next step

Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.

Categories
Psychotherapy

Stuck in endless workplace conflicts?

According to one study, 60% of surveyed employees believe that their co-workers are the biggest contributor to their happiness at work. Conversely, a study of 2000 workers showed that 1 in 5 ‘hate’ one or more of their colleagues. While these types of statistics can vary, what’s clear across the board is that our workplace relationships hold significant importance for our well-being.

Why workplace dynamics matter

We spend most of our lives at work. That means, many of us spend more time with our colleagues than we do our families. If you have healthy, happy workplace dynamics, you could be more happy, settled and successful in the long run. Conversely, constant upset between you and your colleagues could lead to chronic stress, depression, or more practical problems like work absences, job loss and financial difficulty.

When my clients come to me with workplace relationship problems, I work with them in the same way I do with any other client experiencing relationship conflicts. We look at what is motivating the conflict, how we show up within these conflicts, and what role we have in enabling them.

The roles we play at work

If you find yourself in a toxic cycle of workplace conflict, there could be many different things happening at the same time.

  1. Splitting. Splitting refers to black and white thinking, or ‘all or nothing’ mentality. If you are in a splitting dynamic at work, you could find yourself never being good enough to meet your boss’s expectations (because they only see you as ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’), you could struggle to be rewarded or recognised, feel bullied, or ‘always wrong’. You can read much more about splitting at work here. An example of splitting at work is as follows:

David and Jonah sit beside each other in a call centre. Jonah has a very slightly superior position to David, but is not his manager. In this dynamic, Jonah is the splitter. Jonah doesn’t like David and allocates much of his boring admin work to David. When David cannot keep up, Jonah berates him in front of the rest of the team. Jonah has also been sending cruel emails around about David. When challenged, Jonah refers to this as a joke and claims David has no sense of humour. David has never received any praise or rewards because Jonah keeps setting him back. When David fails his appraisal, Jonah uses this to further undermine and degrade David, calling him incompetent and lazy. In essence, Jonah has only ever viewed David as ‘all bad’, and holds David in this position.

2. Transactional analysis (TA). TA refers to the unconscious influences of our various ego states that drive and motivate our relationships. There are 3 primary ego states – parent, adult and child. You can read more about TA  and these ego states here. The parent ego state is the behaviours and actions that are mimicked from the parenting / caregiving behaviours we experienced as children. The child state is the reactive / feelings state, that mimics the feelings and reactions we had as a child. And the adult state is a ‘here and now’, rational and logical state, where we can sensibly and critically select and process information and take action from there. According to the theory, we shift between these ego states in any relationship dynamic, which can affect the way we respond to one another. Let’s take another look at David and Jonah.

Instead of David taking proactive steps to stop the bullying / splitting, he takes on the burden of work assigned to him and allows himself to fail. He does not seek help, but becomes more and more introverted and submissive to Jonah’s persecution. Transactional analysis will explain this as David being in his child state. He may have experienced bullying and berating from a caregiver as a child and responded by going quiet and inward as a coping mechanism. He may have learned in early life that pleasing the bully will get them off his case. In adulthood, he is still doing the same in the face of bullying.

3) The drama triangle: Transactional analysis and the Drama Triangle have significant interactions. The Drama Triangle is the theory that, in any relationship conflict, we play one of three roles – the persecutor (the person who berates and blames others), the victim (the person who feels downtrodden or always in the wrong), and the rescuer (the person actively looking to save the situation). Much like with transactional analysis, it is thought we can shift and move between these roles within seconds, and even assign these roles to other people. Only by identifying and moving away from the toxic roles can we find a resolution to the conflict. Read more about this theory here. 

In our workplace scenario, it might seem clear who plays which role. But it’s not that simple. While we may see Jonah as the clear persecutor for bullying David, he may view David as the persecutor for never doing enough work and holding the team back. It really depends on how much introspectiveness Jonah has about himself. David also may be seen as the rescuer, as well as the victim, because by doing all of the excess work and not complaining, he may be trying to rescue the situation by pleasing Jonah.

As you can see, if you are in a conflict with colleagues at work, there can be much more to it than meets the eye. While you may think your conflicts are about one thing, there can be many difficult, unconscious dynamics at play.

Individual psychotherapy can help you to clear the mist from your conflict and understand the role you play within it. By doing this, you can take more control over your workplace difficulties and enjoy a happier, healthier career.

Getting the support you need

I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.

We can also go for a walk.

My pledge

Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.

Next step

Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.

Categories
Psychotherapy

Splitting – am I using black and white thinking

When you seek therapy, you do so believing that something isn’t quite right. It might be a work issue, a relationship conflict, or a problem you have with yourself. It might also be because other people notice something about you, repeatedly, that you feel finally needs addressing.

Do you find yourself getting the same feedback from friends and romantic partners over and over again? Perhaps some of that feedback is:

  • You are difficult to communicate with
  • You have anger problems
  • You cannot see things from another person’s perspective
  • You cause dramas
  • You struggle to keep meaningful friendships
  • You’re mean or spiteful
  • You’re difficult to reason with

Any of these sound familiar?

If so, perhaps you could be splitting.

What is splitting?

Splitting is a term that refers to an ego defence mechanism. It is where a person views the world in extreme opposites (good vs bad, positive vs negative / black and white thinking). When you do this, you might find you have high conflict relationships, extreme mood swings, lots of drama and short term friendships. Splitting behaviours often begin in childhood as a coping mechanism. If a child is unable to understand the confusing combination of nurturement and unresponsiveness in a caregiver, splitting behaviours emerge. It can also be a response to trauma. Splitting is undoubtedly a destructive habit and one that can be healed with therapy.

Are you using black and white thinking?

The most common sign of splitting is the use of black and white thinking. The nuances of life are often missed, with people or situations being wholly good or wholly bad, with no grey area. It can lead to ‘catastrophising’ – reacting to a complex situation as though it is the end of the world, as well as various other behaviours.

Let’s look at an example of this.

Dan is friends with Mark and he owes Mark some money. Dan is struggling financially and is finding it hard to pay Mark back. Mark is getting increasingly frustrated about this, especially as he noticed Dan recently went on holiday and was bragging about his new shoes on Facebook – indicating that he does have some funds. Mark has bills to pay and Dan’s unwillingness to pay debt is troubling him. Eventually, he confronts Dan about his spending and lack of accountability over repaying the money. Dan begins splitting. Dan thinks Mark is appalling for challenging his behaviours, because that’s not what friends do. He flies into a fit of rage, calls Mark names and blocks his number. He says mean things about Mark to other people and calls Mark controlling and spiteful. Eventually, he has such a low view of Mark, that he no longer believes he should need to pay Mark back his money because he doesn’t deserve it. He believes their friendship was worth more than money but Mark has failed to see this and subsequently ruined it.

In this scenario, what would Mark say about Dan’s behaviour? He would say:

  • Dan has acted in an entitled way
  • Dan has failed to view the situation from Mark’s perspective
  • Dan has become angry over what is a fair and just piece of feedback
  • Dan has villainised Mark and made himself the victim
  • Dan has gone from friend to enemy in a short space of time

Essentially, Dan is splitting. By using the ‘all or nothing’ mentality, he has failed to see that Mark has been patient, that Mark has his own financial needs, and that Mark is only trying to resolve the situation so that everybody is happy.

In therapy, Dan and I would talk about this scenario in greater depth. We would examine the Dan / Mark relationship in the context of the drama triangle (where we play certain roles within a conflict) or transactional analysis (where we examine the parent / child / adult roles in relationships).

The good news is, even if you are the person who is splitting, there is help available and a way out of this trapping mentality.

Getting the support you need

I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.

We can also go for a walk.

My pledge

Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.

Next step

Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.

Categories
Psychotherapy

How is the drama triangle used in couples therapy?

Does it feel like your relationship conflicts are cyclical and rarely resolved? Research has suggested 3 characteristics of  irresolvable interpersonal conflicts: length of conflict; hopelessness; and resistance to resolution.

If you think your relationship is beyond help, it could be that you are merely stuck in some bad habits, and that changing your communication style can break these. Let’s explore…

Are you playing games?

I frequently hear the phrase “we’ve been over and over this before”, and “I can’t keep having the same argument”. When I hear this, I know that the couple in front of me are stuck in a destructive cycle whereby problems cannot be resolved. I also frequently see game playing – complex narratives and scenarios that have been designed by the couple to out-do each other within the game. The problem is, nobody wins. The games never lead to resolution, and instead, create further conflicts.

To bring these patterns to the consciousness, I introduce something called The Drama Triangle.

The Drama Triangle is a respected psychological theory that has been used in psychotherapy for more than 50 years. It hypothesizes that in any relationship conflict, the parties are playing one of three roles: The persecutor (blaming everyone else), the victim (poor me / feel sorry for me), and the rescuer (let’s fix this). The roles we play are not set in stone. In fact, we can shift between the roles multiple times within seconds. Only by bringing the game playing to the surface can we identify the real issues that underpin them.

Here’s an example of The Drama Triangle playing out in an argument between partners Moira and Harry.

Harry wants to go on a ‘men only’ holiday with his male friends. His wife Moira doesn’t like this idea because, in the past, Harry has been unfaithful and she worries he is going to be unfaithful on the holiday. Moira sulks and feels sad for days, moping around the house (victim role). Harry tries to reassure her that she has nothing to worry about (rescuer). But Moira keeps thinking about the past and cannot believe Harry has not offered to cancel the trip. She feels angry that he is still considering going, despite her sadness, and tells him he cannot go (persecutor). Harry is miserable at Moira’s lack of trust and her attempt to control his holiday (victim). Harry then sulks for days and tells his friends Moira says he cannot go on holiday. His friends tell him Moira is awful and abusive for controlling him this way (persecutors). Moira feels guilty about telling Harry he cannot go, as she can see he is upset and that his friends hate her, and eventually permits it even though she is uncomfortable (rescuer).

As you can see, there are a lot of hidden and deep feelings bubbling under the surface of this scenario. And that’s where therapy can help.

In therapy, we work to move away from drama triangle dynamics and create safe, healthy spaces to communicate. If Moira and Harry were clients of mine in couples therapy, this game would be used to highlight the deeper issues between them – trust, respect and fidelity. And, if Moira and Harry continued therapy, they would not need to enter into game playing to discuss future issues – instead, they would use the tools and skills from therapy to create healthier conversations.

Getting the support you need

I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.

We can also go for a walk.

My pledge

Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.

Next step

Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.

Categories
Psychotherapy

I feel everyone is out to get me – why?

If you are stuck with the feeling that everything bad happens to you – that the world is out to get you, or you have more challenges and hardships than others, you could be self-victimising. If so, here is how we can work to break this pattern…

Are you the victim?

When bad things happen, it is natural that we feel sorry for ourselves. You’ve perhaps been cheated on by a partner, or had your wallet stolen, or stubbed your toe! Any one of these experiences will, understandably, induce a sorry feeling of self-pity.

And this is normal. It happens to everybody.

A challenge occurs when you find yourself in a more permanent victim state. Is it the case that bad things keep happening to you? That you truly are the butt of life’s joke? Or could it be that you place yourself in the victim role?

The drama triangle

In psychotherapy, we frequently look at something called The Drama Triangle. The Drama Triangle is a theory that has held strong in psychology for more than 50 years. It hypothesizes that in any conflict, you play one of three roles – the persecutor, the helper, or the victim. These roles shift, and continue in a cycle of game playing without resolution. If you’d like to read more about The Drama Triangle, click here. You can also read more about the persecutor and helper roles.

In this article, we are focusing on why some people like to stay within the victim role.

The victim role

Research has suggested that seeing oneself as a victim may be an aspect of personality. For the purpose of this research, they refer to a victim mentality as “Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood,” or TIV.

They define TIV as an “enduring feeling that the self is a victim across different kinds of interpersonal relationships.” Within this research, several components of TIV were identified.

  • Need for recognition – people who self-victimise are seeking recognition from others.
  • Moral elitism – A form of black and white thinking, the victim will see themselves as morally superior to the persecutors who are out to get them.
  • Lack of empathy – where the victim’s own suffering trumps the suffering of others. The victim will struggle to see past their own issues to recognise pain in others.
  • Rumination – an overwhelming tendency for a person to brood and stay extremely fixated on the many ways they’ve been victimised.

Also within the findings was that victims are more likely to assign negative motivations to others, in order to place themselves in the victim role. Let’s look at an example of this in action:

Mary has made a joke at work that has been perceived as racist by her colleague Gabriel. Gabriel has challenged the racist joke, hoping Mary will see the error of her ways and learn why it is inappropriate. Instead of learning a lesson or apologising, Mary takes great offence at being challenged and decides Gabriel is bullying her. She sulks and refuses to speak to anyone for the rest of the day, sitting by herself and texting her boyfriend to get sympathy about her horrible colleague. Mary stews on the matter for weeks, and cannot believe how stupid and precious Gabriel is for not being able to take a joke.

In this example, we can see Mary doing all the things described in the research above. She believes herself to be morally superior to Gabriel because she can ‘take a joke’ whereas Gabriel can’t (moral elitism). She lacks empathy about how and why the joke might offend Gabriel, even though it has been explained to her. She stews on the issue for weeks (rumination). She wants sympathy for her suffering (recognition).

Moving beyond the victim role

If you can identify with Mary (or any of the areas discussed in this article), therapy can help you escape the victim mentality and move into a healthier mindset. Similarly, if you know somebody who frequently presents as the victim, such as a partner, and paints you as the persecutor, therapy can help identify the roles of the drama triangle and help you to remove yourself from the traps that can be set by the victim.

Identifying as a victim and wanting to change that mentality is a hugely positive step forward. For some, victim mentality can become so blinding that introspectiveness on the matter is near impossible. If you are considering that you may be stuck in the victim role, there is hope that you can empower yourself away from it and into a more accountable, balanced place.

Getting the support you need

I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.

We can also go for a walk.

My pledge

Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.

Next step

Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.

Categories
Psychotherapy

I feel everyone ignores me

Do you ever feel like the pantomime villain? Or feel as though this is how others perceive you? Are you often angry with those around you or feel hard-done-by due to their behaviour and reactions?

If you find yourself frequently in conflict and wondering what you’ve done wrong or why you’re being avoided or ignored, this article can help.

Why does everyone back away from me?

Feeling isolated, ostracized and judged by others can be challenging. You may even react to this perception by becoming angry, withdrawn or blaming others for their unfair treatment of you. Some common scenarios you might face include:

  • Having too few friends at work / university and perhaps feeling isolated from the friendship groups.
  • Frequent conflicts in your romantic relationships / struggling to maintain long term relationships with people.
  • A general dislike of your family unit and extended family, often feeling they are out to get you.
  • Feeling no matter how much effort you put in, nothing seems to get any better. The more you try, the more people seem to avoid you.
  • Sensing that people are talking behind your back or laughing at you.

I can imagine that any one of those scenarios could be difficult to manage alone. This is where I can help.

In therapy, we understand that relationships are complicated and ever-shifting. One aspect we like to explore is something called ‘The Drama Triangle‘, which assists us in unpicking the tightly woven dynamics within your interpersonal relationships – including the relationship you have with yourself.

The drama triangle – the persecutor role

The drama triangle was a term first derived in 1968 by Dr. Stephen Karpman. It is the theory that, in any relationship dynamic, you play one of three roles – the persecutor, the victim or the rescuer. You can shift between roles, sometimes rapidly, and even assign roles to others. Staying within these roles means never truly resolving a conflict. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of the drama triangle, click here.

The role we’d like to focus on here is the persecutor role.

People who are often in the persecutor role might display black and white thinking. In this sense, people are either good or bad / with them or against them. Sometimes this is known as splitting, which you can read more about here.

People in the persecutor role believe they are in the right, while everyone else is in the wrong. From this role, they place a lot of blame onto others for any problems arising. Others will be criticised, games will be played, faults found, guilt brought forward or even manipulation. The role’s lack of accountability and personal responsibility in this role makes it hard to resolve a conflict. It also makes it harder for those around the persecutor to relax, enjoy their company or feel connected because one is almost always placed into one of the other drama triangle roles – victim or rescuer.

So, if you find yourself experiencing some of the scenarios described earlier (frequently avoided by others, hard done by, always in conflict) it could be because you are struggling to shift away from the persecutor role and take ownership of your actions.

Stepping beyond the persecutor

All human beings are imperfect, including you. By exploring your inner self, including challenging experiences and emotions that may have led you to naturally fall into the persecutor role, you can shift away from this position and move into a healthier, happier place. You might find that, by doing this, your relationships with others improve and you develop a better relationship with yourself also.

Getting the support you need

I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.

We can also go for a walk.

My pledge

Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.

Next step

Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.

Categories
Psychotherapy

I can’t stop rescuing others – Why?

Most of us want to help others when we can. Whether that be giving change to the homeless, listening to a heartbroken friend or helping a family member with some DIY. For many, helping gives us reward and purpose. In the 1980s, this feeling was termed a ‘helper’s high’ – a buzz one gets from helping equating to the rush that comes with vigorous physical exercise.

There is no doubt that helping others is a good thing. The world is a much better place for it. The problem is, some people do more than help. They rescue. And when rescuing becomes a pattern, it can have detrimental effects not only to the rescuer, but to the person being rescued. Let’s explore this more now…

Helping vs rescuing

Helping somebody is a form of empowerment. Giving change to a homeless person gives them choices. They can spend it on anything they want, and your involvement stops there. Rescuing is different. Rescuing is doing all the work for that person. When you get into the habit of rescuing, it can become all consuming. You end up in a constant drama triangle, unable to escape or resolve any conflict. In some cases, this can be termed ‘co-dependent’.

Rescuing can take many forms and isn’t always obvious:

  • Financial: You might spend more than you earn on other people in order to rescue them from bad financial situations.
  • Sexual: You might do things you don’t want to do to please the other partner, even if you are uncomfortable.
  • Time and energy: You might spend too much time helping friends and family with tasks, but neglect your own duties and right to free time.
  • Emotional: You might be more concerned and consumed by the wellness of others than your own wellness. Or, you might only feel well when you rescue someone – your self esteem is built on this behaviour.
The drama triangle

The drama triangle is something we like to look at in therapy. It has been used in psychotherapy since it was founded in 1968 and is the theory that, in any relationship dynamic, one of three roles is adopted – the persecutor, the victim and the rescuer. You can move between roles, and change roles in response to the actions and perceived motivations of others. Staying within these roles means never truly resolving a conflict. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of the drama triangle, click here.

In this article we want to focus primary on the rescuer role.

The rescuer role

As already explained, a person stuck in rescuer role is rarely helping to resolve the situation. What does this look like in real life?

An example of destructive rescuing behaviour is demonstrated here.

Emily is a smart and successful 25 year old. She has started dating David, a somewhat troubled but interesting 35 year old with a history of drug addiction. David is in recovery, and Emily decides to make it her personal mission to ensure David remains sober and ok. When David relapses, Emily makes it her sole focus to get David back on track. He quits work and Emily works twice as hard to support them. She researches rehabs, makes enquiries with professionals, speaks to David’s family, and spends day and night coaching and berating David about his situation. In this situation, Emily thinks she is helping. She is the rescuer within the drama triangle with David being the victim. But she isn’t. She is being co-dependent (which we will explore momentarily). She is enabling David’s relapse by removing the responsibility from him and assigning it to herself. It becomes all consuming for Emily, to the point where she becomes psychologically and physically unwell and blames David for this. When David fails to get better, Emily blames herself and works even harder.

Emily isn’t helping. She’s rescuing. And simultaneously worsening David’s situation. If Emily were to step back and allow David to hit rock bottom, he would be forced to take responsibility for his addiction and have a much better chance of recovery. Emily would also be free to spend time on herself and keep her own strength up during this difficult time.

When rescuing is co-dependency

Co-dependency is a term that has been around for some thirty years. It refers to a person who rescues to the point of self-detriment, sacrificing their own needs and idealising needy people. Originally, co-dependency theories emerged in substance abuse circles, referring to the non-addict partner who enables or rescues the addict (as is the case with Emily). But we now know that co-dependency can occur in non-addict dynamics too, including between parent and child, spouses, co-workers, siblings and friends.

Some psychologists hypothesize that co-dependency is a natural response to chaos. In Emily’s case, David and his addiction are the chaos, and it’s only natural that Emily wants to control that chaos by assigning herself the job of fixing it. Others hypothesize that co-dependency is learned in childhood as a survival skill, where a child experiences excessive shame and emotional neglect. Therefore, co-dependent people deliberately seek out needy counterparts to rescue. This hypothesis suggests co-dependency is an addiction, which explains why we have ‘Co-Dependents Anonymous’ as part of the 12 step fellowship.

Moving Beyond The Rescuer Role

As already mentioned, rescuing can be destructive and unhealthy, for ourselves and for those around us. The most effective way of moving beyond this position is to enter therapy and look at the root cause of why you are rescuing.

One study showed three interlinked experiences in self-identified co-dependents / rescuers. These were, a lack of clear sense of self, an enduring pattern of extreme, emotional, relational, and occupational imbalance, and an attribution of current problems in terms of parental abandonment and control in childhood.

If you believe yourself to be a ‘rescuer’, I might suggest that in fact, you are co-dependent – a highly destructive way of being, not just for you but for those around you. In therapy, we would explore this further, getting to the root cause of your rescuing behaviours and helping to move past them.

Getting the support you need

I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.

We can also go for a walk.

My pledge

Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.

Next step

Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.