Q My step-grandmother keeps setting up battles between members of the family – and then somehow turns it round as if she’s the victim! She’s just lately told lies to my aunt about what I’m supposed to have said about her relationship with my uncle. My aunt questioned me about it and when I asked my gran about what she’d said and why, she denied it to my face and said my aunt must be lying – and she added the usual ‘why does everybody in this family keep telling lies about me’? Yet SHE is the one setting it all up! She creates conflicts and fall outs, and pitches people against one another. There is so much bad feeling and lack of trust now. I don’t know who to believe any more. Why does she keep doing this, and why do the rest of us seem to keep falling for it?
A Let’s think about what the desired outcome might be for your grandmother – because we all do what we do for a reason (not to say that it’s a good or bad reason).
It may well be that she is somehow replaying her own early family drama – and recreating ‘triangular relationships’.
You may have heard of the ‘drama triangle’ (also called the Karpman Triangle). In this ‘game’ someone gets set up as a victim (the vulnerable one), someone as the rescuer (the responsible one) and the third position is that of Persecutor (the powerful one).
The ‘switch’ happens when one person shifts position – so a rescuer becomes the persecutor, or the persecutor becomes the victim etc.
The pay off is a ‘drama’…something that fills the emotional space… something that connects people in their bad feelings. The only one not feeling bad is the persecutor – who makes someone else feel bad instead!
In your grandmother’s case she is pretending to feel bad and then becoming the ‘victim’ in the drama she has created.
She tells her lies, creates ill-feeling and conflict, and then the others take the positions of persecutor and victim during their argument. Whilst she can then become the rescuer who soothes someone’s upset, or more likely the main victim… ‘how could you all do this to me/turn on me… (and I’m an old lady etc.) Setting up the other ‘players’ to become her persecutors or rescuers.
This dynamic is common in families, and also in the workplace (where we see family patterns being played out).
There is a saying… the only way to not play is not to play.
What that means is, the game will probably still get set up by her – but when you all become aware of what is going on you can flag it up and make it clear that you won’t be pulled into it… and that you won’t play!
You can also share your curiosity about why such a toxic pattern gets set up in the first place. But beware of being pulled into a ‘game’ about that one – in which you might be cast as the persecutor for having criticised the game-master!
As you can see… it gets muddled very easily…and that is why you must not only become aware of what is being set up, but also be very clear that you won’t be a part of it!
When a few key family members get together and discuss this pattern (and hopefully clear the air about anything that has been causing lingering resentment from previous ‘drama’ games); you can then all have a united front and agree to challenge or ignore what the Old Persecutor is doing to relieve her boredom by recreating her own family history in your family too.
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)
www.maxineharley.com Where you will find FREE e-booklets and other free resources designed to help and inform you on your journey of self-knowledge and development