Can You Change Without Drama?

Have you ever noticed that whenever you try to change yourself, even if you are changing to something better, other people in your world don’t necessarily react the way you would like? The reason is that any change, even good change, upsets the status quo. If you and I are in a relationship, we have unspoken “rules” for how we engage each other, how we support each other’s function and dysfunction, and if you go changing, well…that messes up our unspoken rules, doesn’t it?

One of my favorite examples is when a parent takes a Love and Logic® class, learns some real parenting tools to help her  not get sucked into her child’s drama, and then the child says, “I don’t like all that parenting stuff you’ve learned. I can’t manipulate you the way I used to before…”

So, how do you handle another person who is acting out (re-acting) in response to your attempts to change? After all, what you really would like is for the person you love – your mother, your father, your spouse, your child, your best friend, etc. – to support you, to cheer your efforts, not to resist and challenge them! Yet sometimes it is these most important people in our lives who resist the hardest…at least at first.

Those of you who’ve been through Teen Family Camp know what a P-R-V triangle is. It’s a not useful drama triangle here 2 or more people take up one of the roles in the triangle – Persecutor, Rescuer or Victim – and then chase each other  around the triangle instead of solving the real problem. How do you know you are in a P-R-V triangle? The encounter involves a lot of drama and no problem is being resolved.

We all know how to play every single role, however, we tend to pick one of our “favorites” in relation to the person with which we play P-RV. In each role, we feel a real, valid emotion, but we play it out in a not useful way. The Persecutor feels angry but attacks either the Victim or the Rescuer. The Victim feels sorrow or hurt and either blames or quits. The Rescuer feels compassion and concern but tries to control with it.

Here’s an example: Jane is glad her boyfriend Joe stopped drinking, but she is resentful that he is spending so much time with his AA buddies instead of with her. Instead of expressing her feelings to Joe appropriately, she persecutes him by berating him publicly at a party. Joe jumps into the VICTIM role by turning to his best friend and telling him how she is to blame, how she is an awful, unsupportive person, and isn’t it no wonder he used to drink? Joe’s best friend jumps in to RESCUE by siding with Joe. Then the best friend and Joe move into the PERSECUTOR roles and both start attacking Jane, calling her immature, insensitive and mean. Jane slides into the VICTIM role and starts crying, telling Joe it’s no use, she can’t ever do anything right, and the drama continues. Yet none of this addressed the real issue: that Jane is really afraid that maybe she’s being left behind as Joe gets healthier.

How can you set boundaries with love, be true to your own commitments to yourself, and not get sucked into a P-R-V triangle, all while preserving the relationship? What if instead of reacting or jumping into the triangle, you did something different. What if instead, you could?:

• Ask the other person, from your heart, what is their greatest concern about your change towards healthier. Get to the underlying pain or fear. It’s best to do this when both of you are in a pretty good state of mind rather than when you’re already upset.

• Let the other person know you hear them by repeating back to them what you’ve heard, using their words as much as possible. “It seems like you are afraid of losing me if I continue to get healthier;” or “Mom, I hear that you are starting to feel unimportant now that I don’t need you to bail me out of my messes anymore.” Let the other person hear the empathy, love, concern in your voice.

• Reassure them honestly. What would the other person need to hear that would address the underlying fear or hurt that’s really driving their behavior? Your tone of voice is really, really important here! Can you speak from your heart without sarcasm, anger or coldness? Maybe you need to say something like, “I don’t know how else to tell you that I’m not cheating on you. I’m really not. I love you more now than I ever have;” or maybe “I love you more than ever, Mom, because you have always been there for me. Nothing will ever change that.”

• Set your boundary with love. “This is really important work I’m doing on me…it literally saved my life. I have to do this for me. If I don’t do this and become the best person I can be, how can I ever be the best <fiancé, husband, daughter, friend, etc.> to you? I would love you to support me. It would mean the world to me. But if you can’t right now, I have to respect that. I have to continue working on me, though.”

• Avoid the temptation to get baited into a drama triangle. If they try to pull you into an argument on a topic on which you’ve already lovingly set a boundary, and it won’t do any good but create more drama to engage, then a good answer is “I love you too much to argue with you” or “I love you too much to engage in this again with you. It does neither of us any good.” You calmly reply back with one of these every time they try to engage you. If the other person continues to badger you, walk away calmly rather than reacting.

When you set boundaries like this, whether with your spouse, your teenager, your friend or your boss, the other person is likely to escalate. Just stay calm. Be like a duck where water just rolls off its back. When the other person is calm and willing to talk heart-to-heart, then you can have a productive, meaningful conversation. Drama solves nothing!

It may take several times to set a healthy boundary, but once you do you will feel free to live your life to its fullest knowing you are taking care of yourself, teaching other people how to treat you, and respecting the relationships that are most important to you enough to invest time into setting healthy limits.