I had a thoroughly eye-opening discussion with my therapist the other day.
I spoke to her about what had happened with my friend who, after I wrote my last blog, sent me a long message where she accused me of a lot of things (predominantly to do with empathy and consideration, two things she knows I care deeply about), denied she had ever acted in a way that would have me guard myself against her, attack me for what I did to her by making my decision without consulting her, and then cast herself into the victim. She used DARVO – Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender – to a rather good initial result.
But I had an uncomfortable feeling in my gut. Her response didn’t feel right. It felt like she was trying to guilt me, to suck me in and force me to conform and appease her.
I contacted my good friend who is well and truly experienced in these things, having had years of therapy to work through a narcissistic mother. He was the one who pointed out what she was doing, and from there we unravelled the past abuse and control so I could see it for what I was.
I explained all of this to my therapist and she pointed out to me that my friend (well, now ex-friend) exists in the Drama Triangle – that is “Fixer”, “Offender” and “Victim”. The alternative triangle is “Support”, “Assertive” and “Vulnerable”. Now I exist in this latter triangle with my good friends, and this was where I thought our relationship had existed. Looking back now, even my behaviour indicates that we weren’t.
I feel like when I acted, when I advised her of my decision, I was being assertive. I definitely wasn’t in the offender role, I was very careful with my wording so the ‘blame’ for our incompatible conflict styles didn’t rest on her, but rather on both of us, because it IS both of us who have incompatible conflict styles.
Her response, however, was entirely trapped within the Drama Triangle, and she was trying to pull me back into it. She was very clearly attempting to goad me into responding and returning to her triangle, which will feed her need for drama (she once admitted to me that she would actively seek to start fights, and she would actively continue fights with her best friend – this included calling her a bitch – because she wanted to). I refused to do so.
We have since had a number of university classes together, in close enough confines, but without direct interaction. I have felt myself subconsciously fall into the ‘victim’ mentality. My thoughts go sad, I hunch in, and I feel guilty at the same time as feeling abused. This is not a role I want to be in, because it means I have fallen back into the Drama Triangle, so I take a moment to breathe, draw my shoulders back, and reaffirm myself and my actions.
While I’m not around her, I am able to stay in the other triangle, in the ‘assertive’ role. When I am around her, even with her very deliberately and completely cold shouldering me, I find myself falling back into her triangle.
This is because our relationship exists in a ‘closed’ system, where our roles are fixed and there are set rules. I was, of course, cast into the role of ‘helpless cripple’ while she was in the role of ‘fixer’ or ‘hero’. In a closed system, there is no movement about the various roles that one can be in a relationship, there can only be these two roles, and when one person in that relationship attempts to move into a different role, or out of the fixed role, the system seeks to return to homeostasis. That is, the system seeks to return that person to their fixed role, sometimes through any means necessary.
In my other relationships, I exist in ‘open’ systems, where we move through the various roles one can take in the relationship depending on what’s going on at the time. This means when one person is feeling vulnerable, the other can support them or be the hero, and vice versa. There is the give and take of healthy relationships. There is also room to exist in two states which, for someone who is disabled, is exactly what we do. We exist as ‘vulnerable’ (as we are disabled, and therefore always vulnerable to some extent) but we can exist as ‘hero’ at the same time.
This is the dichotomy of the disabled. We are always ‘vulnerable’, but we exist beyond that at the same time. It’s a surprisingly difficult concept to wrap ones head around, and indeed it took me until earlier this year to really grasp it. Initially, it was my own mentality trapping me there. Then it was her mentality trapping me there. Being a pathological people pleaser meant I adapted to what was expected of me, and remained adapted to that long past where I should have. I remained in her closed system, and placated her closed system when she snapped (because I took a teeny tiny step out of it), for quite some time.
But now I’ve challenged that closed system, and I have removed myself from her Drama Triangle. She made an attempt to draw me back into both and, due to a combination of being blocked and having no phone credit, as well as being surrounded by amazing friends, I did not return to it. I did not placate the system, and I did not engage with her aggression and abuse.
It’s a surprisingly freeing feeling.