Relationships: The Triangle You Want to Avoid
You’re kicking ass and taking names in business and career but suddenly you’re derailed by a relationship and you didn’t get the name of the truck that hit you. Now what?
There’s a theory out there. If you find yourself doing any of the following then you’re in a breadcrumb relationship:
Waiting around for calls or texts
Waiting around for plans to be made and or to be confirmed
Feeling like you’re last on the priority list
Overthinking, analyzing or feeling generally insecure about your partner’s affections
Hearing a lot of “I’m very busy… I hoped you’d understand…”
Fearing that if you express your needs you’ll be labeled as ‘needy’ or ‘too much’
What exactly is a B.R? And how does this happen?
It’s a relationship that is not only unequal but one where you are continually settling for the bare minimum, or breadcrumbs of attention, affection, treatment, love and or energy from your partner. It can happen for many reasons, but for the purposes of this article, we’re going to dive into another framework to help us. I’m somewhat of an expert in this type of dynamic as this used to be my specialty—oh, the number of picnics sandwiches I could have made with all the breadcrumbs I’ve collected over the years!
Let’s get a little nerdy for a second, shall we? How does a smart, successful woman like you keep getting herself into this mess?
In modern psychotherapy there exists a tool called the Karpman Drama Triangle, it’s a map of a form of toxic relating, a pattern, that happens in many relationships and in particular conflicted ones. This theory is not new, it’s 40 years old to be more accurate and yet we see it play out time and time again in our upbringing, families and then following through into our own relationships. It is most often unconscious, which is what makes it so dangerous and what causes untold amounts of pain and conflict.
So here it is; on each respective side of the triangle, there lives the victim, rescuer, and perpetrator. The rescuer is the people pleaser, the empath, the do-gooder, while the perpetrator is just as he sounds. He’s critical, judgmental, sometimes the narcissist, he thrives on feeling more powerful. The victim can also be pretty self-explanatory but the one telltale sign is; easily overwhelmed, needs rescuing, nothing is my fault, makes their problems your problems, “please fix this for me”.
Can you start to see this play out in some of the relationships you’ve observed or been in? Each of these roles is interchangeable but most people toggle between the three depending on where they are developmentally or in the stages of the relationship. However, there is a dominant one you feel most comfortable in and tend to play out most of the time. This role is normally determined by upbringing and experiences from childhood and often from observing and taking on the parental dynamics in your family.
I’ve lived mainly in the rescuer role and it’s still a role I need to keep a close eye on! This role gave me meaning and significance and self-esteem. In fact, I built a whole career around it! It is also the primary reason I ‘burnt out’ of my previous career in alternative medicine and why I almost repeated the same patterns in my new business many years ago. It is also the primary reason why I accepted breadcrumb relationships time and time again! This rescuer role is often the role that most susceptible to burn out on all levels because we’re so good at gauging and measuring the needs of others and being the ‘good girl’, that eventually we feel pulled in too many directions at once.
This unhealthy persona played out in ALL my relationships! I choose friends that needed rescuing and most damaging of all, I chose men that I felt I could rescue and nothing makes a perfect match with a rescuer than a victim who turns perpetrator to feel powerful again. We fit perfect; I was needed and they were the needy.
Here’s a gnarly thing about this triangle; once the rescuer feels they can’t rescue anymore or the rescue isn’t working or isn’t being appreciated, or the person whom they are trying to rescue flips from victim into perpetrator then… poof! The rescuer turns quickly to the victim, the victim they were trying to rescue now becomes the villain of their story and suddenly they’re the needy one, and on and on the cycle continues.
Ladies… how many times have you been called needed at this stage by the man you’re with? For me eventually, I would get tired of being the victim and turn on the tough girl act (perp) and get fed up and leave. The trouble with this is you can never find fulfilling, lasting relationships. You can get stuck in any one part of the triangle for a prolonged period of time, having that be your dominant position with one particular relationship, but in order for the cycle to continue you’ll start expressing the other sides eventually too and maybe with other people or circumstances where it feels safer to do so. Can you see this playing out in your life anywhere?
It’s important to become aware of this toxic cycle. Often times I have successful women coming to work with me that have almost everything else handled in their world but when it comes to the areas of their relationships they are stuck in this toxic cycle and keep recycling the same men and same issues with their friends and family.
How to start to break this up? Notice when you’re in it and name the role you’re playing. Don’t be too hard on yourself either. Think of this as a play and you’re just an actor taking on a role for a short time. After you accept which role you’re playing out, then taking 100% responsibility for your contribution in creating that role. (check out my Facebook Live on Radical Responsibility for more on that).
The only way to stop this cycle to is notice and claim your role and start to bring in what’s missing for you. For the rescuer, (the predominant B.R acceptor) you need to learn to recognize and validate your wants and needs and to express them unapologetically. It’s also important to recognize and give space for your anger to be processed and use this as a sign that your needs are not being met or that you’ve become too responsible for another and you’re on the verge of burnout.
Finally, if you see yourself in this article and this resonates with you, cultivating a practice of surrender and letting go of control can greatly benefit you and your relationships with others. That’s when magic can happen because that’s the only time you can take your power back and stop settling for the breadcrumbs in your relationships!
P.S – If you’re in a version of this kind of relationship and it has turned abusive, DO NOT try to handle this yourself. Please reach out to a local support group or call in center so you can be supported.