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Author Topic: PERSPECTIVES: Family systems--understanding the narcissistic family  (Read 14810 times)
blackandwhite
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« Reply #20 on: December 31, 2009, 06:40:35 PM »

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Sounds like you played the 'Caretaker' role very well B&W.  So, I'm assuming there was/is some anger/grieving to deal with in the loss of those opportunities to develop yourself ?  


You nailed it, NPR! And yes, a lot of my mourning process (referencing here the Survivors' Guide but also how it really felt) was about those lost opportunities. I have felt safe enough to get very angry about these losses, which in turn helped me get past them. (Resources on anger can be found in the selected reading for this board at http://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=56280.0 and there is a workshop US: Respecting Our Anger at http://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=135831.0.)

When I think of the caretaker role that I assumed, I realize this is a part of myself I value. I enjoy helping people, nurturing my daughter's development for example. That is probably part of how I ended up in the role. But I also was assigned it. It was rigid. I got caught in the Karpman Triangle (see our workshop US: Our Dysfunctional Relationships with Others at http://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=135831.0) as the "rescuer."

Nonna's point about how we differ from our assigned roles in our family has a complex meaning for me, at least on this issue. I both am a caretaker (something natural to me) but also have to be very wary of being A Caretaker or A Rescuer in rigid, dysfunctional ways. When I feel a caretaking or rescuing impulse, it's best for me to check to be sure it's:

1. not motivated primarily by self-interest (Do I need to make MYSELF feel better?)
2. in balance with the rest of my life (Is it significantly drawing me away from things I must do and/or enjoy doing?)

So in some cases we may reject roles given to us as children. In others, we evolve them.

For reference, here's a simple description of some of the key roles given to children in dysfunctional families. It's from Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt, but it is consistent with many other things I've read:

Children growing up in a dysfunctional family have been known to adopt one or more of six basic roles:

Quote
The Good Child also known as the hero: a child who assumes the parental role.
The Problem Child also known as the scape goat: the child who is blamed for most problems and can also be partly responsible for the family's dysfunction, in spite of often being the only emotionally stable one in the family.
The Caretaker: the one who takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family.
The Lost Child: the inconspicuous, quiet one, whose needs are usually ignored or hidden. Often occurs in balkanized families.
The Mascot: uses comedy to divert attention away from the increasingly dysfunctional family system.
The Mastermind: the opportunist who capitalizes on the other family members' faults in order to get whatever he or she wants. Often the object of appeasement by grown-ups.


(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysfunctional_family)

B&W
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« Reply #21 on: December 31, 2009, 06:44:17 PM »

B&W thanks for posting those roles - as embarrassed as I am to admit this, I think I was the mastermind. Looks like I need to look into that a bit more.
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« Reply #22 on: January 01, 2010, 11:09:42 AM »

That description of dysfunctional roles is very interesting, blackandwhite.  I recognize myself as the good child, and also a bit as the mastermind (you're not alone, problemfamily!).  My sister was the caretaker, and still has an extremely hard time acknowledging the legitimacy of her own needs.  The good child or hero role is pernicious because the child accepts responsibility for making things better, a responsibility she can't possibly handle, as a child or as an individual of limited capabilities, and feels it as a personal failure when she is not able to.  She doesn't acknowledge her own limits and pushes herself beyond what is reasonable to expect, punishing herself harshly for failure. 

I'm sad to say I haven't really evolved this role too much as an adult, lol!  I still feel responsible for fixing any problem I am aware of, and consistently take on more responsibilities than I can handle, and hate myself for any failure, no matter how understandable or reasonable in the particular context.  I have of course shifted the range of my responsibility, from the family to the world at large.  Like many here, I have been active in political causes that I think will make the world a better place, and am involved in a religion that emphasizes our responsibility to do good for others and the world at large.  The religious aspect is helpful though, because while it says that it is our responsibility to do good, in the end, only G-d has the power to direct the fate of the world.  It is only our responsibility to do our best.  This is an enormous relief, to not feel responsible for ensuring success, and to be reminded it is not, in the end, within the range of human capability to do so! 

blackandwhite, it's interesting what you're saying about allowing yourself to express those parts of yourself that drew you to that role in the first place, and arise from within, while going through a process of questioning certain behaviors that have been problematic in the past with regard to whether you are making these choices in a healthy way or not.  I've made it a goal to do that when taking on voluntary responsibilities in the future, after a particularly disastrous set of choices in that area recently.  Some useful questions for me would be:

1. How will doing this activity benefit me personally, apart from the needs of the group?
2. Will taking on this additional responsibility detract from responsibilities I have already taken on?
3. Am I genuinely excited to take on this task, or am I simply stepping into the breech because I feel I have to?
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« Reply #23 on: January 01, 2010, 11:49:17 AM »



Really interesting and honest discussion here.  Thanks everyone for sharing.   I was reading Lawson and how she talks about the Queen tending to marry the King.   My uBPm fits the Queen role completely and totally and if I think about my dad he was the unparalleled king making us a very nifty narssisstic family.   I have always been extremely proud of myself for breaking the cycle and of alcohol and abuse from my father and but I really seeing now that I've struggled far more to break the cycle of my mother and and the toxic effects she has had on me.   

When you talk about the roles, I would say I have mostly been the lost child.  It feels that both of my parents needs were (and my mom's still) so strong and demanding, there was no place for me.   I just sort of got squeezed out.  Where that leaves me now is that in my 50s I am still struggling to find out who I am.  I have been a mother and a damned good one even with my fleas  my-issuesbut now my children mostly live elsewhere and I"m back to looking more inward.  My greatest fear has come to pass, I was afraid I would look inward and find emptiness.   I keep hoping there is more of me underneathe all of that but getting through the muck has been tough.  I have been a writer and I am trying to reconnect with that, but I'm not sure of what "my" self is in my writing.   


I also still struggle at times to even *know* what it is I'm feeling.   It makes me sad to even write those words.  How can a person not know what they are feeling?   Yet it takes me time to figure it out, esp. if I feel threatened or triggered in some way. 

I guess its better late than never that I'm working on all of this,
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« Reply #24 on: January 01, 2010, 01:52:56 PM »

From salome:
Quote
The good child or hero role is pernicious because the child accepts responsibility for making things better, a responsibility she can't possibly handle, as a child or as an individual of limited capabilities, and feels it as a personal failure when she is not able to.  She doesn't acknowledge her own limits and pushes herself beyond what is reasonable to expect, punishing herself harshly for failure. 


Therein lie the roots of perfectionism, eh? The authors also comment on how children in these families fail to learn--because it is not in the interest of the family system to teach this--they are NOT responsible to meet all needs and be endlessly available to everyone, at their own expense:

Quote
Adults raised in narcissistic families do not know that they can say no--that they have a right to limit what they will do for others and that they do not have to be physically and emotionally accessible to anyone at any time. In their families of origin, they may not have had the right to say no, or to discriminate between reasonable and unreasonable requests.

Quote
Children in narcissistic families do not learn how to set boundaries, because it is not in the parents' best interests to teach them: the children might use that skill to set boundaries with them!

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From LionDreamer:
Quote
I also still struggle at times to even *know* what it is I'm feeling.   It makes me sad to even write those words.  How can a person not know what they are feeling?   Yet it takes me time to figure it out, esp. if I feel threatened or triggered in some way.

Not knowing what you're feeling is a very common consequence of growing up in a narcissistic family. From the book:

Quote
In the narcissistic family, the children lack entitlement. They do not own their feelings; their feelings are not considered. When we do not have feelings, then others do not have to take our feelings into consideration."

It's not too late, at all. You're undoing a lifetime's programming, and you're making a lot of headway.  xoxo

B&W
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« Reply #25 on: January 01, 2010, 02:48:06 PM »


Not knowing what you're feeling is a very common consequence of growing up in a narcissistic family. From the book:

Quote
In the narcissistic family, the children lack entitlement. They do not own their feelings; their feelings are not considered. When we do not have feelings, then others do not have to take our feelings into consideration."




Feelings.  Wow.  I "KNEW" I 'understood' what feelings were. Rationally. Intellectually.  HAVING feelings?  That was a whole different concept. Because of the family, I thought people who had feelings, well, were, stupid.   Or warm and fuzzy.  And much less important.  This sounds so much like my father, it helps to be writing it down.  My mother 'held' the feelings for the family.  The out of control, don't know what to do, act out part of the system.  And she would be critiqued by my father and older sister when she would be off on one of her 'walk aways'.  It always puzzled me that neither one of them would see the rage and the episode coming.  but I guess that's because they were all about them? 

I'm finally in a better place with having feelings - everything between therapy and church has made a difference.  Seeing people be angry, have feelings, have someone (therapists) explain that feelings are okay made all the difference.  And that hugging WAS good. And that having feelings and being angry, didn't mean that I would become my mother, out of control and suicidal.   

Entitlement :  What a button for me.  I was never 'entitled ' to anything - see the quote - so when other people, at work, especially, 'get something by apparently 'whining', I am SO angry!  It's like, I've become invisible one more time - just as in the days of long ago in the family system.  So- there IS a reason why I feel this way!  Thanks, B & W!

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« Reply #26 on: January 01, 2010, 03:26:12 PM »

When I think of the caretaker role that I assumed, I realize this is a part of myself I value. I enjoy helping people, nurturing my daughter's development for example. That is probably part of how I ended up in the role. But I also was assigned it. It was rigid. I got caught in the Karpman Triangle (see our workshop US: Our Dysfunctional Relationships with Others at http://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=135831.0) as the "rescuer."

B&W

I see how that worked in your family dynamic B&W.  I see the parallel in my own experience.  I also enjoy helping people.  In my case, to help people get 'unstuck' and move forward in their lives, or to help parent and teach my gf's 6 year old.

When I became my mother's 'Surrogate Spouse' by becoming her confidant (when my father failed in that role - or couldn't play two roles at once), I recognize I was 'the Rescuer' in that.  Also as 'the Mediator' of the family, I took on 'the Rescuer' role to restore some semblence of peace (peace is one of my values) in the family.  Later, in my twenties, I think I tried to become my mother's therapist (which would also qualify as rescuing), which failed miserably because she was uBPD.  I think I have tried to play therapist to a lot of people in my life - friends, brother, and especially SOs.  Giving advice when asked is one thing, and playing therapist to those in my life is another.  

I think I just figured out I have been trying to do that here a little too much, and that is why I've gotten into some conflictory situations.  I think it might be tough for me to fully un-enmesh myself with that role of therapist.

I have also played the role of Persecutor and Victim on the Karpman Triangle at various stages in our family history.  I would say more often played the role as victim as I recognized the damage done to me, and I think started to feel entitled to some kind of compensation for that (mostly after sister's suicide, but also at short periods of time between 19 and 25).  

Then, when I didn't feel satisfied with that, I took it to a Persecutor role, where I started blaming my parents for my life.  It is one thing to recognize what has happened, and adjust my behavior to be healthy, and another to expect parents to 'make things right'.  I think I aggressively pursued that with them for a while.  I think for a couple of years, about a year and a half after my sister's suicide, I tried to 'make them responsible for my life'.  That seems to me to be 'the Persecutor'.  I think this is why I became 'the Scapegoat' also - in reaction to trying to 'make my parents responsible for my life'.    

I actually made my parents 'the Victim' in those two years, and I think my brother became the Rescuer/Hero.  After my Hero/Scapegoat/Persecutor sister's suicide, my dysfunctional family's dynamic kind of collapsed upon itself.  Because of this, I think nobody knew what to do.  Maybe I was trying to 'rescue' the dysfunctional family dynamic by becoming the 'Persecutor/Scapegoat' that was now missing because my sister was absent from the family.  I had removed myself from the dynamic about 4 years before sister's suicide, and I wonder if this had something to do with the collapse of the dynamic too ?

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« Reply #27 on: January 01, 2010, 03:42:00 PM »

In my family, I wasn't just not taught boundaries - I got assaulted and punished for having them. Example: my stepfather was looking for something he misplaced, and just walked into my room and started going through all my things, opening desk drawers and rooting through them, etc. I said "Stop going through my stuff!" and got slapped and snarled at - "Your stuff? What do you think is your stuff in here?"

Same with feelings. Like all kids, I would turn to my mother for comfort if I was upset about something. And like all normal human beings, I experienced anger. Sometimes, if I showed any kind of feeling like that, anger, frustration, sadness, my mother would go nuts and attack me, with slappings, screaming, throwing things. Those fits went on for hours. I learned that certain feelings were not just "not OK" for me, they would put me in danger.

I guess I alternated between Hero and Problem child, depending on how my mother felt about me at the time. If she wasn't feeling aggressive and punishing, she would come to me for comfort and advice, even when I was as young as 7 years old. When she was in her more destructive modes, I was either sick - she dragged me forever to various doctors, trying to find that elusive something that was wrong with me - or I was the very face of evil, to be eradicated.

After writing these things down, I kind of feel like I need to... I don't know, lie down or something.
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« Reply #28 on: January 01, 2010, 04:10:15 PM »

Wonderful topic, B&W.

While I know FTF pertains to BPD, I often think that narcissism is dowplayed in the helping profession in regard to BPD.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to what insights I gained, as my insights were bouncing all over the place even as a young teen.

My mother was certainly overtly narcissistic.   ... unable "to see, or react to the needs of another". I have witnessed my mother go into a panic when she momentarily was 'on the spot' to see to another's needs. Say, another party outside the family might say to her, in my presence, "I'll bet you are so happy that MTS helps you so much", momster would show panic because she was so unaware of my feelings that she was inept to  merely move the moment on by making a simple reply.

When attending her brother's funeral, who died in a car crash in his twenties, she refused my sibs and myself to attend the funeral, while she had her photo taken upon leaving the house to attend, as if she were a moviestar the tabloids were following. I was twelve years old, BTW, while eldest brother was fourteen years old.

These examples are not taken out of context. This was daily behavior for momster.










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« Reply #29 on: January 01, 2010, 07:08:59 PM »

We have many good examples of roles we all play(ed) in family systems. We're also getting to how children's needs are not acknowledged and the results into adulthood--lack of entitlement, ownership of our own feelings, and boundaries.

A discussion of family systems would not be complete without covering triangulation. One tidy definition of triangulation is "where a person takes their frustration with one relationship to another person, adding a third person into the original relationship and causing power, control, and communication imbalances throughout."

A simple example would be when one parent is giving the other the silent treatment and turns to the child to say, "Tell your father/mother XYZ." Another is when a parent speaks alone with a child and says, "Your father/mother is crazy. What are we going to do?" Or "don't tell your sister/brother, but..."

BPD sufferers, as we know, tend to think in black and white terms. They also tend to push away when they feel too much intimacy and pull us back when they feel too much distance. Those two dynamics alone can set a series of jangling triangles in motion in a family.

1. Does anyone have an elegant example of how a family with a BPD member(s) gets snarled up in triangles? (I'll post a case study later in this workshop.)

2. How do we avoid getting caught up in triangulation?

B&W
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« Reply #30 on: January 01, 2010, 09:31:07 PM »


2. How do we avoid getting caught up in triangulation?

B&W


I would guess by first recognizing when someone else is playing the role of Victim, Rescuer, or Persecutor.  Then using boundaries to refuse participation in the triangulation.

Quote
1. Does anyone have an elegant example of how a family with a BPD member(s) gets snarled up in triangles? (I'll post a case study later in this workshop.)

Okay, how about this ?  A BPD mother has been trying to make her husband do something he does not want to do (because BPDs need to control the people are around them).  Let's say she is trying to make him color code his files, and he just does not see it as a priority.  Since she cannot control him, this triggers her fear of abandonement (because if she cannot control, there is a risk of someone being independent, and therefore, leaving).  So she ruminates and gets very worked up and angry.  

Since none of her anger has ever been validated (because she does not live in the real world) all of that pent up anger is channeled by this rumination.  Her teenage daughter comes home and tosses her book bag on the chair by the kitchen table.  The uBPD mother explodes and rages at her daughter.  Since rage is not a reasonable response to this, the BPD mother has just become a Persecutor, and in doing so, has made her teenage daughter a Victim.  Now the search is on for the daughter to find a Rescuer.  Dad ? another sibling ?

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« Reply #31 on: January 02, 2010, 07:23:37 PM »


2. How do we avoid getting caught up in triangulation?

B&W


I would guess by first recognizing when someone else is playing the role of Victim, Rescuer, or Persecutor.  Then using boundaries to refuse participation in the triangulation.


Recognizing it is the hard part for me because I alway's just did as I was told and thought about it later, since trying to heal and recover my own identity I can only recognize that Im feeling bad or angry at the way Im being treated.  I can sense something isn't right, mom is yelling and accusing me of not bringing something I said I was going to bring on Saturday, but it takes too long to figure it all out in my head, Im usually just playing the  rescuer I guess and just apologizing and trying to be the good girl.  Sometimes I can remember oh yeah, I said I would bring it on Saturday, and it's only thursday, don't pick a fight with me.  Then she would go on to say well how am I supposed to get everything done if no one else will do their part? what ? I just walked into the house. Like what NewPheonix Rising said, Now Im still stuck in the rescuer mode, do I tell her I'll bring it back right away or do I remind her I'll bring it on Saturday like we discussed and let her wallow in her own frustration.?  Dad would play the rescuer and usuall go out of his way to make it better.  I've been trying to detach myself and remind myself this is her hang up not mine, whatever she is mad about it's not my fault.  Still how else could I avoid this?  Back to your question black and white, is there anything else I could have done?

Quote
1. Does anyone have an elegant example of how a family with a BPD member(s) gets snarled up in triangles? (I'll post a case study later in this workshop.)
Quote
Since none of her anger has ever been validated (because she does not live in the real world) all of that pent up anger is channeled by this rumination.  Her teenage daughter comes home and tosses her book bag on the chair by the kitchen table.  The uBPD mother explodes and rages at her daughter.  Since rage is not a reasonable response to this, the BPD mother has just become a Persecutor, and in doing so, has made her teenage daughter a Victim.  Now the search is on for the daughter to find a Rescuer.  Dad ? another sibling ?

This was my life. In the middle, usually not knowing why or what but being made the outlet and the person she could just dump on whenever. I should also add that I would oblige her too, like a good little girl because I just wanted her love, and when your being yelled at and accused of not doing things correctly your not feeling loved. xoxo
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« Reply #32 on: January 02, 2010, 07:51:02 PM »

Just want to express my appreciation for this topic. I keep coming back to this thread wanting to contribute, but then find myself shying away. Sometimes just reading it leaves me feeling tired and heading back to bed.

There is so much here I can relate to. I have had that "OMG! Were you part of my family too?" feeling many times. I am going to keep coming back to this thread and work through parts of it very slowly, using it as a springboard to exploration.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed. And  xoxox

Bricolage
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« Reply #33 on: January 02, 2010, 11:12:48 PM »

These are great examples!

Quote
A BPD mother has been trying to make her husband do something he does not want to do (because BPDs need to control the people are around them).  Let's say she is trying to make him color code his files, and he just does not see it as a priority.  Since she cannot control him, this triggers her fear of abandonment (because if she cannot control, there is a risk of someone being independent, and therefore, leaving).  So she ruminates and gets very worked up and angry. 

Since none of her anger has ever been validated (because she does not live in the real world) all of that pent up anger is channeled by this rumination.  Her teenage daughter comes home and tosses her book bag on the chair by the kitchen table.  The uBPD mother explodes and rages at her daughter.  Since rage is not a reasonable response to this, the BPD mother has just become a Persecutor, and in doing so, has made her teenage daughter a Victim.  Now the search is on for the daughter to find a Rescuer.  Dad ? another sibling ?

I can see lots of triangulation possibilities here. As NPR suggests, the father or sibling could come in and rescue the daughter, "Hey, give her [the daughter] a break!" Or the father or sibling could come in and rescue the MOTHER, "Don't upset your mother/mom."

Then family roles come into play as well. Perhaps the sibling is The Good Child who tells everyone to calm down or The Caretaker who solves the problem by comforting the mother. Or The Mascot sibling could do something silly to try to distract and ease the tension.

Everyone is playing a role.

Quote
Recognizing it is the hard part for me because I always just did as I was told and thought about it later...I can sense something isn't right, mom is yelling and accusing me of not bringing something I said I was going to bring on Saturday, but it takes too long to figure it all out in my head, I'm usually just playing the  rescuer I guess and just apologizing and trying to be the good girl... Then she would go on to say well how am I supposed to get everything done if no one else will do their part? what  I just walked into the house... Dad would play the rescuer and usually go out of his way to make it better.  I've been trying to detach myself and remind myself this is her hang up not mine, whatever she is mad about it's not my fault.  Still how else could I avoid this?

In this example, I see mom playing the victim and setting up MyBigMouth as the perpetrator. However, MyBigMouth is ALSO playing her family role as The Good Child or perhaps The Lost Child. As The Good or Lost Child, she's not supposed to be bad or have bad thoughts or get mad. But here is her mother, yelling at her and blaming her. Her brain fritzes...what to do with this contradictory information? As she freezes, her mother keeps yelling and her father comes in and plays the hero, "rescuing" mom.

How does that analysis feel to you, MyBigMouth?

That moment is over, but these situations tend to replay. So you have a chance to step back, catch your breath, and plan for next time. One way to handle this is to think in advance about a clear boundary. For example, "if my mother yells at me, I will... (leave, go to the bathroom to give myself time to think, tell her to stop and if she doesn't then leave)."
 
It also sounds like working on noticing your feelings earlier will help. That "freeze" feeling is itself a clue. It's like a deer in the forest startled by a noise. Is it a predator? The deer stops and hopes to blend in with the shadows, waiting it out. When you feel that prey-animal freeze, take a breath. Notice it. Maybe even give yourself a cue for it, like a word or a color. Start associating it with something that can jump in your mind quickly. (I do a lot of yoga, and I started to notice my own "freeze" reaction because I automatically began doing yogic breathing. My body sensed the anxiety before my mind did.)

Once you have it in out in your mind where you can see it, you can start to change your reactions. Eventually, as you feel more in control, you have the option of using boundaries (as above) or validation (validating your mother's FEELING of anxiety or frustration without agreeing with her), or a combination.

So to summarize:

*Look at the roles everyone is playing--this will help you see how these situations play out and plan ahead.
*In the moment, take a time out to give yourself a chance to assess your feelings. You can usually go to the bathroom or step back to the car because you "forgot something."
*Work on noticing your feelings and give yourself cues about them as you go about your day.
*Look for ways to soothe your feelings when they are anxious or panicked ("freeze"). Breathing, affirmations, a soothing thought association can all help.
*Work in advance on a clear boundary and how you will maintain it.

Bricolage--I'm so glad you're getting something out of the workshop. You're smart to take things at your own pace.  xoxo

B&W
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« Reply #34 on: January 03, 2010, 06:27:20 PM »

I, too, am thankful that this workshop was started. I have been looking for a family systems graduate course for professional and educational reasons, but I have a strong personal interest as well. The start of this thread seemed serendipitous.

I echo Bricolage, too, that the thread is engaging and draining to read. This is a good sign for me because it means I am being challenged to think critically about our own family systems.

One recent triangulation episode occurred today. This morning, my visiting, enmeshed MIL told my non-DH that his PDsis is hurt that DH didn't say "thank you" for birthday gifts when she called to wish happy new year. When DH only responded with "okay," MIL gave a pointed, long stare. DH responded with, "You are looking at me as if you want me to say something." MIL stated, "Well, I'd like to hear you say you will do better next time and that you will consider her feelings." DH looked at his mom and said, "I'm not going to say that," and ended the conversation.

To me, my MIL is playing rescuer, my PDsil is the victim, and my DH is the persecutor.

For my DH, I think he did a good job because in years past, such a conversation could make him very unhappy, hurt, and slightly depressed. When we talked about it later, another response could be something like, "I know you want to help PDsis, Mom. If PDsis is upset with me, though, she needs to talk to me about it. I'm not going to discuss this with you."

Now that I have learned about the Karpman triangle through readings on this site as well as this workshop, I see triangulation as a common form of communication in my DH's family and in parts of mine, too. (Always easier to see it in others than in myself. tongue)

One of the ways we are trying to avoid triangulation is not to engage in it ourselves. When my enmeshed MIL visits or calls, we do not ask about uBPDsil. If my MIL brings her up we nod, let her talk, say small conversation noises, but try to employ the "Wise Mind," so MIL can process her stuff with uBPDsil, but we do not get hooked or try to add anything that can be brought back to uBPDsil. Realizing all the time that MIL could spin that, too, but . . . meh.

Thank you for this workshop. I am very thankful for the timing of it!

Pilate
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« Reply #35 on: January 03, 2010, 08:41:11 PM »


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How do we avoid getting caught up in triangulation?
I'm sorry to say 'triangulation' has been a way of life for my family.  This is the way we relate to each other...my younger sister talks to mom, my next sister talks to mom, then I talk to mom.  Mom then tells each of us in turn what the other sister says or maybe what she wants to tell us what the other sisters says.

So mom tells me that one of my sisters kept her bank card and now she's all upset that she has no money, so I run to the bank and drive over with money and now I'm angry at my sister. Then she tells this sister how I don't visit often enough or don't do enough for her so she gets angry at me.
Then she tells both this sister and I that my youngest sister hasn't even visited her for Christmas yet so now we are both supposed to be angry at her. Mom is in this way keeping us all separated just so she can keep control of us, so by the time she is gone there will be no family left.

This has been going on for as long as I can remember.  I have been NC with one sister and this of course was over mom too, till Christmas when she phoned me and talked to me like nothing had happened for the last 4 months but up till then mom told me almost every time she talked to me how much my sister hated me or my children.

 I did tell mom that I didn't want to hear about my sister and what she thought about me but she kept sneaking in bits about her and since I'm didn't want to cause a drama like the last time I tried to stop her when she threatened she didn't want to live if I didn't talk to her, I just let it go.  Now I guess I can talk to this sister myself but, I think I would rather just go through my mom as I actually feel safer.  I can see triangulation happening constantly in my family but I don't know how to stop it and too be truthful I don't really want to talk to any of them.

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« Reply #36 on: January 04, 2010, 10:10:22 AM »

Here's a historic example of triangulation from my family. The context is that many people on Mom's side of the family are bipolar; some people on Dad's side of the family have PDs.   Bipolar Mom was unhappy with PD Dad and complained to her mother (MGrandma) and brothers (MUncles), but not to Dad.  Mom's family arranges for a rental house and helps her run away with us (3 young kids) without telling Dad!  Dad comes home from work one day to find his family gone, no note, and no one in Mom's family will tell him where we are.  At this point in time the roles were: Dad-Persecuter, MGrandma & MUncles-Rescuers, Mom-Victim.  

Several months go by and it becomes clear Mom has serious mental health issues and can't take care of children on her own.  We move into MGrandma's house but Mom is too needy for her family to handle.  MGrandma & MUncles reveal our whereabouts to Dad without telling Mom!  Dad starts to visit (I have no idea how Mom & Dad worked out this reconciliation), and becomes "Super Dad" on weekends.  Now the roles shift to: Mom-Persecuter, Dad-Rescuer, MGrandma & MUncles-Victims.

A year goes by, Mom & Dad fully reconcile and move to new house together with us kids.  Vicious cycle ensues whereby Dad is mean so Mom is needy.  Or was it Mom is needy so Dad is mean?  We'll never tease out cause and effect there, so let's just say they were a terrible combination. Dad continues playing Super Dad in public, and he complains bitterly about Mom to all who will listen.  Dad's parents move from another state to be near us and help Dad.  The roles shift again:  Mom-Persecuter, PGrandparents-Rescuer, Dad-Victim.  (MGrandma passes away and MUncles promptly drop out of our lives for 20 years.)

Mom is miserable with PGrandparents living nearby, Dad being a private jerk but public angel.  Mom has several breakdowns and hospitalizations, complains to doctors, social workers, public interest lawyer etc.  Mom is discharged and moves to her FOO's house where bipolar MGrandpa resides and files for divorce (Yes, My bipolar mother divorced my PD father, not the other way around!)  The roles shift again:  PGrandparents & Dad-Persecuters, MGrandpa-Rescuer, Mom-VIctim.

Triangulation continues for years, but I'll stop here having shown how Mom and Dad played multiples roles in the drama.  

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« Reply #37 on: January 04, 2010, 10:53:55 AM »

More great triangulation examples!

Since we focused so much on this topic because triangles are such a key feature of dysfunctional families, I wanted to point out that triangulation patterns are not the only ones. Harriet Lerner (Dance of Anger, Dance of Intimacy, etc.) writes very clearly about a variety of binary patterns as well.

Quote
The distancer-pursuer, for example, is a pattern where one person distances from the other, especially in times of stress, causing the other to pursue relentlessly. Or there is the overfunctioner-underfunctioner relationship, where one person takes on the lion's share of the responsibility, so the other does not have to be bothered. There are also triangles, where a person takes their frustration with one relationship to another person, adding a third person into the original relationship and causing power, control, and communication imbalances throughout.


(Source: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1829707/learning_with_dr_harriet_lerner.html?cat=38 "Learning with Dr. Harriet Lerner: The Use of the Dance of Intimacy in Therapy." I added the bolding.)

Back to triangulation...here is the promised case study to add to the examples already given. A psychologist who answers questions online posted this case study. There is no mention of a family member having BPD, but I think the scenario will have a ring of familiarity.

Quote
On the Family As A System and the Problem of Triangulation
Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 27th 2009
(source: http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=29045&cn=51)

Following is an E. Mail Case Example that was posted February 24, 2009

"Fiance's mother from hell:"

"I'm dealing with the fallout of a mother like this.  My fiance's mother was successful in driving us apart.  When my fiance stood up to her, she spread lies about me and my family to all of his extended family in Los Angeles, convinced my fiance's family to stage an intervention on his not marrying me, and was horribly rude to my family in an irreparable way at my fiance's grandfather's memorial service. (this is in addition to calling me up the day after my fiance had said generally where and when we were to be married, and saying that she wished we would wait two years before doing so.)

Although I was technically the one that broke it off because he said he could not stand up for me against his family, I am very hurt and confused at how in the heck ?"
hithithithithithithithithithithithithithithithithithithithit_

Family Systems and Triangulation:

The posting above, sent by sent by a confused and hurt young woman, is a good example of a family system operating with a dysfunctional pattern referred to as "triangulation."

First, it is important to understand the family as a "system" and what that really means.

Viewing the family as a system means that the members of the group interact with one another and those interactions are governed by certain rules and regulations. Whenever something happens to one member of the family it affects the interactions of all the family members. In addition, one set of rules that govern the interactions among members of the family system have to do with setting and maintaining boundaries. For example, there are rules governing sexual behavior in the family. Parents engage in sexual relationships to the exclusion of the children. Once adult children leave the family and find appropriate sexual partners of their own in the outside world. This is sanctioned by the entire society.

Within the family are patterns of interaction that shift and change with time. Many of these patterns (but not all) are dyadic in nature. In other words, alliances form such as a child in alliance with the mother against the father and other siblings. Another scenario is one in which the siblings ally against one or both parents. In fact, in the  history of a family, there can be many types and patterns of interaction as each challenge, change and crisis comes along.

It is always important to remember that the family system has, as one of its goals, the preservation of itself. To this end, a family will do what it can to meet with and defeat any perceived threats to its existence. At the very same time, a healthy family system is flexible enough to admit new members to its circle and to allow for and adjust to changing circumstances, such as meeting each stage of the children growing up towards adulthood. Some of these circumstances include moving from the nursery to the nursery and then public school. Later, there are movements towards the recognition of the changing status of the children such as rituals around reaching adolescence, High School graduation and leaving home either for job training or college education. Always, the healthy family recognizes and encourages, in gradual and appropriate ways, the movement of the children towards adulthood and emancipation.

However, if the family system is dysfunctional and one or more of its members is not able to tolerate change and emancipation trouble can loom either ahead or all along the way. Partly, this is due to the fact that change and growth are viewed as threats that must be stopped. Change, in many circumstances, is resisted because it provokes enormous anxiety. Sometimes, in the case of the dysfunctional family, threat is dealt with through "triangulation."

Triangulation means that a third person either within the family or someone from outside, is brought in and selected as a way to protect the integrity of the family by ending any perceived threat to the system. Part of the way triangulation works is that it occurs without any direct verbal communication between the threatened member or members and the individual viewed as posing the threat.

This is what happened in the case sited above in the E. Mail.

Explanation of the case example:

The young woman complains that her fiance's mother spread lies about her and her family after he asserted himself with his mother, presumably in protecting his girlfriend and soon to be wife. Obviously, the young man's mother objected to the wedding. Her objections were so strong that she called for an extended family meeting with the purpose of stopping the marriage from moving ahead. Tis family meeting, referred to as "an intervention" was successful in causing the young man to decide that he "could not stand up to his family," and the engagement was terminated. How could this happen?

Discussion of the case:

For some unknown reason, the mother viewed her son's wedding engagement as a threat. There is a lot we do not know about the family or this mother, making it more difficult to reach solid conclusions but it is possible to make some educated guesses.

Educated guess One:

This mother clearly viewed her son's engagement and impending marriage as a threat to her authority and to the integrity of the family. Recall from the E. Mail that this mother demanded that the wedding be postponed for two years. In addition, this mother decided when and where the wedding would take place which she communicated to this young woman. In addition, she viewed the threat as so powerful that she and her family behaved in ways that were quite rude to this young woman's family at a funeral. I think you will agree that this type of behavior is harsh. It is also extremely meddling.

Educated guess Two:

For a son to cave in to the demands of his mother and extended family in this day and age indicates that there is something not right going on with this young man. Why? Now more than ever, it is possible for young people to make decisions whether their families like it or not. As a result, the son's decision to "not stand up to his family" indicates that, emotionally, he seems to not have achieved real emancipation from a psychological point of view. Gaining a real sense of individuation and autonomy means, among many other things, that an individual feels self confident and strong in knowing who they are, what they want, what they want to do and knowing or considering the possible consequences of what they do.

It seems that this young woman was "triangulated" or selected as a threat, possibly, to the authority of this mother over her son. It is speculative but within believability to guess that mother and son has a strong dyadic alliance within the family for a long time. I think it interesting that the young female writer says nothing about her boyfriend's father. We cannot know why and the E. Mail is very brief.

In effect, the mother succeeded in terminating the engagement between her son and the young woman. Thereby, she protected her relationship with her son, kept him within the family and prevented, at least for now, his continued growth and development. She did this by portraying the young woman and her family as damaged or dangerous in certain ways and by enlisting the support of the entire extended family against the marriage. Prior to this set of unfortunate circumstances, it is possible to speculate that she succeeded in keeping her son dependent and somewhat "undifferentiated or unindividuated from both herself and the family. Given his lack of psychological separateness, he could not rebel and marry the woman of his choice.

If I am correct about this explanation it is better, in the long run, for this young woman to have stopped the engagement. The reason is that this young man might never find it within his psychological means to separate from his mother. Add to that, if he is able to summon psychological energy to marry this young woman, he might never have the will to keep his mother from meddling in their marriage with the result that the hypothetical marriage could end up in divorce. At least, that is the way I see it based on the little we know.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD
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« Reply #38 on: January 04, 2010, 11:27:32 AM »

Well there is definately the trianglulation pattern going on in my family.  I see my father and mother switch roles, but usually my father will be the fixer and my mother is the one telling everyone what to do.  When I stand up for myself Im then the bad person, when she is mad at my dad he is then the bad person and Im supposed to sympathize with her.  So the question is still how to avoid the triangulation, the only way I have found is not to play the game, to take myself out, but then that still pursues the triangulation because then she just spouts bad things about me and tries to get my dad to think Im the worst adult child ever. 

There is very little honest communication in my family, unless you relentlessly pursue the with rightouseness the honest truth of the situation, wich is still part of the triangle, so I don't see how to avoid being in the triangle.
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« Reply #39 on: January 04, 2010, 12:48:33 PM »

Quote
The distancer-pursuer, for example, is a pattern where one person distances from the other, especially in times of stress, causing the other to pursue relentlessly. Or there is the overfunctioner-underfunctioner relationship, where one person takes on the lion's share of the responsibility, so the other does not have to be bothered.

I have been on both ends of both of these dynamics in 'romantic' relationships.  I guess because I came from such a dysfunctional family dynamic (which included both of these and lots of triangulation), I experimented with about as many other unhealthy dynamics as there were.  I wanted so much to have a good and close relationship, I tried everything I could try.  However, since I could not be truly intimate in truly being emotionally honest with my gfs, I was not able to reach a healthy balance.  Now I feel I have a much better shot at it.  

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"Power isn't a means, it's an end. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power."  ~ George Orwell
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