There is a concept in psychology called the Drama Triangle, or the Karpman Triangle. It’s about relationships. Really, it’s about ineffective relationships. There is a persecutor, a rescuer, and a victim. If you look at an inverted triangle the victim is at the bottom. The persecutor and rescuer share the top looking down on the victim.
The goal really is to become adults self-responsible and insightful enough to never be a part of the triangle. Having been a part of one of these triangles with my mother for a very long time, I can tell you that it takes A LOT to step outside the triangle.
My oldest children’s biological mother lives in one of these drama triangles with the three of them. It’s incredibly sad and frustrating to witness. I’ve learned the best thing I can do is continue to help them learn ways to cope. Continue to teach them to take responsibility for their own actions. And continue to do all of this by letting them know I have their backs always. I can help them step outside the triangle.
A day at the Farm
Their Mothers Drama Triangle
Their mother assumes all roles depending on the situation, on what suits her. The only thing that’s constant is that she’s never outside the triangle.
She is, however, most often the victim. Expecting her children to save her. She is threatened by them. Their strength and their contagious spirits. They’re making a life for themselves and she’s terrified she won’t be in it. She plays a victim by guilting them about this and they rescue her.
From the victim, she switches to persecutor. They don’t quite yet know how to be fully guilted into things. They sometimes miss the mark when she’s playing the victim. When they stop rescuing her and move back to being kids, she gets pissed. For a short time while she’s victim she feels satisfied. When they move on, her insecurity takes over and berates them attempting to gain control by making them the victim.
The rescuer is the role that’s hardest to watch. When they try to show her what they want. What they need. Who they are. If it doesn’t align with her wants, as it so often hasn’t lately, she feigns nice mommy. Feigns interest in who they are, only to quickly redirect them towards the things she can buy them. Telling them that they should be kids by doing less and wanting more things.
After this. The cycle begins again.
The Formation of the Triangle
As I’ve mentioned before my husband has full physical custody of our three oldest children as well as legal custody.
The deal was he got physical custody and she wouldn’t haven’t to pay child support.
When my husband got served custody papers the first time, 3 years ago. I will never forget the look on his face. It was as though he knew this was coming. And it was his worst fear. I remember thinking two things.
- You signed them over, why now?
- If you can’t pay child support then how can you afford a full-on custody battle?
As it turns out none of that really mattered. After a year of lawyers and court and tears, nothing changed at all. Literally nothing. And that was that.
After that, my husband and I were soon married and settled into our marriage. The two of us became better capable of working with the kid’s biological mother. We tried to see through all the junk and look at what perhaps she was really trying to say in the custody battle.
This is when our routine came in. Our basic communication style was worked out. We were able to be a functional family unit. And we tried to the best of our abilities to positively impact the kid’s relationship with their biological mother.
As they started getting older however they started to change from the babies she once knew. They became involved with the school, sports, and friends here. Her house became foreign, uncomfortable. They started to speak up more about not wanting to miss their activities to go visit her.
Trying to Work with the Triangle
Last April we actually paid to fly their mother up here so she could see a soccer game [that got canceled due to rain]. I really thought this was a turning point. We were happy because it made our daughter happy. I picked the kid’s mother up at the airport. I let her in our home, something I had not allowed to date. She even came to swim class with us, as a family. We let her borrow our second car. And off they went for a few days to adventure. I brought her back to the airport and all was good.
Feeling as though things were going well we decided to reach out to her to try to work out some changes to accommodate sports. We were ridiculously open and came at it from the perspective of “what is best for the kids?” Our intentions were good.
This was met with a no. That was that. It was frustrating and disappointing, but we figured we’d try again as needed. We moved on, business as usual.
Back to Court
Fast forward two months to when our lives changed because of a comment my husband made on Facebook. Our lives were crumbling around us and we got served by her, again.
There we were. From this place where I am sending her birthday presents and Mother’s Day presents, paying for her plane tickets, picking her up at the airport, letting her use my car. To scrapping together more money to defend ourselves in court against things that weren’t true.
Because she perpetually lives inside the triangle, our attempt at working with her was perceived as an attack. Instead of seeing it for what it was, trying to accommodate her growing children’s wants, she was threatened.
At the Beach – Photo by Carlye Pina
Don’t Mess with my Kids
Something my kids’ biological mother has failed to recognize is that they’re growing up. And as they’re growing up they are developing their own minds, thinking for themselves and discovering the things that make them happy. They love it when she visits. But they love their sports, their friends, their school because all of these things are forming their identity and they’re proud of that. They’re kids.
My two oldest have recently started to express this to her more and more. Their expressions and requests to spend more time home were also met with the same resounding no.
The last time she visited my two oldest came in the house, after saying goodbye, bawling because they felt so guilty. She again berated them for expressing what they feel and want. I think in years to come I’ll look back at this moment as the catalyst. She had been losing them because of her refusal to know them, but this was the moment she lost them. She hurt them.
Trying to Break Free
After all this, I still tried to work with her. I took it as an opportunity to try to figure out where we went wrong, how we could remedy it. She and my husband met. It did nothing, she still proceeded with the courts.
The judge, by some grace of God, decided to listen to the kids. She granted the kids every other Christmas at home [something they asked for when interviewed by a court-appointed social worker]. Something we never asked for ourselves. The judge also indicated that in another year she would be open to revisiting this to accommodate the kids’ wants and needs further. And to their biological mother, the judge instructed her to stop wasting her time.
The Consequences of the Triangle
I will not celebrate the fact that another mother doesn’t have her kids. It’s sad, but not for the reasons one might think looking in from the outside. It’s sad because for as long as I’ve known their mother she has been caught in that drama triangle.
She moves from victim to persecutor to rescuer and back again. This suits her, it seems. Because in the absence of selflessness. Or self-awareness. This is easier. Less painful. Less scary. By living in this perpetual triangle, she can maintain control over her children.
But here is the thing about control, manipulation. It’s fleeting. Because kids grow up. They get smarter. They adapt. If left alone in this triangle with their mother I think it’d be near impossible for them to break out. With me, and my husband, I think they’re already out.
Breaking out of the Triangle
There will be moments throughout their lifetimes where their mother will suck them back in. They love their mother, they always will. Of course, they’ll get sucked back in from time to time because she is their mother. But the longer she lives in this triangle the further away they’ll get.
If she could step out. Not look back. And instead, look forward. Everything would change. She’d be free of her insecurities and hold her children’s feelings in the highest regard. She could be so powerful in the best kind of way. She could build them up. They could have three positive loving forces in their life.
It saddens me to think this may never be. My heart breaks to think of myself doing this to my baby or my oldest kids. It breaks my heart to know that forever my kids will have to figure out ways to deal with this.
The Upside of the Triangle
The thing is though, this time they’ve spent in that triangle will define them. And that’s okay. Because their support system outside this triangle is the best kind. It’s open and forgiving and inspiring. Most importantly they are learning from this triangle, even if they can’t see it yet, how to be self-responsible and insightful humans. And I will make sure that they always know with absolute certainty that I relentlessly have their backs.
Have you ever been in a drama triangle? Have you broken free? It’s scary. You’ve got to roll up your selves and get to work. After all, it seems the thing to remember is that no matter the work it takes, no matter how terrifying it is, self-responsibility is, in fact, the most freeing thing you can practice.