Image by Brian Sutter
Do you know those arguments where you feel you have been there before? Where you feel that you can predict what is going to be said next? As if the people were following a script?
At times like this we have often slipped into a role. One of the simplest ways of looking at these roles comes from analysing stage drama. In this analysis (and there are many others) there are three basic roles: persecutor, victim and rescuer. The dramatic element is the switching around of these roles.
Here’s an example to explain what I mean. Imagine a Western. The hero (rescuer) rides in to save the fair damsel (victim) from her evil uncle (persecutor) plotting to take her farm from her. Imagine the scene where the evil uncle (now victim) is held at gunpoint by the hero (now persecutor) and the fair damsel (now rescuer) pleads for her uncle’s life. The hero is distracted by the fair damsel allowing the evil uncle (now persecutor) to gain possession of the gun and hold at gunpoint both the hero and fair damsel (now both victim). At this point for there to be more drama a rescuer needs to be introduced (cue the cavalry).
These roles can be found in pretty much any dramatic work, a detective story, a comedy, science fiction or romance, the list is virtually endless.
Often in those moments where we feel that know what is going to happen next we have slipped into these kinds of roles. The challenge is to step outside of the role and this will be the topic of my next post.
This way of analysing relationships was developed by Stephen Karpman in the early days of Transactional Analysis. The best introduction to Transactional Analysis (and the best self-therapy book I know) is Born To Win by James and Jongeward. It includes a chapter on games.
To reflect on:
- Choose a situation that you don’t like and you feel like “I’ve been here before” or “I know what is going to be said next”.
- Look for the switch.
- Ask yourself who is playing what role.
- Ask yourself what is it that I get from playing this role. (It may confirm ideas you have about yourself and others).