A (sad) Merry-go-Round
Sometimes, in a relationship, one partner may initiate transactions as a “Victim” and the other may operate as a “Rescuer”. However, if either one becomes frustrated, because transactions are not going according to expectations, he or she may switch ego state and suddenly become a “Persecutor” of the other, after which they may both end up as victims. The words Victim, Rescuer and Persecutor were first used by Karpman (l968) in describing such changes under the name “drama triangle” by analogy to changes of roles in Greek tragedies. The way out of this pattern is with the help of the Adult, preferably that of both participants, and perhaps with the help of the therapist’s Adult to analyze both the “parallel” transactions that seemed to go well and the reasons for the shifts that led to crossed transactions. An inexperienced therapist who does not recognize what is going on between the two parties may herself end up as a victim by rashly entering the fray as the unwary Rescuer of one or another of the parties.
Survival conclusions Human babies and young children lack the kinds of life-saving instincts that keep other animals from recklessly endangering themselves. Toddlers may cheerfully crawl off a balcony or into a swimming pool or a fire unless they are conditioned to appropriate caution by means of messages given with positive or negative strokes (“Darling, watch out!” or “Don’t let me catch you going there!” ) Such cautions get integrated into the Child’s implicit memory as “survival conclusions”. Later they influence behavior just the way self-protective instincts influence other animals. For instance we would recoil seemingly automatically if someone seemed likely to push us out of a window, although such a reaction was developed during childhood without our consciously remembering exactly when and how we learned it.
Unfortunately, many survival conclusions that may have been useful in the context of a person’s childhood family no longer serve the grown individual and may be downright harmful. We call them “archaic” survival conclusions, to distinguish them from the ones that continue to be useful. For example, when John’s boss came into his office slamming the door, John felt an almost irresistible impulse to hide under his desk. After he identified the archaic origin of this impulse – learning as a child to hide when his violent father slammed the door on coming home drunk – John as able to use his Adult to maintain his composure after a door slammed, even though he sometimes still felt a little twinge of fear when his boss slammed the door. Archaic survival conclusions can also be set when someone is shamed in childhood. Children are particularly vulnerable to shame during the 2 – 4 year age period, and some people carry some unnecessary tendencies to be ashamed about perfectly normal wishes or behaviors, for instance in the sexual arena. In many instances, the unwanted symptoms, phobias, anxieties, inhibitions or behavior patterns about which people may come into treatment are related to a variety of archaic survival conclusions carried by their Child, sometimes reinforced and/or contradicted by subsequent remembered instructions integrated into their Parent.
To identify particular archaic survival conclusions that may generate unwanted problems, I seek information from the client to visualize one or another early situations that may have generated such a conclusion during the client’s childhood. We might proceed by trial and error, or transactions among the participants of a treatment group or even an erroneous hypothesis will stimulate a long-lost memory, either of the events that caused a harmful archaic conclusion, or of family anecdotes that described what happened. If we are quite clueless, I might use the ”hot-seat” technique developed by Fritz Perls ( l969). This involves asking the client to temporarily let go of his Adult and to dialogue with an empty chair representing various authority persons from childhood that are now still powerfully integrated into his Parent and/or Child, or are projected onto others. I use the hot-seat technique only occasionally, however, because even though the results can be immediate and quite startling, they are often not maintained sufficiently after the client leaves treatment due to the fact that the client’s Adult is not involved in the process. However, with a temporary sub-contract, the Hot Seat technique can be useful to identify lost memories of painful childhood experiences or to work with significant repetitive dreams. Data obtained in this manner can also help the client later to modify harmful archaic conclusions.