We also learn from scripture and elsewhere that the number three stands for that which is solid, real, substantial, complete, and entire.
God's own attributes are three: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.
Three great divisions separate/complete time - past, present, and future.
Thought, word, and deed complete the sum of human capability.
Three aspects of mortal existence speak of the body, mind and spirit.
Three degrees of comparison complete our knowledge of qualities.
Three kingdoms embrace our ideas of matter - mineral, vegetable, and animal.
Three elements accentuate nature's power - earth, wind and fire.
But it's not these positive, specially-complete realms I'm thinking of today. It's the deadly domain of their dysfunctional counterpart that has me muling over the danger that lurks near the surface of the well-intended.
Why? Because it came up in a discussion this week, and again I had to search my own heart to see if I'd fallen prey to an enemy I know only too well.
It's been my pleasure and privilege to be on the receiving end of much counsel over the course of my life. Most of it came in my late 20s, mid-30s and early 40s, derived from both the professional and pastoral communities. There's much wisdom, as we know, to be gained in the multitude of counsel (Proverbs 11:14) - - judiciously-selected counsel, I might add.
I learned a good deal during those times of wisdom-gathering, some (if not most) of which profits me still ... and often.
The one thing that has served me very well and saved me untold grief is the formula - the recipe - for avoiding dysfunctional relationships. It's a recipe I keep close at hand when the dynamics of family, or church, or friendships, or work get to feeling a bit complicated.
Guess what? Every dysfunctional relationship is a threefold cord!
In them, there are always three key players.
- Victim - the sick (i.e., addicted, lost, obsessed) one; often in denial and, in their view (and the view of their enablers), quite misunderstood
- Persecutor - the self-righteous judge who's gonna control it all with sheer force of will (and sometimes cruelty)
- Enabler - the rescuer that is often quite effective in helping the poor victim remain a victim, though they'd be quick to tell you they're just trying to help
By the way ... these three roles can shape-shift at any time. Sometimes the Victim rises up to become the Persecutor, or the Enabler gets caught as the Victim. Sometimes the roles are even played out by groups that represent one or the other.
I was advised to envision the dysfunctional dynamic as a triangle. Each point on the triangle then representing the referenced roles that sustain the dysfunction. In so doing, the concept goes from the nebulous to the concrete. They might look something like these ...
The Victim might report: I was minding my own business, doing absolutely nothing that warranted it (not THEN anyway) when he/she/it/they did thus and so. How could they? Oh my, what am I to do??? ... Usually followed by a hang-dog, dejected tone of voice or countenance.
The Persecutor might respond: You had it coming, if only you'd done this or that, or what I TOLD you to do then ... Noted with a particular air of arrogance or additional berating, followed by many additional beratings (or beatings emotional; even physical).
The Enabler might swoop down: Oh dear, that's awful. You poor thing. I'll be glad to fix that for you. They will then go about defending or protecting the victim.
All three vehemently cling to their denials, and sometimes agree (covertly) to switch roles.
Merriam gives us some additional insight, telling us that dysfunction means impaired or abnormal functioning or, specifically, abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group (connoting three or more).
The bottom line, then, is to avoid dysfunction's triangle. Any time I feel myself slipping into any of the three roles I have this discussion with myself: Are you on that triangle again, Kathleen? If so, you'd best retreat and leave the other two to rise or fall on their own.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
The alternate to dysfunctional living is stark. It doesn't mean that I cannot have or express feelings and opinions; nor does it mean that I have to suffer, alone, in silence. It doesn't mean I cannot confront (carefully, and with wisdom) something's that's downright wrong or hurtful.
To be living in the fully functional is to have a healthy freedom of spirit that allows (permits) God to be God, an honest squaring with the fact that life is not fair (it just isn't), and with the true certainty that I am not in control (never was; never will be).
In fact, it's the functional within us that desires the wisdom of counsel, beginning with the counsel of God and extending to the multitude of counselors warranted in any given situation - - from pastors, doctors, counselors, teachers, attorneys, godly friends.
To live in the functional is to be part of the solution. To live in the dysfunctional is to be part of the problem.
Footnote: I'm certainly not from among the professional counseling community. I share here only what was (and continues to be) a great help to me. In no way do I mean to denigrate or discount truly tough situations. They are built into the equation of life. Having them isn't dysfunctional, nor is talking about them, or having feelings about them. It's what we DO (or how we react/respond) from there that could lead down the slippery slope of playing roles; roles that ultimately end up hurting (and binding) all concerned.