Sunday, August 23, 2009

Recipe from the Flipside

There's a dynamic in the threefold (aka trio, triune, triplicate) that is largely positive, and altogether powerful. We've read about it is the scriptures.
"... a threefold cord is not quickly broken."
Ecclesiastes 4:12
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.



Andrea said...

Thank you for sharing this recipe for dysfunctional relationships. I needed to hear and be reminded of sins traps in this area, today.

Would you please visit my friend at: and read the post titled, My Child. Please add them to your prayer list. This is an urgent request and this friends daughter needs healing and divine guidance.

Blessings and prayers, andrea

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

Wow! What an incredible post! So powerful! You are so right on! AMEN!

Having been a counselor and the director of a center for homeless women and children, I can affirm all that you wrote! You said it so well!

a portland granny said...

What a great post to get us to look at ourselves!! Well, I did...and I am an enabler in one situation, the controller in another, and the victim in yet a third!! Think there is any hope for me???

This is excellent food for thought and knowing some of your life's experiences makes it more meaningful!

Thanks for taking the time to share this wisdom with us!! Great post!

Pat's Place said...

A great reminder to me today as I had just read a "poor me" e-mail from a friend who wanted to use one of my writing groups to air her gripes and gritches. I was wondering what I should say to her and your words gave me just the idea I need to "redirect" her to some serious counseling instead of burdening our writing group with her problems.

Beth E. said...

My goodness, should write a book! Another great post...and guess what? I didn't even have to pull out my trusty dictionary this time! :-)

christy rose said...

Wow! That was so informative and enlightening! The power of three! You have really shown a huge revelation on here today. Thanks Sassy!

Technonana said...

Hope it's okay to put you in Print... Keeping this one for further reference!!
Powerful Post My Friend!!

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

Going to chew on this one tonight; alas, the cookies are gone and therefore, my mouth is available!

I want to draw this out and ponder, especially as it pertains to my relationships with my older sons right now. It's been a tough adjustment for my 2nd son and me ... this time of transitioning to college life and trying to grow up way too fast. I would appreciate your prayers along these lines and for some much needed wisdom as I endeavor to hold on when appropriate and let go as necessary.

Love you, sassy friend.


LisaShaw said...

This is very powerfully said Kathleen. I would like to share this link on FB and keep it close to me to tear my teeth further into.

I love you. Keep writing.