Teenagers have a special gift.  They know just what to say to get parents on opposing sides of an issue.  Let’s pretend your teenaged daughter wants to wear an outfit that her friend loaned her.  You being the dad really haven’t paid much attention to what she was preparing to wear tonight.  She gets ready to leave, and you are involved in something.  Maybe you’re cleaning the kitchen or washing your wife’s car or something.  You know you’re always doing productive things for the family right? 

So out comes your daughter and she says, “Bye dad.”  You look up and notice that you don’t recognize those shorts that she’s wearing, and she’s just about to get past you.  You think to yourself, “Man, those shorts don’t look okay.”  What do you do?  Thoughts speed through your mind like a flash of lightning.

What happened to my little girl?
What would my lovely wife say about those shorts?
My wife would look really good in those shorts.
I wonder what my wife is wearing right now…
Is that a scratch on the car?
I need to finish washing this car so I can go fishing.
What time did my wife say she would be home tonight?
Where are my keys?

You stop.  Does your daughter have your keys?  No, the important thing to stay focused on right now is that your daughter is about to get away, wearing the most inappropriate shorts, and who’s going to get in trouble for it when your wife gets home?  You’re daughter?  No.  You are!  Why?  You’re going to get in trouble because you know teenaged boys better than your daughter does.  More specifically, your daughter is testing your boundaries, and she is attempting to take advantage of a psychology term called, “Splitting.”  This is when your daughter attempts to elevate one parent while demoting the other parent.  You are demoted by her attempt to avoid you.  Your wife is elevated in this example, but your daughter avoids her, because she knows she wouldn’t be allowed to wear those clothes if mom was there. 

Your daughter knows your wife is not home.  She knows that you are a softy.  She is attempting to split you from your wife.  She knows that she can take advantage of the fact that her mother is not here to help reinforce the rules about her dress code.  She assumes that since you are not able to communicate with your wife at this very moment, she will have the advantage of plausible deniability about her choices.  She knows the rules regarding her clothes, but she can just say she didn’t know.  Since you saw her in her clothes, and you let her out of the house it must be your responsibility.  News flash!  It is your responsibility.  You have just as much responsibility to point her towards her behaviors as her mother does.  You also have the added responsibility to remind your daughter that you and your wife are on the same page about everything.  (Even if you're not on the same page about everything.)

You also have the fatherly task of assuring that your daughter understands the role of safety in the outside world.  She needs to know that it relates to what she is wearing too.  It may be fine for someone else’s family to put their daughter out there as an advertisement for a men’s magazine, but your daughter is a teenager.  She does not need a man for a few more years.  She needs to understand this concept in a manner that communicates that she has value as a young woman.  The best way for you to do this is to communicate how much you value her and your own wife.

This is where you tell your daughter that you and your wife have already discussed the acceptable way to dress with your daughter.  You can remind her that she has already agreed that she will not wear those shorts since they violate the rules for clothes.  Tell her that your love for her and her mother is what motivates you to tell her to go back inside and change clothes before she leaves.  Tell her that she can go out with her friends when she demonstrates that she is going to make better choices with her clothes.  Do something, but don’t let her split you from your wife by letting her leave.  You set the expectation that she can attempt to come between you and your wife in the future if you just let her go.  If she continues this pattern, she may believe that it’s okay to try to continue coming between mom and dad.

 Your respect for your wife will speak more to your daughter’s heart than the clothes that she got from her friend.  She will see your respect for her mother as a genuine thing to internalize and learn from (bring in to her heart).  She will also remember that her friend who gave her the clothes has the opposite issue.  Her friend’s clothes speak against safety, structure and genuine love.  She knows that those clothes were her friend’s way to get attention.  She’ll probably remember how her friend cried several times about being manipulated by guys…and not understanding why.  Over time, your daughter will grow to realize the difference between selfless love, and self-centered love.  She will understand the love of Jesus by you pointing her to the rules and safety that you set up as a family. 

The Scripts: Bully

The Scripts:  Bully or Persecutor

So have you ever found yourself feeling like a friend or a loved one was setting you up? 

Ever felt like you were going to get in trouble no matter what kind of response you gave?

Have you ever heard this line, “Does this dress make me look fat?”

If you say yes, you’re in serious trouble! 
What if you say no?  Maybe you’re being truthful…but maybe you’re being set up for a conflict.  The “non-fat” friend of yours could reply back with something like…well are you saying the other dress makes me look fat?
It’s a no-win for you isn’t it?

How about this one:   “It’s your fault I over drew the checking account! You said I could buy what I want.”

The language that we use is based on our personality.  These are examples of people using the Bully script.  It is also called the persecutor or the perpetrator.  This is one of the three scripts in the Drama Triangle or the Victim Triangle.  The Drama Triangle was a concept put forward by Dr. Stephen Carpman.   He viewed personality conflict through a triangle with three different scripts.  Each script puts the responsibility for behavior on the other person in the relationship.  Not on the one doing the talking. 

I remember being in the group home where I worked for two years as a therapist.  I would constantly watch kids attempting to get out of trouble by blaming other kids or staff members for the unjust treatment that they thought they were about to get.  It usually came about because of something they had done wrong, but they were frantically working on a story that put the responsibility for their behaviors on someone else.  Usually they tried to come up with something they remembered from earlier in the day.  They would try to spin the story so that they were the victim in the situation. The thing that struck me was that fifteen minutes later they would be staring down some other poor kid, and threatening unspeakable things they were going to do to them.  Where did that poor victim go?  It had only been fifteen minutes and they were threatening to beat up on another kid.  They hadn’t learned anything from the consequence that was used or attempts to make them feel like less of a victim.  (Assuming they were convincing enough to the staff member involved with them.)

I was introduced to the Victim Triangle through these episodes.  I used this concept in treatment every day…all day.  Here’s what I would do.

A teenaged child would approach me, usually screaming about what they were going to do to so and so, if they didn’t start getting some respect.   Usually there would be some other poor teenager backed into a corner.  I would ask them, “I didn’t know you were such a perpetrator (Or bully)…Is that what you are telling me you want me to believe, or is there something else you are trying to tell me?  Usually that was enough of a warning about the child’s behavior to get them to stop for a minute from their tirade.  Usually the other kid (or staff member) was even more intrigued, because few people actually talk in this type of language in their daily life.  Think about it.  I’m not saying they are a perpetrator, or a bully.  They approached me and said they were about to do something painful and bullying to someone else.  Their own language already shows their intended choice through a threat of bodily harm to someone else.  I’m just taking them seriously…but I had already spent time with the same child as they were using the victim script.  I had empathized with them when they believed they were the victim.  I didn’t necessarily enable that belief.  I empathized with them. 

Sometimes I reality checked with them about twisted thinking in the victim script too.  But I empathized with them when they were the victim.  I validated their healthy choices, and offered alternative ways to think for future situations.   The other child always safely got out of the corner.  The Bully was also able to save face, because I was actually calling them a bully, which was what they wanted their victim to perceive.  But they made the choice to step away from the bully role in the episode.  It also showed the actual potential victim in the situation how to use de-escalating language in the moment.

By taking the threatening behavior seriously and telling them what it is, I give them the opportunity to be responsible for choosing which role they want to occupy.  They can’t be all three things (Bully, Victim, Rescuer) in the matter of an hour.  They know it’s not consistent.  Over the course of the relationship with the children, I would spend time empathizing with them, regardless of what script they used.  They always needed empathy, because they were working on changing aspects of how they cope with others.  I was challenging how they view the world, and how they believed others perceived them. 

The most important part for me as a therapist was that the children learned that I would be consistent and available.  I would not reject them based on the script that they were using at the time.  For a bully to learn that someone close can call them out on their behavior, and still stick with them, is the part that helps them grow.

The Scripts

Once you have set up the ten rules in your home you will probably face some setbacks and frustrations.  Hopefully you will begin to see some positive results from having a “home base” to parent from.  The more you use them, the more you will notice that your language will start to follow a pattern.  You may find yourself repeating things.   You will develop what is termed a “script.”  We will call it a script from here on out. 

As you notice yourself practicing the rules, you may realize that your script is less about you or your child.  It’s actually about the behavior you are trying to correct.  For example, I might say to my little one, “Do we throw our toys?”  She would say no. 
“What do we do with our toys?” I would ask her.
“We play nicely with our toys.”  She would respond.
We’ve practiced this, so she knows she has misbehaved.  I’m just giving her the opportunity to be responsible for her behavior and to correct it through her own choice.

If she continues to throw her toy we would send her to time out and talk about the behavior again.  But the benefit here is that we did not resort to what would have been my early script without the rules.  It would go something like this.

I see her throwing her toys.
“What are you doing?” 
No response.
“Elizabeth!”   If you don’t stop that right now, you’re going to get a spanking.
No response.
Elizabeth, if you don’t stop doing that right now, daddy’s going to get mad.
She still continues.
Elizabeth don’t make daddy come over there.

Elizabeth continues…etc etc.  Until I follow through and spank her or change to a consequence I am willing to follow through with.
Notice my consequences kept getting less severe.  I’m already changing my strategy from cause/effect to trying to appeal to her.  I’ve told her she won, and I just want her to change her mind so she can preserve the relationship.  I’ve given her the responsibility of parenting because I didn’t do what I said I would do the first time. 

I never told her what she needed to stop doing.  I didn’t follow through with my pledge to spank her until at least the third or fourth warning.  This encourages her to continue to test the limit.

The script is habitual dialogue that I draw upon from the past with my child. Sometimes we take what we hear from our parents and make it snowball in the lives of our children. 

The victim triangle, or the drama triangle:
This is an approach to understanding personality dialogue and what’s called the externalization process.  It is credited to Dr. Steven Karpman MD.  He first devised this model in the 1960’s.  He came up with a dramatic script visual called the “victim triangle,” or the “drama triangle.”  This is a very helpful tool to understand the way people try to avoid responsibility in their daily interactions.

We are not constant victims of the world.  We choose what we do and how we feel.
“You always…”   (Always is an absolute term.  People are not absolute beings.)
“You never…”  (Never is an absolute term.)
“Don’t make me do…”  (People can’t really make you do things unless they violate your boundaries, such as a hostage situation).
“You make me feel…” (People can’t make you feel anything unless they are physically harming you). 

This is an example of the “victim” script.  The example is how our dialogue attempts to make us the victims of the people we are talking with. 

“Don’t make me spank you” would be an example of a parent making himself the victim of a noncompliant child.  The parent is implying that he is the victim of the child’s spanking.  It makes the consequence the problem and not the behavior. This diminishes the cause/effect relationship to the child’s choice to misbehave.  It also encourages a later attachment issue between the two.  We will discuss these issues in more detail later.

We will discuss the three main scripts and put them in a visual format.
The best way to avoid script language is to focus on the problem, not attacking the person.  In our pre-marital counseling, our pastor gave us a communication covenant.  One of the best lines in that document was that we would agree to never verbally attack our spouse.  We would always discuss the problem as being the problem and not the person as being the problem.  This is one of the most important points in counseling all relationship issues.  We will continue with the victim triangle and the concept of scripts in our next few blog articles.