The Scripts: Savior or Rescuer
Remember the kid in school who always went and told on your classmates? Did you notice that it was usually the same kid who was picking on other kids who went to “tattle” on the teacher’s pet? We call him the “ Savior” or the “Rescuer” in the drama triangle. Can’t you just remember him waiting around for you to accidentally drop your pencil? He would blurt out in class that you were “Out of your seat without permission.” He just wanted to help the teacher do her job, right?
How did the teacher react?
Did she see through his clever plan? Did she remember that he was the actual bully? Why did he seem to think that the adult teacher needed that extra bit of help to find out what you were doing? Why did he feel the need to portray you as a hooligan anyways? You weren’t doing anything really bad. You were just trying to get your pencil right? This is the third part of the “Drama Triangle, or Victim Triangle,” that we have been discussing in other articles. Dr. Steven Carpman conceptualized the drama triangle in the 1960’s. This is a great way to see what motivates people.
People tend to start using these scripts because they do not really want to learn a lesson. They are stuck in the process of learning to be responsible for their actions. Their family and friends may actually expect them to grow up and stop doing bad things in the future, so they blame others for their own behaviors. This lets them live in an ongoing habit of finding some fault in the people around them as the reason for their behaviors. The three points on the triangle are labeled Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer. Before I found out that it was Dr. Carpman’s theory, I called them Bully, Victim and Savior. The savior role is the most entertaining to me.
I remember kids in my past job that always wanted to “help” their caregivers by pointing out the behaviors of other kids. They would then justify their “right” to act up, because of the things the other kids had done. It was a constant “bait and switch” scheme. I learned to help kids with the drama triangle by telling them that they were safe to learn a lesson. I told them that if they accepted responsibility for their actions, they would be adding something to the inside of their personality. This would make their personality grow, and heal from things that are hurting right now. I told them that the next time something like this happens they will be more grown up. I told them it would be a little bit easier to handle the stress next time, and it would not hurt as much.
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.
So for the last week I’ve been trying to narrow my focus for the “Ten Rules For Your Home” material. I received a few questions from people asking how to get started in coming up with rules. The main concerns were, “How do you keep the leadership role of the father in the home when the teenager is coming up with the rules?” Another question was, “Why do you do time out when it does not seem like it is working?”
These are great questions. When I enter the picture as a counselor, things have usually gotten to the point where the family needs immediate help. They can’t wait three months to see improved behaviors in their child. Usually the school is giving ultimatums to the family about their child’s behavior too. A comforting word from an overly optimistic counselor will not get the school to stop sending home letters about their kid’s bad behavior. There needs to be some sort of plan to get everyone in the child’s life on the same page. This is why I needed something adaptable to the most difficult family situations. Families with less intense issues can always scale back the plan if it is too much.
Working with teenagers can be very frustrating at times. Having the ability to manipulate concepts is a new skill for them. They are sometimes overwhelmed by the new information that they are now capable of understanding, but they do not have all the right places in their mind to store the information from new processing abilities.
I came up with the “Ten Rules” after my two years as a counselor in a Specialized Therapeutic Group Home. I was responsible for the counseling of foster children who needed an extremely high level of supervision. We had a 24-hour staff that was accountable to where the children were at all times. These workers all had differing opinions of how things should be run, but we couldn’t do it a different way for each staff member. Additionally, I learned that the kids would have been very happy for us to try to run the group home eighteen different ways. They could exploit that. That is why we emphasized the concept of “splitting” or divisions. By having a common plan, we were able to keep the children from using the different “parenting” styles of the workers against each other. Sometimes the kids understood it better than the grown ups though.
So when I left the group home I began working with children in an outpatient type setting. They had at least one parent. I realized that these children also had stability issues that I could address by simplifying the structure of the group home. I wanted to also make it a Biblical model, because I am confident in the Bible’s relevance for everyone. I noticed that many of the parents were mad because their kids were “disrespectful.” I asked them to tell me how they will know their kids are being respectful. They would say something like, “He’ll say yes ma’am or no ma’am. He won’t use profanity anymore, or he won’t get into fights at school.”I would ask those same parents to write those down as rules, and about half the time, they would not write down those rules. Since I had so many kids, and about half of the parents would not work on coming up with rules, I began working on the rules myself with the kids. I would send the kids home with the rules, and many of them would get really excited about their counseling! In turn, their behaviors at home would improve. Imagine how a teenager feels when they are getting into trouble, and they begin to take responsibility for their actions. It is so disappointing when they get home and their parent is not involved in the counseling that they demanded the child receive. The only time I had a hard time with this design was when parents just did not think it was necessary to be involved in participating in the therapy. They would say things like, “Can’t you just get her to do what I say?” Unfortunately, those were the cases where I was least effective in helping the families. The “Ten Rules” is a model designed to help the parents and the child communicate about expectations. This behavior management template also allows the counselor to work on the deeper issues once the clear expectations are set at home. Many times it even improved marriage conflict, because it gives the parents an opportunity to parent from the same set of expectations. In time the “Ten Rules” get replaced with the language that the parents learn to use in the moment. In essence, it teaches the parents how to step outside of the issues they inherited from their own development, and to parent from a Biblical model, instead of an inherited wound of the heart from their own parents.