Bondi Hypnotherapy Clinic

Thinking about thinking: cognitive distortions

Thinking about thinking: Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are those parts of our thinking that can get us into trouble.  “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so…” Shakespeare was pretty close in his thinking about thinking strategies.  Some examples include making assessments of reality on the basis of skewed perception.  Knowing a small amount and filling in the blanks with emotional loading.  [click to continue…]

Benefits of Gratitude


Apart from being fairly plausible. if impressionistic, to say that gratitude is good for your health, there is some evidence that people who are grateful, and I mean consciously grateful, are better off in a number of ways.  In this brief article, I explore connections between gratitude and happiness and look at some of the available evidence. [click to continue…]

Bronnie and Rosemary and dying

Rosemary, was a woman who left an abusive marriage and worked her way to the corporate top in a time when society’s expectations of women were domestic in character.  Bronnie came to care for Rosemary in her dying days.  Toughened by life’s circumstances, Rosemary remained tough, even harsh in the way she treated her carers.  Bronnie’s finance career background and experience afforded a slight softening of Rosemary’s attitude.  In her book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying’, Bronnie Ware describes some dying, end of life regrets, perhaps, so we might learn a thing or two before its too late.

Rosemary’s mornings were underscored by bitterness and discontent.  She was most abusive to her carer in the mornings.  In an exceptionally bitter tirade, Bronnie called a halt and issued an ultimatum.  Rosemary must be kinder or else she would leave.  The response was a loud directive to get out of the house immediately.  Bronnie remained and stayed silent, just looking at Rosemary.

Silence in this tense conflict between employer and employee, between the soon to die and her carer, passed for a few moments. Seated close enough together Bronnie asked if Rosemary was finished?  “For now” came the reluctant reply.  Later Bronnie recalls Rosemary looking very lost, like a little child.  Its interesting that Bronnie had a disposition to see past the presenting hostility and find a little lost child.

Stop being happy!

After that little crisis, the relationship with Bronnie became a little friendlier.  Rosemary was dedicated to organising her finances, making plans that, with ever failing health, would never be realised.  Her controlling personality persisted to some extent.  She complained about Bronnie’s humming and her being “happy all the time”.

In the increasing softening of their relationship Bronnie was inclined to subtly share some wisdom.  suggesting happiness is a choice to be made every day… or not, proved important for Rosemary.  Finding blessings and meaning in daily life even in the face of particular challenges are distinct possibilities, open to us all.

While caring for Rosemary, Bronnie  received a diagnosis of her own which her specialist insisted required urgent major surgery.   There is no space for fear in a journey of healing and Rosemary’s residual barking bitterness was not much more than fear being vented.  Bronnie’s speculating on her own future, the prospect of her passing from her own disease without surviving to old age, meant experiencing emotional pain and old memories of past hurts.

Realising that her life already lived was filled with wonderful people and experiences provided a sense of peace for Bronnie like never before.    Attending to her diet, meditating and visualisation processes all helped her.  Routinely checking in with her body, she interpreted even minor ailments as indicators of unhelpful prior thoughts.   Even in times of few opportunities for happiness, there can be peace within acceptance of the current difficult experience.  Just has happiness passes, so too with misery or fear.

The debate with Rosemary over Bronnie’s excessive ‘happiness’ continued.  Bronnie suggested that Rosemary ‘pretend’ to be happy, to fake a smile for about 30 minutes, just to see what might happen.  Rosemary reported that she believed she never deserved to be happy.  The scandal of her marriage breakup from the distant past contaminated Rosemary’s present  because she had allowed it to.

It is good to wonder sometimes how our own past experiences are permitted to influence our present state of mind and behaviour.  Resentments are said to be like taking poison and expecting another person to die.

With tenderness deepening between the two, Rosemary came to the realisation that she was, in fact, fully entitled to be happy and regretted that she hadn’t let herself be so.  In her 80s and very close to death Rosemary was able to declare; “I am starting to like who I am these days.”

So much time had passed for Rosemary.  Are there lessons here for us? I’d like to learn what happened for you in reading this.

This little piece was informed by Bronnie Ware’s book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying.’  Published by Hay House 2015.

Please drop by soon for more posts.   You never know, you might just find something helpful.

All the best,

George Owen

May 2018.




Regrets of the dying

In Bronnie Ware’s book; ‘The top five regrets of the dying’ (2015), she writes of her own experiences as a palliative carer in old dogAustralia.  With little training and a big heart Bronnie shares her exposure to people at end of life and describes the pain of missed opportunity.  Her work contains many lessons.  Lessons which could help us all address our own potential  for regrets on dying.

Earlier, I have offered a few short pieces based on top 5 regrets and now I want to continue and share a little about Bronnie’s regret number 4.

‘I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends’

While mainly working in people’s own residences, Bronnie occasionally took some shifts in private nursing homes.  Her experiences there were far from pleasant with treatments of patients far from respectful in some cases.  An absence of compassion on the part of some staff made the experience particularly harsh.

Bronnie recalls the experience with a patient called Doris.  Doris burst into tears simply on received a cheerful greeting from Bronnie.  On becoming a little acquainted, Doris shared about her loneliness and the absence of friendliness in the place.  She shared how her daughter was living overseas.  Her daughter was busy and remote, living her own life.

Because of Bronnie’s genuine interest, Doris opened up more and more.  Doris was missing her friends most of all.  She asked Doris’s permission to do a little detective work and locate her friends.  Her interest in helping Doris was not entirely selfless.  In her own story, Bronnie has lost contact with others on the basis of withdrawing in order to avoid pain.  A familiar cognitive distortion I encounter from time to time in therapy.

Bronnie forthrightly refers to her own pain as she describes her relationships with people in the palliative care setting.  Fortunately, and I guess as a result of some great change-work, Bronnie’s compassion won out and she was able to share herself with those in her care.

Over time, Bronnie made contact with a few of Doris’s friends, two of whom had died.  Doris actually spoke to her remaining friend on the phone.  Her elevated mood sustained Doris for some time after that piece of detective work by Bronnie.  Soon after that, a happy Doris passed away.

In regret number 4; ‘I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends’, Bronnie shares, not just detached stories of others, but her own journey into deeper authentic connection within herself.  Practicing self-compassion is a key to happiness and being open to empathy with others.

Please stop by again from another brief piece on Bronnie Ware’s Top 5 regrets of the dying’.

Many thanks

George Owen May. 2018







Regrets of the dying

In Bronnie Ware’s book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying’, she tells of her experiences as a palliative careaged stone wall structure worker, people she encountered in her work and their main regrets.  In this very brief post, I share how she describes some people who wished they had the courage to express their feelings more (regret 3).

The gentle, smiling 94 year old holocaust survivor, Jozsef, had a most agreeable demeanor.  While his family preferred to spare him the information that he was dying,  his deteriorating condition, meant reality would intrude into awareness.  His increasing reliance on Bronnie, more and more prescriptions for medicine to address pain, and still more medications to address side effects of medications all pointed to the fact that Jozsef was dying.

One of his sons lived close enough and visited daily, another was interstate, and Jozsef’s daughter lived overseas.  The daily visits from the nearby son involved chats about business matters and Jozsef shared his belief with Bronnie that his son was more interested in an inheritance than his father’s welfare.

Family attempts at convincing Jozsef that his condition was improving, in spite of evidence to the contrary, could not be sustained.  Subsisting on a small amount of yoghurt a day meant he was very weak indeed.  Eventually, Jozsef stated to Bronnie, his carer, that he believed he was dying.  When Bronnie confirmed this, he was grateful for the confirmation.  He understood his wife and family were struggling with that reality.

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

Jozsef had loved his work in Australia, his new country, after release from the camps. He could provide for his family’s needs.  His regrets now were that his family had seen very little of him.  He had not afforded his family the chance to really know him.  Jozsef had used his preoccupation with work because he greatly feared letting his feelings show.  He kept the family at arms length.

graphic of antique representation of a constellationBelieving he had missed the chance to build loving, warm relationships with his children, instead choosing to lead by the example of valuing and making money.  Now,  realising he was dying, Jozsef saw this as pointless.  Even leaving his family with some wealth was no compensation for them not really knowing him.

As frailty deepened for Jozsef his frustration with not having the skill to design a feelings-based conversation with his family.  He believed it was too late.  His son, mindful of the expense of care, fired Bronnie, hired an illegal worker at significantly reduced cost to the care budget.   Jozsef did not get a chance to make his preferences or feelings known.  About a week later he was dead.

We will all die but we have choice as to how we live before that event.  Sharing feelings means embracing  a certain vulnerability.  Deciding upon how really meaningful our life will be and what purposes we choose to be worthy of are important considerations.  Avoiding the pain and discomfort of honesty can itself be painful.  Can it not?

Express feelings before its too late

Another person cared for by Bronnie was Jude.  Unusually, in Bronnie’s palliative care work, Jude was a younger patient.  Just 44 years old and living with motor neuron disease, she lived with her husband and young daughter.   Disenchanted with inconsistent care from agencies as well as increased challenges with Jude’s deteriorating speech.  Jude required hoist support for transfers from bed to chair.

Although from a wealthy family, Jude entered a relationship with an artist which was rejected by her family who had very different expectations of their daughter.  Forced to choose between her partner, Edward, and her family, she chose Edward.  Jude was excluded from her birth family.  After years and on the birth of her own daughter there was something of a reconciliation with her father.

As Jude’s condition worsened her capacity to communicate her needs diminished.  On rare occasions of capacity Jude repeated her message to her main carer Bronnie.  The message, while simple is not always easy; “We need to be brave enough to express our feelings”.  Expression of feelings in the moment before it becomes too late was most important for Jude.

As Bronnie reports Jude’s sentiments were like this; “None of us ever knows when it will be too late.  Tell people you love them.  Tell them you appreciate them.  If they can’t accept your honesty… what matters is you’ve told them”.

Far too frequently are matters left unaddressed, possible resolutions missed, wounds unhealed.  Please stop by again for more on Bronnie Ware’s book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying’ published by Hay House.



Bronnie and Pearl

When Bronnie was caring for cheerful Pearl, a 60 plus widow with a terminal illness, she learned of Pearl’stwo women positive approach to life.  Pearl had lost her husband through a workplace incident and her only child to leukemia at 8 years of age.  Now, she was accepting of her life ending soon.  Pearl, who had  experienced enough tragedy, was never a victim.   This short piece relates to regret number 2; “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

Many people facing end of life can experience initial denial before processing a range of emotions leading to eventual acceptance of the inevitable.  For Pearl her acceptance was grounded in her belief that she would be reunited with her family.

For Bronnie, Pearl’s wisdom lay in her refusal to entertain victimhood.  Pearl’s perspective on making the most of the gift of life helped Bronnie see how, at times, she herself would be caught up in her sense of being wounded by others, how hard her own life had been.

Noting the fine line between compassion and victimhood.  Entertaining feeling the victim is toxic and repugnant to any experience of happiness.  Compassion calls for gentleness with self and is a healing experience without indulgence in the pain of a victim.  Many people lean into sometimes harsh challenges to find happiness while others persist in complaining without awareness of the many blessings in their life.

Pearl devoted her life to community work after realizing her one of her life purposes lay there.  Her position around money was clear.  She regarded money as curiously misunderstood by most people.  It can hold people in unfulfilling jobs when they could be doing what they truly love.  For Pearl, acting on life purpose affords opening to the flow of money as well as experiencing more true happiness.

Her regrets, which she shared with Bronnie near her last days were that she spent so many years in an ‘average’ less fulfilling job before taking up her life purposes in Community work helping others.

Complexity and simplicity

butterfly in automnal grassThere can be considerable complexity around a person’s passing.  Loving families of the dying experience differing  emotions and feelings.  Fear, born of an unpreparedness to face the fact of death, in Bronnie’s experience, has severely affected some relatives of the dying.  The dying frequently make peace with the inevitable.

Families can express certain challenging behaviors as confusion around next steps surfaces.  One taking control of everything, another feeling excluded, one resenting equal shares of an estate irrespective of the help afforded to the dying parent.  Siblings squabbling over shares at the bedside of a dying parent.  For Bronnie, it was hard work at times but her priority was her patient.

The carer’s perception proved cathartic in several instances.  Questioning a dying father as to whether he had ever declared his love for his son ( as distinct from gratitude for jobs done around the place), Bronnie encouraged particular insight.

Deciding to lead a life of greater simplicity meant practicing meditation, decluttering, recycling, and downsizing.  Simplicity, for Bronnie Ware, included separating out a person from their un-resourceful, even toxic, behaviours.  Leading wisely and with compassion promoted clearer perspectives on strained relationships within her own circle of relationships.

Messages for us all abound in her book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying’.    Stop by again for more posts informed by her contribution.





Top 5 regrets of the dying

Bronnie Ware, artist, free spirit and palliative carer, has written a fine book; ‘The top 5 regretshand holding elder of the dying’.   Here, she describes both her own journey of surrender to living purposefully and the lessons to be learned from stories of those near death.   She tells how she left her “steady” job in a bank to embrace an uncertain path that led to profound enlightenment and growth.

Along the way, and with very little formal palliative care training, she made very special human connections with people close to their end of life.  She summarizes her experiences as a woman who is very comfortable in solitude, a meditative seeker, and yoga practitioner.  Her personal ethical conflicts and challenges influenced her path as positive learning opportunities.

Bronnie Ware’s recounting of her experiences as a palliative carer, took her to the authentic, abject honesty, of the dying.  The top 5 regrets as Bronnie describes them are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

Bronnie’s engagement with one dying patient Grace, and Grace’s family was an important, endearing experience.  Grace coming to terms with the loss of dignity in having another person help with toilet proved very challenging irrespective of assurances provided by Bronnie.  Grace had raised her children and was enjoying her grandchildren as the end of life approached.  Grace’s married life was not all happiness and domestic bliss.  Her husband is described as a dictator and tyrant.  Grace’s desire for independence, for travel, for happiness, were all subordinated to decade after decade of her husband’s tyranny.

Shortly after her husband, a long-term smoker, was hospitalised Grace became ill very quickly.  She realised her own dreams would remain just that, dreams never to be realised.  This caused Grace great anguish.  She became very angry with herself, continuously questioning why she had not stood up against her husband’s dominance.

With the caring relationship developing, and trust deepening, Grace called upon Bronnie to promise she would never let anyone stop her doing what she wanted with her own life.

Lessons from Grace’s story

girl silhouette against sunriseSurrendering to cultural dogma which, at the time, stressed Grace must stay in marriage irrespective of disrespect experienced.  Keep up appearances, maintain the façade. Grace’s story is not unique even if her personal experiences were.  In her book, Bronnie reports numerous versions of the; ‘regret not having the courage to live a life true to self’ and says its the most common of the top 5.

Sometimes people choose to remain in stale, even painful relationships, or unsatisfying jobs, because it satisfies expectations of others.

Decades might even pass as people settle for what is familiar but not resourceful.  Internal conflict around awareness of what is, and what might have been, leads to unhelpful coping skills such as alcohol and other drug abuse.  People might even ‘succeed’ at careers (as Bronnie did in banking) and inside know a certain sense of being diminished or even diminished.

In breaking free, and learning to view life compassionately, Bronnie realised that people change because they want to, and when they are ready.

Breaking free meant refusing to accept others’ demands and expectations as well as embracing simple compassion for people who became disturbed by the changes freely adopted.  Giving up a banking job to go live on an island was Bronnie’s choice.  The disturbances experienced by family members became less and less impactful as she developed her sense of compassion.

The first compassion is self-compassion.  Cultivation of self-compassion is simple but not necessarily easy.  It can take years. Breaking with decades old, familiar if unresourceful, behavior patterns can be painstaking.

We are often harsh self-critics.  The dying have nothing to lose by being coy or calculating.  Grace was totally, earnestly, honest.

The desire (or need) to be accepted, loved, understood, can hold in place painful submission to others’ well-intentioned, if distressed, priorities.

So Grace was pleading with Bronnie to live life on Bronnie’s own terms.  Is there anything we can take from either Bronnie’s or Grace’s story so far?  I think so.  Please check back for more on the top 5 regrets of the dying.

Smoking skills kills

Smoking takes real skills

Today, less people are smoking cigarettes in Australia. The younger generation are also less impressed dangers of smokingwith getting intoxicated by alcohol.  It seems we are getting wiser, perhaps as the older generations teach the errors of their ways.  Smoking skills could well be a dying art!  A dying art.  The art work on cigarette packets have been depicting dying smokers who finally get to quit, for good.

When I ask people why they started in the first place, the answers invariably run to the satisfaction of need.  Not the need to feel the poisoned air assaulting airways but the need to fit in, to be accepted by peers, to look “cool”, more mature somehow.  It is a wonderful thing that poison can call forth associations of maturity, sexiness, even heroism.

retro image of lady smokingThe slender beauty on the cinema screen makes a poorly disguised overture to the movie’s hero.  Not by revealing even more flesh, but by asking the hero to light her cigarette.  The curious psychological associations between smoking, sexiness, the promise of intimacy have zero basis in reality but we don’t let that get in the way of buying poison and absorbing it.  Film stars are stars because they say words usually written by someone else in a manner and demeanour devised by someone else again.

They become stars because they take direction and wait their turn to be filmed.  When film stars smoked onscreen their skill as persuaders promoted an inclination to imitate.  Put simply, we wanted to be like our ‘heroes’.  We buy sports gear as worn by Reynaldo, want to smell like Brad Pitt, and drink Pepsi because a popular singer, like Beyoncé, drinks Pepsi.

The smoking skill kills

We learned to smoke and it takes great skill initially.  For many there has been an experience of dizziness, dehydration, even vomiting.  But persistence pays off and soon the skill becomes unconscious.  It is a smooth, effortless, even suave undertaking to release the tight-fitting cigarette from a pack and toss into the moth and click the stylish Zippo, or Ronson, or whatever ignition device is available and inhale the relaxing nectar.  More tar than nectar in fact.

But wait, there is a movement in community.  Questions as to the harmlessness of smoking are emerging.  Evidence of relationships far less seductive than screen romances abound.  Relationships between heart disease and smoking.  Relationships between lung cancer and smoking.  Bronchitis and emphysema are much more prevalent in smokers. The list of toxic relationships to smoking grows.  These are bad.  Real bad.

Denials, claims and counterclaims abound.  It seems the smoking skill kills.  Its time to stop.  To quit, for good.  But it seems hard, very hard, even harder than getting started at smoking skill 101 in the first place.  Must be addicted.

Smoking skills addiction?

woman staring
There are a number of ideas around smoking addiction. Anyway what’s the difference between habit and addiction?  One quick answer is; sleep.  We get, or should get, around 7 or 8 hours sleep a night.  People addicted, i.e. dependent upon, say, methamphetamine (“ice” to you and me) cannot enjoy the luxury of a good night’s sleep.  Heroin users have trouble with a full night’s sleep.  Smokers rarely report such sleep disruption.  smokers can even report good sleep patterns.

Smoking skills for stress

Smokers sometimes believe the drag on a cigarette can soothe the experience of stress.  Yes, we daily see congregations of workers smoking together at entrances to their sites.  It is possible that initial drags on a cigarette can persuade that there is benefit from smoking.  It is also true that taking a few deep breaths (without any toxic smoke involved) can be very relaxing indeed!

Smoking skills for weight loss

Sometimes people develop their smoking skills in order to suppress appetite and lose weight.  So, when its time to quit, they believe they’ll become gigantic, ugly things.  Truth is, tobacco leaves are soaked in sugar water in their preparation so inhaling tobacco involves inhaling sugar!  Weight gain on quitting does take place because moisture is returning to the skin cells which has been dehydrated by the smoke.

How to quit

Nicotine patches, chewing gum, sprays are very popular resources in helping people stay stopped.  Thend of cigarettee are replacement means of ingesting nicotine.  Hypnosis can be very useful (and quick) in helping people quit.  Usually (not always) just one session can do it.  It is drug-free and effectively administered suggestions help address residual cravings because smoking skills are after all, just habit.  Habits can be unlearned.

Money Money Money! Life Life Life!

Smoking can be pricey.  I have found people can spend over $5000.00 a year on cigarettes.  If saved, you’d have a quarter of a million in 5 years!  Smoking has been indicated in diminishing life expectancy too.  13 years for women, 14 for men.  How cool is it to practice smoking skills now?  Smoking is the main preventable cause of death.  Preventable! All you need to do is quit.  For good!

Scrooge’s therapy session…

Ghosts in the machine

In ‘A Christmas Carol’,  Charles Dickens’ famous tale of a cold-hearted, miserable debt collector Ebenezer Scrooge, there is the acting out of alternative scenarios in his future.  Scrooge’s life unaltered delivers dreadful if unsurprising damnation for all eternity.  A miserable adult life whose misery compounds over time and, in this tale, extends to absolute misery and pain after his death.   Scrooge has a mystical psychotherapy session facilitated by some ghosts.

Scrooge’s perception is subject to a profound reframe!  In his dream, future-hallucinations present possibilities.  Including the possibility of redemption.  Future redemption is only possible if there is major change.  Scrooge can avoid pain by adopting pain.  He must make change in order to live a good life.  Change often involves pain.

Happy endings

In much of Dickens’ work there are happy endings.  Ebenezer Scrooge is frightened into understanding and acknowledging his

cognitive distortions (“stinking thinking”) and making a total, transformative, recovery.  In a single session or three!  Tiny Tim benefits greatly as does the rest of his family and all is so well past misery is wiped away and the new era of blessings cover Scrooge-World.

A really scary obituary

in change-work, there is sometimes recourse to projection into the future in the absence of present-time shift from unhelpful behaviours.  This can prove disturbing for some clients and this is not the main game.  After all, they are clients because they want help to function well and live normally.  Or, as Freud set out to turn “hysterical misery into ordinary human unhappiness”.  The experience of ‘future pacing’ (imagining future consequences of unchanged patterns) can stimulate active reorientation.  New directions can be entertained and acted on.

Give it a try…

Of course, you may not need to change anything and on New Year you could proudly declare; “another 12 months since I didn’t need to become a better person!”

If however, like the rest of us, you may be exploring New Year’s resolutions or even some strategic planning, you may give the process some thought…


Imagine, pretend, even visualize yourself having successfully resisted any inclinations to change unhealthy behaviours.  Imagine how things get worse as you get older.  Imagine, just before you die, you’ re required to write your obituary.  Your most feared obituary.  Having lived a long life with no positive change in attitudes, values, expectations of self or others?

Now is the time to let your friends and family know all, as your obituary is read aloud to the congregation assembled for your farewell.  It may even reach a wider audience through social media!  What will they hear?  What will they learn?  What will the world know?


Imagine having made the choice to step into change-work!  You did this because it just makes sense to be the best you can be.  Imagine then, a life doing good, well lived, and a now imminent death.  You’ re invited to write your obituary.  What will the congregation hear as they participate in your farewell?

This is intensely personal and idiosyncratic of course.  It can be quite helpful also.  Imagine both scenarios.  A life lived with little or no concern for personal improvement or, a life lived with frequent, even daily, challenges to be your best.  An imminent death with a kind of inventory report at the end.  At one level, there is nothing of importance here.  Consequences are the same.  Death comes to us all.  This is certain.  Whether we might be assessed, then rewarded or punished afterwards, is not.

So why bother?

 If the outcome is the same why bother with inconvenient change?  After all, by definition, change means a form of departure from our normal self.  It usually means work and even pain.

Eric Maisel among others has argued we have freedom to choose.  Stay the same and lead a life that has it’s moments of joy, grief, and a substantial bit of bland in between.  In his ‘Life Purpose Boot Camp’, Maisel suggests that making the effort is a  more worthy choice.

Freedom to choose

Once made, the free choice to decide to find meaning in day to day activities can reframe daily experience.  Making meaning, deciding to have the psychological experience of meaning, then deciding to live a live of purpose, is a worthy undertaking.  To live a life where there are options to decide on a number of life purposes and to hold these purposes as a sort of compass guiding and directing us on our path to our end.

And, at the end, there has been a life of value, contribution, goodness even.

A life of meaning.

A life of purpose.

A life well lived.

Bye Rita, and thanks for all you taught me.

Respect to  Rita Keogh, RIP.

My sister, whose recent passing involved a both release from pain and sad loss.

















Karpman’s Drama Triangle

Dr Stephen Karpman’s triangle, aka; the ‘drama triangle’ is a useful model for explaining dysfunctional conflict in relationships.  In use since the late 1960s, it is also an expedient therapeutic aid. It assists clients reach awareness of just what is going on in toxic interpersonal conflicts. The model highlights, with great simplicity, the alternating roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer.  Karpman’s use of triangles proved to be a very simple path in assisting understanding of the, often unaware, ‘games people play’ in conflict situations.

In essence, the Karpman drama triangle maps out roles occupied in toxic conflict relationships.  People may enter into committed relationships based on apparent ‘compatibility’.  People who learned to feel like a victim may find the attentions of a rescuer very appealing; someone to take care of things, someone to watch over me…

Take a look at the diagram above.  The arrows indicate a certain rotation of roles.  The victim may become a persecutor when they ‘turn’ in frustration and criticise the rescuer for their excessive, even stifling, attentions.  The rescuer now becomes the victim.  Or, the critical, controlling persecutor is stopped in their tracks by a reactionary victim and they in turn become the victim feeling disempowered through the imbalance in unconsciously expected power relations.

triangle suggestive of rotating roles in dysfunctional power relationshipsInternal drama triangle

Karpman  points out that these roles (victim, persecutor, and rescuer) can rotate within a single individual as their negative experiences are assessed in different ways at different times.  For one example, a person may feel like a victim of life itself, feel unappreciated, or generally unfulfilled.  They may come to find the refrigerator a great rescuer!  Copious amounts of gelato and chocolate chip cookies can imbue the victim with a sense of comfort and even reassurance!

Internal dialogue

Alternatively, an individual’s internal dialogue may be persistently persecuting.  Self-criticism via ‘auto-pilot’ can be as damaging as any external critique.

Motivations to stay stuck

Such experiences, victim, persecutor, or rescuer, are not resourceful.  So why do they persist? What’s the pay-off?  Sometimes people remain in such states because they are familiar to the point of seeming absolute.  There is not way out.  ‘Victims’ may realise what’s happening but believe they’ll stay until things improve and things will only improve when someone else does something.  “Improvement” may mean; “until I get more of my needs met”, until there are even more considerations offered to me.

The rescuer may stay put because of felt needs of responsibility.  “If I don’t give my addicted son money for heroin, he’ll hate me.”  Alternatively, the rescuer might run an internal dialogue such as; “I can’t let my child down, that would be awful. What kind of awful parent would do such a thing?”

Rather getting than fretting

Within such stuck states it appears, by definition, choice is absent. Truth is, there are a lot of ways out of this triangular pathology.  Karpman suggests simple shorthand phrases that have some merit.  As far as internal dialogue improvements go, the victim considers; “I’d rather be getting than fretting”.  This is where the victim has been fretting for such a long time that they come to the conclusion that their needs must be met by other means.  Change is now seen as not just necessary but possible.

Smarter than martyr

Karpman, when addressing a brief therapy workshop in 2008, referred to some shorthand phrases that can prove useful.  The rescuer can say; “I’d rather be smarter than martyr.”  The rescuer realises the sacrifices are far too great and it’s time to get out of this role.  Getting out can mean significant change to life itself as subtle and even overt pressures to maintain status quo can be powerful.

The persecutor is blaming and critical.  They accuse the other of failing in some ways.  “You’re the reason our son is lazy.” Or “it’s all your fault that our families don’t get on.”  To get out of this role, the persecutor must have compassion for self as well as others in the drama triangle.  This usually comes as a result of a powerful reframe.  for one example, when the child who has been subject to sustained control, criticism and bullying from a parent suddenly turns and asserts their rights, their power and personal resourcefulness.

In therapy, much good can come of using this very simple tool provided a long time ago now by one of the members of a broad school known as Transactional Analysis.

Drama triangle in the festive season

I mention the now well-worn drama triangle at this festive season as I notice the media commercials showing brightly lit beaming joyous families enjoying whatever product is advertised to make their Christmas complete.  Domestic violence shelters are brimming, if not beaming, at this time also

Brene Brown

Brene Brown’s TED talk may appear to have little to do with what has gone before but understanding compassion is also to  understand vulnerability and the reality that many problems are attempted solutions.  Intoxication is an attempt to solve the problem of emotional pain.  Hostile, defensive outbursts, are sometimes attempts to protect a terrified private self.  And, as Brown says somewhere in the TED; “you cannot selectively numb pain”.  Take a look here…