Escaping the Drama Triangle

Last week’s blog focused on the frustrating dynamic of Karpman’s Drama Triangle - the dance between the victim, persecutor, and rescuer. It’s a dance we may be all too familiar with and one that can happen subtly. But once we recognize it, how do we step out of it?

Like I mentioned previously, each of the three roles needs someone to fulfill one of the other roles in order for the dance to continue. So a huge part of stepping out of the drama is to become aware of which roles you play. These roles are often learned early on in our families but can become fluid in relationships. For example, if you notice you have a tendency to rescue, intentionally work toward expanding awareness of how, when, and where you tend to rescue others.

Once you have cultivated some awareness of your role, the next step is to stick to your side of the fence. Sticking to your side of the fence means using I-statements like “I’m feeling ____” or “I’m noticing ____.” At the core, all of the roles focus on the other person rather than yourself, essentially blame shifting and giving power away in three unique manifestations. By choosing to stick to your feelings, experiences & responsibilities only, you are practicing being accountable for your feelings and actions and allowing others to do the same.

Finally, expect the drama to continue for a little while. When you step out of the drama, the other person will likely still play their role for a bit, but abstaining from your role cuts off the fuel to the fire. Relationships are like baby mobiles, changing up one role disrupts the whole system, and often the system is eager to get back to the familiar status quo. It will take practice over time to notice the role, learn to step out of it, and allow your relationships to adjust accordingly. Like practicing any new skill, this often doesn’t happen seamlessly at first. Over time, I hope you will find more peace and clarity in yourself.

Secondary Gains


Ever feel stuck and frustrated in a situation you want to change, but nothing seems to work? Sometimes this happens when we know the things we are “supposed” to do for self-care, mental health, or to find healing, but repeatedly find ourselves not doing those things. We suffer with the status quo, yet do nothing to change it. Other times this may happen in relationships, feeling the crazy making cycles repeating over and over, like a merry go round we want to get off of but can’t seem to find the exit.

When you feel stuck & frustrated, it’s a good opportunity to reflect on possible secondary gains. A secondary gain is a backdoor benefit that you receive from keeping the status quo. For example, a child that repeatedly gets in trouble may feel frustrated about constantly being punished, but not do anything to change her behavior. There may be an unconscious benefit of attention, even negative attention, that she receives from acting out. Perhaps a part of her is worried that if she stops acting out, she’ll stop getting attention. Sometimes the same happens in order to preserve relational dynamics. A child may act out in the family so the parents have to join together, unconsciously the child is preserving the marriage connection by providing a problem for the parents to solve.

As adults, we do similar things unconsciously. Perhaps someone stays just unwell enough to get the care and attention from others in their life. Some put up with behaviors in relationships that stand against values because of feeling terrified of being alone. Others fear succeeding for how that may impact relationships or change their life. Coming to terms with potential secondary gains can be difficult, but also provide the freedom to work through dormant fears that may be keeping you back from truly thriving. Identifying secondary gains may open the door to deeper self-awareness and the ability to write a new story.

If you’re feeling stuck, here are some helpful questions to think through. How may I be benefitting from keeping things the same? How would getting better impact my relationships for better or worse? Is there any part of me that is afraid of the change that could occur if I got well/this situation changed? What does that part of me need in order to move forward?

Celebrating Mini-Milestones

Life traverses various seasons, some joyous and light, others dark and difficult. Regardless of the season you’re in now, it’s human nature to zoom in on the difficulties of a day or week and filter out the positive. It can feel natural to celebrate the big milestones in joyous season, but it takes more discipline to celebrate the little, everyday milestones that go easily unnoticed.

We are often our own worst critics, quick to offer praise to others while beating ourselves up for small mistakes. Taking the time to celebrate growth, big and small, can help reorient your perspective toward gratitude, honor your growth and progress, and help you be on the lookout for good news. This shift in perspective may also reframe the way you engage with or interpret your difficult seasons.

For example, if you’re in a difficult season in your marriage, take time to celebrate the small moments that go well: conversations that felt connecting, using your tools in conflict, a fun date night, handling a parenting situation on the same team, etc. Reinforcing these positive moments helps give encouragement to both you and your partner that you are progressing and working hard and appreciate the effort being put in. If you’re struggling with depression, take time to celebrate when you choose to reach out for support rather than isolate, when you have a good week, when you choose to exercise, etc.

Celebrating these mini-milestones can be simple - a high five, an encouraging note, giving yourself a small treat, scheduling some pamper time with a friend, going out for ice cream or coffee, etc. You may even record these mini-milestones in a journal or diary, intentionally choosing to remember and honor the progress, especially on days you need the reminders or encouragements.

Take some time to reflect on your current season of life - is it one that is primarily light and joyous, or perhaps one that feels draining and hard? How do you feel about celebration? What mini-milestone can you celebrate this week? How may you encourage someone else when you see their milestones?

Communicating to Connect

Ever been in a conversation with someone and walk away feeling frustrated and wondering how you could possibly view the same incident so very differently? I see this often when working with couples and families and in my own life. It is so easy to get tripped up on a word or phrase and completely miss the real message your loved one is trying to share.

Communicating to connect takes some intentional relearning of our speaking & listening skills. Rather than communicating to defend or prove your point as the end goal, imagine how powerful conversations could be if you listened with connection as the ultimate success? Connecting communication fosters healthy attachment, intimacy, trust, and builds stronger relationships. Here are a few guidelines that can move you toward connecting communication:

For the Speaker: Use I-messages. Speak from your experience, feelings, and thoughts. Share “I feel (feeling word) because (event).” rather than “you always…”. Make sure to use feeling words (sad, excited, disrespected, hurt, happy, mad, etc.) to describe your experience. Sometimes we say “I feel that you are…” which is using the I statement format but ultimately is not sharing your experience or feelings. Try to speak concisely so the listener can follow and reflect well.

For the Listener: Your job is a tough one, so get centered, calm, and prepared to listen. If you start to feel anything that gets in the way of listening well, call a time-out until you can listen fully. Mirror and reflect what your loved one is saying, like “You are feeling disappointed that I haven’t listened to you. You are frustrated that I missed what you are saying and you are feeling unheard.” Use lead in phrases like “What I hear you saying is..”. Check in to make sure you are getting the message right after reflecting with a simple phrase like, “Did I get that right?” Once you know you are hearing the message correctly, offer validation and empathy. Empathy & validation looks like “It makes sense to me that you feel that way because ____.” You can offer empathy & validation whether or not you agree with their perspective. Remember connecting communication is about hearing & seeing one another, not about proving why your perspective is superior.

Communicating to connect is hard work and can yield great results. Start practicing as a listener and notice how your conversations change!

Caring for Your Struggling Teen


Prevalence rates of teen depression and anxiety have risen significantly in recent years. While the causes of the rise remains speculative, many parents are left unsure how to help their struggling teen.

First of all, know the signs of teen depression. If you are concerned that your teen may be struggling, try talking to them about your concerns at a time when you are both available and calm. Be open & curious about your teen’s experience, and share your concern from a place of love. Getting your teen to open up about their inner world can feel like pulling teeth, I get it. Your teen may not want to talk with you about their feelings, but be sure they are connected to some safe adult who they can share with - perhaps a professional therapist, teacher, school counselor, youth leader, mentor, family member, etc.

As I work with teens struggling with depression and anxiety, I’ve come across a few common pitfalls that well meaning parents tend to fall into. Here are a few responses to avoid that are not helpful:

  • “Be positive!” Many teens I work with report feeling pressured to put on a smiling face, to be positive, to have a good attitude, etc. when around their parents in an effort to overcome their depression. Depression is not a choice nor a lack of resiliency. Treatment may involve examining thought patterns, but this best left to a professional. Teens I work with that feel pressured to put on a smiling face and be positive often end up hiding their depression from family, not healing it.
  • “Snap out of it!” - Some parents will try to help their teen with depression by telling them to simply stop feeling that way. This may come across in subtle interactions, frustration from the parents about symptoms, threatening “If you don’t…. then…”, or even the teen getting in trouble for their depression. Remember that depression is not a choice. If it was, most people would choose to feel differently in a heartbeat.
  • “This will pass.” - While this is true, depressive episodes do not last forever, it can feel dismissive or minimizing to your teen’s experience in the moment. I’ve noticed that many parents seem to be more comfortable with the idea of situational or circumstantial depression rather than the possibility of chemical or enduring depression. Let your professional team work with your teen to determine the root of depression and instead aim to understand what it feels like for your child right now.
  • Ignoring it - Depression can be deadly if untreated and typically will need treatment to get better. If you see the signs or have concerns, please do not ignore it. Talk with your child.

Here’s what many of my teen clients report they do want from their parents:

  • Understanding - First and foremost, my clients talk about wanting their parents to trust their experience and try to understand where they are coming from, even if their parent doesn’t get it completely. Avoid responding with “I see, but…” and instead say things like “Thanks for sharing, can you tell me more about what that’s like for you?”
  • Responsiveness - If your child comes to you expressing their concern about depression, anxiety, or another mental health concern, work with them to get help promptly. It takes a great deal of courage to have that conversation, and acting promptly to get your teen help conveys that you hear them, care for them, and are taking them seriously.
  • Ask how you can support them - Rather than assuming you know how to help or what your child needs, ask what you can do to support their healing and what you have been doing that may be unhelpful. Be receptive and open hearted to feedback. Some teens may want you to ask how they’re doing, others want to have space, some may want you to help them notice when they are spiraling, others feel annoyed by that. Negotiate together how you can honor their needs and still be involved in their healing.

If you are concerned about your teen and want to get them in for treatment, or need some coaching about how to care for them well, reach out today.

The 3 Essential Parts of Forgiveness

Recently my church community has been focusing on forgiveness - what does it mean that we are forgiven and what does it look like to be a forgiving people? It’s a challenging process, and one that’s been rattling around in my head quite a bit recently. Forgiveness has often been something I've had to work at, perhaps you can relate. Sometimes we feel stuck, and forgiveness seems an impossible task. Other times we can be too quick to offer forgiveness, dismissing the pain the wound has caused. Either way, how in the world are we to forgive?

I am a bit of a Brene Brown groupie (if you haven’t seen her TED talks or read her books, make that top of your to-do list). Brene outlines 3 crucial steps to forgiveness:

1. Acknowledge the pain.
The very fact that forgiveness is necessary depends on there being some breach of relationship, pain, wounding, disappointment, or betrayal. If we are to truly forgive others, we first must acknowledge that we were wronged and feel the pain that was caused. (The same is true in offering apologies, another topic for another day.)

2. Let die.
Of an already difficult process, this is arguably the most difficult step. Letting die means grieving the loss of the relationship as it was. Sometimes letting die means choosing to bury our loss, pain, anger, power, or being right. According to Brown, forgiveness always involved grief and in forgiveness we will "die a thousand deaths". This part of the forgiveness process takes great sacrifice, and it may be a step we need to return to and choose again and again, putting to death the parts of us that want to continue to punish, withhold, and use our pain as a shield or weapon to oppose the other. This grief and burial of something old may make space new life to be born. Other times it may be a loss without the continuation of the relationship.

3. See new life.
Burying and grieving what used to be can create fertile soil for new life to be born. The pain that required forgiveness in many ways means that the relationship may never be the same, it is truly something new. Sometimes embracing this new life can bring hope, joy, and beauty from brokenness. This may be a reconciled relationship, or it may be new life in a different way. I loved the reminder in my church that recognizing the new life is a task only for the forgiver. When others step in to point out new life may (i.e. “I know it was painful, but look at all the good that came from it!”), it may feel minimizing or patronizing. But when the forgiver can genuinely see new life sprouting after acknowledging their pain and grieving their loss, the new life may even be sweeter than the old.

When we walk through the difficulty of extending forgiveness to others, it can truly free us from being tethered to our pain and anger, and it can revolutionize the way we receive forgiveness as a sacrificial gift from others.

2018, The Year of ______

I recently had coffee with a friend who was looking forward to 2018 as her year of adventure. Adventure was a word spoken over her coming year from a trusted friend, and a word she has embraced as a guiding principle as she approaches decisions in the New Year. This may be as simple as embracing adventure of learning how to cook a new dish or as life changing as choosing to move to a new city and explore a new season of life.

My friend’s full embrace of this word spoken over her reminds me of the power of words. Words can speak both life and destruction. Choosing a word or theme has the great potential to speak life preemptively into this new year, knowing that curveballs and unexpected challenges will come. Perhaps choosing a word can provide an anchor within the storms that may arise.

Her word has prompted me to reflect on what word I would use to describe the theme of my 2017, and wonder what I want the next calendar year to embody. So often I head into the New Year with excitement and personal goals or resolutions that I only half-heartedly commit to because I know my track record is not great. And yet the process of reflecting and goal setting is an important one nonetheless, so I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

As you reflect on 2017, what word would you use the describe the months, memories, lessons learned, personal growth, challenges, etc.? 2017 was the year of _______.

As you look forward to 2018, what hopes do you have for yourself, career, physical health, relationships, mental health? What do you hope to learn next year? What traits do you hope to grow towards?

2018 will be the year of ______.

Girls & Sex Event

Think about the first time you talked about sex or sexuality with someone you trusted. You were probably young, curious, maybe even afraid to ask uncomfortable questions that needed to be answered. And in our modern times, any understanding of female sexuality is met with new challenges due to the reach and influence of technology.

You may have heard me talk about Peggy Orenstein's Girls & Sex or read some of my reflections on the book. Her work has reinvigorated my passion for creating safe places to have honest and frank conversations about female sexuality in this new landscape shaped by social media and technology. 

Rather than letting young women stumble into this new terrain by themselves, a few colleagues and I have teamed up to spend a weekend honestly engaging this very conversation in January. Our hope is to equip and empower the next generation to better understand themselves and their sexuality in a healthy way through honest dialogue with safe people. 

We'll be partnering with local professional therapists and using Peggy Orenstein’s NYT bestseller Girls & Sex as a guide. This event is geared towards young high school and college aged young women. Topics include messages about sexuality, experiencing sexuality versus appearing sexy, and consent. Friday night we will hold a simultaneous parent seminar to help parents talk with their daughters about these topics in a non-shaming way.

If this sounds like the type of conversation you are eager to have, find more information & registration here! If this sounds like the type of conversation you wish you could have had 10 or 20 years ago, consider donating to our GoFundMe here to make this event available to any young woman who may be interested in participating. 

Feel free to contact me for any questions! Looking forward to seeing you there!

Building Resilience in Your Child

Watching your child endure disappointment, heartbreak, and setbacks is heart-wrenching. Perhaps watching them make mistakes, knowing disappointment is right around the corner, is even more challenging! Whether they are 5 or 25 years old, it can be tempting to step in to protect your child from pain. The extreme of this is what we call helicopter parents: hovering over their kids, intervening for them, making decisions for them, fighting their battles, and protecting them from consequences. While it can be tempting to fight those battles for your child, the best way to develop resilience in your child is to allow them to endure small hurts and disappointments. Children who rarely experience small hurts, boundaries, or consequences will struggle when bigger struggles inevitably cross their paths. As your children survive bumps along the way, they learn to tolerate distress, grow, and make better decisions in the future.

Part of your job as a parent is to equip your child to be a healthy, happy, and successful adult. One day your child will have to navigate conflict in their relationships, personal struggles, difficult coworkers, and financial choices all on their own. Moving out of the house does not magically bring about these life skills, they are learned and practiced at home throughout childhood. As parents, you can create safe boundaries within which your child can practice (and fail!) navigating those difficulties. Giving your child the freedom to make those decisions and deal with the consequences of their actions can be a huge learning opportunity and confidence builder.

Try to identify small, age-appropriate tasks that your child can learn to navigate on their own. For example, it may be appropriate to talk with your elementary aged child’s teacher about school concerns, but middle and high school aged kids can learn to talk to their teachers about homework and grade concerns by themselves. It is important that these tasks are small and the consequences are ones that your child can endure. Remember, it is also your job to protect your child from harm!

Whatever the issue, help your child brainstorm solutions, create a plan together, and help your child to execute that plan on their own. It is important that your child learn that their choices are connected to their consequences. Maybe it is the parent’s job to make their child’s lunch, but the child’s responsibility to remember to bring it with them. If they forget their lunch, they may have to skip lunch that day. Perhaps you and your middle school aged child make a plan to tackle a big project with you checking in daily -if your child chooses to procrastinate to the last minute, he or she may get a poor grade or be sleepy at school from staying up late to finish.

As your child grows they will be able to brainstorm, plan, and execute more and more on their own. Along the way, ask your child “What are you feeling? What do you need? How can I help you?” As your child learns to tolerate small setbacks, they will be better prepared to handle bigger disappointments down the road.

How to Listen so your Kids will Open Up

Just as children navigate new developmental stages, so parents must learn to relate to their children differently in each stage. This can be extremely difficult, especially when your sweet little one who used to share everything with you is navigating the adolescent years and suddenly wants nothing to do with mom and dad. Many parents are curious about how to better relate to their child so that they are willing to open up and share about their life.

Remember, your adolescent is learning how to become more independent, and will inevitably start to push a bit further away from the family. This is normal, and good! Your relationship will change as they learn to become more independent, to develop more intimate friendships, and form their identity. As a parent, you will likely not be your teenager's go to processing buddy, and information may become more limited. With that in mind, here are a few tips in how to cultivate a space where your teen will continue to share with you.

1. Get curious (but not too curious). Casually ask about your child's day, what was great and difficult about their day, what they love right now, what they may need. Let them teach you about the teenage landscape. Remember that teenagers become suspicious and often shut down when they feel they are being interviewed or interrogated. If your teen starts to shut down, ask them "It seems like you don't want to talk right now. I may be asking too many questions, is that right? Maybe we can talk more later."

2. Create a family culture where it is safe to share deeply. If the adults are not modeling how to share about feelings, talk about difficulties, or share joys, teenagers will not magically start talking about their deepest struggles and pains. Work on creating a family culture where everyone can feel safe to share (or not share) as they need. Around the dinner table make a habit of sharing your highs and lows from the day, put a feelings word list up on your kitchen, and practice using feeling words to help give your kids the language to talk about their internal world. When appropriate, share your own struggles that are still in process, not merely ones that have already been figured out.

3. Reflect back. Rather than jumping in with a solution to a struggle, learn to reflect back what your child is saying. Aim to reflect both content and the emotion behind it. If your child shares about a tricky friend situation, you may say "Wow, this conflict with your friends is messy, and you're feeling confused as to what to do." If your child seems irritable in the midst of a big project, you may say "You seem pretty stressed about this presentation," rather than "Why did you procrastinate to the last minute?" Reflective listening communicates care about your child's day and internal world, while respecting their desire to solve their challenges on their own.

4. Ask for feedback. Children and teens are rarely given a voice to make decisions or speak up for themselves. They are often spoken for, preached at, or have decisions made for them. If your child is consistently shutting down in conversations at home, notice it with them and ask what they may need instead. For example, "Tommy I notice that when I ask about your day, you give me one word answers. I really care about you and want to know how you're doing. What could I do differently that would help?" This could be as simple as giving the child 30 minutes of down time after school before asking about their day or planning for homework. Ask when they feel heard, what kinds of things you can do to support them, how you can respect their privacy and independence while staying involved in their life. They may surprise you with their answers!

5. Get in the car. Any parent that has driven carpool can attest to the world of information that opens up when your kids share with their friends in the car. It's as if the children completely forget that an adult is present, and the parent gets a sneak peak into their child's world. If you hear something in the car that your child hasn't shared with you, don't use this against them as a secret weapon. Instead, follow up with a gentle question later when friends aren't around. Teenagers in particular may be intimidated by face to face conversations with adults. They are often more comfortable when sitting parallel, just like what happens in the car. If your child tends to open up more in the car, take them with you for an errand, put your phones away, and let them fill the silence. Car rides are great times to ask open ended questions.

If you are really struggling to maintain a positive relationship with your teen, don't be afraid to reach out for help!