So what is the matter with Washington? Thomas Frank in his book, “What’s The Matter With Kansas?,” outlined how the conservatives took over the heartland. How did they take over Washington? David Frum, a Republican strategist, recently hit the nail on the head when he asked, “If the left and the right are completing to be the biggest victim, who is running the government? What we are seeing is the Drama Triangle being played out in national politics unlike ever before. Washington is suffered from needless gridlock while the politicians complete to see who will be seen as the biggest victim.
What is the Drama Triangle? It is a dysfunctional game with three roles: The Persecutor, The Rescuer and the Victim. What keeps the game going is competition for the Victim Role. The game is to convince the general public that you are the biggest Victim in this political and ideological struggle. Polls are taken on almost every subject to see who is winning or losing the battle to be seen as the biggest Victim.
Let’s take gun control as an example. The left is coming to the Rescue those who have been or will be victims of gun violence after Aurora and Sandy Hook. They want universal background checks, limits on the size of magazines and a ban on assault weapons. The right, heavily financed by the gun lobby and the gun manufacturers, want nothing of these limits.
They want to Rescue the segment of the American people who feel like they are Victims of the government on many fronts. (This idea is left over from Reagan’s famous definition of a dangerous situation: “I am here from the government and I am trying to help you.” They seem to resist having limits of any kind, even speed limits. Specifically, they are afraid of a government who might become even more tyranical in their eyes and try to take away their guns. They are even afraid of universal background checks because that might help create a national registry that would make it easier for the government to know where to come to get your guns. The left tries to demonize the right and the right tries to demonize the left each acting as if they are being victimized by the other side’s tactics.
What Psychological Problems Are Behind This Drama
There are a number of underlying psychological problems being dialed into this drama. First, most of the fears and reactions on either side are exaggerated. Any time a person’s reaction is greater than the situation calls for is a clear indication of unrecognized and unhealed trauma from another time and place. This causes people to feel scared inside. People deal with this fear by trying to erect walls to protect themselves from these internal fears. All they actually do is wall in their fears and than they have to find some other way to avoid them.
One of the most common ways is avoid these unwanted feelings is to project them on others and keep the focus on the “bad behavior” of other people. This is the Persecutor role on the Drama Triangle. The left accuses the right of protecting the gun manufacturers, or for not having enough empathy or compassion for the victims of gun violence in that theater in Aurora, Colorado or that elementary school in Newton, Connecticut. The right accuses the left of being duped by the government into helping confiscate people’s guns. Both try to get the general public to decide which Persecutor is the biggest victim.
Another sign of unrecognized and unhealed trauma is splitting. This is when people see only two options for anything. They see the world as black/white, good/evil, Republican/Democrat, etc. In our research this represents a failure to complete a stage of development that occurred originally about 18 months to 2 years. Splitting the world into good or bad is the way a toddler thinks at this age, but with patience and parental support they advance to both/and thinking and can see “gray” areas as well. It would seem that because of their either/or thinking many of adults are stuck in infancy in their ability to solve problems.
The Need/Obligate System
What supports the Drama Triangle in Washington is something we call the Need/Obligate System. The underlying purpose of the Need/Obligate System is manipulation and control. You try to manipulate those you see as your competition for the Victim role so you can control their behavior. One of the main ways this is done is by “obligating” them to you in some way. One of the best ways to obligate others to you is by doing something for them that they need but didn’t ask for directly (a Rescue). Then you can expect them to do something for you without you having to ask them for it. If they don’t reciprocate, you are justified in being angry at them (Persecutor). You then can feel like a Victim of this person’s lack of reciprocation or blame and shame him/her into also feeling like a Victim.
This is now all lobbyists operate. They make a financial contribution to our elected representatives election fund and then you expect them to vote for legislation that helps your client make more money. If you accept the contribution, you know you won’t get another one if you don’t vote the way you are expected to vote and not your conscience. Otherwise you risk not raising enough money to get re-elected. The Need/Obligate System has been made easier by the Supreme Court’s decision that corporations are people and can contribute unlimited money to candidates through Super-PAC’s.
How Can This Gridlock Be Changed?
Mostly the change will have to come from the general public. If enough people understand why these lawmakers are stuck, they can elect new people ho do not use the Drama Triangle or the Need/Obligate System to get their needs met. What would such a candidate look like? He or she would have to be able to do the following five things:
- Commit to getting your needs met by asking directly for what you want and need. This means giving up your victim behaviors and leaving Victim Consciousness.
- Refuse to rescue other people. This means don’t do something for someone else unless they have asked you to do it or you get their permission to do it for them.
- Learn to recognize and reclaim your projections. This involves looking at your judgments of others to see if they might represent things you don’t like about yourself.
- Recognize and heal your developmental traumas. Notice the things that “trigger’ you into a reaction that is greater than the situation called for. This is an indication of an unhealed trauma.
- Learn to authentically express your thoughts and feelings in the moment, rather than saving them up and then dumping them. When you don’t express your feeling at the time you first feel them, they tend to come out stronger and less authentic than you would like.
As an “informed voter” you need to devise ways to determine if those you support for elected office are able and willing to do these five things. If they are not, they don’t deserve your vote and they will likely repeat the same Drama Triangle games.
In addition, you need to do some self-reflection to see if you are playing on the Drama Triangle. One of the most common ways that people enter the game is through the Rescue role. Here is a list of proven ways to avoid the Rescuer role:
- doing something for someone that you really don’t want to do.
- trying to meet other people’s needs without being asked.
- consistently doing more than your fair share of the work in a counseling or helping situation.
- feeling so uncomfortable with receiving that you find it necessary to seek out relationships with others in which you only give.
- trying to fix other people’s feelings or talk them out of their feelings.
- speaking up for other people instead of letting them speak for themselves.
- not asking for what you need and attending only to the needs of others.
- feeling rejected when your help is graciously refused.
- trying to help others without an explicit contract. (This does not include acts of kindness and compassion where help is legitimately needed).
If enough voters become aware of the Drama Triangle and refuse to play the game, the consciousness of this country would change and we would elect different kinds of people to represent us. Be the change you would like to see in them.