by Bob Jones
If you haven’t read my “Waking Up
” page, I encourage you to start there.
Growing Up is the middle phase of the process of developing deep and authentic connections. Waking up is about becoming conscious. Growing up is about becoming the type of person that people want to connect with, and Showing up is about bringing our magnificence into the world.
This article has five chapters. Each discusses some aspect of growing up. We will explore the victim triangle
, the concept of shadow
, interpersonal behaviors
that deepen (or bust) connection, psychological defense mechanisms
that protect me from anxiety, and growing into emotional maturity
Several friends of mine have cautioned me that the term “Growing Up” may trigger some people. I recognize that, but I choose to use it anyway because growing up has not been simple or easy for me. I don’t want to diminish the challenges it poses, but ultimately the act of deepening into who I truly am has added a juicy richness to my life. So if the term “Growing Up” doesn’t work well for you, I invite you to consider the question, “What could you do to become a better pilot of your own life?”
Throughout these chapters, I share my own personal story of how becoming the pilot of my own life and understanding and embracing these concepts has helped me become a better human being, more comfortable in my own skin and a better friend, ally, and leader.
I have been an analytical, left-brained computer programmer for over 50 years. 25 years ago I discovered that I had a heart that was much smarter than my brain. I started by studying Gestalt and in the years since have become very active in men’s work. After attending the Mankind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure in 2001. Since that time I have helped initiate over 1,000 men into a more mature form of adult manhood.
I have been married to my partner for over 40 years and have raised three children. Although we suffered through many growing pains, my wife and I are very close to each other and to each of our children.
After attending just about every training that I could find, I started developing my own training about two years ago. The ConneXions Intensive Workshop is the ever-evolving result of my cumulative life experience.
The Victim Triangle
How To Stop Playing The Blame Game
A major step in my growing up process came shortly after the turn of the millennium. 2001 was a year from hell for me and millions of others. On February 28th there was a massive earthquake near Seattle, then on September 11th we saw planes fly into buildings, and I felt the world changing radically. On the more personal side, there was an implosion in the IT market and for the first time in my life, I could not find work. I started to fall into a deep depression, but I remembered what a friend and counselor had taught me about the “Victim Triangle
.” In the 1990’s I was seeing a counselor in Seattle. He had a small whiteboard in his office and he would draw a triangle with the point facing down like this one. He would describe what was happening in any given emotional “transaction” by showing how I was operating out of the space of one of these three roles. If I was angry with my wife because she said or did something that irritated me, I learned that I was seeing her as my persecutor and I was the helpless victim. She was “doing it to me.”
I flashed back on the dynamic between my parents I saw when I was a child. They were yelling at each other and I heard (and saw) my father slap my mother. My father was the persecutor and my mother was the victim. I didn’t learn until many years later that my father was seeing my mother as the persecutor and himself as the victim. I was (of course) the rescuer because I wanted them to stop fighting so that I would feel better. In this sense, they were both persecutors and I was the helpless victim. From my father’s perspective, my mother was driving him crazy with her behavior and he felt powerless to stop her, so he tried the only thing he could think of: he hit her over and over again.
So one very important step in my growing up was to become aware of when I was operating “on the triangle.” I still see daily moments where I am feeling victimized by someone, but fortunately, the time between feeling the victim energy and becoming aware of it has shortened considerably, and I have become quite willing to own what is going on in me and to take responsibility for the behavioral choices I make in response. Does this remind you at all of your own life experiences? Who do you do the triangle dance with?
What is the Victim Triangle?
The Victim Triangle (also known as the Karpman Drama Triangle
) is a simple but profoundly useful way of looking at dysfunctional relationships in action.
The victim feels under attack by the persecutor and the rescuer wants to save the victim, or at least that is the simple version.
Deeper examination reveals that the persecutor blames the victim for some action and wants to teach the victim a lesson; and the rescuer doesn’t really want to help the victim as much as she wants the conflict to stop because she is not comfortable with conflict. And the insidious aspect of this drama is that it becomes a dance. The persecutor attacks the victim because he feels like a victim himself, and the rescuer turns into a persecutor while trying to protect the original victim who may then gang up with the rescuer or turn on the rescuer telling her that, “This is none of your fucking business!” And the dance goes on and on.
If you want to see how this drama plays out in your life, please read this wonderful article by Lynne Forrest called “The Three Faces of Victim
.” She describes this dysfunctional drama in considerable detail and with lots of compelling examples.
Ultimately the triangle dance is about blame. Each role wants to blame the other roles, rather than take responsibility for the situation they find themselves in. So the way off of the triangle is to take a breath, realize that we can make a better choice than blame, and reclaim our personal power by taking responsibility, not for the problem
that we are facing, but the choices we make in dealing with the challenge
My highly non-scientific poll has detected signs of this drama in so many others. In my men’s circles, when a man gets triggered, all I usually have to do is ask him, “Where are you on the triangle right now?”
That which we hide and deny
Now back to my story…
Although I could see myself curling up under the “poor me” blanket and just giving up, I remembered that I had no control over the external tragedies that I read about every day. I could, however, choose how I responded to those events. In that moment, I remembered that responding from a place of victimhood is a choice that I didn’t have to make. I also remembered that getting my ass out of bed and actively engaging in life was a powerful antidote to depression, but what action to take?
Through a series of events that don’t really matter, I discovered Robert Bly’s “Little Book of the Human Shadow.” Bly described shadow as a metaphorical bag that we drag around behind us that contains parts of us that our parents, teachers, peers, and our culture in general have told us aren’t welcome. Over time, these “shadows” become part of our unconscious self. We can’t see them, but others around us can because they show up as unhealthy behaviors that often impact those closest to us. In my case, I had stuffed the anger I felt towards my father. I pretended to be a nice, amiable fellow who was easy to get along with. I didn’t think of, or see myself, as an angry person, but my wife and children certainly did.
What is Shadow?
Shadow is some part of me that I hide from you, and even from myself. In Star Wars lingo, shadow is referred to as “The Dark Side.” Both Freud and Jung defined shadow, but they defined it differently. Wikipedia gives a good definition of Jungian shadow
Another way to describe shadow is conveyed by the Johari Window. The Open Self is the part of me that I know about and you can see.
The Blind Self is the part of me that I cannot see, but you can. Typically, the blind self shows up in relationships with others. My wife can see parts of me that I am blind to, and vice-versa. If she can see something in me that I cannot see, I may get defensive
and accuse her of being wrong and simply projecting
her beliefs on me. This can lead to conflict
The Hidden Self is the part of me that I do know about, but won’t let you (or anyone else) see. This is where I keep my secrets. The more I hide from you, the more difficult it is to connect deeply with you.
And finally, the Unknown Self is my unconscious, the part of me that I have no awareness of. Can you guess which part is the largest?
One of the simplest ways to discover our shadows is to (1) notice when we are on the triangle, and (2) ask ourselves, “What is the belief or message I hold about myself that is driving the bus right now?” This may be some form of “I’m not good enough/worthy/lovable,” or “The only way I will get what I want is to …”
Behaviors That Impact Connection
How to Deepen or Bust Connection
Soon after I finished Bly’s book, I discovered a powerful training called “The New Warrior Training Adventure” which I attended in November 2001. For the first time in my life I was surrounded with men who inspired and challenged me to look deeply into my own shadows and to begin to heal my childhood wounds. Ultimately, I learned how important it is to develop a sense of personal safety that allows me to be vulnerable when that will deepen connection and to set appropriate boundaries when I need to protect myself. I realized the importance of surrounding myself with fellow travelers who are both willing and able to challenge me deeply and lovingly to look into the mirror of my unconscious self which empowers me to gradually change the shadow-driven behaviors that no longer work for me. And I also recognized at a deep level how important it is for me to take full responsibility for my actions and the impact of my actions, whether intended or unintended.
My father taught me by setting a bad example. He was a brilliant man with overpowering shadows that he was unwilling to look at. His shadows manifested as behaviors that drove people around him crazy. Perhaps his most virulent shadow-driven behavior was his judgments of others. He judged everyone around him as lacking somehow and was very vocal with his judgments. When he died, he had pushed away everyone around him, including all of his family, and he was a very lonely man.
From the lesson my father set, I have learned to become conscious of my judgments of others. I define judgment as data plus an emotional charge, i.e. an over-reaction in my body that is not congruent with the apparent data. For example, if I get angry when my wife asks me to slow down a bit when I am driving well over the speed limit, my anger is an over-reaction.
Judgments are an example of behaviors that serve to keep us disconnected, but judgment isn’t the only connection-busting behavior. Here is a partial list of both connection-busting and connection-building behaviors:
Connection Building vs. Connection Busting Behaviors
|Connection Busting Behaviors
||Connection Building Behaviors
|Listening to speak
||Listening to understand
If we think about emotional maturity from a strictly behavioral point of view and look at behaviors that deepen connection versus behaviors that weaken connection, we can make a list like this one. Take a moment and ask yourself what connection-busting behaviors are missing from the list? Which are your favorites? Then ask the same question about connection-building behaviors. Do you listen deeply when your partner, children, or friends speak?
How We Hide From Anxiety
Back to my journey…
I started a men’s circle in Bellingham after I completed my training adventure and that is where the deep work happened. I sat every week with other men who wanted to look at their shadows. We loved each other fiercely and called bullshit when we smelled it. We got pissed off at each other and learned about “projection” and “denial” and we learned how to clear ourselves of our charges and triggers.
Over time, I learned that even my men’s circle wasn’t strong enough for me to shine the light on some of my shadows and I sought out counseling because I know myself well enough to accept that my defenses can steer you right past what I don’t want you to see about me. Actually, claiming I can do that is just an example of a defense mechanism.
My message here is simple: we cannot do this work by ourselves
. We need teachers, counselors, and friends who are willing to love us fiercely and with deep honesty. Do you have these people in your life already, or is attracting these people into your life a challenge you are willing to step up to?
What Are Our Defense Mechanisms?
Defense mechanisms are ways we hide from anxiety because anxiety doesn’t feel good.
I mentioned “projection” and “denial” earlier. These are just two of our many “defense mechanisms.” Our body’s immune system defends us from attack by germs and viruses. Our psyche also has defense mechanisms that protect our ego from annihilation. The most common and well-known are shown in the table below, taken from an article by Saul McLeod in Simply Psychology
||Repression is an unconscious mechanism employed by the ego to keep disturbing or threatening thoughts from becoming conscious.
||During the Oedipus complex, aggressive thoughts about the same sex parents are repressed.
||Denial involves blocking external events from awareness. If some situation is just too much to handle, the person refuses to experience it.
||Smokers may refuse to admit to themselves that smoking is bad for their health.
||Projection involves individuals attributing their own unacceptable thoughts, feelings and motives to another person.
||A husband who has a hostile nature might attribute this hostility to his wife and say she has an anger management problem.
||Satisfying an impulse (e.g. aggression) with a substitute object.
||Someone who is frustrated by his or her boss may go home and kick the dog.
||This is a movement back in time, to an earlier chronological age when one is faced with stress.
||A person who suffers a mental breakdown assumes a fetal position, rocking and crying.
||Satisfying an impulse (e.g. aggression) with a substitute object in a socially acceptable way.
||Using sports to express aggression.
The list above is not a complete list of defense mechanisms. On my resources page
, I reference several papers that talk about many more.
Truly Growing Up
So where am I going with all of this?
Simple premise: if I can grow up, I can connect more authentically
If I am aware of what robs me of my power (my shadow), I can have cleaner and more honest relationships. I looked back over my life and realized that the friends I attracted into my life were rather superficial, just like me. As I grew up, I hungered for my own “band of brothers” who could inspire and encourage me as well as get just plain goofy with me.
As I grew up emotionally, I was becoming more authentic and more grounded. Although chaotic events still arose, I was dealing with them more calmly. I wasn’t emotionally rocked as often or as deeply as I had been in the past.
What Is Emotional Maturity?
Let’s approach defining emotional maturity by first defining each word:
- “Emotional” is the adjective form of “emotion” which is a state of feeling. There are many feelings (emotions) we can feel like anger, fear, sadness, happiness, and even guilt or shame.
- “Maturity” means becoming fully developed. This can apply to one’s physical body or psychological or mental capacities.
Emotional maturity is being able to be aware of and choosing to be aware of one’s emotional, psychological and physical state. Emotions arise on their own. We don’t necessarily have control over what emotions arise in any given moment. If we see children playing happily, we may feel happiness, or even sadness or anger, depending on how the scene impacts us. Being emotionally mature means that we can (and do) recognize these feelings in ourselves and in others. We can feel anger or fear in ourselves and call that feeling into conscious awareness. We can see sadness or happiness on someone’s face and recognize that emotion.
Although emotions simply arise, we do have the ability to choose how we respond to emotions, both ours and others. Being emotionally mature means that we take responsibility for our behavioral choices in response to both our emotions and the emotions of others.
Personally, taking responsibility also implies that I make choices that are congruent with the Yoga principles of Ahimsa (create harmony, do no harm) and Satya (be truthful).
So emotional maturity ultimately means that I will exercise emotional awareness and control such that I do not harm myself or others and I speak as truthfully as the situation warrants. There are some situations where speaking truthfully can do harm, so there is a high degree of discretion and discernment necessary to be emotionally mature in any given moment. Becoming emotionally mature also requires accepting that life is complicated. There are often no simple solutions, and that not knowing is both allowed and often wise.
Emotional maturity is not an on or off thing. It’s a gradual developmental process that has stages or levels. Kevin FitzMaurice describes “six levels of emotional maturity
” that one evolves through over time. As I read his article, I could see that I still have considerable work to do to rise to the highest levels of emotional maturity.
Now, after over 25 years of deep personal growth, I have learned to look deeply inward and sit with my shadows, notice when I am triggered and take responsibility for the choices I make, even those choices I make unconsciously. I have learned to understand my emotions and manage my responses more mindfully, to be accountable and to listen deeply, at least part of the time. I have developed a reasonable level of emotional maturity, but I clearly have lots of work to do, and that excites me; but what about you?
If you have made it this far, you are most likely already well into your own journey of growth and discovery. In this article I described some tools and practices that may help you on your journey. Think of these as the type of exercises you do before taking the field of play in the big game of life. In the next chapter, “Showing Up
,” We will explore how to discover, deepen and share your magnificence with the world.