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What's Your Emotional Stress Fallback
Under Stress We All Revert to
Our Favorite Emotional Stress Management Strategy. To Better Reduce Your Stress, Find Out Yours and What
to Do Instead...
Volume VI # 91 Copyright
2014 All Rights Reserved
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Times of extra stress often reveal that we have an emotional ‘fall-back’
position. It’s an emotional strategy we employ, often without being aware of it. Bottom line, it’s an
attempt to somehow manage when we feel overwhelmed, our usual abilities to adapt are stretched to the limit and we
feel unable to cope.
The problem is that these strategies often stir up
situations but do nothing to actually reduce the stress, address and resolve emotional pain or solve a problem. The
more we use them, the more the situation gets worse and worse, Our stress mounts and there's no
relief in sight.
Psychiatrist Steven Karpman discovered that these
strategies typically fall into one of three types. He named them Persecutor, Rescuer and Victim. Each of us
typically has a ‘favorite’ position out of the three. However, he adds that as the stress continues, we may switch
back and forth between all three.
Unfortunately, we may operate as if the way to make the
situation better is to increase the intensity rather than to adapt our strategy.. The longer we continue in them,
the more our lives begin to look like some theatrical play, filled with high drama, increasing struggles, low
satisfaction and great frustration.
Below are summaries of the three primary emotional
fallback positions he identified along with what we can do when we find we’re stuck in them. The ways to
actually make the situation better, reduce the stress and get back to managing well are summed up after each
Persecutor: This strategy
involves persecuting ourselves or someone else, but either way, this approach involves a high degree of aggression,
put-downs, negativity, criticism, and accusations having to do with bad character, stupidity, worthlessness, being
a fool, etc. It’s as if we decided to attack first and put others on the defensive. We tear down, ridicule, act
threatening and try to control others by invoking fear in them.
Instead: What we need to do instead is
to create a road-map, a way of putting things together to actually solve the problem (or problems) contributing to
the stress, For example, a couple already overworked because of their jobs now also needed to handle
getting holiday gifts. When the realized they were persecuting each other, accusing each other of laziness and
competing about who works harder. Instead they sat down and make a list of what they actually need to do, then
decided together what was really essential to do, and who would do it.
Rescuer: (Note: This
psychological role is different from providing real help, such as in an emergency or when someone requests
it.) In this role we deal with our own mounting stress as if we were ‘riding in on a shining white
horse, trumpets blaring.’ Using this strategy we try to reduce our own stress by doing for others what
they are responsible for and need to do themselves. We smooth over situations, or offer support while
actually giving covert permission to fail. “Here, let me do that for you” with the hidden message being “I’m
competent, you’re inept.”
Instead: Ask the other person if
they want support from you and if so what you can do to assist the situation. Listen to their actual feelings
and let them know you heard them accurately. If you’re not sure you did, repeat what they said: ‘Are you
saying that…?” Let them know what you’re willing to do and not willing to do. Offer caring IF the other
person wants it. If you're not sure if they want it, ask them if they do. Respect their wishes and
Victim: ( Note: This is
a psychological role we adapt, rather than an event in which we are truly being victimized.) In this role we
control stress by suffering. We effectively ‘disappear’ our own emotional needs. We may whine, complain, wheedle,
moan, gripe, bellyache and whimper, but never ask for what we want because we’ve already concluded our needs are
not ok. Also we don’t communicate what we’re actually feeling emotionally, instead, imploding it and
Instead: State your needs and feelings
clearly and directly. Ask for what you want. Own your own needs and feelings through communicating them as
“I” messages. “I’m really tired right now and I need to take a break.” “I feel mad when you break an
agreement with me.” “Will you tell me one thing you like about me?” “ I really need some encouragement
right now. Will you tell me what do you think I did well in this project?”
Learning to notice when we’re in one of these three
psychological roles is the first step to getting out of them. Once aware of them, we can choose to move
beyond them by employing strategies like the ones suggested.
The sooner we do that, the sooner we will diminish the
drama and stress in our lives, and increase our satisfaction and well-being.
This content was excerpted from the Emotional Development 101 - a series of ten
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