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What's Your Emotional Stress Fallback Position?

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...  

The Nourishing Company
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 description.

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 boundaries.

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 suffering.

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 lessons on emotional life delivered to you online in the comfort of your own home or office.  For more information, go to

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Tags: emotional stress symptoms how to deal with emotional stress emotional signs of stress how to cope with stress emotional stress emotional stress relief

 The Nourishing Company
, P.O. Box 1429, Ukiah, Ca 95482, USA



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Tags: emotional stress symptoms how to deal with emotional stress emotional signs of stress how to cope with stress emotional stress emotional stress relief


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