Why Does She Keep Creating Conflict?

Some people set up conflicts and drama to get their own need for attention met - and to sub-consciously re-enact their own childhood relationship dynamics

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Q - My step-grandmother keeps setting up battles between members of the family – and then somehow turns it round as if she’s the victim! 

She’s recently told lies to my aunt about what I’m supposed to have said about her relationship with my uncle. My aunt questioned me about it, and when I asked my gran about what she’d said and why, she denied it to my face and said my aunt must be lying – and she added the usual ‘why does everybody in this family keep telling lies about me’? Yet SHE is the one setting it all up! 

She creates conflicts and fall outs, and pitches people against one another. There is so much bad feeling and lack of trust now. I don’t know who to believe any more. Why does she keep doing this, and why do the rest of us seem to keep falling for it?

A - Let’s think about what the desired outcome might be for your grandmother – because we all do what we do for a reason (not to say that it’s a good or bad one).

It may well be that she is somehow replaying her own early family drama – and recreating ‘triangular relationships’.

You may have heard of the ‘drama triangle’ (also called the Karpman Triangle). In this emotional ‘game’ someone gets set up as a Victim (the Vulnerable one), someone as the Rescuer (the Responsible one) and the third position is that of Persecutor (the Powerful one).

The ‘switch’ happens when one person shifts position – so a rescuer becomes the persecutor or a victim, or the persecutor becomes the new victim or a rescuer; or the victim becomes the new rescuer or persecutor...there's always a role switch.

For instance, the victim might suddenly become the bully by making their rescuer feel bad,inadequate or guilty... and so they then become the new victim. 

The pay off is a ‘drama’…something that fills the emotional space… something that connects people's through the bad feelings generated. 

The only one not feeling bad is the persecutor – who makes someone else feel bad instead!

In the set-up you describe, your grandmother starts the game by telling lies (maybe attributing her own opinions and feelings onto someone else). She then creates ill-feeling and conflict between other people - who will then take up the positions of persecutor and victim during their subsequent argument. These two positions might change back and forth as the arguments and repercussions play out.

She can then switch to become the rescuer who soothes someone’s upset, and is a shoulder to cry on or a wise sage giving her timely advice. 

More likely she will instead play the new victim role… ‘how could you do this to me/blame me/turn on me'… (and I’m an old lady etc.) 

This also sets up the other ‘players’ to then become her persecutors or rescuers. 

This dynamic is common in family groups, and also in the workplace (where we see family patterns being played out).

There is a saying about drama triangles - 'The only way to not play the game is not to play!'

What that means is, the game will probably still get set up by her – but when you all become aware of what is going on you can flag it up and make it clear that you won’t be pulled into it - and that you won’t play!

You can also share your curiosity about why such a toxic pattern gets set up in the first place. But beware of being pulled into a ‘game’ about such a challenge – in which you might be cast as the persecutor for having criticised (and exposed) the game-master - who will of course deny everything!

As you can see, it all gets muddled very easily - and that is why you must not only become aware of what is being set up, but also be very clear that you won’t be a part of it!

When a few key family members get together and discuss this pattern (and hopefully clear the air about anything that has been causing lingering resentment from previous ‘drama’ games); you can then all have a united front, and agree to challenge or ignore what the Old Persecutor is doing to relieve her boredom and get attention from recreating her own past history of triangular relationships within your family too.

Perhaps there are ways that you can all help her to feel like an important and valued member of her new family without her having to set up and play these old games!

Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) MIND HEALER & MENTOR

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Maxine Harley



Go to the profile of Ummi Fulani
over 3 years ago

This drama sounds way too familiar in both my friends circle and family relationship sadly I had to detach myself but often get caught in the middle again.