Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Predictive Power of Triangles

Christians weighing in on Botkin Syndrome:

Excerpts from "Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves" by Drs. Stoop and Masteller.

From pages 140 – 142:

We actually see this sort of dynamic occur around us all the time. Let's take a simple example. Imagine that you are the parent of a six-year old girl. One Saturday, you invite your daughter's best friend from school to come over to your house for the afternoon. You also invite your child's best friend from church. These children have never met each other before.

Things go well for awhile. But soon the friend from school corners your child and says, “I thought I was your best-best-best friend. Am I?” Your child reassures her that, of course, she is her best friend. Immediately, this little girl runs to the other guest and says, “I'm her best friend and you're not!”

...As any parent knows, before very long, one of two things is almost certainly going to happen. Either one of the two friends will feel hurt and will start whining that she wants to go home, or both of the invited guests will become “best friends” with each other and ignore your child...

Children seldom have the maturity and the relational skills to resolve this kind of situation such that everyone winds up being friends – even with parents' help. When that does happen, we are usually so amazed by it that we comment about it to others! Nine times out of ten, what happens is that the two pair off against one. That is the nature of this kind of triangle, and the reason why we consider it an “unbalanced” triangle...

This principle of balance holds true with a remarkable degree of consistency and tenacity. Our experience (and that of other family system theorists) shows that over time, in a close, intimate setting like the family, all three way relationships will inevitably resolve themselves into one of the “balanced” triangle patterns. [Blog host note: Either all relationships and communications between points will be healthy and appropriate, or two persons will align to provide a stable and united front against the third party. Each system provides a type of stability that the other alternatives do not provide. Even human relationships work towards stability or “homeostasis.”]

Not only that, but the characteristic of any given two-way relationship (whether it is a straight-line or a [red, dashed-line] relationship) will remain the same no matter what third party is added.

Sometimes people will say, “My brother and I always got along great.” But then an interesting thing happens. When we draw a triangle to include their mother, there is a straight line between them and their brother. The same thing happens when we draw a triangle to include the sister. But when we try to add in their father, they say, “Well, the three of us never could hit it off together. In that case, you'd have to put a wavy line between my brother and me.”

Our response would be, “Something's not right here. Experience shows us that the quality of your relationship with your brother should remain the same no matter what third party we include.” We will then probe more deeply to see if the individual is not either idealizing his relationship with his brother in the first two settings, or wrongly estimating the negative impact of his father in the third setting.

Excerpt from
Dr. David Stoop & Dr. James Masteller's
"Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves:
Healing Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families"
Regal/Gospel Light, 1996 (Servant, 1991)