Coming to calm

(6 minute read)

I recently completed a 5 week coming to calm course by the lovely Tamsin Hartley (author of The Listening Space, which is a useful model to work with metaphor and clean questions in a coaching session. See my blog post on The Listening Space).

I don’t know why I decided to participate in this workshop right now in the middle of my postgrad degree when I am already feeling stretched on time, but I did it and it has already proved useful in a couple of coaching sessions and my life. So it was time well spent.

Apart from meeting some wonderful human beings, I gained an understanding of the roles certain parts of our brain (i.e., the limbic system and prefrontal cortex) play in our daily experiences and how we make sense of the world.

I’ll explain it in a way that I understand, which is grossly oversimplified. So apologies to neuroscientists who actually understand the complexities of this incredible organ : )

The limbic system (I see the image of the cartoon Tasmanian devil, but here’s a photo of a cute juvenile because of copyright reasons!) can affect our emotions and behaviour and likes to send us into a whirlwind of drama and fight, flight or freeze which spikes the sympathetic nervous system.

This clouds our thinking and tries to protect our egos but can send us into the role of victim, persecutor or rescuer, according to Karpman’s drama triangle which I’ll explain later.

Whereas the prefrontal cortex part of our brain (equanimous monk type image) allows us to step back from emotive experiences so we can observe what we saw, heard, thought and physically and emotionally felt, in an objective and non-judgemental manner.

By breaking down the experience into these five parts can help us unravel a complex and intensely personal situation.

Only if we take responsibility, in a calm and detached manner, can we observe what story we are telling ourselves and how we could progress, with greater clarity of thought. We can then re-tell an evidence-based and rational story that works differently and hopefully better for everyone involved.

The idea is that observing a situation with equanimity and non-judgemental present moment awareness results in wiser choices rather than reacting spontaneously to a situation or event. When we acknowledge the roles we are peforming, we can find a different, more empowering and responsible way to move forward. Coming to calm is one such simple and effective process.

According to Karpman’s Drama Triangle, there are three roles people play: the Persecutor, the Victim and the Rescuer. No role is any worse or better than the others. They can be equally debilitating and enacted concurrently.

The Persecutor

The Persecutor points the finger and accuses others of being to blame for the situation. They insist others must change or do something in order to improve the situation.

The Victim

The Victim feels hopeless and powerless in the situation and that they are incapable of making change as they are at the mercy of other people or circumstances.

The Rescuer

The Rescuer swoops in to solve other people’s problems for them, but in doing so they are claiming others are not capable of solving their own problems and need the Rescuer’s help. This is disempowering and consequently victimises those they want to rescue.

The triangle gets messy when the Victim becomes resentful of the Rescuer’s well-meaning intentions and then persecutes the Rescuer, who then becomes victimised by the ex-Victim-now-Persecutor, who may feel resentful their help was not appreciated and persecutes the ex-Victim for being ungrateful! : D

What an emotional drain and waste of time when we could be doing something more productive or fun instead!

Whereas, when we admit we are playing roles in a drama triangle, we can bring present moment awareness and a sense of responsibility to a situation. When we take a breather and come to calm, we can more easefully engage the prefrontal cortex and create a healthier, new way of looking at situations and avoid time-wasting dramas.

I admit I used to be a Rescuer and that probably got me interested in coaching many moons ago, because I wanted to help other people overcome their challenges as I had overcome mine. I didn’t want people to suffer or be the victims of their circumstances. But then I realised it was not a healthy way of being.

With experience and wisdom, I came to appreciate everyone is on their own wonderful journey of personal development, which may include suffering. However, this also offers potential for growth. But, ultimately everyone is the expert of themselves when they can shift out of the Drama and come to calm.

How could you be more zen monk/monkess and less Tasmanian devil today?

Onwards and funwards and wishing you a deliciously drama-free day, if that’s what you so desire xXx

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