We’ll Get Along If You’ll Just Pretend

The final drama role we’ll discuss is what I call the “mute”. Here’s how this type of drama works: My role in the drama is to avoid discussion of anything conflictual. Your role in the drama is to pretend along with me that everything is fine. As long as we both play our drama roles, we’ll get along well. Any questions? When the mute plays his role, we use phrases like,

  • “He’s in denial;”
  • “We had an argument and now she acts like nothing ever happened;”
  • “There’s this huge elephant in the living room that we can’t talk about;”
  • “He just won’t discuss it;”
  • “Every time I try to bring up the problem, she changes the subject;” and
  • “I’m supposed to just pretend like everything is fine.”

The mute’s role in the drama is to appear untroubled. Our role in the drama is to participate in the pretense. And if we don’t, then we’re the troublemaking bad guys who refuse to let things go.

You Can’t Make It Without Me

Now, let’s look at the third drama role, the messiah. “I sacrifice to help people” is stance taken. We describe them using terms like:

  • rescuer
  • caretaker
  • knight-in-shining-armor
  • brown-noser
  • know-it-all
  • God’s gift to the world, and
  • needs to be needed

Cashdan refers to this as ingratiation and says,

Relationships are orchestrated so that others are constantly aware that the person. . . is giving up something or putting the recipient’s interests before his own. There is a concerted attempt to induce others to be grateful for the things one does and the sacrifices one makes”. (Cashden, 1988).

Eddie Haskell from the old TV show, Leave it to Beaver, was this type of manipulator. Eddie was a nasty jerk. But around Mr. or Mrs. Cleaver, he quickly slipped into the messiah role, saying things like, “My, that’s a beautiful dress, Mrs. Cleaver” or “Don’t worry, Mr. Cleaver. I’ll make sure little Theodore stays out of trouble when Wally and I take him to the malt shop this afternoon.”

The messiah says in effect, “My job in this relationship is to take care of you. Your job in this relationship is to be grateful for the help I provide. Any questions?” Again, relational “success” is contingent upon drama participation.

By the way, lack of gratitude is experienced by the messiah as injury or rejection at which point he or she slips into the role of persecuted victim. This guilt-tripping manipulation is designed to coerce the other back into the role of gratefulness. And it often works!

The Help-Rejecting Complainer

Webster defines the word, martyr, as “great or constant sufferer.” The stance taken by the martyr is: “I’ve been hurt and you should do something about that. By the way, it will be your fault if I don’t make it.” We describe these individuals using terms like, guilt tripper, victim, help-rejecting complainer, or dependent. Speaking of this dependency, Cashdan says,

Such individuals are convinced that the success of their relationships, particularly close ones, hinges on their ability to convince people that they cannot exist on their own. They consequently adopt the emotional demeanor of a child and coerce (induce) those about them into taking care of them. (Cashden, 1988).

Where Cashdan uses the words “coerce” or “induce”, our word “manipulate” would fit nicely.

Indeed, some people in this category of manipulators meet various diagnostic criteria for Dependent Personality Disorder (DSM V, 2013) including:

  • has difficulty making everyday decisions without an excessive amount of advice and reassurance from others
  • needs others to assume responsibility for most major areas of his or her life
  • has difficulty initiating projects or doing things on his or her own
  • goes to excessive lengths to obtain nurturance and support from others
  • urgently seeks another relationship as a source of care and support when a close relationship ends

So, the relational stance taken by the martyr is, “My job in this relationship is to be taken care of. Your job in this relationship is to take care of me. Any questions?” Again, the “success” of the relationship is contingent upon both people staying slavishly chained to their drama obligations.

We’re using the word “martyr” to describe an individual who adopts a victim stance. The theme of many discussions is, “something has gone wrong or someone has done me wrong.” But here’s the thing. If you participate in the drama by rescuing, he or she becomes the rescued victim. If you refuse the rescuing obligation, he or she becomes the persecuted victim. Either way, the martyr remains firmly entrenched inside the role of victim.


What Makes That Control Freak Tick?

We’ve all been around “control freaks” and they can drive us crazy. We like to have control and that’s certainly a good thing. But for the control freak, control is not just nice to have, it’s essential. Here, the stance is: “I’ll be in charge because somebody’s got to do it.” This type of individual may be a bully on the playground or a bully in the workplace (Yamada, 2013). The master has to be in control. Consequently, we describe this person using terms and phrases like:

  • He’s got to be in charge
  • Everything has to be her way
  • It’s his way or the highway
  • He micromanages everything
  • She has control issues.

Sheldon Cashden refers to this as a need for power and says, “The overall purpose . . . is to create a relationship where the recipient is forced to take a subservient role.” (Cashden, 1988). The toddler throwing a temper tantrum has a need for power. When the drama concludes, she’s in charge. The bully on the playground uses drama to accomplish the same purpose. In a similar fashion, some adults stage power dramas to be in control.

In some cases, such an individual may meet diagnostic criteria for Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (DSM V, 2013) such as “is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way of doing things” or “shows rigidity and stubbornness.” Noting the impact of OCPD pathology on close relationships, South (2013) says it,

had a negative effect on partner’s report of overall relationship sentiment as well as satisfaction with conversations and quality of time together . . . Given that OCPD has the greatest prevalence in the general population (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) and is particularly high in certain segments of the population, it has the potential to negatively affect many intimate relationships.

The control freak type of manipulator says in effect, “My role in this drama is to be in charge; your role in this drama is to be what I need you to be and to do what I need you to do. As long as we both stay inside of our drama obligations, we’ll get along just fine. Any questions?” Relational “success”, therefore, is contingent upon drama participation.

The Reliability Muscle

The last of the 5 “muscles” needed for a person to be reasonable is the reliability muscle. The reliability muscle is the ability to correct personal wrongness. A reasonable person is bothered by his flaws and determines, “When I’m wrong, I’ll change.” Since the manipulator fails to see his flaws, he is neither bothered by them nor sees the need to correct them. Consequently, his stance is, “I’ll not change because I’m not wrong.”

People have two types of needs: real needs and felt needs. A real need must be felt before we’ll do anything about it. For instance, you could have cancer but not know it, an undetected but very real need. If your doctor diagnosed it, you’d become aware of the illness, feel the need, and seek treatment. Evaluation and diagnosis would transform your real need into a felt need. Manipulators have flaws but don’t see them and, therefore, do nothing to correct them. Frequently, a person being driven crazy by a manipulator remarks, “He’s the one who really needs to be in here getting help.”   That may be true but no one seeks help without first realizing that help is needed. The manipulator doesn’t see that anything is wrong with him, so why should he seek help? Change presupposes awareness.

The following statements may reflect an atrophied reliability muscle:

  • Insight rarely results in behavior alteration.
  • His promises of change can’t be trusted. He repents and repeats.
  • He says one thing and does another.
  • He rarely, if ever, corrects himself.
  • He “burns” you by convincing you of his sincerity to change only to repeat the same behaviors.
  • He is consistently inconsistent.
  • He speaks eloquently of the need to change but his statements of intent are not followed by actions.
  • Change only occurs as a result of forces external to himself.
  • He demonstrates little internal motivation to change.

He sometimes appears to change, but the behavior alteration is short-lived.