The Damage Caused By Talking About People, Not to Them


Doctor Neha: Welcome to TalkRx with Doctor Neha. Today we’re going to do something I’ve never done before. We’re going to have three of us on at the same time and see how that conversation turns out. Welcome, Salma, and welcome, Jess.

Jess: Thank you.

Salma: Thank you.

Doctor Neha: What topic seems relevant for you right now? What’s up that you would want to talk about and get all of our opinions on and explore?

Jess: Something for me lately is about friends and people talking behind each other’s back instead of going to the person and actually having the conversation.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so it’s the difference between talking about people or talking to them.

Jess: Exactly.

Doctor Neha: One of the things I’m remembering from Brené Brown is that she says it’s much easier for us to discharge our blame and disappointment on other people than it is to own it ourselves. When we hear that someone is talking about us or they’re talking to someone else and not to us, it’s so easy to become so hurt and disappointed. At least I know it is for me. Would you agree?

Jess: Yes.

Doctor Neha: It feels like trust is broken. I have to admit that I’ve also been on the other end of that, where it felt like something was so egregious that I had to go tell someone else about it because I couldn’t believe what just happened. What you’re really talking about, Jess, is the drama triangle. It’s when we talk to other people rather than directly to each other.

Imagine a triangle. At the top is the persecutor. The persecutor is the person with power, the person who may say, “Because I said so.” Then, if there’s a persecutor, there has to be a victim. The victim is the person who something is being done to who feels it is unfair and unjust. Then what that victim does is run to a rescuer and try to get an ally: “Let me tell you what the persecutor did to me, and I have to tell you how awful this is.”

We call it the drama triangle; you can look it up. It’s a model done in the ’50s or ’60s. What are your first thoughts that come up about the triangle?

Jess: I can see the triangle, and I can see how all three parties play a role in facilitating the drama.

Doctor Neha: Are there any that seem more innocent than another?

Jess: I think they all partake in the drama in some way.

Doctor Neha: For you, Salma?

Salma: If I had to choose, I would say the persecutor, because they actually launched a direct attack on something and would be honest about it, rather than twisting it or contorting it.

Doctor Neha: You’re saying maybe their style wasn’t as compassionate as it needed to be, but at least they spoke directly to the victim.

Salma: Yes. They were direct.

Doctor Neha: I love that. In the drama triangle, everybody’s contributing to the drama, and there’s a way that they all support each other in continuing it. One way I like to think of this is in a family. Every good Bollywood movie is made on everybody talking about everybody else and how so-and-so married someone who isn’t good enough for the family. Everyone’s talking about them, not to them. Also this happens when feelings get hurt or I interpret something in a way that someone didn’t mean. Any one of the three people in the triangle can step out to stop it. It’s like a house of cards that will fall if one of them removes themselves from it. The rescuer can step out when the victim is saying, “Oh, you’re never going to believe what Salma did. Let me just tell you…”

Now the qualifier is that sometimes I need to just vent to someone and say, “This was crazy. What do you think is happening?” Venting turns into the drama triangle when I’m talking to you about it but I have no intention to go and speak to persecutor about it. But if I’m talking to you to get clarity so that I can then turn and talk directly to the persecutor (or the victim), that’s venting. Make sense?

Jess: Yeah. Let’s have an example.

Doctor Neha: Salma, what’s an example?

Salma: Why would you …

Doctor Neha: You can say something that you might say to me.

Salma: “Can you believe that they said that to me?”

Doctor Neha: I might respond, “You know what? They are so rude. Let me tell you about three times that they did it to me. Because I just cannot. How did their parents raise them? Come on.” When we start to do this, the drama starts. This whole idea is intoxicating for many people to get excitement in their life by making other people bad or wrong. It takes a lot more courage and steadiness to turn to somebody and actually be curious: “Hey, when you said that those clothes are too small on me, I was wondering, what was your intention in saying that in the middle of the dinner party?” I say the fact of what happened and then I get curious. That’s how you step out of the drama triangle. Versus me talking to somebody else and saying how rude you were for saying that.

That kind of response is how the victim can get out: turn to the persecutor and you state the facts—not the stories you made up about it like “I thought you were so rude.” Just say, “When you said this… I’m curious, what did you mean by that?” Now the persecutor can say, “Oh my gosh. I actually know we have such an honest relationship that we tell each other everything. I didn’t really think about everybody else being there. I’m so sorry.” That might be one way it plays out.

The persecutor steps out of this triangle by being open to feedback and being compassionate in the way that they give their feedback or communicate with other people, learning that there’s a more compassionate connected way to do it. Yeah?

Salma: Yes. Yes.

Doctor Neha: That’s the drama triangle. Do you have anything specific that you want to ask?

Jess: No. It’s a really interesting approach, and it’s something that I think I’ll definitely use. Having those conversations and having the courage to have those conversations with people instead of having the drama—because complaining is a competitive sport. People just get so carried away. Instead of talking about someone, rather, going to have a conversation with them.

Doctor Neha: Absolutely.

Salma: Absolutely. It makes me think that if you really care about someone, you would take a moment to actually confront them rather than take the information further. Do you feel that way?

Doctor Neha: Absolutely. Keep in mind: sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, we need to stay open to how we might have done something differently and be pure in our intention. For example, “Wow. I didn’t realize that that was so hurtful. I’m sorry. I didn’t notice the tone in which I spoke. I didn’t notice that those specific words mattered so much. I never thought of them that way.” The humility on the receiving end of feedback is really, really important. Because if we get defensive, someone’s going to say, “Oh, well, you get so defensive. That’s why I didn’t tell you. You always get defensive.”

In our families, they definitely know our buttons. They know which things to say based on patterns we’ve run since childhood. It’s particularly interesting. It’s not just in Bollywood movies. Growing up in an Indian household, I commonly heard people talking about each other not to each other. I noticed that sometimes in family we think of each other as the person we were when we were three or six and the way we were back then. It might be time to let it all go. Are we good?

Salma: Yeah.

Jess: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: For all of you at home, if you notice you get caught up in the drama triangle, take a moment to notice what role you tend to play most often. I know for myself I tended to play the victim and rescuer. Actually I am talented enough that I can play all three roles in one situation. Ask yourself, “At work and at home and in my primary relationships, what role do I play? And is it different depending on the situation that I find myself in?” When you’re with a bunch of girlfriends, is it different than it is when you’re at work?

Thank you so much for joining us. This is TalkRx with Doctor Neha. If you have any comments, post them below. If you have any questions that you would like me to answer, please send a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha.


Leaving the drama to Hollywood,


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