Even therapists have issues. We are raised in families who have issues just like everyone else. We are at the mercy of those family patterns unless we turn around and face them, just like everyone else. Personally, I come from a family with a lot of drama queens. So one of my challenges has been learning how to avoid getting dragged into drama and upending my own life. One of my favorite strategies is to sit in the bleachers. What do I mean by this?
First I had to recognize how the drama started. Since most of my family members live in different cities, our drama is usually initiated with a phone call or email. (The names will be changed here to protect the innocent and the guilty.)
"Have you talked to your sister?"
"Do you know what your Diane said to Mother?"
"Did you hear about what Jennifer said to Mildred?"
"Do you know what your father did last night?"
"Do you know what your brother did to me? You won't believe it!"
My dilemma was how to be there for my family without having my own peace of mind sucked into an emotional undertow that would not let go until it had fully played out. This process sometimes took months depending on the amount of outrage or indignant frenzy people could work themselves into, how far they could suck others into it, and how many others they could draw into this eddy of hysteria.
But I learned to remove myself and avoid the emotional rollercoaster. How? By picturing it in my mind as a football game. When the phone calls or emails began I pictured opposing teams gathering on the field. As the phone calls and emails gained momentum, I pictured members from both teams waving at me to join them on the field and take sides (and there are always sides to be taken in these things). But instead of joining them on the field, I mentally grabbed a box of popcorn and planted myself on the bleachers and waved back at them, smiling. I could now emotionally watch the game from the bleachers without being caught up in it. "No, you guys go on, have your game, over there. I'll watch you from here." They rallied harder to get me to join, but I maintained my position on the bleachers and let the game play out - without me.
Now how did I actually do this? What words did I actually use?
Sometimes I actually explained my new football strategy.
"I don't want to play. If you want to, go right ahead, but I'm sitting this one out. I'll be on the bleachers."
Other times it was simpler, "No, I think that should be between Jennifer and Mildred. It has nothing to do with me."
But whatever I said, I let them know I wasn't going to play. "I will be right over here, but I'm not going on the field." Of course, this is about boundaries. Setting and maintaining a boundary that I'm not going to let this hurricane blow onto my shores. If good fences make good neighbors, good boundaries make healthy families. If thinking of family drama as a football game and climbing into the bleachers works for you, please use it. It has certainly made my life more peaceful.
Ahhh, such bliss. You cannot imagine. Or, maybe you can.