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  • Writer's pictureFrancis Norton

How is being your own Toxic Boss working out for you?

The longer you specialise in something, the more patterns you notice. One that keeps coming up in my burnout work is the infamous Drama Triangle. You may know it, and how dangerously additive the three roles of Rescuer, Victim and Persecutor are - the Rescuer getting the satisfaction of saving someone's bacon and the feeling that they are now owed, the Victim getting validation for their feeling that things were too much and the relief of being rescued, and the Persecutor getting to ignore their own issues blaming someone for everything that's wrong, in the name of motivation.

It's easy to see this playing out in families, offices and social media. But have you ever considered that you might be your own Persecutor, playing the part of your own toxic boss? Is there a perfectionist in your head who feels that the only way to be good enough is to overachieve? Are you pointing that big angry finger right at yourself, because self-blame is the lever that you naturally turn to, to make things happen?

Does this feeling of guilt and insecurity then drive you to redeem yourself by becoming a Rescuer, heroically taking on other people's problems until you're working beyond any sustainable capacity?

Some will feel a sense of recognition here. I did - seeing this pattern in the burnout of others opened my eyes to how it had appeared in my own. But how does this relate to the remaining role? People who come to me with burnout issues, and who also recognise their persecutor and rescuer roles typically reject the victim role energetically. In fact so energetically that it fuels their determination to be a self-persecutor or rescuer. And this determination to avoid being a victim, to ignore the little amber or red lights on the dashboard, can provide exactly the hidden issues that the persecutor is so energetically masking with that "blame gun" finger.

And does all this self-persecution and rescuing end up with you feeling totally overwhelmed, exhausted, inadequate? But rather than recognise this, and face the risk of being a Victim, would you rather “blame” yourself, bursting back into the Persecutor role, or “prove” yourself, leaping back into the Rescuer role?

This rotation of roles in the internal Drama Triangle is like some kind of monstrous hamster wheel. While it’s certainly not the only way into burnout, it is an alarmingly common route, and in these cases it is helpful to notice what part of our own energy is leading us into these choppy waters, and maybe working against us. 

Sometimes the gift of burnout is a chance to realign our priorities, to get off this hamster wheel and refocus our energies in a less self-damaging way. That's what happened to me, and maybe it could happen to you too.

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