What is the WIIN Contest?

This is a note from Jon Fieldman, a senior leader in the Wright Foundation community, about setting a context for our “4 WIINs” contest:

There’s a bigger context. Much, much bigger context.

The first context is our self.

We develop our capacities and our substance. We build our personal power.  We grow and transform. We harness our gifts and the dreams of what we were born to be.

But at Wright, we grow our responsibility in equal measure with our personal power. This is the second context. We grow in our contribution to others, to the people in our lives. We strive and succeed, to help to make our friends, families, companies, and organizations better. Better for everyone. We grow our power bounded by purpose. This is a huge statement.  Our power is not the end. It is the tool of our higher purpose, a higher purpose that is intrinsically about contributing to others.

In many ways, the trajectory of our growth is measured by the depth and scope of our growing impact.  We deepen inside of ourselves, deepen in our relationships, deepen in the depth of our meaning, deepen in our caring, deepen in our impact and influence, deepen in our contribution.  It is not a coincidence that the folks who have done the most work tend to have broader and deeper impact. They have deeper personal power with which to impact more people more deeply.

But there is yet a third context, one which is woven of all the organizations and relationships we navigate on a daily basis. We are part of a huge and hugely important, community that profoundly impacts every last one of the people we know in ways hard to fully comprehend and understand: our national community. Our national community is a group – a group of staggering complexity – – setting the fundamental context of every other group and organization we are part of: our families, our companies, our churches and synagogues and every other organization we are part of.

And our duty to contribute, our duty of responsibility to contribute our gifts, our power and our values —  all of this extends to this national community.

This third context is one that most of us do not engage with significantly as part of our daily lives.  But from the far wings of our daily lives, our national community is growing in its presence, moving  closer to the center, now coming into our own personal identities and values.  The national community is coming, coming to of each of us.

Now, our responsibility has become larger, much, much larger.

Our duty as citizens is upon us.

For more words and thoughts from our students: CLICK HERE.

Get Back in the Game: You’re Never Too Old to Have Fun!

Historically, people slow down as they age. There’s the old cliché of grandparents knitting in the rocking chair or sipping lemonade on the porch.

You can have enjoy life at any age. You are never too old for fun.

As many people discover as the years go on, life doesn’t necessarily need to slow down as you get older. You can still enjoy a great time. At what point are you “too old” to have fun?

The short answer is never!

The truth is, if you’re 40, 50, 80, or 100, you’re never ever too old to have fun or live life to the fullest! With the right mindset, you’ll enjoy vibrant, exciting, new experiences and plenty of romance for your entire life. I hear from many older couples who worry romance goes away after a certain age, but that’s a misconception. You’re never too old to have fun and you’re never too old for building your romantic connection with your partner.

So, if you’re wondering how to have more fun, here’s what you need to know to get back in the game.

Injecting More Fun and Play in Your Relationship

Do you scoff at the idea of playing and having fun? Does it seem ridiculous to you to dress up, feel sexy or attractive, and go out on the town?

Many of us fall into believing society’s version of what aging looks like. We imagine that it means we can’t do certain activities, wear certain clothes, or look a certain way after we hit an age marker—we think we’re too old to have fun. As the Baby Boomer generation gets older, these “rules” are becoming more and more obsolete. Many people choose to wear what they want, do what they want, and enjoy their lives fully, no matter their age.

This is a positive outlook because fun, novelty, and adventure are important no matter what age you are. One issue that we often see with older adults is they’ve tried to wait until they retire, until their kids move out, or until their schedule lightens up to really have fun. Then, when they finally get the time in their schedule, they haven’t learned how to play. They haven’t developed the habit of embracing novelty, going on an adventure, and experiencing full engagement.

We actually use full engagement and play synonymously. Engagement is aliveness. It’s being present and fully living experiences. It’s viewing life as an experiment and taking each new opportunity to learn and grow.

This engagement helps us to have more fun and more fulfillment in our lives. When we’re engaged in a project or with another person, we’re having a deeper, more purposeful experience. It’s play in an adult form.

Learning and growing help light up our brains. When we’re stretching a little out of our comfort zone and trying something new, our brains are the happiest. If we could run an MRI and see what was going on in these moments, we’d see our brains lighting up with fireworks of activity.

This is part of the importance of play and fun as we age. It keeps us cognitively sharp and alert. It wakes us up and helps us enjoy our lives more fully. Learning and growing is fun—even more fun, in fact, than zoning out or relaxing.

Now you may think “I don’t even know how to have fun!”

Many people don’t, especially if they’ve fallen out of practice when it comes to playing and having a good time. You may not know what you really like. It’s time to experiment and discover. Sometimes you may not like activities because they’re boring, unfamiliar, or uncomfortable, but allow yourself to really explore activities and dig in deeper.

Keep the Romance Alive

After your kids move out of the house, it’s a wonderful time to reconnect with your spouse. For years, the two of you were focused on careers or the nuances of raising children. Once they leave and the nest is empty, it’s often a chance to really communicate and connect with each other in new ways.

Look at the quality of time you spend together. You don’t need to share the same interests or pursuits. In fact, it’s often more satisfying if you each pursue your own hobbies and activities. Still, as you spend more time together, take the opportunity to rediscover all the things you really love about your spouse.

Do activities you’ve never done—listen to different types of music, go see a different type of film, enjoy new foods you’ve never tried before. Go to a lecture you would’ve previously brushed off. You may not like it but go find out! Explore what you like both on your own and as a couple.

As you find yourself with more “free time,” turn it into more “you and me time.”

Take on a project together, play games, have discussions. When you go see a movie, spend time together exploring the nuances and discussing the topic in depth rather than simply going home and going to bed.

Remember when you longed for the kids to move out of the house so you and your spouse could spend a romantic time together?

Now that you have your house to yourselves, it’s a wonderful time to explore the intimacy in your relationship. Intimacy doesn’t only refer to sex either. Many people have sex lives but are still lacking in intimacy.

True intimacy comes from building on shared experiences and engaging with each other. It means expressing your yearnings and desires and understanding the yearnings of your partner as well. What do they envision for their life? What is most important to them? What dreams and goals would they like to pursue in the future?

Working together to build intimacy will keep your romance alive as well. One of the aspects of dating that turns us on is the opportunity to explore and discover someone new. We’re intrigued by the novelty of a new person, but we can also find novelty in our marriage after many years.

You may feel like, “What on earth is still novel about our relationship after 20 or 30 years?”

A couple I was working with decided to challenge their relationship with a date night each week. This was a great start, but after a few months, they found themselves returning to the same spots for dinner and ending up at the theater to see a movie. It wasn’t always a thrill and it wasn’t connecting them.

They decided to take on a novel activity, so they rented a canoe and paddled out to a secluded little park. They packed a picnic lunch and spread a blanket out on the grass. They said it was a simple activity, but it was so much fun. They had a great time because it was something new and totally different for both of them.

After their canoe date, they felt closer and more deeply bonded. They both decided to keep adding new activities to their dates and they both looked forward to having new adventures together each week.

If you feel like your relationship has become stale or routine, it may signal other areas of your life have also fallen into patterns of stagnation.

Often when we’re failing to learn and grow in our day-to-day lives, we get bored. We start to feel like we’re stuck in a routine or a rut. We feel our relationship has become boring because our entire lives are routine.

Engaging in new experiences actually helps form new neuropathways in our brain. We’re drawn to novelty and we seek it out. New experiences help us stay young and vibrant. New experiences help us retain memories and think clearly. There’s a strong argument for the importance of adding new experiences to your life.

Increasing Your Sense of Wonder

If you’re wondering how to add more aliveness into your life, especially as you get older, take a cue from your grandkids (or other children you may know). Start to see the world as children see it. Each new experience and every moment is imbued with a sense of wonder and discovery.

When children play, it’s serious business. They may take on new roles, stretch the limits of their imagination and experiment with new ideas; that’s because play is part of growing. But growing doesn’t stop when we’re adults. We’re never too old to have fun or too old to play.

In fact, adding play and learning opportunities in our life helps reverse the aging process. As I said before, learning and growing are really important for our brains. Studies show people who know more than one language, for example, age better. The more we learn and continue to stimulate our minds, the sharper they will stay.

At the beginning of life, we experience so much external stimulation our brains are always turned on. We’re busy going to college, starting relationships, growing in our career. After the age of 35 or so, many people fall into a routine. Our days become similar. We stop facing a constant barrage of new activity and stimuli.

When you become stagnant and fall into a routine, you’re not activating the neuroplasticity of your brain. This means you must deliberately choose to seek activities outside your comfort zone because life may not be providing these opportunities as readily.

When a person reaches 70, if they haven’t continued to seek novel learning opportunities and play, they’ve just spent 35 years deactivating their brain. They’ve lost all that time to learn and grow, but it’s never too late and you’re never too old to have fun. Whether you’re 25 or 85, you can start turning your brain on today.

Seek new experiences and adventure. Play, have fun, and live a life of more!

For more ways to find purpose in your everyday life, visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming weekend of More Life Training to help you discover how you can bring more joy, more vitality, and more purpose into each activity.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

Finding Your Inner Strength During Difficult Times

Inside each of us lies a vast reserve of personal power and inner strength. Yet, this light source is hard to tap into when we’re facing setbacks and challenges.

Going through a tough time? Finding inner strength to cope is a challenge. Here’s how to tap into your personal power.

If you’re going through a rough time, here’s how to dip into your inner strength reserves and summon up the power to deal with whatever life throws your way.

Remember You Possess Power and Inner Strength

When the world drags us down, it’s tough to find our inner strength to keep going. We may feel stressed out and frazzled, wondering how to take another moment of the situation at hand. We see articles all the time bemoaning the effects of stress in our lives and suggesting ways to mitigate our stressors.

One interesting thing about stress is that we often think of it as negative. We think it raises our blood pressure, detracts from our health, and makes us feel terrible. We see stress as scary or bad and we want to avoid it.

The truth is, researchers are finding out it’s not so much the stress that has a negative impact on our health and mindset. It’s our attitude toward stress. If we think stress is bad, it becomes bad and unmanageable. We have a harder time dealing with it. If we shift our viewpoint and see stress as an indicator of a challenge or even an opportunity, we can gear up for it and prepare for the task. It may actually become stimulating for us.

Now, I’m not saying it’s easy to shift our perspective on stress. Sometimes stress feels…well, stressful. But if we start to incrementally shift our idea of stress, we may start to use it as an opportunity for change. We need enough stress to help us learn and grow, but we don’t need too much to where we’re flooded or overwhelmed by stress to where we can’t cope. But if we don’t have any stress, we become complacent.

When you’re under stress, look at your attitude towards it. It’s about shifting your idea to “Okay, game on!” Rather than “game over.”

When you experience a stressful situation, the amygdala kicks in. This area of our brain is the part that regulates our emotions and flight or fight response. We often think of it as our primal or “lizard brain.”

When we’re feeling stressed out, our amygdala is working hard to keep us safe. Imagine back in the caveman days when an alarming situation meant life or death. Unfortunately, an email from our boss triggers a similar response in today’s day and age. We’re ready to run away from a saber-toothed tiger at any moment.

During these moments of stress, it’s not uncommon for our inner voice of doubt to kick in, telling us what a terrible job we’re doing, we’re an imposter, everything is going wrong, or we never do anything right. Stress triggers our mistaken beliefs about ourselves: “I can’t handle this,” “I’m not okay,” or “The world has it out for me.” We may think “Bad things always happen to me,” or “I’m not enough to deal with this situation.” These are the negative thoughts that sabotage us leave us feeling powerless under our circumstances and color our reaction.

In truth, no matter the stressful situation, we can access our reserve of personal power. This means adjusting the way we’re looking at the situation. Instead of seeing it as a disaster, what if we reframe it as a learning opportunity? What if we remind ourselves of all the times we’ve tapped into our inner strength in the past and overcome stressors to triumph?

Researchers are finding self-efficacy is important for each of us to develop. This is different from self-confidence or self-esteem. It’s really the belief of “I can handle this.”

Now it’s okay to think, “I don’t know how this is going to turn out.” In fact, it’s normal and healthy to even feel scared. But when we acknowledge our feelings of fear, we name it to tame it, and it becomes less powerful. From there we can affirm, “I’m enough. I’m sufficient. I can do this. I’ve handled difficult situations before. I’m scared, but it doesn’t mean I can’t figure this out.”

We start to tap into our own Little Engine that Could and think, “I think I can,” instead of thinking we can’t.

Even if we’re faced with something painful or seemingly insurmountable like a loss or betrayal, we can still come out stronger after. Give ourselves time to grieve and experience the hurt, sadness, or fear. Then, once we’ve experienced the emotions, what if we look at the challenge as a chance to reaffirm our inner strength?

Practice Self-Compassion

If a friend was going through a rough time, what would you tell them? Chances are you’d encourage them to take care of themselves. You’d offer to cook them a meal, take care of an errand, or simply act as a listening ear.

Yet, when it comes to caring for ourselves, many of us don’t extend the same courtesy. It’s important when you’re going through a difficult time to find moments to be mindful, nourish yourself, and practice self-compassion.

This doesn’t mean falling into soft addictions to avoid emotions or painful situations. We can’t ditch work for a spa day every time the office gets stressful, but we can take a quiet break, a few minutes to ourselves to regroup, refresh, and reconnect.

This may mean finding mindful moments, like while you’re in the car listening to uplifting music. It could mean savoring a delicious cup of hot tea or coffee. It may mean reading a poem, listening to a podcast, or viewing a beautiful piece of art while you enjoy your lunch.

Find little moments throughout your day to re-center yourself and reconnect with your inner strength and power.

This may also mean finding moments to explore and experience your emotions. If you feel compelled to cry, laugh, or scream, find moments throughout the day where you allow yourself to mindfully and fully experience the range of emotions you’re feeling.

Examine stinking thinking patterns: What are the thoughts we’re having that are disempowering?

Stinking thinking includes thoughts like “I’m not enough,” or “I can’t handle this.” When we examine those thoughts, we start to look at what’s going on underneath them. Oftentimes we’ll discover we’re feeling scared or even angry.

From there, ask yourself, “What kind of thoughts could I have instead?” What are empowering thoughts you can shift to instead of allowing stinking thinking to take over?

“I’m worthy.”

“I’m capable.”

“This is uncomfortable, but I can handle it.”

Even affirming ourselves aloud, so we hear it. Or saying it in the third person— “You can do it, Judith!”—works well sometimes. Because the truth is, we’re actually able to be more compassionate to others than we are to ourselves. So, when we cheer ourselves on like a friend, chances are we’ll be more enthusiastic and encouraging.

It’s Okay to Feel Not Okay

When we’re going through a tough time, many of us feel pressure to put on a brave face, keep a stiff upper lip, and otherwise brace ourselves to hide our emotions. Sometimes in life, unexpected and even tragic, painful experiences happen. When these moments occur, it’s natural to feel bad.

Allowing yourself to fully experience and express your emotions is a bit frightening at first but take a cue from young children. When a child feels sadness, hurt, frustration, or disappointment, what do they do? They may cry, rage, throw themselves on the floor, and sob. While this may seem dramatic to adults, what happens when the tantrum is over?

The child typically picks themselves up and moves forward. Most of the time, they don’t dwell in regret, sadness, and despair. Instead, they fully allow themselves to experience the depth of their emotions and express them.

As adults, we may tamp down our emotions and hold them in until we’re ready to implode or explode. Suddenly we’re yelling at the dog, another car on the road, or our spouse, not because of anything he or she did, but because we’ve displaced our emotions and haven’t allowed ourselves to really dig in and let them wash over us.

As we’ve learned, there’re no emotions that are bad or wrong. This is especially true when something upsetting happens in our life. All of our emotions are part of our humanity—the full range of our human experience.

Allowing ourselves to really feel our feelings is powerful. It’s also power-generating.

So, allow yourself to really feel your emotions. Examine the learning opportunity presented by each of life’s challenges, and when you find yourself saying, “I don’t know if I can do this,” instead shift to your inner cheerleader.

“I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”

As we start to tap into our personal power, finding our inner strength becomes less challenging. The power to deal with life’s situations and frustrations is within each of us. We are far more powerful than we may give ourselves credit for!

For more on discovering your personal power, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training weekend, where we’ll explore ways for finding your inner strength and cheering yourself on to conquer the next challenge!

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

The Failure of American Mythology and the Divorce Crisis

What has led to this divorce crisis in the United States? Moreover, what can we do to strengthen our relationship and prevent the crisis from getting worse?


With the divorce rate hovering around 40-50% in America, many people wonder what led to this divorce crisis and how do we prevent it from getting worse?

The divorce rate in America is around 40-50% (and even higher for second marriages and beyond). It is no secret divorce has become commonplace.

In the United States, we’ve been experiencing this divorce crisis since the 1970s. While the rate of divorce has largely leveled off, it still holds at a much higher rate than many other countries. Why is this? Is divorce really the answer?

The Myth of Pretty Woman Has Led to the Divorce Crisis

How many of us believe there is one person out there for us? We’ve seen it in all the romantic books, movies, and television shows out there. We all want the Jerry McGuire moment when someone looks deeply in our eyes and says, “You complete me.”

We were raised on Leave It to Beaver and other synthesized television and movies where people possess a deep yearning to be affirmed. One of the best ways to get affirmation is for someone else to commit their life to you. We may believe there’s a soulmate for us out there, someone who will change us and complete us. Look at any romantic comedy—Pretty Woman, for instance, where a prostitute meets Richard Gere and her life is transformed. What does the popularity of this myth say about our society? About women?

But what happens after the tape stops rolling? Once the person is swept off their feet and walked into the sunset, how does it all play out? Movies and TV don’t show us real relationships, they show us mythology. They show us a group of uber attractive men and women, like in the TV show Friends, hanging out in a coffee shop, looking for the one. What happens when they find “the one”? The show ends and nobody shows reality.

Years go by, jobs, kids, financial obligations. Suddenly, we may find the person we once held in high regard is no longer on the pedestal. We may feel irritated with the way they chew their food, the ways they don’t help around the house, or the little jabs and comments made at our expense.

All of this resentment and frustration builds, and we conclude that surely it means they weren’t “the one.” We must have chosen incorrectly, and our perfect person is still out there to discover. Maybe we even find our eye starting to wander towards other people. Could they be our “one”? The short answer is no.

The idea that there is only one person out there we could be happy with is a myth. After all, with 7 billion people on the planet, finding that one person is a literal needle in a haystack. We would never find our perfect person, ever.

Unfortunately, as romantic as we may initially imagine, the idea of “the one” is actually incredibly damaging to our relationships. We can, in fact, be happy with a wide number of different people. The truth of the matter is relationships require work, effort, and constant engagement. Relationships are partnerships.

The other piece of the myth is the belief that it’s our partner’s job to make us happy and if we aren’t happy, they’re failing. Each of us is 100% responsible for our own happiness. While it’s common to feel intrigued, exhilarated, and excited at the beginning of a relationship, it’s not because our partner makes us happy. It’s because novelty gives us an endorphin rush. We feel good because we’re exploring a new, exciting person. We’re learning about them and we’re learning about ourselves as well. It’s the learning that’s giving us the high, not the other person.

When someone new or interesting comes along, it’s again, a sense of novelty. We may find our head turns and our eye wanders, but ultimately, the other person won’t be capable of making us happy either. The answer to happiness is inside each of us.

Marriage is a Partnership

Years ago, Judith shared with me an article called the “Evolution of Man.” The article explained that when we start out, men believe women should be there to help them and meet their needs. As we grow in the relationship, we realize we need to communicate our needs and start to become aware of our partner’s needs as well. There are still expectations like, “Honey, will you do this for me?” but it’s conveyed rather than expected. Ultimately our goal as we evolve in our relationship is to reach the state of a true partnership.

When we’re truly in a partnership, each person is putting forth effort. This doesn’t mean one person needs to do 50% of each chore. It means that on Thanksgiving, the men aren’t vegging out in front of the TV watching sports while women are in the kitchen doing the dishes. Maybe you run errands, clear the table, or shovel the walk. The point is, each partner appreciates the effort their spouse puts in. It’s noticed and acknowledged.

Similarly, women don’t need to pretend to love sports, video games, or horror movies (unless they genuinely enjoy it). They don’t need to feign interest to coddle their partner. I’ve worked with couples who believe it’s wonderful they root for the same college team during March Madness. Yet, there’s no intimacy in their relationship. They’re not discussing raising their children. They’re not setting boundaries and expectations. They aren’t really connecting.

Many people buy into the myth that what we share in common is what binds us together. A great relationship doesn’t come from shared interests whether it’s movies, sports, politics, or fine dining. It doesn’t matter what interests you share; it still doesn’t guarantee a connection. It’s also not about masculine or feminine interests.

Our partnership comes from appreciation, engagement, and communication with our spouse. Learning how to communicate your needs, yearnings, and feelings is critical.

This doesn’t mean great partners don’t fight. In fact, just the opposite! Great partners are deeply invested and care passionately about the relationship. They fight fair and engage in productive conflict.

In our book The Heart of the Fight, we discuss the important Rules of Engagement. These rules are to help couples fight fairly and address the most common fights we see amongst couples, including passive-aggressive fights like “The Hidden Middle Finger,” or fights starting from statements like “You’re Just Like Your Dad…”

Strong partnerships are built over many years. They include ups and downs. It doesn’t mean your partner will never get under your skin. But when we let go of the fairytale myth of the “perfect relationship,” we can often see the ways our expectations cloud reality.

Raising Our Happiness Set Point

Each person has what’s called a happiness set point, what researchers refer to as the hedonic treadmill. Studies show after a major event, positive or negative, people eventually return to their regular levels of happiness. In studies of lottery winners, after a few years, they reported they were only as happy as they were before their windfall. In the same study, those who experienced a major accident resulting in the loss of a limb also reported that, within a few years, they returned to their same levels of happiness as before the accident.

Believe it or not, the same applies to relationships. While the beginning of a relationship may make us excited for a while, or we may believe ending a relationship will make us happier, the truth is happiness levels don’t usually change. If people divorced simply to become happier, the instance of divorce should go down with second marriages. The truth is, second marriages are even less likely to be successful and more likely to end in divorce.

So why is that? If we’re unhappy, are we doomed to be miserable in our marriage and outside of our marriage? Yes, and no.

The power to become happier is within each of us. It exists outside of our relationship and out of the control of our significant other.

As the American divorce crisis grows, we’re seeing more and more people dissatisfied, but not realizing the dissatisfaction (and power to turn it around) exists from within.

Now, in certain cases like abuse and infidelity, divorce may be the best choice. In other cases, like “irreconcilable differences,” where both parties are simply unhappy, there may be a path to find satisfaction and connection within the relationship rather than without.

The first step starts by looking inside ourselves. What do we need to work on to bring us more happiness? This doesn’t necessarily need to include our partner. It’s about looking at what we can do to rekindle our sense of novelty and wonder.

We get joy and happiness from new experiences and endeavors. Taking on challenges allows us to grow and experience new activities. As we grow, and our partner grows, we will start to feel more alive, engaged, and connected.

For more ways you can grow and strengthen your relationships please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training, where you’ll connect with other people on their transformative journey.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

How to Help a Friend Who’s Going Through a Hard Time

Everyone faces struggles in life.

It’s hard to know how to help a friend who’s going through a tough time. Here’s how to offer a hand, without enabling them or getting pulled down.

Whether it’s a job loss, the death of a loved one, divorce, mental health, or a substance abuse issue, we all face difficult situations. When we see our friends facing one of those tough times, it’s hard to know how to help a friend while keeping appropriate boundaries.

We all wish we could spare those we care about from facing hard times. Sometimes, we’re not sure how to interact or communicate with them in a way to let them know we care. Other times, we may feel frustrated because we can’t control or “fix” their behavior.

Navigating the waters of friendship isn’t always easy, but our friends play an important role in our lives. Here’s how to help a friend who’s going through a hard time.

How to Help a Friend Without Entering the Drama Triangle

Whenever we’re faced with a difficult situation, there’s a temptation to enter what we refer to as the drama triangle. The drama triangle is similar to the Bermuda triangle—we get sucked in and kind of lost within the drama.

Like a triangle, the drama triangle consists of three roles. For many of us, we shift between the roles within our various relationships and situations. We all play all the roles from time to time.

The three roles of the drama triangle are:

  • Victim: We’re feeling sorry for ourselves, helpless, hopeless, powerless. We buy into our self-pity and believe we can’t change.
  • Persecutor: We fall into the role of blaming, criticizing and finding fault with others. We see the problems as someone else’s responsibility, not our own.
  • Rescuer: We swoop in to fix and make the situation better. We soothe, we feel like we’re helping…but there’s a cost because we’re failing to care for ourselves.

Within almost any relationship, we’ll see all these patterns. In each of the roles, we aren’t taking appropriate responsibility for our part in the situation. The victim is taking no responsibility. The persecutor is shifting the responsibility to someone else. The rescuer is taking responsibility for other peoples’ problems, but not their own needs.

As you may imagine, it’s very easy to get pulled into the drama triangle, particularly if we’re trying to help a friend who’s going through a rough time.

We may likely take on the role of rescuer because it feels good initially. We want to help people through their problems and resolve their issues. Often, rescuers think, “If I’m nice enough and rescue you enough, then you’ll reciprocate.” Unfortunately, when we’re falling into the drama triangle, reciprocity is rarely the case.

Instead, it’s important to point out the truth. Speak honestly and openly to help a friend, but don’t take on the role of rescuer. Be straightforward. Point out that you notice they’re unhappy. Let them know they aren’t as helpless as they feel and help them identify proactive ways to move forward.

In our relationships, especially in challenging circumstances, it’s important we don’t become the rescuer. It shifts our friend into the victim role, which is disempowering and may actually hold them in a difficult place. At the same time, we can’t become the instigator or persecutor either, giving them direct orders or telling them how wrong we think they may be.

When we’re trying to help a friend who’s going through a difficult time, it’s important to watch out for the drama triangle. It’s very common in these challenging situations and gets us stuck in a continuing pattern that’s hard to break out of.

Offering Honest Feedback & Visioning

So, if we want to help a friend, how do we actually assist them? How do we help them realize the power to get through the tough time is within their capacity?

If we look at many famous friendships we’ve seen in films and books, we see examples of the friend/ally relationship at work. There’s a particular scene in the movie Goodwill Hunting where Matt Damon’s character, Will, is talking about how he doesn’t want to move forward with his life and take on a career using his genius abilities in mathematics. Ben Affleck’s character takes on the role of empowering ally when he tells him his abilities are special—abilities Ben and the other guys in their neighborhood don’t have. He tells him the best part of his day is when he walks up to Will’s door and imagines he won’t be there to drive to work at the demolition site.

“I think maybe I’ll get up there and knock on your door and you won’t be there. No goodbye, no see ya later, no nothing. You’ve just left. I don’t know much, but I know that.”

In this movie, we see a powerful example of what it really means to help a friend. It’s important we offer honest feedback, empowering our friend to move forward and meet their yearnings.

What is your vision for your friend? What do you want them to work towards and what do you hope they will achieve?

Often, when someone is struggling, they may lose sight of their vision or feel unsure of themselves. As a friend, or better yet an ally, we can help them realize their vision. We can speak the vision and hold it for them as the purpose of the conversation.

When we’re working toward a clear vision, it’s a little easier to offer feedback (even if it’s tough love), because we have a picture to work toward. We’re looking at the larger picture and helping our friend realize there’s more for them out there.

Ask What Support Your Friend Wants

When a friend is going through something painful, like a loss, we’re not sure how to navigate at all. We may feel unsure of what to say and how to help our friend feel “better.”

The reality is, there are times when there’s really not much we can say or do to take away someone’s hurt, especially if they’re grieving. At that point, what we can do is hold space for them to go through their emotions. Rather than taking away the pain, sadness, and sorrow they feel, simply be there to listen and offer emotional support.

In other circumstances, especially times when a friend may have gotten themselves into a situation of their own making, we may wonder how to help them pull themselves up and move on.

As your friend is ready to move forward, ask them what kind of support they want from you. Rather than offering up unsolicited ideas of what they should do, pose it as a question: “What kind of support do you want from me? This is my vision for you—is this what you see for yourself too? Is this what you want?”

It’s important to remember you can’t wave a magic wand and hope what you want to happen, happens. There are times in friendship when we can’t help our friends. There may even be moments when we just realize we can’t magically make someone less of, well…an idiot.

At those moments, we may need to embrace tough love. It’s important to set boundaries and limits in all our relationships. When you’re faced with a friend who’s really spewing negative garbage or who’s using you as their emotional punching bag, it becomes a destructive situation.

In cases like this, it’s 100% appropriate and necessary to tell them, “Hey, it’s not okay for you to dump this on me. It’s not okay for you to say harmful things. I’m here for you, but if you can’t take responsibility then I can’t be here for you.”

If someone is pushing you away, let them know you care and you’re there when and if they’re ready to move forward. Nudging is necessary sometimes, but chasing and overstepping boundaries will put us right back into the drama triangle.

If we really want to help a friend who’s going through a tough time, it’s important we also look out for ourselves. Be honest, kind, loving, and open with your friends, but use those same qualities toward yourself (and expect the same from your pals).

Ultimately, being a good friend means staying out of destructive patterns, encouraging, and empowering our friends to become all we know they can become. We should aim to not only act as friends but as allies, helping our friends along on their journey toward living their best life.

For more on living your best life please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training, where you’ll explore relationships and connect with others as they work toward their goals.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.