A few weeks ago Donna was having a conversation with her adult daughter. They were talking about a family relationship when her daughter said, “Mom, I feel like you are protecting me.” Her daughter has a Master’s in Counseling Psychology and is very skilled at recognizing relationship dynamics. She is also experienced at firmly, yet gently, calling out behavior in real time.
In the next week another issue arose with her husband, David. He asked Donna a direct question and made a request for information. She sensed that he was fatigued and wouldn’t like her answer so she gave him enough information not to lie but was not totally forthcoming. A short time later she realized her protection trait had showed up again, fearing he was too tired and wouldn’t like her answer.
Donna realized that this protecting quality was another form of Rescuing but was viewed by others as Persecuting. Her daughter felt she was not being treated as an adult and her husband was not happy when he later learned he was not given complete information.
Why do we use protection as a strategy to manage stress or anxiety in the moment? Neither situation was really that upsetting, yet Donna used protection to avoid any pain that might arise. If asked, Donna would say she sees her daughter and husband as healthy adults who can handle difficult situations.
Protection is often used to avoid conflict or stressful situations (which is what Donna learned in her family). This belief rests on the strategy of “don’t rock the boat.” This strategy can use up valuable energy for the person who is avoiding the situation by keeping things under wraps and on the surface.
If left unaddressed, the issue may grow out of proportion when it does surface, which will shift the energy from Rescuer to Persecutor for the person “being protected.”
When appropriately used, protection is a sign of loving care and concern for others. When used to withdraw from the situation or minimize the information, it is a strategy that is rooted in the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) ™.
From the TED* framework, a more empowered response would be to either adopt the role of Challenger (as in the case with David, where Donna may have said, “You may not like the information, but here is the reality.”). In the Coach role, Donna could have asked her daughter how she could be of support, given the challenge she was speaking about.
While living TED* is not always easy, we are grateful for the continued opportunity to continuously learn how to apply this work in our own lives.