The Internal Drama Dialogue and John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Earlier in this blog, I introduced the concept of the Internal Drama Triangle. Our recent discussions of codependency have brought us back to the topic, and how it plays out in thought patterns.

John Gottman talks about the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as a negative communication style for couples. The traits are Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. We can see the same actions used by the persecutor, the victim, and the rescuer in your own Internal Drama Triangle.

  1. Criticism– The purpose is to make ourselves wrong. It can be used by the persecutor on the rescuer or the victim. It ranges from an all-out attack to a mild rebuke. Some examples: Why did you say that? I always…. I never…. Why am I so…?
  2. Contempt– The purpose is to undermine your sense of self and your ability to think well. This is aimed to hurt. It is a method used by the persecutor. Examples: Body language, tone of voice, rolling eyes, curling lip, sneering, scowling, name-calling, hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery. Yes, this can all be done to oneself.
  3. Defensiveness: The purpose is to stop the dialogue and keep you stuck. The victim uses this behavior. Examples: seeing yourself as powerless; making excuses (“I can’t help myself”); whining (“It’s not fair”); disagreeing; second-guessing; or complaining (“I tried and just wasn’t strong enough, I could have done it if I had just tried harder.”).
  4. Stonewalling: The purpose is to avoid feeling. Ultimately, it prevents change. The rescuer will say that this is the way to protect yourself. You may think you are taking a break from the situation or you need to rest, but what you are doing is avoiding yourself. Examples: distracting ourselves in order to not face the situation, such as forgetting what you were thinking about, getting busy doing an activity, watching TV or zoning out.

Until we become aware of the constant stream of thoughts in our mind, the Internal Drama Triangle runs all the time. It undermines our good feelings, sense of self-worth and our confidence in our own abilities.

You can break free. Next week, we will talk about the questions you can ask yourself in order to break free of the thought patterns caused by your Internal Drama Triangle.


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