Oh, the holidays. They usually provide an opportune time to see drama triangles being acted out—whether among strangers on the roads or in shops, whether among family and friends at gatherings, or among coworkers in the crunch-time before people take time off. Bless the drama triangles for if we bring them into our awareness and just observe which roles we take on, we learn worlds about ourselves. But this is no mere exercise in awareness (no exercise in awareness is ever mere!); it relates directly to our health as I would venture that much of our tension—another word for stress—lies in where we perceive ourselves to be on the triangle at any given time. And the drama triangle can be just as much an inside game—one we play with the different parts of ourselves—as a game played with others.
For those not familiar with drama triangles, herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner in One Spirit Many Peoples offers this: The triangle model was developed in the late 1960s by transactional analysis psychotherapist Steve Karpman (who has used the triangle to analyze dramatic scripts as well as games). Drama triangles comprise three positions: persecutor, victim, rescuer—“all aspects of the same underlying emotional worldview.” And a person caught up in a drama triangle can easily shift positions at any time. “Resolution of the problems being acted out in the drama triangle is not possible unless the game is abandoned.”
Buhner quotes Brooke Medicine Eagle about the triangle dynamic: “ ‘Studies have shown for years that there is a dreadful cycle set up when there is victimization. It is known as the victim-persecutor cycle, and reminds us that when someone is victimized and abused, they tend, in turn, to victimize others through blame and abuse.’” Victims and persecutors “ ‘are often joined by another player in this vicious cycle—the rescuer. This is someone who gets their self-worth by ‘saving others’…who wants to ‘be somebody’ by ‘defending the victims.’ Often this turns into more abusive tactics. …What we all need to do rather than play savior or find another victim to abuse is to get out of the system altogether, and find ways of cooperating for the health of all.’”
Kind of like Joshua the computer in the movie “War Games” after playing out all the possible combinations of nuclear strikes: “A strange game,” he says. “The only winning move is not to play.”
Easier said than done, of course. The first step is awareness. What may be interesting is that as one becomes aware of how one moves through the triangle positions with other people, that can crack open an interior layer that can then allow the person to become more aware of which parts of the self play “victim,” “persecutor,” and “rescuer” to other parts of the self. They may even be representations of larger aspects, such as intellect, emotions and body. That these different parts act out the triangle may have served us as survival mechanisms at one time, but over time, they become maladaptive. For example, a child living in a household where the adults are often angry may develop an intellect that plays “persecutor” to the emotional “victim” to allow the child to remain as invisible as possible so as not to incur the wrath of the adults. But if these parts remain embattled into adulthood, stress—and negative health effects—can result.
Traditional herbalism includes the magical uses of plants. I cannot help but wonder whether agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria) helps to bring people into themselves to enable them to step out of the drama triangle. This is different from agrimony’s use in helping remove a spell or curse that has been cast. What I’m talking about is agrimony’s support of the physical body to then help the emotional body or intellect to make a needed change, to, say, feel healthy enough to get off the triangle treadmill. In two different workshops with herbalist Matthew Wood, attendees reported the ways that agrimony helped them to make a change—or helped to change their circumstances. Often, as Wood reports, these kinds of changes occur in the work environment, but presumably they could happen anywhere people feel tension, either within themselves or between themselves and the outside world.
A late-November plant journey I did with agrimony showed it to be slightly bitter, with a sensation on the tongue of a roughness—like sandpaper. And anyone who, as a child, ever touched a 9-volt battery to the tongue will be familiar with the aftereffect of eating the leaf, a sizzly tension. After chewing and swallowing a leaf, I could feel tightness in the second and third chakras—which govern kidney, female reproductive organs, and digestive organs. The words that came up for me were “temerity” and “moxie” and the phrase “grow a spine.”
Agrimony may very well be a plant for our times to the extent that it can help us to stand up—not only to ourselves but for ourselves. And this would especially be helpful for getting out of the drama triangle—to stop feeling like a victim, to stop feeling a need to persecute or become the abuser to take revenge for having been abused, or to stop feeling as though one’s self can only be validated by playing rescuer. Each of these roles creates tension, which is both fuel and fire for the triangle—and creates stress in the body.
In fact, Wood says agrimony offers release from “wind constriction,” which in Traditional Chinese Medicine is tension that goes to the liver and gallbladder and affects other organ systems as well. The liver is the “seat of the soul” and governs flow, that is, the timing of things. “Whenever we have a mental state where there is anger, frustration, and fighting against the flow or a lack of confidence in the natural progression of events, the liver will usually be involved,” writes Wood in The Book of Herbal Wisdom. You can imagine that not only remnants of food, air and water or other liquids, but also emotional residues, build up in the liver. Agrimony, a relaxant, helps to remove these just as it helps the kidneys and gallbladder by removing stones.
Agrimony is safe to take as infusion or tincture. It is one of Dr. Edward Bach’s 38 remedies. The only caution I might suggest is to make sure you are ready, because it will effect change in your life.