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  • Writer's pictureRyan Wilson

The Triangle of Persons – How Past Relationships Affect You Today!


Turns out, this is actually pretty common. Why?

In a recent post I described the Triangle of Conflict. When feelings or impulses begin to make their way into our consciousness we get anxious and use defenses to manage the anxiety and avoid the feelings. While there are many times where it might be ok to put aside our feelings “in the moment”, constant avoidance of the emotions can often result in physical and mental illness.

There is a second triangle: The Triangle of Persons.

Where the Triangle of Conflict is used as a way to understand how we cope with feelings and anxiety, the Triangle of Persons helps us understand why a person might act the way they do when they are in the room with us.


For example, when MJ came to see me she was having a lot of problems with anxiety and depression. In our conversations we found out that one of her biggest stressors was her husband. She described him as cold and without emotion. This was causing her a lot of distress because MJ is a very warm and affectionate person. She had a lot of strong mixed emotions towards her husband (like love AND anger). When I would do my best to be present with MJ in the room and encouraged her to feel these emotions towards her husband she began to get angry with me and began to treat me as if I was her husband! She began to fear that I would reject her in the same way her husband did, that I would be invalidating, cold and emotionless. As a result she started to have a lot of mixed feelings


So what can we do about that? What we’ve suggested in a number of posts is: sit with the feelings, allow yourself to experience them, and make decisions from the strong and healthy self.

That is a pretty tall order, though. To start with just try noticing.You can start to figure out where you are on the Triangle of Conflict and the Triangle of Persons. Start to try and take notice of your body. When do you feel anxious? What feelings are underneath those anxious feelings? Are you bringing in defenses to avoid the feelings? Who are you anxious with? Do they remind you of someone else in your life – present or past?

Maybe you can begin to unravel your Triangle of Persons. I know I’ve been working at it for years now. It is a lot of work, one that often needs help, but it is extremely rewarding and has been incredibly important work that has helped me operate from the Strong and Healthy Self.


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