Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.

We hear this phrase often and it sounds great, but how can we practically apply it to our lives?
One simple way is what we call Active Roles.

We actively play many roles in life in response to each person with whom we interact with at any particular time. We’re not talking here about Social Roles such as policeman, a mother or father, but about the dynamic at play.

These are Active Roles, and they are the essence of our behaviour.

For example:

Purposeful Encourager

Resentful Carer

Confident Boundary Setter

Resigned Complier


Active Roles can be:

Constructive | Fragmenting | Ambivalent

Constructive Roles (C)

A Constructive role grows you as a person. When you play a Constructive role it enhances your life and brings about a sense of fulfilment. It’s satisfying and energising. E.g.   Calm Explainer | Happy Celebrator

A Constructive role not only grows you as a person,  it is beneficial for the other person with whom you are interacting (even though you or the other person may not like it at the time). E.g.   Clear Boundary Setter

A Constructive role is appropriate and positively affects everyone involved in the dynamic

Constructive roles dissipate anxiety!

Fragmenting Roles (F):

A Fragmenting role diminishes you as a person.

A Fragmenting role weakens you; preventing or even stopping personal growth.

It will impact negatively on your relationships and will result in frustration and conflict for all parties involved. Fragmenting roles affects everyone involved in the relationship.

E.g.   Angry Withdrawer | Frustrated Accuser

But we may really like playing it at the time,

EG:   Righteous Punisher | Proud Show-off

Note that the naming of the role doesn’t need to be grammatically correct.

Ambivalent Roles (A):

An Ambivalent role leaks energy.

This is a combination of a Fragmenting and a Constructive component of the role.
E.g. A mother who is attending to her sick child all weekend while her husband watches football on TV may feel resentful. Her action is Constructive, but the spirit behind the action is Fragmenting.  She becomes a  E.g.   Resentful Carer (with the child)

Cold/disengaged Communicator (with the husband)

This is an insidious and extremely draining role as the player may not be aware of the draining nature of the ambivalence of the role played.

It produces apathy, burnout, confusion and lack of trust in the other. The other person knows that there is something wrong, but its difficult to pinpoint what it is as the action is often constructive.

Fragmenting and Ambivalent roles could eventually weaken relationships and each person involved.

Using Tomas Merton’s language, these roles are an expression of a “False Self”, this is not a wrong self but a self that is fragile and not free. They are tied-up with unresolved emotional issues, fears and insecurities, so the self needs to compensate those feelings with behaviours that gives the perception of safety, protection, and empowerment etc.

It’s like the successful person that succeeds in business but is unable to relate to family or anyone else, as he/she is a product of a determination “not to be like his father” who lived in poverty. Even thou he/she is successful they play the role of Fearful Achiever, an Ambivalent role not knowing that could play the Graceful Achiever, (a Three in the Enneagram).

The move from Fragmenting or Ambivalent roles may not only need some change of behaviour, but may also need to include a self transformational process. We may need to deal with our Ego.

The good news is: we can learn not to play fragmented and ambivalent roles.

When under pressure, either because of something going on at work or because of what we’re bringing with us to work, it is more difficult to play Constructive “Enabling” roles.

Don’t miss the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate when you or others play a Constructive Role. Identifying them helps us to anchor what is healthy and life giving.

Let’s put this to work!

Carlos Raimundo

Carlos A. Raimundo with medical studies in Argentina, and training in the psychiatric and psychotherapeutic field in Argentina. M Mg from Macquarie University and researcher on Emotional and Social Intelligence, neuroscience and the use of the Play of Life. He's the creator of the Play of Life from which he received the Innovators Award from the ASGPP in NY 2002. He's also the author of Relationship Capital (Prentice Hall 2002)


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