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How to Escape the Drama Triangle

Marriages, families, friendships, workplaces, communities…

Our lives are formed by a complex web of relationships and human interactions fuelled by intense emotions and individual beliefs.  Everyday social situations can be rife with drama and, whether we realise it or not, each of us has been pulled into a Drama Triangle in some way or another.

Female friendships are traditionally ones that can be relied upon for support and feedback when we most need it.  We share our problems, shoulder each other’s burdens, and we work hard to fix each other.

And if we’re honest, there’s no denying that this can be tiring and can weigh us down; yet we return to the familiar format as each new drama arises.

drama triangle

Does this drama add any level of true meaningfulness to our friendships and lives?

Dr Stephen B Karpman puts to us, with the Karpman Drama Triangle, that there are three roles in a conflict, all of which are habitual but dysfunctional:

  1. The Victim – this person is not necessarily an actual victim, but someone who feels victimised or acts as though they are being persecuted. The Victim generally feels powerless, oppressed and ashamed.
  2. The Persecutor – this is the person that The Victim feels persecuted by and is often shown in a controlling and critical light. A person in this role will usually be angry, defensive and condescending.  The Persecutor can also be a situation.
  3. The Rescuer – a third party, not involved in the situation between The Victim and The Persecutor, but who feels bound to protect and advocate for The Victim.

Even as you read this, in your head you’re applying these roles to situations you’ve been in.  I know, I did the exact same thing!  It’s absolutely natural to take on these roles.  But are they good for us?

Karpman says no.  Participants of Drama Triangles will often fall into the same roles; rescuers will derive satisfaction from being a hero and helping a loved one.  Victims will derive satisfaction from the knowledge that their dramas will be fixed for them.  Both will often pursue more of that satisfaction.

The Drama Triangle

But how can we fight human nature?

Honestly, it’s less about fight and more about empowering each other.

When your best friend comes to you upset about a fight she had with her husband, it goes without saying that you’ll listen and provide comfort.  But bring the NEW triangle into play and the roles immediately become more constructive.

The Empowerment Dynamic (TED) maintains the triangle structure but assigns new roles and strategies to the participants that helps empower each of them while at the same time easing burdens:

  1. Take Control: Instead of being The Victim, be The Creator.  Use the resources of the triangle to proactively create a positive outcome to a conflict.
  2. Change Perspective: The Persecutor becomes The Challenger.  Whilst their actions and brutal honesty can cause conflict and pain, they can also challenge The Creator to use the situation to grow and strengthen.
  3. Teach, Learn and Grow: Instead of rescuing, be The Coach.  Ask The Creator questions about what they want to achieve from the situation, to help them self-actualise their own positive outcome.

The end result of this approach doesn’t remove the pain, but instead provides perspective, clarity, and (most of all) a way to take care of each other AND ourselves.

Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert’s words, as a self-confessed rescuer, sum it all up beautifully:

“I will always take care of myself – because I recognise that if I don’t take care of myself, then I can never offer my useful service or my authentic love to anybody.”

“I will always work to fill my soul with grace and enthusiasm.  Whatever energy overflows from me, I will happily and generously share it.  But I will only share the overflow, because the rest of it, I need.  I will not drain my wellspring to the dregs for anyone ever again, and mistakenly call that love.”

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Escape the drama triangle

How to Escape the drama triangle

Eva Lewis