Powerful Questions Podcast: Are you caught up in a drama triangle?
I really love the concept of a drama triangle – it is so easy to understand, and it can give you great insights about yourself.
It was first introduced by Stephen Karpman in 1961. The model is used in psychology to describe certain relationship dynamics that occure quite often. Sometimes you might be continuously caught up in this dynamic with a certain person, or in your life overall, and sometimes it just happens situationally.
I will describe to you the 3 roles of the drama triangle. As I go, try to think in which situations you have been in one of the roles. Most likely, you have been in each of the roles at some point. It is very difficult to avoid doing this because another person stuck in a certain role might just drag you into the drama before you know what happened. It takes awareness to realize that you have ended up in an unhealthy dynamic and to get out of it.
So, the 3 players in the drama triangle.
The Victim in the drama triangle is someone feeling or acting like a victim – so they are not necessarily an actual victim. The victim however sincerely feels victimized, hopeless, powerless and unable to solve their own problems.
The Persecutor keeps the victim in their state through oppression and bullying. Persecutors criticize and blame the victim, can be controlling and authoritative, angry and unpleasant. Persecutors actually fear becoming a victim themselves. Persecutors don’t help solve any problems even if they are very involved with the situation. Sometimes persecutor is not a person, but a circumstance or a situation.
The Rescuer wants to help and tries to help. However, in a way that is not really empowering for the victim and keeps them in the powerless state. Rescuer unconsciously keeps the victim dependent and gives them permission to fail. So the victim does not benefit from the rescuer's help – it is only the rescuer who benefits by feeling needed and focusing their energy on someone else's problems instead of their own.
Do you recognize this dynamic in any situations that you have been in? These descriptions are archetypal and might sound extreme, sometimes they are displayed in a milder form. Each role in the drama triangle benefits from the situation in their own way. Victims feel taken care of and get to place responsibility on somebody or something else. Rescuers feel good beacause they are helping someone, "rescuing" someone. Persecutors get to feel superior.
So how do you break out of a drama triangle?
One person shifting out of role can help the others to also get out of their behaviors. What’s especially helpful is for the victim to take responsibility for themselves and their life.
If you are stuck in a victim role, you need to learn that you can solve your own problems and start believing in yourself. You have to take resoponsibility for your own feelings, thoughts, and reactions and challenge the belief that you have no power – you do!
If you are stuck in a rescuer role, but still deeply want to actually help people, you can do that. There is a difference between rescuing and being truly helpful. If you really want to help, you need to encourage self-responsibility in another person rather than supporting their continuous dependence on you as a rescuer. You have to trust the other person to overcome their difficulties and achieve what they want to actieve in their lives.
For the persecutor a way out could be to learn to give directions or ask for things without blaming people for what they are doing wrong in their opinion.
Remember, the drama is not focused on solving the actual situation, it is just escalating the conflict more and more. Be aware where you get caught up in the drama triangle, and remember: you are responsible for stepping out.