If I say the word drama, what do you think of first? Twenty years ago, I would have said a type of movie or television show; something fictional. Today, I would say that drama is conflict amongst people. The definition has changed for me not only with the times but with the advent of social media. We are never unplugged and need to know what is happening … everywhere and all the time.
What is The Drama Triangle?
Recently, I learned of a model of social dysfunction known as The Karpman Drama Triangle. It was created by Stephen Karpman, MD in the 1960s to describe the three positions within a conflict. Having completed a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology over thirty years ago, I cannot believe that I have never studied this model. Of course, it is within reason that I did indeed learn this information but I had not encountered the epic levels of drama as of late. Fortunately, it is resonating with me now.
The three positions on the triangle are: Persecutor, Rescuer and Victim. The Persecutor is the purveyor of blame, control and aggression ….. “It’s all your fault”. The Rescuer will swoop in to help even to the point of enabling ….. “Let me help you”. Lastly, The Victim feels oppressed, helpless and hopeless …. “Poor me”. Karpman, who was a member of the Screen Actors Guild, did not imply that a person IS one of these, just that they ACT like one of these.
This model has been often shortened to The Drama Triangle and positions within are not static. For example, a person who behaves as a Persecutor may become a Victim to diffuse their own guilt or shame when confronted. Or a Persecutor and Victim may exist somewhat peacefully when in their preferred role until a Rescuer enters the interaction. If a Victim turns on a Rescuer, the Rescuer will become a Persecutor.
What is Your Role?
How do you recognize when you are in The Drama Triangle? People tend to have a primary role, one which relates to their long-time position within their family. When you are in conflict with someone, ask yourself “What kind of drama is this?” and “Is there anything else about the drama?”. Keep asking those questions until you feel that you have a clear, unbiased view. Another great question is “What do I want to change in this situation?” These questions, provided you are honest with yourself, should tell you something about your role.
Once in the Triangle, participants move from one role to another, sometimes multiple times. Remarkably, each person gains something from each position. It is only when the gain is non-existent that the interaction will be drama-free. Sounds easy, right?
Unfortunately, it isn’t easy but recognizing that ego is involved in each position, do your best to determine what you are gaining from the conflict. Does it feel good blaming someone else for your problems? Do you enjoy the praise that results from helping someone? Is it easier to let someone else have their way rather than stand up to them? Recently, I have begun to look at past drama and determine if I reacted with grace or not. If I didn’t, I figure out what I gained from the drama. It is always ego-based.
Sometimes, when we look at something with fresh eyes, we can not only see our role but we can see others’ roles and gain some empathy for their negative state. Most drama is temporary. If you can speed up the resolution and react with grace, you can exit The Drama Triangle.