The Drama Triangle. What Is It and How Do You Escape It?
As human beings, it's hard to escape the dramas in our day to day lives. Right now, you could be experiencing drama in one or more of your current relationships. In Karpman’s triangle, he attempts to explain the shifting roles people play in relationships, and how manipulative and destructive it become.
Do you sometimes feel sorry for yourself and blame people in your life for not appreciating all the help and care that you’ve given them? Perhaps, even without asking, people keep helping you, treating you like you can't do anything for yourself. Consequently, you find yourself resentful of the things they do for you?
You could be playing the victim role. In 1968, Dr. Stephen Karpman, MD, a psychiatrist in San Francisco, California, developed the drama triangle that we display when in a high-conflict situation. More than 50 years later, the model still holds relevance in today's society.
What Is Karpman’s Drama Triangle?
Karpman’s Drama Triangle, also known as the victim triangle, describes the constantly shifting dynamics in relationships. He teaches that there are three roles in a conflict:
Combined, they form the Karpman Drama Triangle. At some point in our lives, we’ve played all of these roles knowingly or unknowingly, but typically, we get drawn to one of the roles. We learn these roles from our childhood by watching how people close to us deal with conflicts.
Taking on any one of these roles can be a distraction, and they can keep us from living meaningful lives. When there are constant conflicts, it can hurt our relationships, bringing feelings of shame, powerlessness, and superiority.
The first role is the victim, and by this, we don’t mean an actual victim. We are talking about the ‘victim role,’ where someone feels or acts like a victim. They feels powerless, afraid, dependent, and unable to make decisions or solve problems on his or her own. A person playing victim believes nothing is their fault. They believe that someone or something else beyond their control is being awful to them. Moreover, they feel like they don’t have any control or responsibility to change anything.
Being the victim should not be confused with being vulnerable. When you are vulnerable, you’re still in control of the situation, and you can fight back to get out of it. In contrast, victims act oppressed and are often self-pitying. They are your needy (and most draining) friends and relatives.
A victim likes to validate their problems as unsolvable and always places blame on the persecutor who can be a person or situation. Usually, the victim seeks a rescuer to get them out of their condition.
Some common phrases that people playing victims tell themselves and others include:
- Poor me.
- I feel helpless.
- I can't live without you.
- It’s not my fault for how things turned out.
- Why is this happening to me?
- It's beyond my control.
The persecutor (or villain) is argumentative, angry, controlling, dominating or oppressive, judgmental, blaming, and self-righteous. They lash out at others around them and make the victim feel helpless. The persecutor takes the stance, “It’s all your fault,” and criticizes others. They are always defensive, and they have to be right. They come across as authoritative and like to have their own way. This can cost them their jobs, friendships, or even relationships.
They would rather pin faults on others as the cause of problems to hide their fear. A person playing the persecutor role tends to hold others accountable for their problems and even tries to manipulate them into doing things their way.
Persecutors use the following phrases to justify themselves and their actions:
- I should have known better
- I should never have trusted you
- If only you did what I told you
- You did not do your job now I have to suffer
The rescuer likes to play the hero – always wanting to save others. They get satisfaction by helping others, and they can become quite engaged in the act that they neglect their own needs. They don’t do this out of genuine compassion or care for others, but rather, selfishly so they may feel good about themselves.
They are overly helpful, feel responsible for others, and tend to fix other people’s problems, Moreover, they view others as helpless, and feel guilty when they can't solve a problem. They are self-sacrificing and focus on the needs of other people at the cost of their own. They need to be needed and seek the help of a victim, but in reality, they just want to be seen as helping.
In the drama triangle, the rescuer appears as someone who seems to be striving to solve a victim’s issues. However, they can't allow the victim to succeed or get better.
The drama cycles from one role to another. In one instance, you may play the victim, enjoying all the attention, and not taking responsibility for your actions. At other times, you may play the persecutor, feeling powerful, especially if you don’t have the skills to ask directly for what you want.
Rescuers manipulate victims using phrases like:
- Let me help you.
- I agree with you.
- Yes, you are right.
Escaping the Drama Triangle
The drama triangle can be so pervasive that escaping it feels unsafe and frightening. When a family is stuck in the Karpman triangle, it is highly likely that their future child will get involved in the drama too. As a result, the child may have no choice in making major life decisions, and they won't grow up self-reliant.
So, what is the way out of the drama triangle?
- Acceptance – You need to acknowledge that nobody owes you anything, even if they offer to help and start taking responsibility for your actions. Situations will always arise, and the only survival tactic is to accept that you have to make a choice. Moreover, understand that every choice has consequences.
- Keep agreements and strive to follow through with your commitments.
- Stop making excuses and reproaching yourself, especially when you feel like you won’t reach someone’s (your dad’s, mom’s, or wife’s/husband’s) expectations.
- Stop complaining about things that you don’t feel unhappy with and instead use that energy to search for ways to improve or change those things.
- Learn to become a problem solver instead of waiting on salvation.
- Reflect on your strengths and accept your vulnerabilities.
- Stop being authoritative and controlling. Learn to ask directly for your needs without manipulating others.
- Practice assertiveness and learn the boundaries of others.
- Learn to become an active listener and solve arguments without aggression.
- Ask questions instead of blaming others for your failures or troubles.
- Stop manipulating people to act according to how you want.
- Be accountable for yourself and stop threatening people so that you get your way.
- Don’t offer yourself up without being asked to help.
- Don’t promise to help people if it means sacrificing your own needs.
- Take a minute to ask yourself if they really need your involvement.
- Quit thinking that people depend on you to survive in this world.
- Be a good listener without getting involved in other people’s problems and pain.
- Offer to support instead of playing the rescuer or savior.
- Offer to help only when asked.
When you start to implement these goals, it won’t be long until you start noticing some changes. Since you accepted your situation and are willing to overcome them, the tension won’t be there anymore. You will feel relaxed, happy, and energized, and life will become interesting.
- The victim turns to a creator. Now, instead of feeling helpless, powerless and oppressed, and complaining about everything in your life, you start fighting back. By becoming a problem solver, exerting independence, and setting boundaries, you will feel excited and not exhausted.
- The persecutor turns to a challenger. Rather than blame and punish, you give up trying to force, control and manipulate people. Instead, you watch a victim’s actions without lashing out at them and being bossy. You no longer criticize and are ready to accept the results.
- The rescuer turns into a coach. You become caring without overstepping. You don’t allow your fear, obligation, and guilt to control you. You say no when you need to and stop solving people’s problems for them. Instead, you become a motivator, psyching up the victim to act. You become a good listener, but support other people instead of offering solutions.
Dealing with the Drama Triangle at Work
Conflicts occur at work, and it's the team leaders and managers who have the difficult task of resolving. They must do this before problems escalate to the point of affecting a team’s performance and productivity. When forming teams, it's natural for the three roles to surface as members try to take their place in the team.
Some play persecutors, wanting to control how they want things to be done. Others play victims - those who avoid responsibilities, and then there are rescuers, the kind who are over-helpful and feel responsible for other’s problems. Without proper communication and leadership, teams will fail to get along, negatively impacting their performance. It's not uncommon for team members to blame each other for not finishing projects on time and causing the entire project to run behind schedule.
To avoid all these, the use of project management tools like Traqq comes in handy. This is an automated tracking system that monitors the progress of projects for individuals and teams. Team leaders can use it to monitor the activity level of each employee and coordinate with the least performing ones.
You can check the hours they put into a project, carry out an analysis comparing the input and output, and find ways to optimize their performance. Traqq is also useful when it comes to payment processing. Since the process is automated, all the data is available on one platform. Plus, it lets you create an invoice and even send it to your employer or client right within the app.