Updated: Dec 3, 2020
If your life is full of Drama and you switch from being a victim to being a villain to being a rescuer, then this article is for you! A Drama triangle also called the Victim triangle, is a combination of these three. It was developed as a social model in 1968 by a psychologist named Stephen Karpman.
Karpman’s drama triangle is a powerful framework to understand the dysfunctional roles we adopt to deal with any conflict. The three roles mentioned here, i.e. victim, villain (Persecutor) and rescuer; represent our state of mind. It represents our internal self-talk. It is an escape mechanism to avoid taking responsibility for our situation when dealing with conflict. When we operate from this triangle, we don't discuss the solution to the conflict but just keep rotating in the triangle like a guinea pig in the hamster wheel. When our deep subconscious needs aren't fulfilled, we take up these roles without realizing it and remain stuck as if the core problem is the villain victimizing the victim or the rescuer saving the victim or vice versa. Let's look at these roles in depth:
Playing a Victim - "This is happening to me"
In this role, the person is at the expense of others. He believes that something outside their control is responsible for the situation they are in. Hence they don't take responsibility of their lives to improve their situation. A victim feels as if nothing he or she can do can change the situation. This creates an external dependency & makes them rely on others to solve their problems.
Some of the common phrases that people in victim role say to themselves and others are:
Why does this happen to me?
I cannot do anything about it
It’s beyond my control
I have to live with it
I am not responsible for how things turned out
I feel helpless
I am in desperate need of someone who can get me out of it
If only others cared for me
A persecutor or villain: “It’s all your fault”
A persecutor or villain has a tendency to blame and pin point faults and put the responsibility of the situation on others. They have a sense of superiority and point out flaws in others, in order to feel better about themselves. They get defensive when their own flaws are pointed out. Usually the person with whom the persecutor is arguing, takes up the role of the victim. A persecutor usually finds a victim to be accountable for his problems and tries to coerce them to work according to his way.
A persecutor uses these common phrases:
If only you would have done what I told you
I would not be delayed if you kept your commitments
I did not expect this from you
I should have known better
I should have never trusted you
He did not do his job and now I have to suffer
Being the hero or rescuer: “I need to save others”
Hero or the rescuer, define their self worth by being able to help or rescue others. But the aim here is not to help others but a desire to feel good about themselves by doing this kind act. A rescuer finds a victim as the one who needs "help" and the victim thinks that finally he will be rescued from the situation. Both validate each other's ego but the sad part is, neither of the two solve the real problem here. Thus the "hamster wheel" keeps on rotating!
A rescuer encourages victim mindset by using these phrases:
I agree with you
I think so too
Yes, you are right
Let me help you
How to break the Drama Triangle and become the part of the Creator Triangle:
1. Self Awareness
Understand your triggers. What ticks you, and pisses you off? What impact it is creating in your work or relationships? Recognize the patterns. Have you been in relationships where the same drama repeated time after time? Have you switched multiple jobs only to find the same work scenarios repeating all the time? If yes, then it is the beginning of the understanding that we might be taking up these 3 roles unconsciously.
2. Shift the Thought Process
Next time, whenever dealing with the conflict just pause for a while and shift your thought process. Do not think the same way that you always have been. Change the Triangle. Take up the following roles instead:
Victim into Creator
Instead of focussing on, 'what is the problem?", focus on what could be the solution? Set small goals towards the solution and have an action plan to help you to be accountable.
2. Rescuer to Coach
Helping people in this case does more harm than good. Instead of creating dependency with your help, empower victims by helping them find their own solutions. Ask them the right questions which will enable them to find solutions. Believe that they can find their own answers. Encourage self responsibility, listen more and empower.
3. Persecutor to Challenger
Move from blaming others for your situation and take responsibility yourself. Hold yourself accountable & encourage others to do the same. Express your thoughts without intimidating others and strive to create a win win situation for everyone.
This can be applied in work and personal life. For example, a manager is not happy with one of his team members' performance. One scenario could be that he starts firing & scolding him. So he plays the role of the persecutor. The employee might feel victimised and might vent his frustration with other team members for rescuing him. They might act as the rescuer by empathising and agreeing with him that indeed the boss is wrong. The employee will remain stuck by feeling sad & will refuse to improve. He will become bitter towards his boss & company. So the entire problem remains stuck.
The other way the manager could have handled the situation was by being a Challenger where he assertively explains the expectations and improvement areas without intimidating the employee. He asks the employee how as a boss he can enable him to achieve the expectations.
The employee could have reacted differently than a Victim, by acting as a Creator, by thinking what action steps he should take to improve this situation. What could be the solution to the problem?
The team members instead of playing the role of the rescuer, could have coached the employee on the steps that can be taken to improve his performance. This way, instead of focussing on the people, the focus has shifted on problem solving.
Another example could be in the relationship zone. A girlfriend might be possessive of her boyfriend and might start bickering with him as soon as she suspects him to be flirting with other women. She is playing the role of the persecutor. The boyfriend might feel like a victim and might feel suffocated in the relationship and might approach his friend for rescuing him from the situation. The rescuer might agree with the boyfriend and reaffirm his belief of being victimised. This goes non-stop till the time they finally breakup. If all become consciously aware of the roles they are playing, this could be approached a little differently. The girlfriend takes up the role of the Challenger, stating her insecurities around other women assertively. She lists certain behavior of her boyfriend that might be triggering her insecurities. The boyfriend plays the role of the Creator, and suggests new behaviors that would not trigger such responses. The friend can coach the girlfriend on how to feel more secure in the relationship and the boyfriend on how to make your partner feel more secure. This is a more healthy way to deal with the same issue which may help them to strengthen their relationship. Also note, that the same person can take different roles in different scenarios. The same person can play a victim in one situation & a persecutor or rescuer in another.
Although, this post just touched the tip of the iceberg of this entire topic, hopefully it will help you to identify in what scenarios, which role you tend to play and how to transform it into a more empowering one.
On this World Mental Health Day, let's pledge to be more self aware of our thought patterns and break the hamster wheel to live a free & joyful life! To have more mental clarity & for moving ahead in life, a Life Coach can handhold you in your Journey. Click here to know more. Comment below your key takeaway from the article!
The Karpman Drama Triangle Explained: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, Trainers, Therapists – and Everybody Else https://amzn.to/3nFM3aL
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