The Drama Triangle

Do you ever find yourself in the same old situation when you are with a particular group of people? Where the same stuff keeps circulating, and it’s not particularly helpful for anyone, but it just keeps on happening?

Or perhaps you see a particular group of people using behaviour that you don't quite understand?

Have you heard of the Karpman Drama Triangle?

The Karpman Drama Triangle is a social model of human interaction conceived by Stephen Karpman. It is one of the recommended reads during our training. And it is an absolutely fascinating read.

Simply put, it’s about human behaviour and group dynamics. The model is often used during coaching sessions if a client wishes to reflect on their behaviours and how they are showing up.

It is based on a model of the historical familial way of being. One where we haven’t been taught to ask for what we want. Where everyone is OK. And there is no talk of not being OK. Where asking for what you need provokes shaming. It relates back to times where life has been lived based on the belief that there is not enough to go around. Scarcity. We are conditioned not to ask. And as a consequence, needs aren’t met and emotions aren’t dealt with.

And Karpman describes how we start to learn manipulating behaviour to get what we want and need.

The background is not unique to any particular person or past - rather it is a behaviour that is adopted purely from not having had early permission to express difficult or forbidden emotions. The things that were historically quite often ‘not talked about’. Often, for no other reason than that 'they just weren’t'. And it wasn’t the done thing.

Enter the Drama Triangle. Where no one has to ask anyone for anything. Our needs are met through playing the game.

Before I continue, my purpose here is to merely summarise how the Drama Triangle works. I would be doing Mr Karpman a disservice by going into detail. But I urge you to have a read if these things are of interest to you.

I bring the subject up because it's interesting and relevant and it may not be the type of book that we would naturally reach for if not prompted to do so.

Playing the game!

The Drama Triangle consists of three players. The Victim, The Persecutor and The Rescuer.

But here’s the thing!

The Victim is the leading lady!

The ‘hidden’ aim of this game is to be the Victim. What! Yep, I know – random right? Except it’s not. Because the Victim status offers a huge pay out. Think about it. The Victim gets their needs meet. Without having to ask. What's not to like! Victim consciousness plays a big hand in the game.

Victim consciousness is a stage of consciousness in which people deny personal responsibility for the things that happen on their lives.

The ‘drama’ part of the triangle is based on the fact that the players regularly rotate roles.

The Persecutor

The Persecutor plays out his/her own hidden fears on the Victim. They get to release some pent up emotions from the past. The present situation is throwing up cues that are triggering unprocessed emotions from childhood. The Persecutor confuses the past with the present and it's a whole lot easier to turn the blame on others. It saves having to take an inward look. A bit like any bully. And if the Victim should one day stand up to the Persecutor, the Persecutor will do what they do best and go straight to Victim status – which is where they were aiming for all along. Remember, all of the players in the triangle are covertly competing for the Victim status.

The Rescuer

And so, what of the Rescuer? The Rescuer takes it upon themselves to give help that hasn’t been asked for. And then when that is pointed out by the Victim, they say ‘oh I was only trying to help’ and yep off they go ‘poor me’ to Victim status. Their rescuing is a way of fixing their own stuff – they see it in others. It’s a projection. Again, it saves doing the work on themselves and taking that inward look.

If you are reading this trying to work out who you are? You will have played all of the parts. At different times. In different groups. We all do it.

And the hard truth is that we are subconsciously playing the game as our child selves. We are not interacting as adults.

Is there a winner? Is there ever in these ‘mind’ games? Much of this depends on your perception of a 'winner'.

We will often revisit our roles within the triangle because subconsciously there is a pay off. It might not be a great one. But we know what we are getting and us humans like what we know. Even if we don't like it! There is comfort in the familiar. And if we do get to be the Victim, then we have temporarily won because that is the position we subconsciously seek. It is a temporary win though because the other players will be hot on our heels wanting to be on our square!

You can also the leave the triangle any time you wish. Beware though. Once you do, there is no going back. These triangles don’t take kindly to different behaviour because they rely on everyone playing the game. It’s all a bit Hamlet – the whole seeming and being scenarios being played out. Remember no one is speaking their truth in this game, interaction is based on ‘concealed’ behaviour. Players are 'acting' to get their needs met. That is the rule of the game. And everyone is getting some kind of pay off here, don't forget. So, why put the game away!

A change of behaviour can prompt comments like 'you've changed' or 'this is not like you'. And sometimes you just have to accept that you need to bugger off because you are interrupting the flow of the game. No hard feelings!

You can also start to act on a conscious level. And attempt to have 'honest' adult: adult conversations. This means stepping out of the 'child/adult' role and into the 'conscious' adult one. You are dependent here on another ‘adult’ stepping forward though. The other 'adult' needs to be complicit with this and cognisant of their need to step out of the game too. Quite often there is just too much at stake and people aren’t always prepared to relinquish the ‘safety’ of the triangle.

Interesting stuff and it most definitely does play out In day to day situations and group arrangements.

As with all of these things, awareness is the first step towards changing behaviours. Once we are aware of things, we can bring them in to our conscious minds and start to notice them when they arise, if we want to.

Remember, we don’t have to be complicit in arrangements that don’t serve us. As adults, we get to choose.

Reference : How To Break Free of the Drama Triangle and Victim Consciousness, by Barry K. Weinhold, Janae B. Weinhold

If this post has resonated with you and you feel that you are being held back by some of the thoughts, emotions or feelings that I discuss, I invite you to book a call with me to discuss whether coaching could help you to move forward.

My name is Nicky Kentisbeer and I am a Mindset & Confidence Coach. I support women like you to work on your mindset and develop the confidence that you need to move beyond the challenges that are keeping you stuck, towards a place that you would much rather be. I do this based on the belief that you have within you the most incredible resources and capabilities to find your own solutions - irrespective of your background or starting point. There is no barrier to entry.

Maybe you have a feeling of being stuck, going round in circles or living the same day over and over? Or you are finding that the way you approach problems and challenges always gives you the same result. And it’s not the one that you want. The feeling of being stuck is incredibly disempowering because it brings about feelings of indecision, procrastination, overthinking and fear which in turn can affect our self-belief and confidence. And if you stop to think about it, you may find that you fear success as much as you do failure. Sometimes staying stuck may feel like a safer place to be when the alternative means change and stepping outside of your comfort zone? There is nothing unusual here as we do all have a tendency to stand in our own way at times. This may happen because you have lost sight of how resourceful you are. You may also allow old beliefs and stories to inform your response to what is going on for you currently. Yet, much of this narrative is historical and it is no longer relevant to your life now and the choices that you make. As your coach, I can support you to understand and address the things that may be holding you back from achieving your goals. Through 1-to-1 coaching sessions, we will explore what it is that you want and the steps that you need to take to get started. I will ask lots of questions! Questions that you may not have asked of yourself. It is through these questions that I invite you to look at things in different ways, from a different perspective and access your own solutions accordingly. I will invite you to look at old beliefs and the stories that you may be telling yourself about your abilities. I do not teach nor tell you how things should be done. And there is no judgement. If this resonates with you, I invite you to book a free 30-minute call with me to discuss whether coaching would be the right approach for you to start turning your ideas and aspirations into action.