Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Drama Triangle - a relationship dance that keeps you stuck

Sometimes it is helpful to look at 'models' from psycho-analysis to understand the toxic 'dances' we get into in our relationships. Many of the steps of these dances are learnt as children - either from watching and listening to our parents or from the dynamics of our early family life. This means we are unconsciously very adept at taking a role which perpetuates the dance and keeps us stuck in a less than useful behaviour. 

Last week I was reminded about the Drama Triangle by Roger and Emily Terry of Evolution Training and I thought I'd share some of my thoughts with you. As you read this post you will probably recognise someone or other this model applies to. None of it applies to you or me! (Well certainly not me, I'm not so sure about you though!)

A Description of the Drama Triangle

Here is an excellent explanation of the model by John Goulet, a Marriage and Family Therapist from Ventura, California. 

The Drama Triangle is a model of dysfunctional social interaction, created by psychotherapist Stephen Karpman. Each point on the triangle represents a common and ineffective response to conflict, one more likely to prolong disharmony than to end it. Participants in a drama triangle create misery for themselves and others. Each player in this particular mind game begins by assuming one of three archetypical roles: Victim, Rescuer, or Persecutor. 
Victims are helpless and hopeless. They deny responsibility for their negative circumstances, and deny possession of the power to change them. They do less than 50%, won’t take a stand, act “super-sensitive”, wanting kid glove treatment, and pretend impotence and incompetence.
Rescuers are constantly applying short-term repairs to a Victim’s problems, while neglecting their own needs. They are always working hard to “help” other people. They are harried, tired, and often have physical complaints. They are usually angry underneath and may be a loud or quiet martyr in style. They use guilt to get their way.
Persecutors blame the Victims and criticize the enabling behaviour of Rescuers, without providing guidance, assistance or a solution to the underlying problem. They are critical and unpleasant and good at finding fault. They often feel inadequate underneath. They control with threats, order, and rigidity. They can be loud or quiet in style and sometimes be a bully.

Players sometimes alternate or “switch” roles during the course of a game. For example, a Rescuer pushed too far by a Persecutor will switch to the role of Victim or counter-Persecutor. While a healthy person will perform in each of these roles occasionally, pathological role-players actively avoid leaving the familiar and comfortable environment of the game. Thus, if no recent misfortune has befallen them or their loved ones, they will often create one. In each case, the drama triangle is an instrument of destruction. 

Victims depend on a 'saviour', Rescuers yearn for a 'basket case' and Persecutors need a 'scapegoat'. 

How the Game is Played

A good example of the game could be this fictitious argument between John and Mary. Sometimes the Rescuer’s point seems calm and even reasonable. If the words placate, soothe, calm, explain or justify, it can be considered a Rescuer response--it is an attempt to move the other person from their position.
In order to give a visual of the way the participants move from one point of the triangle to another, the Persecutor position is shown in red, the Rescuer in blue and the Victim in green.

I can't believe you burnt dinner! That's the third time this month! (P)
Well,Johnny fell and grazed his knee, it burned while I was busy getting him a bandage. (R)
You baby that boy too much! (P)
You wouldn't want him to get an infection, would you? I'd end up having to take care of him while he was sick. (V)
He's big enough to get his own bandage. (P)
I just didn't want him bleeding all over the carpet. (R)
You know, that's the problem with these kids! They expect you to do everything! (V)
That's only natural, they are just young. (R)
I work like a dog all day at a job I hate... (V)
Yes, you do work very hard, dear. (R)
And I can't even sit down to a good dinner! (V)
I can cook something else, it won't take too long. (R)
A waste of an expensive steak! (P)
Well maybe if you could have hauled your ass out of your chair for a minute while I was busy, it wouldn't have burned! (P)
You didn't say anything! How was I supposed to know? (V)
As if you couldn't hear Johnny crying? You always ignore the kids! (P)
I do not, I just need time to sit and relax and unwind after working all day! You don't know what it's like... (V)
Sure, as if taking care of the house and kids isn't WORK! (P)"

Feel free to continue this in your own time!

Is there a way out of the triangle?

This is known as the drama triangle because drama is its main aim. Taking any position on the three points will give you a starring role in your own entertainment. 

The role with the most power to keep everyone else stuck is 'Victim'. From 'Victim' it's possible to cast others in the role of 'Persecutor', even if they don't want to take that role. Some Victim lines for you to consider:- “You never listen to me!” “You always put me down!” “You say such hurtful things”. As 'Victim' we can also appeal to those who would rather do anything than face conflict. They become 'Rescuers' and do their best to find solutions for our problems. As 'Victim', solutions are the last thing we want as this will spoil our 'drama'. If this is our 'drama' it's very easy to keep everyone confused by moving swiftly between 'Victim' and 'Persecutor'. In the above example Mary had a go at all three roles!

Finding a way out depends on doing something differently.  If this sounds horribly familiar and you would like to know how to get out of this you'll have to read the next post or call for immediate help. In the meantime, make a start by noticing that you've got into a familiar argument and ask yourself:

"Am I choosing to play this part?" 

It's amazing once you take a step back from the current drama, how other options  open up to you.  

Let us know your own variations of this game and any ways you have found to get out of it.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for outlining this very helpful model. It can be so easy to slide into one (or more) of these roles and it's helpful to be reminded to step aside and stop perpetuating the drama. Food for thought!