Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Defusing the Drama: Opening Act

At some point today, you will confront the "Triangle".

Like an unexploded bomb, the "Triangle" lurks everywhere.

Each day, the "Triangle" threatens to bankrupt the very best of what we have to offer our friends, family and co-workers. Each week, thousands of man hours of productivity are wasted forever as time/energy/money gets sucked like a Hoover into the vacuum of the "Triangle".

Once you see how the drama unfolds, you can assess your role in it.

And measure its impact.


Regretfully, few are aware of this insidious, invisible "Triangle" and its draining, deadly existence.

Who knows, maybe this is the day you finally see the "Triangle" with clarity.

And actually do something about it.

For the record, the "Drama Triangle" is a psychological model of human interaction first described in 1968 by psychologist Dr. Stephen Karpman. Born from a Jewish mother, Karpman barely escaped the persecution of Jews in Europe at the time of the Second World War. He noticed many well-known fairy tales followed a certain simplistic role pattern, and he recognized the same pattern in many families. Karpman observed that people often slip into one of the following three roles: ‘VICTIM’, ‘VILLAIN’ and ‘SAVIOUR’. The tales of Little Red Riding Hood, the Pied Piper, Cinderella and countless others follow this pattern with the VICTIM playing the central role.

The VICTIM sees life as happening to them and believes they are powerless in the face of the onslaught of problems they encounter. But, a VICTIM can’t exist without a VILLAIN, usually taking form of a person, but it could be a condition (maybe a disease or illness?) or a circumstance (a snowstorm or hurricane?).

When a VICTIM encounters a VILLAIN, they hunt for a SAVIOUR, to rescue them or, at least, to alleviate their suffering. SAVIOURS are often other people, but could also be represented by various forms of escapism and/or addiction such as gambling, retail therapy, alcohol or video games.

Many interactions between two or more human creatures duplicate these deeply-rooted, ancestral and often damaging patterns. Like it or not, we are inundated by the "Drama Triangle" daily – whether it be TV shows, movies, the radio, newspapers and novels – or what goes on daily at work or home. As far as people are concerned, the characters who assume their roles in this script can be identified this way:

VICTIMS are helpless and hopeless. Typically they play their part by denying any responsibility for their negative circumstances as well as having the power to clean up their own messes. Mired in self-pity, VICTIMS get to feel “safe” by being submissive and are often:

- Unable to stand up for self and will avoid confrontation.
- Inclined to resort to passive aggressiveness.
- Overly sensitive, wish-washy and unable to make and stick to decisions.
- Stuck and unfulfilled in life but will not risk moving forward.

VILLAINS tend to be people with plenty of answers, but rarely step forward to initiate positive change. VILLAINS enjoy pointing the finger of blame towards VICTIMS while criticizing the enabling behavior of SAVIOURS, without providing constructive solutions. VILLAINS feel “safe” by putting others down and often:

- Resort to verbal or physical force to stay in power.
- Use blame, criticisms and then venting to release stress.
- Are highly judgmental of others, while denying their own weaknesses.
- Feel driven by a strong need to be right.

SAVIOURS constantly apply short-term repairs to a VICTIM's problem, often neglecting their own needs. Taking a “high moral ground”, SAVIOURS get to feel “safe” by enabling others and often:

- Get stuck in a false sense of superiority.
- Need to be in control of others to avoid own feelings and problems.
- Rescue and enable to connect or to feel important.
- Become a martyr when feeling he/she has been taken advantage of by others.

Each corner of this "Drama Triangle" supports the other two.

VICTIMS depend on a helping hand.
VILLAINS search for scapegoats.
SAVIOURS yearn for a basket case.

Visually, both SAVIOUR and VILLAIN are on the upper ends of the "Triangle", assuming a “one-up” position as though they are better, stronger, smarter, or more-together than the VICTIM. Eventually, the VICTIM develops a "pain in the neck" from always looking up. Feeling “looked down upon”, the VICTIM builds resentment. Sooner or later, retaliation follows. Once there is any type of appreciation imbalance (“I’m OK / You’re not OK” (VILLAIN and to some extent SAVIOUR) – or –“You’re OK / I’m not OK” (VICTIM)), predictable drama unfolds.

The VICTIM position is the one the others revolve around. Like a low-pressure weather system that creates hurricanes and tornados by sucking the surrounding air into their void. VICTIMS see themselves as life’s fall guys and use catastrophic language (“everyone,” “you,” “my mother,” “the government”) to describe what others are “doing to them.”

As the drama unfolds, people may suddenly switch roles and others will often switch unconsciously to match this. For example, the VICTIM will often turn on their rescuer, or the SAVIOUR will switch to persecuting. Sometimes the positions are solidly locked and people are heavily invested in staying in their assigned role at all cost. But most of the time, people rotate through the roles so fluidly and effortlessly they don't even realize they are changing their position on the Triangle. Would you believe it is possible to spend an entire marriage, an entire working career, an entire lifetime, rotating around and among these roles?

That being said, most people I know don't get up in the morning and announce things like, "I feel like playing the role of a helpless coward today!" or “Just for the hell of it, I think I’ll go to work and be a complete asshole”. The process is so subconscious, most aren't aware they are dancing to this tune.

You never have to look far to find examples. An unhappy wife and mother forms a triangle with one or more of her children. An unhappy husband triangulates with his work, beer buddies or by having an affair. Gossiping, guilting and backbiting might look safer, but ultimately those are devastating routes to follow instead of the riskier and more rewarding “confrontation.”

You may be familiar with some of the lines in the script that sound like this:

"Why does this Always Happen to Me?”
"See What You Made Me Do!"
"You Got Me Into This!"
"Look How Hard I've Tried"
"I Was Only Trying to Help"

Imagine a person complaining about how awful life is. They are unhappy, their job is boring, their relationship unfulfilling and think they might be depressed. A friend listens in a supportive way as the dialogue unfolds:

VICTIM: “Life sucks. I hate my job and my partner never supports me.”
SAVIOUR: “Well, why don’t you change jobs?”
VICTIM: “Suppose I could, but it will just end up like all my other jobs.”
SAVIOUR: “How about talking to your partner about your unhappiness?”
VICTIM: “I guess I could, but why bother? It won’t make any difference.”
SAVIOUR: “Why don’t we go out, have some fun, take your mind off things?"
VICTIM: "Well, we could but I wouldn’t enjoy myself."

A healthy person will perform in each of the roles occasionally but, pathological role-players actively avoid leaving the familiar and comfortable environment of the game. The underlying purpose for each 'player' is to get their unspoken psychological wishes met in a manner they feel justified, without having to acknowledge the broader dysfunction or harm done in the situation as a whole. As such, each player will act upon their own selfish 'needs', rather than behave in a genuinely adult and responsible manner.

In each case, the "Drama Triangle" is an instrument of crass destruction.

And you can’t or won’t defuse or dismantle it, until you recognize you’re in it.

Once you are consciously aware, you can observe interactions with others as a way to identify your own starting gate position.

From where do you typically enter the "Triangle" once you’ve been sucked in?

What hooks you in the first place?

Would you like to defuse this daily time bomb and dismantle the drama before or while it's happening?

Stay tuned.

More on Thursday.

“Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive - the risk to be alive and express what we really are”

Would you like Gair to re-energize, re-focus or re-inspire your organization or event? Details on his keynotes and speaking programs can be discovered at http://www.gairmaxwell.com/

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Lance said...

WOW,you always have a way to amaze me. But, today you out did yourself and anything I could imagine. Great Post, you are on another level here.

Now, this wait until Thursday thing, that is not fair.

Good Job

renebelanger said...

Hello from Florida Gair !

Don't always get a chance to read all the postings ...so glad I saw this one ...never seen the drama scenario explained out as a triangled affair ..well done. I've spent a lot of time coaching and mentoring around "victim thinking" ...you've positioned it very well. Interesting when you listen to people how many victims there are out there ...lots of work to do and opportunity to help people realize ...they're in the Drama Triangle and there is a way out !

Good job ! ..keep er rollin !