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Love & Relationships

It's Time To Get Out Of The 'Drama Triangles' In Your Relationships

Although the goal with all of my content is to provide at least one ah-ha or light bulb moment (no matter what the topic may be), there are times when I will learn something and then I can’t wait to share it with my clients and also those who are familiar with my byline — because everything in me knows that it will be life-altering information on some level.

Today? It’s what’s known as the Karpman’s Drama Triangle, and when I tell you that it has the ability to set you free when it comes to some of your personal and professional work dynamics? Chile, you have absolutely no idea.


What Is Karpman's Drama Triangle in Relationships?

The backstory is a psychoanalyst by the name of Stephen B. Karpman came up with what is known as Karpman’s Drama Triangle back in the ‘60s and then turned it into a pretty popular book, one that helps to explain the dysfunctional situations that a lot of us find ourselves in — and don’t know how to get ourselves out of.

If that alone has already piqued your interest, grab yourself a cup or glass of your favorite beverage and take a good 15-20 minutes to take this all in. Because if you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired of certain folks or patterns, this might be just what the doctor ordered.

What Is a Drama Triangle All About?

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Karpman's Drama Triangle

Listening Partnership

Okay, so what is a Drama Triangle? According to Karpman’s extensive research, at some point, we all play a role in our relationships with other people, including those we have with ourselves (meaning we can have internal drama triangles). We play the Persecutor, the Victim, or the Rescuer. Okay, but before getting deeper into this, let me briefly explain what each of those roles looks like.

The Persecutor: These are the people who always think that it’s your fault. They have a tendency to blame victims for the decisions that they made and then criticize rescuers for trying to help victims out. The good thing about them is they set boundaries and uphold them. The challenging thing about them is they tend to be highly inflexible to the point where they seem like a bully and low-key controlling at times.

The Victim: This is the individual who is constantly in the “poor me” position. They are really bad at personal accountability; they always think someone is to bail them out of their problems, and they pretty much just let life happen to them as they act like they don’t have any real power over their world and its outcome. This keeps them stagnant as they let the persecutor criticize them, and the rescuer saves them as they do basically…nothing. The good thing is they are gentle in their approach to life; the problem is they are passive as hell.

The Rescuer: Although it probably is pretty self-explanatory, the rescuer is always trying to help the victim. Not only does this cause them to catch heat from the persecutor, but it also makes the victim totally reliant on them to the point where the rescuer oftentimes ignores their own needs, feels totally drained, and ends up becoming the victim’s crutch as they are seen as weak by the persecutor. One of my favorite quotes is by Aristotle: “The excess of a virtue is a vice.” It fits in quite well for the rescuer. The positive thing about a rescuer is they are compassionate; the not-so-good thing is they wouldn’t know a boundary if it ran them over.

What turns these three things into a drama triangle is the fact that Karpman says, oftentimes, we find ourselves moving in and out of these roles, usually without even noticing it. And, we tend to do them in extremes. For instance, when it comes to your overbearing mother, you may be the victim. Yet, in your romantic relationship, you may be the persecutor. On the other hand, when it comes to your boss, you are the rescuer.

The problem with all of these is when you’re in the extreme of any of these three positions, it’s going to cause, well, drama. And honestly, that makes all of the sense in the world when you stop to think about the fact that drama is life moving in extreme ways too.

And since this culture is constantly moving in extremes to the point where I’m not even sure if folks know if something is “dramatic” or not anymore, let me break down some clear signs that you’re dramatic, in drama, or addicted to drama (or dramatic people):

  • Dramatic people focus on negativity
  • Dramatic people overexaggerate
  • Dramatic people are stuck in patterns
  • Dramatic people constantly need attention (or to be the center of attention)
  • Dramatic people aren’t clear and concise in their communication
  • Dramatic people stay in unhealthy relationships
  • Dramatic people are always in some ish

Now think about the current state of your relationships, again personally as well as professionally. Are any of them…dramatic right now? If so, what role do you play in all of that?

Are You the Problem in Your Relationships?

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Okay, so say that you realize that you’ve got a problem with being stuck in a counterproductive pattern with a girlfriend because she is always in some sort of unhealthy romantic relationship. She’s the Victim, and you’re the Rescuer. How can you know for sure that you both are in those positions?

Well, aside from the definitions that I already provided for the Persecutor, Victim, and Rescuer, some additional traits for the Victim are they like to act helpless about their issues, they complain a lot about things that they can actually change, and they also tend to be quite manipulative because, whatever heart string that they can pull on to get you to invest more time, effort and energy into doing the work that they should do to better themselves, they will gladly do it.

Meanwhile, as the Rescuer, you are almost on-call when it comes to your availability, you’re constantly self-sacrificing, and you tend to do it to the extent where you’re acting more like the mother to a child than a friend. Then you’ve got another friend who is sick of both of y’all’s patterns and so they are constantly berating you two about it. That person would be the Persecutor.

On the other hand, when it comes to your job, you are the Victim while a co-worker is your Persecutor. And what does that look like? Well, you’re the one who is always complaining about how you’re being treated and that you feel overworked and taken for granted, and yet all you do is vent about it.

Meanwhile, the co-worker who’s listening to you is pretty aggressive when it comes to sharing their insights to the point where it almost seems like they’re bullying you to do what they would do. Yet because you’re so passive about this particular part of your life, you keep taking their almost demanding opinions and perspectives. At the same time, there is someone else at your job who feels bad for you, and so they are constantly defending you to the Persecutor and even doing some of your work so that you will feel better; they are the Rescuer here.

Do you see how, in both of these scenarios, nothing is going to get any better so long as things stay so…extreme for all “roles” involved? Without question, the only way that either of these situations is going to change for the better is if the parties involved are willing to recognize the clear role that they play and own it.

So, if any of this triggered you on some level, do some self-introspection: what role are you? Things can’t change until you’re willing, to be honest with yourself about who you are and what you are doing. And yes, I’m speaking from personal experience.

When it comes to one of my friend’s marriages, I know that I used to be the Rescuer. Her husband was so ridiculous, and everyone knew it (that’s not just my opinion; my friend ended up divorcing him, and then all kinds of stories of what folks really thought about him came out). She was the Victim, and he was the Persecutor. After a while, it started to take a real toll on my friendship with her because while she recognized all of the ways that he was controlling and emotionally abusive, she would blame his mom for why he was the way that he was — which created another triangle where he was the Victim, she was the Rescuer, and his mom was the Persecutor.

Yep, it’s easy to have drama triangles that are attached to or interwoven with other ones. SMDH. Anyway, it wasn’t until I was willing to look at the part that I played in the crazy train that I was able to set some boundaries — ones that ultimately ended up protecting and preserving our friendship.

This brings me to my next point.

So, How Do You Break Your Current Drama Triangles?

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If you were paying close attention to the characteristics of the Persecutor, Victim, and Rescuer, you probably noticed that not everything about any of them was all bad. The problem is, again, they were moving in the extreme and that’s how things ended up getting dramatic. So, when it comes to breaking free from drama triangles, what you need to focus on, more than anything, is achieving some sort of balance.

Persecutors need to be less controlling and instead set boundaries while encouraging others to do the same. If the Victim or Rescuer chooses not to, there’s no need to get angry; it’s their life. Persecutors need to achieve balance by focusing on simply honoring their own limits.

Victims need to be honest about where they are and ask for help if they need it. However, they also need to understand that it’s not anyone else’s responsibility to invest more into their life than they are willing to. Balance is about getting support, not looking for a crutch — and definitely not trying to make people feel bad for not wanting to show up for your world more than you do.

Rescuers could stand to learn more about codependency, which, at the end of the day, is having an entire identity around saving other people. To tell you the truth, while it can seem on the surface that Rescuers are good-natured people, some of them like the power of feeling like they saved someone; it’s not always as altruistic as it seems. The ones who want the credit for the help or like to try and create certain outcomes with their help? Those are the ones I’m referring to that could use some humbling.

When it comes to all three of these, after seeing who you are in a particular triangle, honing in on how to “play your position” in a healthier and productive way is how you can break free from the triangle altogether. Make sense?

This Is How to Stay Out of Drama Triangles in the Future

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So, now that you’ve been introduced to drama triangles, have probably seen yourself in at least one of them, and are learning how to get out of your current triangle, you’re probably wondering how to keep yourself from getting caught up in drama triangles in the future.

Good question. For you, I offer another kind of triangle with these three tips:

1. Spot potential drama very early on. There’s someone I know who is always asking from others (almost in an entitled way) and rarely doing for anyone else. Because I change my number like the wind, she doesn’t have my current one. She recently asked someone who has it for it, and they asked me if it was okay to share it. I am so tired of being the Victim’s Persecutor when she talks about all of the fallouts that she has with her rescuers that I told them “no.” When I see her out and about, cool. Yet, always arguing with her about how much she takes advantage of people while she acts like she’s doing nothing wrong? I’ll pass. That’s too much drama for me.

2. See yourself and own it. Again, based on the kind of relationship you’re thinking about, you may be one role consistently, or you might be all three at different times. The key is to know the role that you play and then be hypervigilant about being a less extreme version of it so that you can bring more balance and less drama to the situation.

3. Do what brings balance and peace. Greek author Euripides once said, “The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.” Author Orison Swett Marden once said, “Work, love, and play are the great balance wheels of man's being.” Film producer Paul Boese once said, “We come into this world head first and go out feet first; in between, it is all a matter of balance.” Finally, writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “So divinely is the world organized that every one of us, in our place and time, is in balance with everything else.”

What all of these emphasize is a good life is a balanced one and when you strive to avoid drama while cultivating peace, you are well on your way to a life of balance.

____

Drama triangles. Lawd. We’ve all been in one; hell, more than one. Some of us are in one at this very moment. That’s the bad news. Hopefully, the good news is, that now that you see it for what it is, you can dismantle the ones you’re in and keep yourself from being a part of them in the future.

After all, life’s too short and precious for drama triangles.

Move forward, in straight lines, by achieving balance (and peace)…instead.

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Featured image by LeoPatrizi/Getty Images

 

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