The Drama Triangle

Creative Difference

Do you sometimes find yourself seemingly stuck in a drama in your family, at work or in a friendship group?

Perhaps one person feels put upon by another, and you try to help out?  Or maybe someone is giving you a hard time, while someone else supports you.  It might even be that you’re trying to get someone to do something differently and they’re enlisting the help of someone else to fight their corner?

If any of these examples resonate with you, or small things blow out of proportion between you and a couple of others, then chances are you’re part of a Drama Triangle.   It’s a very common situation.

A Drama Triangle is a “game” three people play without realising it, which stops difficulties being tackled and can damage relationships.  At its worst it becomes manipulative and abusive for everyone.  The three people form a triangle of roles.  One person is the ‘Perpetrator’, one a ‘Rescuer’ and one a ‘Victim’, but these roles can change quite quickly.  Each role reinforces the “game” being played by the other.  There’s a ‘pay off’ to the game: often the Perpetrator can get a sense of power, the Rescuer a sense of moral superiority or being needed, the Victim can avoid responsibility and play “poor me”.

For example, the son leaves his room untidy.  Mum tries to get him to clear it up and shouts at him.  When Dad gets home, instead of backing Mum, he makes excuses for his favourite son and lets him off.  Son becomes  Victim, Mum becomes Perpetrator, Dad becomes Rescuer.  Or maybe not?  Perhaps Dad is rescuing his son in order to get at Mum for some reason, and he now becomes the Perpetrator in a new drama?  All sorts of messy and manipulative motives, often unconscious, start to appear.  If it repeats it may become a destructive habit, potentially leading eventually to family breakdown, arguments, divorce, a son with a broken home and no sense of responsibility.

The only way out of the Drama Triangle is not to play it.  Knowing that it might be happening is the first step.

The Drama Triangle was developed by Stephen Karpman as part of Transactional Analysis, and there are lots of web sources that will tell you more about the theory if you’re interested.

If you think you are involved in a Drama Triangle and want to explore how best to change this, you can contact me at chris.paul@creativedifference.org.uk .  Find out more about what I do through my web page:  www.creativedifference.org.uk

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