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Drama Triangle – Caught yourself in it lately?

As we’ve already seen from the AHA! Process (if you missed it, I covered it in a couple of my recent posts here), emotion is important and without drama our lives would be pretty dull. It’s when we get carried away by it that things can get out of hand. And it’s very easy to see how people tend to overreact when they don’t get the results they expect or want.

The Drama Triangle

Dr Eric Berne, the originator of Transactional Analysis, identified many games that people can play to keep themselves distracted instead of dealing with the current challenges.

Game playing can be readily identified in almost every area of human life. One of the easiest to spot and understand is the Drama Triangle…

Drama Triangle

In this game people act out the roles of Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer, and each participant plays to win.

Victims appeal to rescuers and rescuers appeal to victims: The Rescuer gets to feel good about having a worthwhile task and someone to save whilst the Victim doesn’t have to do much to get out of a tight spot except show the appropriate gratitude. And the Persecutor goes round criticizing and blaming without coming up with any constructive suggestions. Each stays in character for that situation at that time.

It shouldn’t surprise us that emotions are running this game: We humans are by and large sociable animals who thrive on building relationships. If we’re indulging in this game we’re quite likely to be assuming different roles in different circumstances for different reasons. But almost always it’s because it’s easier to play the game than deal with the real issues

Most of us know, or have heard of, people who are virtual powerhouses in business yet are gentle and loving with children and animals and gibbering wrecks in the presence of their parents… Yet to make it even more interesting, these roles can even switch between the same people.

Let’s take a simple example:

Say you get what you believe is an undeserved rollicking from your boss: As the result of something it appears you’re responsible for, the firm may lose a valued client. In your eyes you’re the scapegoat. You may not say anything and, instead go into ‘victim’ mode:

photo credit: Amy McTigue via photopin cc

photo credit: Amy McTigue via photopin cc

“It doesn’t matter what I do, it’s always my fault when things go wrong. I’m just not appreciated round here. Yet I can’t even get two measly days off when I need them.”

If a subordinate comes up to you with a big problem a little later, still hurting from your own dressing down, you may be less than understanding (it’s your chance to ‘persecute’):

“Look: I’ve explained this to you I don’t know how many times – you should know how to do it by now – just go away and sort it out.”

On the other hand, you may determine that YOU’re not going to be like your boss (you’re going to ‘rescue’ instead):

“Oh, come on: Give it to me and I’LL do it; there’s a deadline to meet and it’ll be quicker.”

And so the game continues…

It can be argued that there’s a place for this game and the role-playing in it, and that it tends to sort itself out – provided nobody gets hurt. Yet even when they do, if they’re able to walk away yet don’t, it begs the question:

What need is it fulfilling?

Internal Drama Triangle

photo credit: moggs oceanlane via photopin cc

photo credit: moggs oceanlane via photopin cc

If you think about it, we don’t even need anyone else to join in this game: We can and do play it all on our own!

If we stop and consider an example for a moment:

Imagine receiving some unexpected bad news. We may cycle very quickly from Victim (“why me?”) to Persecutor (“it’s somebody else’s fault… and they’ll pay”) and, after seemingly calming down, decide to be our own Rescuer (I’ll sort this out!”). In this role we ignore the real situation and imagine all sorts of unlikely rescue scenarios with ourselves triumphing over adversity and the unfair world around us:

Think of every hero or heroine you’ve ever fleetingly fantasized as being and you’ll get the picture…

It’s not real though and when things go wrong again we quickly feel deflated and start the cycle all over again.

There’s another aspect to this Internal Drama Triangle, too that’s ALL of our own creation. How many times do we have a ‘light bulb’ moment and decide:

“I’m going to (whatever)…”

And a little voice in our head, totally unwanted, pipes up:

“What makes you think you’re smart enough, good looking enough, deserve…?”

Game change!

Once we’re aware that this game is going on it’s relatively easy to spot other people playing it. It’s not much more difficult to work out how we’re contributing by playing out our various parts with them, though it’s not so easy to spot when we do it to ourselves.

Nevertheless, getting used to spotting our own internal game playing and working to reduce the number of times we fall into this pattern can produce a major breakthrough in taking control of our lives.

photo credit: sashafatcat via photopin cc

photo credit: sashafatcat via photopin cc

Let’s stop for a moment and see what happens when one person decides NOT to play the game.

There are several ways we could end the game playing and one of the most effective is to ‘reframe’ the way we act. We can make a positive decision to take a different approach:

• Not going to be a victim in this situation?

You’re suddenly no fun as a target for your persecutor and your would-be rescuer will have to find somebody else to save…

• Not going to rescue someone on this occasion?

They may have to start thinking for themselves….

• Decided for once to ignore that voice that limits your self-beliefs?

What have you already achieved just by observing and deciding NOT to play The Drama Triangle game? Care to share your thoughts and/ or experiences here?

I’d love to hear them and I’ll be including some ideas, tools and tips to help in my next post… 🙂

Linda Mattacks

You know when the' fog' disappears and you get that AHA! moment of absolute clarity of what you 'want' and the beginnings of how to get there? And how great that feeling is? And how it enables you to move forward?

If you're missing that, and it bugs the bleep out of you, you needto have a chat with me. Women aged 40+ are my specialty because you have SO much to give that hasn't yet been tapped into 🙂