This is my most visited and popular blog/article! Here is how it was developed by me and therapist friend, Ria Meronek. Ria was in Uganda working with the Kibo Foundation, helping to develop skills and confidence in young adults. She concluded that they needed a tool to better manage their relationship drama.
She discovered that no matter where you are in the world there are challenging relationship dynamics. She also discovered that we all want to relieve the stress in those situations. We want quick relationship advice. But advice is not as effective as a self-awareness strategy.
I recall Ria saying, “Patricia, there are few resources online that are simple and clear.” Through the wonders of Skype, we dialogued and co-wrote this work.
In order to strengthen the young Ugandan’s resilience and communication skills, Ria and I developed a poster guide. Help yourself to this FREE and downloadable 8 1/2 x 11″ Stop the Drama Poster.
It provides simple reminders from Stop the Drama, Part 1 and Part 2, to help you move from poor communication to self-responsible communication. It will you get out of painful psychological game playing. Post it where you can see it, especially when you are on the phone.
After you read this blog/article (Part 1), which identifies three main communication traps, please go to Part TWO. The second blog/article offers three healthy and alternative communication strategies.
Part One: The Drama Triangle
In the 1960s Transaction Analysis (TA) theory, based on the work of Psychiatrist, Dr. Eric Berne, was popular. Berne simplified and made available to the ordinary person the work of Sigmund Freud. One of Berne’s prodigies, Dr. Stephen Karpman, developed the drama triangle, a tool that took TA from a theory to practical application.
The model describes three unconscious and habitual behavioral habits or roles which people often play out or enact in their relationships. It helps you to move out of relationship drama by minimizing your vulnerability to stepping into the roles of victim, attacker or rescuer. Before we explore these three roles, it helps to consider that the attacker and the rescuer fear the less desirable role of victim. However, they will inevitably end up in the land of victim. All three roles are grounded in victimhood filled with shame and guilt.
If you play one role you will probably end up stepping in and playing all three. Actually, we can play all three roles in our own head. I know I have had dramatic conversations with myself. I attack and criticize myself, feel like a victim to my own judgement, and try to rescue myself from facing the facts of my own inaction. Fortunately, I usually take a breath, realize I’m spinning around the drama triangle in my head, and step out!
1. The Victim in Relationship Drama
When a person enacts this role she believes life–through a person, condition or circumstance–is unfair to her. This position is supported by self-fulfilling stories about injustice and negative self- talk such as, “If only X had not happened, I would not be miserable.”
Behavior may include passivity, curling into self, and slumped posture.
- The victim believes life is just happening to her, that she has no power over what happens and what happens is not in her control to change.
- The self-talk and beliefs of the victim include Poor me. I am hopeless. I am helpless. I am not enough. Another basic belief is I am not OK while you are definitely OK.
- The victim denies her own resourcefulness and resilience.
- The victim feels hopeless, powerless, small and worrisome.
- The victim’s theme song could be called, I Will Die If You Don’t Solve My Problem!
Ask yourself the five questions below to check how often you play the victim role:
- Do I feel hopeless, powerless or weak?
- Do I believe I can not make wise decisions or make positive changes?
- Do I believe my life is just one problem after another?
- Do I manipulate others or use guilt to get help or get what I want?
- Do I blame others or circumstances for my difficulties?
- Do I focus on my problems?
2. The Attacker (Persecutor or Blamer) in Relationship Drama
The person, who enacts the attacker role, tries to control, criticize or bully the victim. She believes she has power over the victim. Behavior may include bossiness, criticism, rigidity and insistence on how a problem should be solved.
- The basic belief of the attacker is, You are not OK. I am better than OK. So do what I tell you to do.
- The attacker believes the world is dangerous.
- The victim may perceive the attacker as a condition such as an illness, death of a loved one, or circumstance such as drought.
- The attacker‘s words and behaviours are oppressive, blaming, critical, and insisting on being right.
- The attacker‘s theme song could be called, It’s All Your Fault: I Have a Problem!
Ask yourself the four questions below to check how often you play the attacker role:
- Do I tell others what to do to solve their problems?
- Do I see others as powerless, incapable and needing to be fixed?
- Do I criticize others?
- Do I speak and act in a rigid, dominating, or bossy manner?
3. The Rescuer in Relationship Drama
The person who enacts this role intrudes on situations professing a desire to help. Note: This role does not refer to legitimate emergency rescuing or protecting those who are vulnerable; children, the frail, and seriously ill.
- The rescuer feels compelled or manipulated to help the victim. She believes she is responsible for the outcome of the victim’s problem. Guilt is often a driving force. Often an underlying motivation to rescue is to feel superior or in control.
- The rescuer believes “My needs, wants and feelings are irrelevant.”
- The rescuer is committed to making others happy and often fears conflict.
- The basic belief of the rescuer is, You are not OK, but I am nice. I will help you.
- The rescuer‘s theme song could be called, You’re So Messed Up: Let Me Fix the Problem and You.
Ask yourself the five questions below to check how often you play the rescuer role:
- Do I accept responsibility for fixing problems that are not mine?
- Do I believe I cannot say no to a request for help?
- Do I feel guilty when I say no to a request for help and end up helping nevertheless?
- Do I perceive others as incapable of making good decisions or of helping themselves?
- Do I perceive others as needing to be fixed or their lives needing to be fixed?
Typically the players move around the triangle switching roles. For example, the victim may turn into the persecutor or the rescuer might switch to attacking.
In actuality, each person is playing out his or her dysfunctional pattern. They are attempting to receive the kind of attention or control each unconsciously desires. Think of the melodrama of a damsel in distress looking for a prince to rescue her or the poor-me grandmother desiring attention from her family or the critical father who does not feel appreciated.
Nine Dynamics of Relationship Drama
- Problems are the main focus.
- Typical behaviors include blaming, complaining, pitying, manipulating, guilt provoking.
- Feelings include frustration, anger, guilt, resentment, entitlement, hopelessness, oppressed.
- Power is experienced as either feeling powerless or feeling powerful over others.
- Responsibility ownership is not clear. Individuals may blame themselves, others or the situation rather than take appropriate responsibility for their part in the situation.
- Relationship boundaries are vague, unclear and inconsistent.
- Expectations of self and others are unknown and/or unexpressed.
- Actions are reactive to circumstances and problems.
- Outcomes affect no real change and often result in emotional pain and dissatisfying relationships.
Avoid pointing out to others that they have stepped into the Drama Triangle. The best strategy is to identify the role you have fallen into and to step out of it. Remember! You can move out of relationship drama by no longer enacting the roles of the victim, the attacker or the rescuer.