drama is just not my thing. unless of course it involves a stage and actors. (rabbit trail here: I really want to see one of Tyler Perry’s stage plays when i am home in the USA next time. he is one of those otter personalities that lifts my heart, makes me laugh, inspires me and then hits me right where my heart dwells and makes me look deep and think.) however, relationship drama feels like a whirlpool to me.
you all know how being in control in the water is imperative to me. i’ve been rafting a few times (ahhh, sweet memories of the Nantahala are flooding my heart) and when we approach swirling, whirling water, i go to looking for a way around it fast. i’m not sure if i’ve ever been in a whirlpool myself but watching the instructional video prior to the rafting trip…i’m quite sure that wisdom is to stay as far away as i possibly can. unfortunately, you can’t always stay “as far away as possible” in all relationships. valued friendships. family. marriage. work. community. walking away is just not always an option. drama occurs in all aspects of our lives. it’s not like you can pick your house up and move it. it may not feasible to up and quite your job. family…well, you didn’t pick them (and they didn’t pick you). marriage is a commitment…it’s too easy to walk away these days…if you are committed you’re not going to just throw in the towel. valued friendships aren’t always a jog in the park but walking away doesn’t have to be the answer.
what i decided to do was get off the drama triangle when ever possible. when in emotionally testing situations and potentially hurtful impacts, i have learned that purposeful action helps me to walk through the situation with my well being in tact. i have referred to the drama triangle. it was first described by Stephen Karpman in 1968. it describes the roles people can take in situations.
it looks like this:
the drama triangle is a mind game. i think it’s a learned behaviour and a coping mechanism. a substitute for appropriate genuine, adult emotion and response, according to Wikipedia. basically, it’s an adult way of living a fairy tale, of sorts.
as a refresher, the roles look like this:
- Victim: The person who plays the role of a victim
- Persecutor: The person who pressures, coerces or persecutes the victim, and
- Rescuer: The rescuer, who intervenes, seemingly out of a desire to help the situation or the underdog.
because it’s a role-play game, the players can easily move around the triangle. the rescuer becomes the victim (i was only trying to help; can’t you see i’m only trying to help?) the victim becomes the persecutor (see what you made me do? you got me into this mess). the persecutor becomes the victim or rescuer (let’s team up against…). the motivations behind the game are usually purely selfish. each player receives a benefit to their self-worth by accepting each role. on the surface, the motivation appears to be “successful resolution” but spirals around in an unproductive way so that success looks too distant or even impossible. it inhibits true problem solving and results in frustrations, confusion and stress. real solutions are avoided because the game is the real focus (even when the players are unaware of the real motivations).
according to Karpman, flexibility (the ability for players to switch currency), tenacity (the way the players stick to their game or give it up) and intensity (whether the game is played easy or aggressively) determine the level at which the game is played.
husband (victim): i haven’t felt well in years. i think something is seriously wrong with me. (adult action: check it out…see a doctor)
wife (rescuer): why don’t you go see the doctor? i’ll make you an appointment. (you won’t make the appointment…you obviously need my help)
husband (persecutor/victim): you know i can’t go to the doctor. i can’t afford to go because you have been spending all the extra money we have.
wife (victim/persecutor): i’m just trying to help. if you think we don’t have enough money maybe you should get another job.
husband (rescuer/persecutor): i gave you the budget guidelines. why can’t you stick to them. you need help.
wife (victim/persecutor): you stress me out with your constant ailments. when i’m stressed shopping helps me feel better.
divorced husband: our child got pick up for drunk driving.
divorced wife: it’s no surprise considering the life you live.
and on and on it goes….
neighbour: your dog keeps “pooing” on my lawn.
neighbour: what do you care, you’re lawn is a disgrace to the neighbourhood. just ask the rest of the neighbour hood.
and around and around and around…
all of these simple examples have one common denominator…the issue gets lost in the drama and no objective solution gets reached. the players each have responsibilities to accept and actions to take but both are clearly being avoided. the focus is definitely blurred. the situations range from very simple to quite serious.
as long as the players are determined to remain victims (this is happening “to me” and “i am helpless in the situation because…”), rescuers (just let me help you since you obviously need me and can’t/won’t help yourself), or persecutors (if you weren’t like you are i’d be able to change) the drama triangle distracts them away from purposeful, effective actions that will actually bring better well-being. the goal is really to justify that the problem can not be solved or avoid the hard work required for internal change. frustration, stress, anger, and confusion then cause them to reach for ways to use currency (what the other player really wants out of the situation) to manipulate the payoffs.
at some point, you have to cry. “calgon, take me away!”…in other words, “get me off this triangle”!
steps to get off the drama triangle:
- “is this my third?” let me explain. my bff taught me this concept. basically, if i’m on third base in a baseball game, i have no place trying to be on someone’s base. i have a journey. i have a place that i am responsible for…it’s called my life. i can support friends, family and sometimes strangers…but i need to know that i’m actually required, that my motivation is to help move them toward the best solution for their path and that i understand the limits to how much help i can offer. think about how the professionals do it. they actually don’t tell you what to do. they listen, ask questions and direct you to make the best decision based on your ability and resources. rescuers often need to be needed and try to fix the problem so that their sense of value is quantified. rescuing also ensures that you are never out of a self-esteem “job”…if you can keep fixing things…you will be necessary.
- do i want a solution? i usually have a pretty good idea which direction the solution to my situation is positioned. i have a value system, a purpose, goals, work ethics, and relationships skills. i also have accountabilities. i am pretty clear of the expectations i have set before myself. i have gathered the required resources to accomplish successful outcomes. avoiding continuing on my path because life has thrown me a curve will drive me toward a search for confirmation that inactivity is justifiable. if i follow that drive…i sink into victim mentality. i must first settle the question of whether i really want an appropriate solution or not.
- am i blaming or transferring? lashing out deflects the situation. if i can blame something or someone else, again i can avoid my internal conflict. i can gain a sense of superiority…a feeling that maybe my situation isn’t as bad as it feels because after all someone else is worse off than i am and they seem to be coping alright without consequence.
- revisit my core purpose/goals. getting off the drama triangle requires i constantly reflect on where i want my journey to take me. what the end goal for my well-being truly is. after my divorce, my number one goal was “wholeness”. i wanted to be whole again. i had a clear picture in my mind what that looked like. every time i jumped on the drama triangle with my ex, i was not getting closer to my goal of wholeness. often, i was drifting or perpetuating the opposite. making myself focus on my wholeness goal caused me to apply appropriate communication skills, ignore snide comments or forgive and refuse to be offended even if i felt justified. i probably don’t have to tell you how difficult that was at times. i survived it. i reached my goal because i was able to pull myself off the triangle and address the real issues.
- correct my actions. take responsibility. look at the resources i have. acquire new skills. get help from someone who would “give me a good kick in the seat of the pants” and hold me accountable. hold myself accountable to right actions even if others didn’t. at times, i need to correct my course and get things back on track. delaying the inevitable action required prolongs the agony.
nothing of value comes to me if i am complacent. i must apply all that i am, that i have learned and the energy available to me to move forward on my journey. i can’t blame others. i can’t fix others. i am called to love.
“love is patient and kind; does not envy or boast; is not arrogant or rude; is not irritable or resentful; does not rejoice in wrong doing but rejoices with truth. love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. love never fails.”
that call alone will keep me pretty busy. quality life is reflected in quality relationships. the easy ones bring us joy. the hard ones bring us character. all bring us impact to improve our journey.
my hope today is that if you find yourself in drama more often than you’d like…that you will search out the dynamics of this behavioural pattern and leave the drama to the actors and writer’s like Tyler Perry.
you’ll enrich your life beyond what you could imagine.
thank you for reading,