Beware of the “Drama Triangle!” It’s alive and present. It sucks the energy out of you and is very convincing, manipulative and controlling. The Drama Triangle is a model of dysfunctional social interaction, created by Psychotherapist Stephen Karpman. This “Drama Triangle” I am referring to is orchestrated by someone who is in an unhealthy emotional state. They operate in the Drama Triangle bouncing from one unhealthy emotional state to another. There are three unhealthy emotional states that make up the Drama Triangle. The Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer. It’s easy to get sucked in. With awareness, healthy communication and boundary setting, you can avoid getting caught in the Drama Triangle and not participate. The person who operates out of the Drama Triangle will see you as the “Bad Guy” but you are actually the “Healthy Bad Guy.” They create misery for themselves and others even though they are not aware of their behavior. See the diagram below.
The Drama Triangle is a type of “Game” that people play. The purpose of a Game is to obtain strokes-attention, power, love etc. In a Game, the series of transactions does not result in healthy positive strokes but rather in negative strokes. At any given time, the person can switch roles going from one unhealthy emotional state to the next.
When acting as the Persecutor, the person victimizes other people in order to feel more powerful and better about themselves. They are good at finding fault. The Persecutor can attack aggressively or passive-aggressively. The Persecutor is often an angry resentful person who vents his or her feelings on other people. The Persecutor is critical and was previously a victim. There is a difference between truly being victimized and playing the “Victim.”
When acting as the Victim, the person blames others for their condition, actions, or feelings. Victims in the Drama Triangle manipulate others into feeling sorry for them, or into feeling guilty. They look for someone to rescue them. When acting as the Victim, they believe that they do not have any power over their own lives. The Victim is a person who does not help himself and seeks sympathy and has the “poor me” attitude acting as a “wounded child.”
When acting as the Rescuer, the person looks like the “good guy” who helps others solve their problems. They jump in to fix the situation when someone is struggling. In this state, Rescuers focus on others instead of on themselves, and avoid their own feelings, needs and problems. They make themselves needed so that they will not be abandoned. Rescuers do not allow others to make their own mistakes, deal with the consequences, or feel their own pain. Rescuers often slip into the “Victim” role when their rescuing does not get them what they want. They are usually angry underneath.
The “Healthy Bad Guy” role is the only way out of the Drama Triangle. She or he looks like the bad guy to those in the triangle but is really the healthy guy. She or he is operating in a healthy emotional state. This person takes responsibility for his or her own actions and choices, both healthy and unhealthy and accepts the consequences. The Healthy Bad Guy focuses on himself, and supports others without trying to “fix” or solve their problems. She or he has healthy boundaries and is honest with themself and others about their thoughts and feelings. They own their feelings and use “I” statements when communicating. When the Healthy Bad Guy tries to get out of the triangle, the person in the triangle will escalate their behavior to try to keep the Bad Guy in the triangle. It can be lonely and scary being the Healthy Bad Guy until newer healthier relationships emerge. The Healthy Bad Guy uses judgement about when it is safe to be assertive and when it is best to take care of himself by being quiet. The Healthy Bad Guy does not play games in order to manipulate getting strokes but is authentic in his or her feelings, words, and actions.
I’m guessing we all have someone in our life that operates in the Drama Triangle. It’s difficult to deal with and sometimes may seem like a losing battle so the easy thing to do is “give in” and join them. Sometimes, it’s learned and we are unaware we are even participating. It’s definitely not the healthy thing to do. As a consequence, your stress level, your emotions, your other relationships, your time, and even your health can be affected. The majority of individuals I help in my counseling and life coaching practice identify someone in their life that operates in the Drama Triangle. Once the individual is feeling confident and their self-acceptance increases it’s easier to set boundaries and be assertive with the person in the Drama Triangle. The Healthy Bad Guy is more aware of those who are unhealthy emotionally. They make him or herself a priority in their life and is able to let go of the outcome/reaction of the unhealthy individual by not getting sucked into the Drama Triangle.