The drama triangle is a model of dysfunctional social interaction, created by psychotherapist Stephen Karpman. Each point on the triangle represents a common and ineffective response to conflict, one more likely to prolong disharmony than to end it.
The Drama Triangle
Participants in a drama triangle create misery for themselves and others. By applying the physical principles of martial arts to the psychological realm, you can transform this lose-lose situation and create a more positive outcome for everyone.
Each player in this particular mind game begins by assuming one of three archetypical roles: Victim, Rescuer, or Persecutor.
- Victims are helpless and hopeless. They deny responsibility for their negative circumstances, and deny possession of the power to change them.
- Rescuers are constantly applying short-term repairs to a Victim’s problems, while neglecting their own needs.
- Persecutors blame the Victims and criticize the enabling behavior of Rescuers, without providing guidance, assistance or a solution to the underlying problem.
Players sometimes alternate roles during the course of a game. For example, a Rescuer pushed too far by a Persecutor will switch to the role of Victim or counter-Persecutor.
Similar to the cycles of Five Element theory, each corner of the drama triangle supports and moderates the other two. Victims depend on a savior, Rescuers yearn for a basket case and Persecutors need a scapegoat.
While a healthy person will perform in each of these roles occasionally, pathological role-players actively avoid leaving the familiar and comfortable environment of the game. Thus, if no recent misfortune has befallen them or their loved ones, they will often create one. Victims suffer a series of “accidents” and Rescuers engage in noble self-sacrifice, while Persecutors are just “keeping it real“.
In each case, the drama triangle is an instrument of destruction.
Avoid the Corners
The emotional co-dependence exhibited by the three roles of the drama triangle has a physical analogue in martial arts practice. In both cases, the solution is simply to refuse support to your attacker, forcing them to choose between retreat and collapse.
The strategy can be summarized as follows:
- Move into the center. Resist the temptation to play an exaggerated and complementary role to a Victim, Rescuer or Persecutor. You do not want to stabilize an unpleasant situation. Instead, find and hold the center position, thereby marginalizing your adversary and eliminating their power base.
The center of the drama triangle contains elements of each corner. It is a combination of sensitivity, compassion, and responsibility.
- Refuse to accept your opponent’s force. Do not struggle with them, or yield to them; instead, allow your opponent to move into an indefensible position.
If you have successfully taken the center, your adversary will halt their attacks, rather than risk unmasking themselves and exposing the game.
Although the drama triangle is a form of passive aggression, you may nevertheless object to casting a loved one as your opponent. Instead, take their bad habits and unskillful means as your enemy, and destroy them with awareness and enlightened action.