Monday, March 12, 2012

the drama triangle

This above all, to refuse to be a victim. Unless I can do that I can do nothing.

~ Margaret Atwood; Surfacing

In 1968, Steven Karpman coined the term drama triangle to refer to the constellation of roles we play when we engage in the game of victim-rescuer-persecutor. Basically, the triangle comes about when one or more person gets stuck in a corner of the triangle as opposed to moving into a more adaptive position. To defuse the drama, we need to refuse to play the game.

Unfortunately, we often respond to conflict by moving into one of these roles.

For example, when a bully is name-calling another student at school, the student, feeling helpless, may see himself as a victim and just stand there crying. A teacher witnessing the interaction may decide to intervene. She completes the triangle by rescuing the bullied student.

In an alternative scenario, the bullied student refuses to play the victim and takes action against the bullying by saying that he does not like the way the bully is speaking to him, and then leaves. He seeks out friends to support him and then he and his friends confront the bully and the bully backs off.

This is a more constructive response.

It sounds easy. And in a way, it is. The problem is that, like the Bermuda Triangle, the drama triangle is insidiously magnetic, drawing us in against our wills! We may unconsciously identify with the roles projected onto us, as in projective identification, introjecting the role attributed to us and colluding with the projection. We then unwittingly act out someone else’s nightmare.

The antidote? Self-awareness and the commitment to not playing the game. In order for the triangle to lose its power, you need to know your own nightmare and identify the roles you play in it. Then you make a conscious effort to interrupt your tendency to play them out and take back the playwright in your head.

1 comment:

  1. “I did not know how to paint or even what to paint, but I knew I had to begin.”
    ― Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye