Meet a client ‘Caroline’, an HSP with great empathy who found herself in a ‘Drama Triangle’, in her coaching sessions, we worked towards how to get her out of this difficult situation without hurting her friend’s feelings.
She had two long-time great friends, let’s call them James and Fiona. They had been friends since childhood and had always been there for each other through thick and thin. However, as they grew older, their friendship began to unravel dramatically.
James, feeling burdened by his own personal struggles, became increasingly critical of Fiona and Caroline, blaming them for his own unhappiness. He would often lash out at them, making them feel guilty and inadequate.
Fiona, on the other hand, felt overwhelmed by the constant criticism. She internalised James’ words and believed that she was always falling short of his expectations. She sought solace and validation from Caroline, hoping for rescue from the distressing situation.
Caroline, naturally compassionate and caring, would constantly try to mediate between James and Fiona, attempting to fix their problems and soothe their emotional wounds. However, this only perpetuated the drama, as she unintentionally enabled their unhealthy patterns. She was exasperated with the situation.
She cared about her friends and wanted to fix things. This caused her great anxiety and concern. She was afraid it would never get resolved and the friendships would be permanently scarred. Through coaching Caroline learned about the Drama Triangle (see below) and how we each play a role in a vicious circle that is hard to break.
There is always someone(s) playing the role of Persecutor (in this example, James), Victim (Fiona) and Caroline as Rescuer (and each person can move between all these states during the drama).
In our sessions, she came to understand that by continuously trying to ‘rescue’ both James and Fiona, she was reinforcing their roles as the ‘Persecutor’ and ‘Victim’. Inadvertently, her actions were perpetuating the toxic dynamics that had bubbled up within their friendship.
After a couple of sessions working on how to break free, Caroline decided to take a courageous step towards ending the cycle. I taught her the ‘Empowerment Triangle’. Instead of trying to rescue her friends, she chose to empower them.
She initiated an open and honest conversation with James and Fiona, expressing her concerns about the behaviour and the toll it was taking on their friendship. Caroline encouraged James to explore the root causes of his dissatisfaction and find healthier ways to address his issues. She also supported Fiona in recognising her own worth and encouraged her to communicate her feelings assertively.
As the three friends engaged in heartfelt conversations, they began to understand the patterns they had fallen into. Caroline told them about the coaching and the Drama Triangle she had learned about. After some careful conversations (with kindness and compassion) they acknowledged their individual responsibilities for the drama triangle and committed to changing their behaviours.
James suddenly took accountability for his tendency to criticise, Fiona then recognised her tendency to play the victim, and now, Caroline already understood her role as an enabler. Together, they talked and established new boundaries, fostered open communication, and held each other accountable for their actions in a loving way.
Over time, they transformed their friendship into a supportive and nurturing environment where they could grow and thrive as individuals. It was even better than it was before.
By breaking free from the drama triangle, James, Fiona, and Caroline revitalised their friendship. They learned that true friendship requires empathy, understanding, and a willingness to confront and resolve conflicts. Their shared experience strengthened their bond, and they went on to create many beautiful memories together, free from the constraints of the drama triangle that once held them captive.
What are Drama Triangles?
Drama Triangles, also known as the Karpman Drama Triangle, is a social model that describes certain dysfunctional and harmful communication patterns that can arise in interpersonal relationships or group dynamics. It was developed by psychologist Stephen Karpman in the 1960s, drawing inspiration from transactional analysis and game theory.
The Drama Triangle consists of three main roles or positions that people can adopt within a conflict or problematic situation:
The Persecutor: The Persecutor is often seen as the “villain” in the drama triangle. This role is characterised by controlling, blaming, criticising, or attacking others. Persecutors tend to exert power over others, create fear or intimidation, and may resort to verbal or emotional abuse.
The Victim: The Victim is the one who feels powerless and oppressed within the dynamic. They often portray themselves as helpless, unable to take responsibility for their actions or situation. Victims seek sympathy, support, and rescue from others, effectively disempowering themselves and perpetuating the cycle.
The Rescuer: The Rescuer steps in to save or fix the situation. They feel a sense of superiority and derive self-worth from their role as a helper. Rescuers tend to enable the victim by providing temporary relief or solutions, but they may also become frustrated or resentful over time due to the perceived dependency of the victim.
These roles are not fixed, and individuals can switch positions within the Drama Triangle over time or in different situations. For example, a victim might become a persecutor, or a rescuer might become a victim. This constant shifting can sustain and perpetuate drama.
The Drama Triangle thrives on unhealthy dynamics, power imbalances, and dysfunctional communication. It often arises in personal relationships, families, workplaces, or even larger social contexts. The roles of the Drama Triangle can be seen as strategies individuals adopt to cope with difficult emotions or conflicts, but they ultimately lead to negative outcomes and reinforce unhealthy patterns.
To break free from the Drama Triangle people need to utilise the ‘Empowerment Triangle’ where individuals and groups learn to recognise their roles and take responsibility for their actions. This involves developing healthier communication skills, setting boundaries, practising empathy and understanding, and fostering a collaborative and empowering environment. By focusing on personal growth, self-awareness, and fostering open dialogue, individuals can move towards more constructive and harmonious relationships.
The Empowerment Triangle is a model developed by David Emerald that focuses on promoting healthy and empowering relationships rather than perpetuating negative dynamics. Here’s an explanation of the roles within the Empowerment Triangle:
- The Creator: The Creator is the empowered and responsible individual within the Empowerment Triangle. Instead of adopting the Victim role, the Creator takes ownership of their circumstances and actions. They recognize that they have the power to make choices and create positive change in their lives. The Creator seeks solutions, focuses on personal growth, and takes proactive steps to achieve their goals.
- The Challenger: The Challenger replaces the Persecutor role in the Empowerment Triangle. Instead of blaming and criticizing others, the Challenger encourages the Creator to step up, take responsibility, and face challenges head-on. They provide constructive feedback and support, pushing the Creator to grow and overcome obstacles. The Challenger promotes personal accountability and growth while maintaining respect and empathy.
- The Coach: The Coach replaces the Rescuer role and serves as a supportive guide. Rather than enabling dependence, the Coach empowers the Creator by providing resources, insights, and encouragement. They help the Creator develop new skills, explore possibilities, and identify solutions. The Coach fosters self-reliance and personal agency, assisting the Creator in unlocking their full potential.
In the Empowerment Triangle, individuals shift from the Victim position to the Creator position, from the Persecutor to the Challenger, and from the Rescuer to the Coach. This shift promotes healthy communication, personal responsibility, and collaborative problem-solving. By embracing the Empowerment Triangle, individuals can break free from the destructive patterns of the Drama Triangle and cultivate relationships based on mutual respect, empowerment, and growth. The Creator takes control of their life, the Challenger offers support and guidance, and the Coach facilitates personal development. It’s important to note that the Drama Triangle is just one model used to understand dysfunctional dynamics, and it’s not an exhaustive explanation of all conflicts or interactions. However, it provides a useful framework for analysing and addressing unhealthy communication patterns.
Even if the other parties refuse to understand their part to play, one person can end it all just by recognising their own role and deciding not to play it any more. They step away with dignity and the drama, for them, ends.