The Karpman Drama Triangle: How to Avoid Falling Into It!
This is how the Drama Triangle begins!
The Origin of Drama Triangle
Drama is something that everyone experiences. Have you ever wondered why that is? Let’s start at the beginning and ask: How does our drama begin in the first place?
The simple yet complex explanation is that all of us as human beings learn and develop strategies to get what we want as children and to overcome or deal with fear. Infants and toddlers are little beings looking up at a big scary world filled with giant and powerful adults. They used their innate survival instincts to secure food, sleep, warmth, love and safety.
No one can escape the small-child experience of figuring out how to survive and deal with what the child sees as scary experiences. The creative genius of the young, underdeveloped mind adapts in amazing ways.
Psychologist Karen Horney studied human nature and identified 3 different strategies that children can use to respond to fears. They are:
- Moving toward people to please, accommodate and be helpful. From a child’s perspective, if I please others, they will love and care for me.
- Moving away from others to avoid, withdraw, observe and wait. This is based upon the child’s belief that if they isolate and “stay above the fray” they will be safe.
- Moving against others by being aggressive. Here the child develops the idea that, if they use to control and domination, they will manage their environment to get what they want.
In the late 1960s, Dr. Stephen Karpman developed the Karpman Drama Triangle, with its three roles of Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor. In the TED* work, we call the interplay of these three roles the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) because these roles can become very toxic, like poison.
Karpman’s Drama Triangle
The Karpman Drama Triangle affirms that there are three habitual roles that people often take in a situation:
- The person who is treated as, or accepts the role of a victim
- The person who pressures coerces or persecutes the victim
- The rescuer, who intervenes to help the situation or the underdog
Our observation is that all three of Horney’s strategies are a result of victim thinking that says life happens to me, and I am powerless to choose my response to life’s challenges. The resulting behavior from this thinking for the Victim’s role is to avoid responsibility for their actions, the Persecutor uses to control and dominant, while the Rescuer moves toward others to please and accommodate.
As we grow older, our “go-to” role can become a more exaggerated way of relating to our self and others. We then go on “autopilot,” bouncing between all three roles – but relying primarily on our “go too” or default role.
The discovery of reoccurring Drama Triangle roles has meaning only if there is a possibility of liberating ourselves from the repeating drama – and that is where The Empowerment Dynamic (TED*) makes its contribution. In order to develop more resourceful and resilient relationships, we need a “place to go” beyond saying, “just stop the drama!”
Learn more about how to make shifts happen from the Drama Triangle roles of Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer to the more empowered and resilient TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)® roles of Creator, Challenger, and Coach.
Reconnecting to your dreams and desires and acting toward those outcomes shifts your mindset from what you don’t want to what you do want. When this shift in focus occurs, something amazing happens. You feel inspired and capable of living a life of choice and empowerment.
The TED* roles of Creator, Challenger, and Coach are the essence of who you are, encouraging you to step into the light of your dreams and desires. They work together to bring forward the best version of yourself.
WHAT’S THE COST OF DRAMA?
Begin by truly understanding the cost of drama in your life, both at work and at home. Drama and conflict in life and at work result in lost productivity, lack of focus, turf battles and in-fighting, rumors, disgust, blaming and fault-finding, absenteeism, exhaustion, turnover, and generally toxic relationships. Imagine how much easier your life would be without those things around you!
Be a positive influence and inspire change around you
When you move from the Victim to the Creator role, you empower the people around you to abandon their Dreaded Drama Triangle roles as well. Once you and the people around you, whether at work or in your everyday life, start relating to each other using the TED* triangle roles, you’ll find your relationships get stronger, more productive, and easier.
Drama triangles in our workplaces
The Costs of Drama
Do you experience drama in your work and life? Do turf wars or ineffective team dynamics exist in your organization? We all experience some level of drama. It is part of the human experience.
The costs of drama — both at work and personally — can be tremendous, as described in David’s new book, 3 Vital Questions: Transforming Workplace Drama.
When you have a minute, do an internet search on “the cost of workplace drama.” You will be amazed at some of the hard costs, in dollars and cents, associated with conflict and drama. They come as a result of lost productivity, turf battles, in-fighting, gossip, rumors, picking sides, blaming, fault finding, absenteeism, turnover, and engaging in what Peter Block calls the politics of manipulation.
Gallup’s research indicates that approximately $350 US BILLION in lost productivity occurs annually because of negative behavior in organizations. Other research has estimated that managers spend as much as 40% of their time dealing with conflict and drama, and – as one colleague quipped – that is probably low in some organizations.
That says nothing about the cost of drama at home. We don’t know of a study that measures home-life drama. We do know, however, from personal experience that turf battles, gossip, and emotional distress can be even more intense with those we love and who are closest to us.
At a minimum, workplace drama causes inefficiency, frustration, and waste. The personal cost is immeasurable also. Here’s an example from my own (David’s) life:
“At one point in my career, I got a new boss who happened to be the most drama-producing boss I ever worked for. I would go home tired and worrying about what the next day would bring. I tossed and turned at night. I wasn’t present to my family when I was at home because I was always thinking about work. I engaged in the ‘ain’t it awful’ stories of my work-life with anyone who would listen and collude with me.”
Such drama produces anxiety, and anxiety leads to all kinds of stress-related illnesses. We know of one corporate executive whose workplace is so drama-filled that they have been officially diagnosed with a sleep disorder and can’t sleep without medication.
It does not have to be that way, either at work or at home. We often say the formula out of drama is simple—just not always easy.
The transformation from drama to empowerment begins when you notice your reactive tendency arising in you. Learning to pause and take responsibility for your contribution to the
drama situation is the first step. We all want other people to change first, and the hard truth is you can never change other people — only yourself.
When you stop, pause, and choose a more empowered response, you have the possibility to be a Creator in your own life—the central role in TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)®. Feeling frustrated with working and living in a drama-filled environment can be the catalyst to help you evolve beyond simply blaming external circumstances.
We have been told countless times about how making the shift from the DDT to TED* at work helps people take it into other aspects of their lives. Focusing on what you can change and your own contribution to the drama puts you in charge of your attitude and choices.
Instead of costing time and money, you will make a down payment toward a life with a lot less drama!
Power of TED*
The Power of TED* is a highly effective, deceptively simple tool for achieving personal and professional transformation.
In addition, David and Donna are an amazing partnership and resource for implementing TED* in all aspects of life.”
Jayne Cronlund, Principal Flourishing Coaching