Life is a play, a game, of sorts. In this blog we look at a concept called the Drama Triangle - a game which we all play - and I see this as kind of like 'Level 1' of the game of life. Here I'll explain that and also my ideas on changing the game to Level 2, with Playfulness and Presence!
This short video explains it well, and looks at the level 2 game, Presence:
The drama triangle is a social model of human interaction – the triangle maps a type of destructive interaction that can occur between people in conflict. It was first created by Stephen Karpman, M.D., a student studying under Eric Berne, M.D., the father of transactional analysis. It was later revised with the addition of ‘The Winner's Triangle’ by Acey Choy in 1990 and then by David Emerald (2009).in his book ‘The Power of TED (The Empowerment Dynamic).
Basically it’s the idea that when we are acting out in life - when we are in drama - we all choose roles, and we switch roles rapidly. These 'scripts' are encouraged in modern society, which is based on 'justice'. These are the roles of:
We can imagine it a bit like in a courtroom - where the drama is played out and everyone has the intention of claiming they are the hardest done (right) by and that others are wrong. Hence it is a victim-blame-game. Ultimately we all claim to be the victim.
So I’ve been using Choy and Emerald's models, but with my own twist, to help people raise awareness of these roles and then figure out ways to move away from the Drama triangle, without completely disengaging with people or problems. I call it the 'Presence Triangle' - a game of connection! That name was inspired by the fantastic video at the top. My diagram below shows how it works:
Moving to Level 2
In the same way that you can’t fight emotions with thinking, you can’t fight drama with diagnosis, defence, or distrust - it all starts with stopping the reactivity and doing one (or more) of these things:
These shift you away from the negative thoughts and into the body. Into Presence. We can then move towards these roles, in which we all take personal responsibility for the choice:
But all of that will be for nothing if the intention behind it is resentment, trying to change, educate, fix or disprove - then there is no natural compassion and we will slip back into Drama. My belief about the intentions required to ‘really’ connect fit nicely into the acronym: LET GO & BE, which is also what we are doing! We are letting go of the results and allowing people to be, exactly as they are, including ourself. We can practice these intentions to cultivate natural connection. I know this ‘allowing’ seems counter-productive at first, but as Nathaniel Branden said:
“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”
Are you able to LET GO & BE?
You may notice I also put 'parent 1 and 2'. That's because this is a lot like being in a parental role, where one is often rescuing and the other putting the child down. When we think of healthy ways to raise children and make human connections we want to have the intentions of:
Love – love, in my opinion is both a feeling and a verb. Love is ‘acceptance’ and a ‘willingness to experience’ - to act in accordance with internal motivation, but not based in fear. Can you love your enemies and yourself?
Empathy – The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy comes from understanding that we are all interconnected beings and that what I do to you I eventually do to myself. Therefore empathy is feeling for and with someone else.
Trust – Confidence that people are whole, growing beings, not needing fixing - a belief that we are all unique creators.This breeds confidence and empowerment. I also trust that everything is working out as it should. It's okay, I'm okay, you're okay.
Gratitude – Instead of wanting and needing that which I don't have, I remain thankful for everything I have been given and received. This feels amazing and enables me to act positively; understanding that honesty in relationships is a gift that helps you to grow.
Ownership – I understand that only I am responsible for my thoughts, feelings and actions. I understand this may have an influence on the world and so with great power comes great responsibility. I own my own power and use it wisely not seeking to blame others, be a victim, or rescue others unnecessarily.
Boundaries – Your ‘yes’ and ‘no’s. What you decide you want or don’t want for yourself, or to be a part of. Without boundaries we burn out in empathy or violate one another. I understand my physical boundaries and set my own emotional boundaries. I take time to feel into what is a yes and a no for me and communicate them clearly and honestly.
Expression - The last part is to express yourself, honestly and sensitively, without attachment to the outcome, but with care and consideration of feelings and needs - both yours and the other persons, yet also expressing honestly. This is not possible without practice and first taking the time to 'feel into it'.
That’s a lot of information, which is why it is much easier, after finishing this Blog (well done for getting this far) to just remember to LET GO & BE - if you find yourself sucked into the Drama triangle, try having a jiggle, taking a breath, gently asking a question and then listening! I think you’ll find a lot more connection and end up playing a different game - where everyone wins! Because there is another option, beyond right and wrong. It's called being (human).
5/12/2018 07:59:41 am
I am confused about "ask". You want the vulnerable victim who has no trust in the persecutor to suddenly trust the persecutor and be vulnerable with the persecutor (who was just persecuting and will continue to persecute)? It seems like an improbable thing for someone who feels vulnerable and who is vulnerable to abuse to become vulnerable at the feet of the persecutor, even more. It seems like too much to ask.
5/12/2018 09:00:29 am
Thanks for the comment and in response, no.
24/4/2021 12:05:37 am
This is so helpful
29/4/2021 08:17:53 am
This is a very useful model; however, as JULIE has said asking victims to let go and trust their persecutors does not work in real life and is not safe. As you acknowledged real life is more complicated. It seems to me that you have interpreted the triangle hierarchically with the victim pivotally at the top of your list, however in power dynamics, the victim often has the least power. If all things are equal, each player can choose to change or opt out, but victims are often held within power dynamics in ways that are in reality hard to escape. I find it offensive that you have defined the victim as someone who will seek out a persecutor and rescuer, even if they are not being persecuted. This is surely a classic case of 'victim-blaming' by definition. Whereas you do not say that a persecutor will seek out victims, which is often true. In my training as a therapist great importance was given to power dynamics and the responsibility of those with greater power (therapists in my case) to thoughtfully and explicitly find ways to share power and thereby diminish power differentials it in the therapeutic relationship. I understand that you are trying to be helpful in your presentation of the drama triangle. It is a model that can be a very useful tool in personal growth. However, for people who are in situations where they are abused, such as victims of racial prejudice, domestic violence, miscarriages of justice, sexual abuse, human slavery to name but a few examples, it is really not useful to say that they have sought out abuse and that they would seek it out even if it was not there. It is not useful and perpetuates the idea that abuse is chosen by the abused. It does great injustice to the victim in this case who is often trying actively in the best way they can to survive in a difficult situation.
10/11/2021 04:55:16 am
Hi June, as a trained therapist, I respectfully invite you to notice you have created a drama triangle in your post.
18/1/2022 01:38:44 am
Wow wow wow. I have been studying the drama triangle in my recovery work and this is such a beautiful visual to help understand a very complex, confusing trap many of us get caught in. I could have gone on living my whole life unaware of how I was cycling through all 3 positions of the drama triangle. I love the top triangle LEVEL 2! Yes, we can level up ! Thank you for the clear direction on a very provocative difficult topic. I had been confused on who is in what position when and where. Now I realize I AM ALL POSITIONS> I flip from one to the next depending on the situation. I am done playing the blame game. I am getting into awareness and action so I can level up my presence and connection. MAY IT BE SO @ ! Thank you for your beautiful blog. I will be back! Take care. 💗
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Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com