Yes, We Can Ditch the Drama


“I am not a victim of emotional conflicts. I am human.”
– Marilyn Monroe

Few things are as disruptive as repetitive and negative emotional cycles. To find new results, we need to also find new ways of interacting with each other.

According to psychologist Stephen Karpman, there are three distinct roles, or personas, that we can adopt in any given situation. In their most extreme forms these three personas are presented in what he called the Drama Triangle:

  • The Persecutor: The persecutor is a bully who puts people down, blames others, and is driven by anger and resentment. The Persecutor points fingers at others and describes why they are inadequate, or stupid, or ruining everything. The persecutor is bossy and demanding. The Persecutor blames other people, circumstances and events as the cause of the problem.
  • The Victim: The victim is helpless, oppressed, hopeless, ashamed, and powerless. The victim feels constantly misunderstood. As a result, the victim will often refuse to make decisions and remain paralyzed in their helplessness.
  • The Rescuer: The rescuer is the savior, the hero. The rescuer is addicted to saving others, jumping in, and demonstrating how remarkably capable they are. In fact, the rescuer can even feel guilty and anxious if they don’t step in heroically to save another. The rescuer believes that others are lacking, or inadequate, and require the rescuer to save the day.

The interesting thing about these different personas and positions on the Drama Triangle is that once we adopt a particular stance, we often push our partner into an opposing stance. For example, a Victim position from someone may elicit a Rescuer reaction in another. Or a Persecutor may turn someone else into a Victim.

When we adopt one of these particular positions, we not only push our partners into opposing positions, but we also limit our own potential and capabilities. The trick is to first recognize that we are indeed becoming one-dimensional and limiting in our interactions with others, and then shift our conversation to be supportive and constructive.

For example, the Persecutor is a bully – constantly berating others and assigning blame. To move from a bullying position to a constructively challenging position, the Persecutor can shift their orientation and behavior:

From To
You need to stop making excuses. I am willing to listen to your story for ten minutes.
You will deliver the product on Monday. How can I help meet a Monday deadline?
You are a liar. I ask you to keep your word, or we will no longer have an agreement

Similarly, the Victim is paralyzed by their own fear and inadequacy. To bolster self-confidence and move toward a thriving and fulfilling dialogue, the Victim can shift their behavior and internal dialogue:

From To
Nobody cares or listens to my ideas. I will contribute 1  idea at each meeting.
No one will help my project. I will commit to asking for help.
I am alone and unlucky. I will journal things I am grateful for.

And finally, the heroic Rescuer is also trapped with the belief that only they can save the day, and only they are capable of righting the wrongs, and correcting the inept. This heroic savior is also trapped in a “poor me” pattern of always having to step in and fix the problem.

To move away from being addicted to saving others, the Rescuer needs to move to being a coach to others, instead of solving every problem himself or herself. Here is how the Rescuer can reframe their mindset:

From To
You always need my help. I’ll fix it. I care about you and you can do this.
Tell me all your problems. I’ll listen without making your problem my own.
Don’t worry about it. I got this. Let me show you how to do this yourself.

And the truth is that at any given moment throughout our days, we can find ourselves drifting toward one of these three different mindsets. That’s ok. That’s normal. What’s important is that we identify that disposition, and learn to move out of these destructive personas to more supportive and collaborative ones.

Yes, we can ditch the drama. It’s just a mind shift away.

outthink_book_coverShawn Hunter is the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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