Do you have or know of someone with drama in their life? Ever try to escape it but it always reappears? What are the roles that you are playing in the cycle?
My Personal Experience
In my own addiction recovery I had to learn a great deal about the cause of my addiction and the way to fully recover. I had many learning moments and many of them were stellar for me in beating the addiction cycle. When I learned about how I was creating drama and pain in my own life and how removing myself from the cycle of pain created by drama, my recovery had major strides forward.
Many people have different levels of drama in their life. Hopefully you’re drama is not caused by an addiction but if it is, please seek help.
The Drama Triangle
(With permission, the following is from the LifeSTAR Network™ addition recovery program © 2012 LifeSTAR Network by Dan Gray, LCSW, and Todd Olson, LCSW)
We are wired to connect with others. At birth, our physical survival depends on whether or not we are connected to our caregivers. If a caregiver (usually your mother or father) doesn’t pay attention to an infant, the infant instinctively and immediately senses the distance and begins to re-engage the caregiver by doing whatever he can to receive attention, like crying or becoming louder. If the caregiver doesn’t respond, the infant eventually gives up and becomes more withdrawn.
The need for connection does not go away with age. It’s essential for our very survival.
In our desperation to feel connected, we might fall into an unhealthy means of interacting with others-a situation sometime referred to as the drama triangle. Based on the work of Stephen B. Karpman, the drama triangle is a simple but powerfully accurate instrument used to help people recognize when they are experiencing the reactivity, or drama, that comes from being disconnected from others. We use the word “drama” to represent what we use when trying to reconnect with our loved ones. Learning about the drama triangle is often a revealing experience for people in recovery, because they are able to identify how their inability to manage shame and attachment needs affects their relationships and interactions with others. Interestingly, many addicts have found that being in the drama triangle is also a significant trigger that gets them started into their addiction cycle. The emotional and physical pain of being disconnected from others often causes addicts to reach to the addiction for comfort and soothing. Relational pain is one of the most potent types of pain that activates the addiction cycle. Therefor, it will be critical for you to understand the dynamics of the drama triangle and take conscious steps to establish healthy ways of managing shame and connection so you don’t reach to your addiction to cope with that pain.
You will notice that we often refer to “being in the drama” or “living within the drama.” For simplicity’s sake, we have sometimes chosen to use the word drama to represent the drama triangle.
The three roles in the drama triangle are victim, rescuer, and persecutor.
Although a person living within the drama triangle usually rotates between the roles, most people have a primary role to which they are most accustomed. Each of these unhealthy roles is driven by a person’s healthy need to connect to others. Because our drive to be connected to others is so powerful, it’s common to resort to unhealthy drama roles as a way to connect.
All or Nothing
One of the best indicators that a person is in the drama is all-or-nothing thinking and all-or-nothing language, such as “You never…,” “My whole life…,” You always…,” Our entire marriage…,” etc. These comments are often disparate attempts to say, “I need you” and will usually fit into one of the three roles of the drama.
The following is a story that demonstrates the drama triangle in action. As you read it, notice the all-or-nothing language.
Bob is busy working at his accounting job when his boss calls him into his office to discuss some recent mistakes Bob has made. The boss yells at Bob and threatens to fire him if he continues to make such mistakes. To get come comfort, Bob tries to call his wife on her cell phone, knowing that Tuesday is her day of errands. He can’t get ahold of her and feels upset. “I’ve told her a million times to take her cell phone with her, but she always forgets!”
He arrives home after work to find kids doing homework, one child practicing piano, and his two youngest running around causing a racket. His wife is at the stove cooking and cheerfully talking to a friend on the phone. When she gets off the phone, the following dialogue takes place:
Bob: Where have you been all day?!
Wife: I’ve been busy, Bob! You don’t have to yell!
Bob: I almost got fired today and I couldn’t even get ahold of you! (Yelling at the kids) Can’t you kids shut up for one minute? And why is this house always such a mess?! (The kids start to cry.)
Wife: It’s okay, kids. Dad had a bad day at work. It’s not your fault. (Yelling at Bob) I am sick of alway protecting the kids from you and your bad temper. You’re ornery all the time!
Bob: Oh, this is great! I get yelled at by my boss and then come home and get yelled at by you-thanks a lot!
Wife: At least you get to talk to adults during the day. I only ever get to talk to kids!
Kids: Stop fighting! We will be good, we promise.
Wife: Now see what you’ve done!
Bob: Why am I the bad guy here? No one appreciates me! I work all day long and no one even cares. It’s always about you and the kids having it tough. After all I do to provide a living, you’d think that I’d get a little respect like other husbands-but no, not in this house! This house is the house from hell! I’ll see you later!
Bob makes a dramatic exit, setting up his wife and kids to rescue him later that night.
This story is just one example of the many different ways in which the drama triangle can play out. Interaction within the drama can be intense, with yelling and fighting as in Bob’s story, or it can be more subtle, such as with passive-aggressive behaviors.
The Drama Roles
Please note that when we use the term victim in reference to the drama triangle, we are referring to a person in a victim frame of mind, not a person who has been violated. A person can play the victim role in the drama triangle without ever having been a true victim of a crime.
Victims believe they need or are entitled to have someone to think for them, to take care of them, and to solve problems for them. Because they have been hurt by others’ harmful behavior, they see that as proof that they can’t solve their own problems. Victims deny their own ability for empowerment and often act powerless and incapable. They might feel-or pretend to feel-intrinsically defective, adopting an attitude of “I can’t make it on my own.” As a result, victims are on the lookout for someone more capable to help them along (a rescuer).
Victims also often feel picked on and think they aren’t good enough. These victims are usually around people in the persecutor role who consistently demean them or criticize them. Often victims will try to justify their role by “proving” that they really do need help. Or they might feel that because they are frequently nagged, they are true victims and their role is justified.
Rather than facing their underlying problems, victims defer their sense of responsibility to either a rescuer or persecutor. For example, a victim might defer his responsibility to a persecutor by saying, “Well, if she didn’t nag me so much, I wouldn’t feel so compelled to look at pornography.” By avoiding accountability for his actions, the victim is able to feel more in control. In addition, victims often use their role in the drama to gain power over others. For example, if they appear fragile and incapable they can get others to care for them and keep others from confronting them about their lack of accountability.
The following sentences describe some of the feelings or experiences of primary-role victims. As you read through them, put a check mark by any that apply to you.
__ I have more problems than most of my friends.
__ I’m not worthy of having good relationships.
__ I rely on other people to make decisions for me.
__ When people try to help me, I think of reasons why it won’t work.
__ I hold in my anger until I feel ready to explode.
__ I feel like my life is hopeless.
__ When I have to solve a problem and no one is around, I feel helpless.
__ I feel full of self-pity.
__ I resent others’ success and happiness.
__ I have a tendency to blame others.
__ I sabotage others’ efforts to help me.
__ I feel alone in the world.
__ I have a fear of being abandoned or alone.
__ I often feel unable tor unwilling to handle difficulties.
__ I feel no one understands me.
__ I play dumb when I am confronted about a problem.
__ I act the role of martyr to get what I want.
__ I find it difficult to speak up and assert myself.
__ I use others’ behavior against them to get what I want.
__ I often whine and complain about the way things are.
__ I feel picked on.
__ I feel like I can never please my partner.
__ I often feel in trouble.
__ I constantly tell myself that I’m “not doing it right.”
The Victim within the Drama
Eventually victims begin to become resentful of their pattern of dependency. They get tired of their “one-down” position and end up trying to get even one way or another. The following chart illustrates the attributes of a primary-role victim moving into the other two drama roles.
When victims move into the persecutor role it is usually to try and sabotage the efforts of their rescuers.
“No matter what I do, you are never satisfied.”
Said to rescuer in a demeaning way: “You never do anything wrong. You’re always so good.”
“If it’s a burden, don’t ever help me again!”
A victim might act out sexually to get back at his or her partner for something.
An extreme case of victim in persecutor role is when the victim threatens or attempts suicide. This is the ultimate punishment.
When victims move into the rescuer role it is usually with the intent of moving back into the victim role.
“You’ve done to much already – please don’t feel like you have to help me again.”
(Sigh) “I have so much to do already, but I’ll manage.”
In rescuer role, a victim will help someone out and then gossip or complain about it to others, such as: “I can’t believe she made me help her with that. Can’t they see I have better things to do?”
Rescuers identify themselves as fixers, helper, and caretakers and are often proud of their position. They believe in the goodness of caretaking and see themselves as providing a useful service. The problem is that these acts of service often become disabling or enabling-disabling because rescuers do for victims what the victims should be doing for themselves, and enabling because the rescuers’ help allows the victims to continue living with unhealthy behaviors. A rescuer may say, “I can’t stop helping or saving this person [the victim] because he or she will not make it without me.” Thus, the rescuer feels justified in staying in the rescuer role. Rescuers become so focused on the problems of others that often they are unaware of their own problems. When this happens, rescuers take advantage of the people they are trying to rescue.
A fear for rescuers is that people will abandon them. To prevent being abandoned, rescuers make themselves indispensable to others. Rescuers position themselves so they are “one up” and others are “one down,” conveying the subconscious message that the rescuer is better than, stronger than, smarter than, or more together than the victim or persecutor.
To gain a sense of control, rescuers can avoid facing their own fears and insecurities by paying attention to others and putting others’ needs first. They can also gain a sense of power over others by being so helpful and saintly that people feel hesitant to confront them about their behaviors.
The following sentences describe some of the feeling or experiences of primary-role rescuers. As you read through them, but a check mark by any that apply to you.
__ I try to help people even when they tell me they don’t want my help.
__ I feel compelled to help others with their problems.
__ I feel guilty if I don’t take care of everyone’s problems.
__ I like to have people who depend on me.
__ I get offended if people don’t realize how much I’ve done for them.
__ I often find myself mediating between two people who are fighting.
__ I feel guilty if I say “no” when someone asks me to volunteer for something.
__ When I am angry I withhold my love and affection as a form of punishment.
__ I do for others what they can do for themselves.
__ I take on the burdens and responsibilities of others.
__ I put everyone else’s needs before my own.
__ I’m afraid of being alone.
__ I am in an unhealthy relationship with someone who has an addiction.
__ I tolerate too much.
__ I don’t confront others about their problems but instead continue to help them.
__ I help others keep secrets.
__ I feel superior to most of my friends and family.
__ I focus on others to avoid focusing on myself.
__ I feel unappreciated when I give and receive little in return.
__ I feel like my needs are not as important as other’s needs.
The Rescuer within the Drama
Rescuers spend so much time focusing on others that they often become resentful of their role in the drama. When this happens, they will move into the persecutor or victim role, even if only for a very short time.
When rescuers move into the victim role, it is usually due to built-up resentment from giving without getting something in return.
As victims, primary-role rescuers tend to act like martyrs. “After all I’ve done for you, this is what I get?”
|“If you truly loved me, you would be more supportive.
Rescuers usually move into the persecutor role by withdrawing their caretaker as a form of punishment. They might use the “silent treatment” (refusing to speak or listen to the people they are mad at).
“Fine-do it yourself.”
Yelling and using profanity (some rescuers might not usually swear-until they move into the persecutor role).
Just as the rescuer looks for someone to fix, the persecutor constantly look for someone to blame for his or her problems. Persecutors deny that they have weaknesses just as rescuers deny that they have needs. They avoid personal responsibility by focusing on the weaknesses or problems of others. In addition, persecutors attempt to avoid the uncomfortable feelings in their own life by making offensive, sarcastic, or blunt remarks to others.
They often spend time around people whom they feel justified in criticizing.
Persecutors usually feel a sense of power over others and are adept at covering up their irresponsible behavior by lecturing, preaching, criticizing, or ridiculing. For example, a persecutor might cover up his own addiction by lecturing his son about skipping church meetings.
Some persecutors are known for their bad tempers or for being sarcastic, defensive, or demeaning. Their reputations give them control over others because others often will not dare to confront them about their behavior.
The following sentences describe some of the feelings or experiences of primary-role persecutors. As you read through them, put a check mark by any that apply to you.
__ I often blame others for my problems.
__ I’m afraid of feeling powerless.
__ I often find myself preaching to others.
__ I lecture my spouse, children, and others about their problems.
__ I verbally attack others.
__ I extensively interrogate my spouse or children.
__ I often demonstrate passive-aggressive behaviors.
__ I demand the respect of those around me.
__ I make the rules in my family or workplace.
__ I often act like I don’t care.
__ I like to feel a sense of power over others.
__ I frequently make sarcastic remarks.
__ I am very critical of those around me.
__ I relentlessly tease others.
__ I shame others for their mistakes.
__ I patronize others when they tell me their frustrations.
__ I often make cutting remarks and am known for being “blunt.”
__ I coach my spouse, children, or co-workers to do things a certain way.
The Persecutor within the Drama
If the persecutor feels that he is losing connection, he might shift into one of the other roles with the goal of moving back into the role of persecutor. Here is a look at the characteristics of the primary-role persecutor moving throughout the drama.
Persecutors move into victim mode as a way to justify their behavior, such as: “If you weren’t so prudish, I wouldn’t have to look at pornography.”
“If you weren’t always on my case…..”
“There’s so much pressure in my life-what other outlet do I have?”
A persecutor in rescuer role might help someone and then use it as a way to demean or criticize that person:
“I took out the garbage because I knew you’d forget again. I can never count on you to get anything done.”
Financial strings of obligation-buying things for someone to make them feel a sense of obligation.
Being kind enough to make the victim think they care.
|“Fine, I’ll do it for you-just get off my back!”
Did you see any patterns emerge that you find yourself in with members of your family? Even in healthy relationships we all revert inside The Drama Triangle. Have you begun to understand how to remove yourself from the triangle? As you remove yourself from the triangle you’ll almost immediately be relieved and a sense of peace overcome you. Have you experienced this reward yet?
I hope this has been helpful to you in seeing how to enrich the relationships you are in. This concept is taught in many different aspects including those who are actively involved in an addiction recovery program.