How to Avoid the Deadly 'Drama Triangle'
By Art Ramsay, PhD

The world is full of drama and most of us participate in it in some way almost every day. We may watch it on TV or in a movie and actually are drawn into it, especially if is something like a 'soap opera'. Emotions that may come up while watching such a show are fear, sorrow, anger, compassion, and many others. Why do we get pulled into what is obviously fiction on the screen in front of us?

 We are drawn into it, because it reflects what happens in our daily lives at home, work, on the road, and almost any place we go. If we are drawn into drama on the screen, how much more likely are we to get drawn into it in 'real life'? By 'real life' drama, I mean an argument with a family member, for example, or gossip, or taking something personally. What causes us to be drawn into drama? There are many reasons and they are all associated with one, or three of the points on the 'drama triangle' shown below.





The idea of the triangle diagram is to show the three ways you can be drawn into drama. The first position, and the one that usually starts the drama, is the 'victim'. The world loves victims. It gives people a way to feel that what is going on in their lives is caused by some outside force; in most cases, a person did something to them. I won't get into the truth that there really are no victims, because that is a bag of worms I would rather not touch in this article.

 If there is a victim, then there must be a perpetrator the person who caused the situation or did something to the 'victim'. The relationship between the 'perpetrator' and the 'victim' is one of animosity causing an emotional drama. While the two are at odds with each other, they are both drawn into the drama triangle. One or both may stay there for a short or very long time. It is more likely that the 'victim' will be in the triangle far longer than the 'perpetrator'.

 What can happen in the midst of the drama between the two is that a 'rescuer' appears on the scene. Most of the time the 'rescuer' appears after the 'perpetrator' has left, sometimes, long afterwards. Another thing a 'rescuer' may do is try to rescue what appears as a 'victim' to the 'rescuer', when the 'victim' does not need, or even want to be rescued.

 Most of the time, any of us can allow ourselves to be drawn into the drama triangle as one of the three. The trick is to not stay there, but to get out quickly, because plunging into the drama and staying there is emotional death. The best move would be to never allow yourself to go there, but if you feel you must stay at the scene of the drama, step back and only observe.

 An example of what I mean by observe is suppose two family members are arguing and you are very close to one of them. You might want to step in an play rescuer. Standing back and observing without interfering will keep you from the fray but maybe lend some feeling of safety for a participant. If there is a chance of violence, then you might step in at an appropriate moment, but use discernment, and call for help if need be.

So what is the point of drama triangle anyway, you might ask? It graphically shows why we become involved in drama and seem to become entrenched once we get there. It is a method of becoming aware so that we can pull away from such 'traps' when we notice it happening.

The steps that follow can help you identify what part you are playing in the moment (it could change) and leave, before it is too late.

  1. identify which part you are playing
  2. determine why you are playing that part
  3. discover what belief caused you to play that role (later)
  4. remove yourself quickly from the drama

 Staying in the drama, prolongs its effect on you and whoever else is playing the game. It is not a happy place to live. Once you remove yourself from the actual drama, you must still remove it from your head. Otherwise, you carry the drama around with you even after it is over.

 So what is wrong with drama, you might be thinking? If participation in it makes you and everyone involved happy, then go for it. But drama usually doesn't move in that direction. Your participation will cause stress in its many forms, which then causes reactions within your body and mind that are neither healthful nor beneficial emotionally.

 If you can get caught up in drama on the screen such that your stomach gets tight, and other stress related reactions occur, even for only a moment, then you surely will be stressed when involved in it personally. Your best choice: do not cause it, nor participate in it if possible.


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