Conflict. It’s an unavoidable part of any relationship. But do you ever feel like drama follows you everywhere you go? It can be frustrating — and tiring! — to be trapped in unnecessary, overblown struggles on a regular basis.
No, you’re not cursed. Nor does it mean you’re weak or doomed to have dysfunctional relationships forever. You’re caught in the Drama Triangle.
What is the Drama Triangle?
The Drama Triangle is a concept that defines the three roles people typically take on in high-conflict situations:
- The Victim – When problems arise, the victim looks helplessly inward. They spin small anxieties (like not answering a boss’s email on the weekend) into outsized disasters (“I’m definitely getting fired!”). Hello Drama Queen!
- The Rescuer – They are classic enablers who swoop in to save the day. They can be relied upon to always put out a fire or show up last minute. Well-meaning to a fault, this “fixer” behavior can lead them to resentment and burnout. Reluctant Confronters by nature, rescuers don’t speak up even when wronged.
- The Persecutor – We all know the persecutor. The go-to strategies of the persecutor are controlling, blaming, and criticizing. In arguments, they will put you down and try to shame you into forgiveness. Their refrain? “It’s all your fault.”
What does the Drama Triangle look like?
Drama Triangles are possible in any relationship, but they are more common in close relationships including those with romantic partners, family, and co-workers. Whether you’re fighting with your SO over who should take the garbage out or frustrated that you have to fix your annoying co-worker’s mistake — again — each of us plays a part in the Drama Triangle dance.
Even though conflict is inevitable, getting stuck in the triangle doesn’t have to be. If you want healthier, happier relationships, then it’s critical to learn how to communicate and solve problems effectively — without mean or harmful behavior.
How to escape the Drama Triangle
Identify your role
In order to change a pattern, you first have to identify it. You escape the Drama Triangle by first gaining awareness of the dysfunctional dynamics at play, then changing what’s in your control: your own behavior.
Successful relationships require us to take 100 percent responsibility for our 50 percent of the interaction, so own up to how you might be contributing to keeping the Drama Triangle in place.
Ask yourself which of the labels you identify with the most
Do you sometimes tend to whine and act helpless (victim)? Do you find yourself blaming other people (persecutor)? Are you always the reliable, dependable one (rescuer) that enables a problem behavior to continue? Your role may shift in any given relationship, but try to be aware and take note of your particular patterns.
Do things differently
Once you’re aware of your part, don’t do the same thing you have always done.
- Victims – Stop outsourcing your self-esteem by seeking validation from other people. Instead, strengthen your decision-making skills and try acting before you feel ready.
- Rescuers – Pay attention to what drains your energy (ie. people, activities). To curb people-pleasing, develop firm boundaries. Say “no” more than you say “yes”.
- Prosecutors – Replace accusatory, sweeping statements like “you always forget to call!” with “I” statements. For example, “When I didn’t hear from you, I felt worried”.
Better yet, replace the Drama Triangle with compassion, listening, and assertiveness — what’s been called Winner’s Triangle.
Stand your ground
Keep in mind that when you change your behavior, people around you may balk. They may get defensive or feel hurt. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, rather it’s a reflection of normal growing pains that will ultimately change your relationship for the better.
Taking contrary action can feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s essential to shaking up the status quo put in place by the Drama Triangle.