• African Mental Health First Aid

Tired of the drama in your relationships?

Is your life a constant drama? Maybe it’s someone else you know? Somehow they always seem to attract drama. Ever wished you could make the drama stop? Well now you can end the constant emotionally charged battle that repeats itself in your life.

Relationships can be so full of drama that leaves you feeling like you’ve just been through the longest cycle in a washing machine. There’s nothing that can compare to all the drama a relationship can bring, especially with another adult. Your life becomes a roller coaster of highs and lows, depending on what mood they are in for the day. Love is intense. Anger is even more intense. Some people thrive off this type of drama, but it’s definitely not healthy.

Only once we understand how drama is created and sustained in our relationships, will we be able to take steps to break out of it. A helpful framework for understanding this drama is called the Drama Triangle.

The Drama Triangle: Unhealthy Relationships

Simply put. Drama in a relationship is made-up conflict. A discussion or debate where there’s zero actual conversation, you’re just fighting for the sake of fighting. Underneath it all, its mind games being played by both or one part of the couple. The people engaging are usually insecure, immature, or have a manipulative type of personality. .

Since Stephen Karpman (Karpman’s Drama Triangle) first came up with it in the 1960’s, psychologists have found it very helpful for unpacking what’s going on in unhealthy relationship dynamics.

The Three Roles Explained

In the Drama Triangle, each player in the particular mind game begins by assuming one of the three typical roles:

Like stage drama, each drama you engage in, characters in the ‘story’ take on different roles in relation to each other. That the drama is sustained when the roles shift from one character to another. In life we can all play each of these roles – Persecutor, Victim, and Rescuer – and often more than one at a time. Think about it? Here’s an example.

Husband (persecutor) is shouting at his wife (victim) for the way he thinks she spends food money ‘irresponsibly’. Wife cowers and starts to cry, without defending herself (victim mode). Husband (rescuer) rushes over to her and starts apologizing saying he didn’t mean to make her feel bad. What follows can either be a continuation of those roles, or possibly a change of roles where Wife turns round and starts accusing him of always shouting at her etc. If you consider your own life you will have played one of these roles at some point. It is very uncomfortable to admit, yet knowing that you have can be the very first step towards being happier. More about breaking free from the drama triangle later in this article.

The Roles.

1. Persecutor role: Angry

The role of a Persecutor is to blame. It is a shame-based role. Resembling a critical parent. They must always be right and by blaming they deny their vulnerability that they fear becoming a victim themselves.

A Prosecutor’s ‘job’ is to keep the victim feeling oppressed – being a victim. They don’t solve problems and their power is used negatively and can be very destructive. ‘I’m Ok you’re not. Persecutors do not bend, and cannot be vulnerable.

Prosecutor’s Sayings. ‘It’s all your fault’. ‘They are wrong and I’m right’. ‘You can’t do anything right’. To the Victim: ‘You are to blame for all this going wrong’.

2. The Rescuer’s Role – Fear

The Rescuers save people that he/she believes are vulnerable and they help without being asked. ‘I’m Ok you’re not’ – I take on the victim’s responsibilities to feel ok. Not my own.’

Rescuers want to caretaker other people, and even need to do this to feel good about themselves, whilst neglecting themselves or not taking responsibility for their own needs. They want to feel valued and there’s no better way than to be a savior. Their belief is that if they take care of others, then eventually they will be taken care of.

This is born from not having their needs met as a child. Believes that their own needs are not important and their only way of achieving value is to connect with others and rescue them. Rescuers are overworked, tired, caught, stuck, almost a martyr-type style, whilst resentment builds beneath the surface. Their role is the extreme opposite of the Persecutor. They could be described as a shadow aspect of the mother principle, but instead of support and nurturing instead they control and smother, which a misguided understanding of empowering.

They cannot allow the victim to get better or succeed because the victim would leave the triangle, which would stop their ability to ‘rescue’.

Rescuer Sayings. ‘Let me help you’. ‘I can help you’. ‘You can’t do it on your own’. ‘Poor you, let me help’. ‘If they did what I say, they’d be happy’.

3. The Victim Role – Sadness

Victims are overwhelmed by their own vulnerability and don’t take responsibility for their situation. They deny any responsibility for their negative circumstances and deny possession of the power to change those circumstances.  Victims have a real problem making decisions, solving problems, finding much pleasure in life, or understanding their self-perpetuating behaviors.

Victim’s Sayings and Self-Talk. ‘Poor me. So unfair’. It always happens to me’. ‘I never get a break’. To the Rescuer: ‘Only you can help me’.

Defining Drama

What we often dismiss as “drama” is actually unprocessed pain. Here are two of the most common sources of relationship drama.

❖    The Battle for Power. The number one cause of drama is power. If someone says something that hurts our feelings, it makes us feel powerless. We usually want that power back right away. The only way to do this is to say something more hurtful. This is why people say things they don’t mean when they fight. In drama-packed relationships, people argue to get the upper hand instead of trying to resolve problems.

  • The Battle Within. Drama rooted in delusion is the most difficult to overcome. Wounds from old relationships can resurface in new ones. For example, if you still suffer from a past betrayal, you may be suspicious in new relationships and see deceit where none exists. Projection of old hurts onto new relationships can result in conflicts that feel psychotic. If all your relationships have conflicts with a recurring theme, you might need professional counseling.

Now you are aware of the Drama Triangle and the roles in the triangular setting. So are you a victim, a rescuer, or a persecutor? 

Getting out of the drama triangle

Getting out of your Drama Triangle starts with you knowing you’re in one.

Refuse to get ‘hooked in’ by refusing to play the Roles that Always End in Failure.

When unrealistic expectations cause you to play the roles of Persecutor, Victim or Rescuer rise above the person you were, who created the problem.

If you are involved with people who play any of the roles in the Drama Triangle, say to yourself, “this is a game that always ends in failure and I choose not to play.” Drama is something we and other people use to distract us from the reality of how we feel.  Getting out of your Drama Triangle is not always as easy as you may imagine, but now that you know the different roles that often lead nowhere, you can make the decision to ‘not get hooked’. Walk away.

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