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3 Ways to Beat the Drama Triangle

Our health is directly driven by the choices we make each day, and how we make those choices is influenced by a number of factors. Part of our decision-making process is driven by habits—the behaviors and programming we build over years of repetition—but our choices are also shaped by our surroundings.

The people and things in our environment can make us more likely to make certain types of choices. If we build our surroundings according to the Habits of Health, we are more likely to follow the path that leads to optimal wellbeing. However, if we are like most people and overlook the influence of our surroundings, we can find ourselves pushed toward Habits of Disease and never recognize the cause.

Physical objects are important—such as the size of your dinner plates—but people play a big role in your health as well.

Intentionally or accidentally, others can lead us below the line, where we move from being fully responsible for our life to blaming, feeling like a victim, or even feeling like we must come in and save the day. As a result, we can become closed to new ideas, defensive in how we respond to others, and have our ego come in and have us needing to be right. Difficult people, or people who model Habits of Disease instead of Habits of Health, can derail our journey.

Let’s flip the script.

How can we use our decision to take personal responsibility and help us function in a fully responsible way while at the same time we negotiate and deal with difficult people that come into our lives daily?

Stephen Karpman described a social model of human interaction to help explain how—in relational interactions and behaviors of people drifting below the line—individuals can take different positions in what has become known as the drama triangle. The drama triangle has three points:

  1. The Victim: The Victim’s stance is “Poor me!” The Victim, if not being persecuted, will seek out a persecutor and also a rescuer who will save the day but also perpetuate the victim’s negative feelings. 
  2. The Hero: The hero’s line is “Let me help you.” A classic enabler, the hero or rescuer feels guilty if he/she doesn’t go to the rescue. 
  3. The Villain: The villain, sometimes referred to as the persecutor, insists, “It’s all your fault.” The villain is controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritative, rigid, and superior.

A drama triangle arises when a person takes on the role of victim or villain, which then inevitably sucks others into the conflict. Soon a hero swoops in, and before we know it, the roles start to change and the drama triangle spins and spins into chaos. The motivations of each person are to have their needs met without taking responsibility.

That last part, not taking responsibility, is what makes the drama triangle so dangerous. When we don’t take responsibility for our actions, we give up the power we could have over our wellbeing. As we interact with the people around us, we need to recognize when we are participating in a drama triangle and remove ourselves from the equation. We need to rise above, be present in the moment, and make the choice that moves us toward health and not deeper into the drama triangle.

Depending on our role in the drama triangle, this could mean:

  • Spending more time with people who are positive influences in our lives, who model the Habits of Health we want for our own lives. Perhaps that means spending more times with the optimal health community and less time with drinking buddies. 
  • Removing ourselves from unnecessary conflicts. Maybe you can opt out of office gossip and do something more productive with your time instead. 
  • Reflecting on our choices in a day to identify drama triangles. When you journal to end your day, think about the interactions you had during your day so that you can prepare yourself to act differently should the situation come about again.

What do you do in your life to play above the line? Your approach could help someone on their own journey! Share your story in the comments below.

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