The Empath & The Drama Triangle

The plethora of human drama in our world spans from conflict with ourselves to interpersonal relationships to all-out war. Drama grips all of us—it’s an undeniable part of the human condition we deal with in those around us. It’s best to learn as much as we possibly can about it, so save unnecessary confusion and heartache. That’s why I’m so grateful the drama triangle exists. 

What I love about drama is it’s where we actually learn who we are. It’s easy to be a good person when things are going well, but it only counts when there’s drama involved. It’s one of the few moments we’re fully in the arena of life. Like gladiators on the floor of the Colosseum, we battle it out to become whole people.

The day I discovered the drama triangle, it blew my mind that such a map of the human psyche existed. Karpman’s drama triangle is a reflection of the destructive and shifting roles we each play in the conflict. It states that when drama is around, people will unconsciously default to three main roles—victim, persecutor, or rescuer. The issue is that when you participate in the drama triangle, you do not solve the conflict. Instead, you create more misery and suffering for yourself and for those around you.

Have a read through and see which one relates to you:

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The Victim: The Victim’s stance is “Poor me!” The Victim feels oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless and ashamed. They seem unable to make decisions, solve problems, take pleasure in life, or achieve insight. 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.

The Rescuer: The rescuer’s line is “Let me help you.” A classic enabler, the Rescuer feels guilty if he/she doesn’t go to the rescue. Yet his/her rescuing has negative effects: It keeps the Victim dependent and gives the Victim permission to fail. The rewards derived from this rescue role are that the focus is taken off of the rescuer. When he/she focuses their energy on someone else, it enables them to ignore their own anxiety and issues. The primary interest of the rescuer is to avoid their own problems by disguising them in a concern for the victim’s needs.

The Persecutor: (a.k.a. Villian) The Persecutor insists, “It’s all your fault.” The Persecutor is controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritative, rigid, and superior.

Throughout my life I’ve been all three of the archetypes (as most of you will have also) but the role I most often found myself in was victim—and I suspect this is true for most empaths, given how affected we are by the world around us, though where you default on the drama triangle is more a reflection of the patterns learned in your childhood than it is how empathetic you are.

Being a victim came naturally to me because most days I did not feel in control of my environment, I felt like my environment was controlling me. So when drama was around, I defaulted to the victim because it was the only place I knew. There were no other possible pathways in my brain.  Until someone showed me this, and I had a lightbulb moment.

The drama triangle starts with a victim or persecutor. Then that person enlists other players into the conflict, who take on roles of their own that continue to change so the cycle can keep going—the victim can become the persecutor, and the rescuer can become the victim and so on—and it can go on forever.

Sounds pretty dreary huh? Well, it is. But before we get too dark, let me tell you this: There’s a very good solution to this problem that I’m going to tell you next week.

But first, you must spend time reflecting on yourself and your life, to see if you’re caught up in the drama triangle anywhere, and if so, what roles you are playing. And remember, you can be playing all three roles at once, in different situations, and you could have played multiple roles in the same situation already. It all starts with building awarness—so be still, reflect and journal on what’s true for you, without judgment, fear, guilt, or shame, just put all that yucky stuff aside and be real with yourself. 

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