Drama Triangle (04 March 2016)

In this post I am writing about three roles or positions I can pick up when I find myself cornered in a stressful situation. The three positions can be described as reactions to life when feeling of anger, fear, guilt, betrayed or taken advantage of. They stop me from reaching autonomy. The picture below summarizes the three positions. The triangle can be called as a "shame generator" as well because it contains reinforcing, old and painful beliefs that keep me stuck in a limited version of me, in a distorted reality. Each position can be described as a system of thoughts, feelings and reactions. I am going to elaborate them below.

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We can also view the three positions as the shadow aspects of victimhood. Whenever I refuse to take responsibility for myself, unconsciously I choose to be a Victim. From this position I destroy my emotional, mental and spiritual well being. Actually, no matter which position I take (either the Persecutor or the Rescuer) finally I will arrive to the Victim position having all the emotions I mentioned above. Why? Because I am playing a Game (see the post on Games). I deny some aspects of myself (we call it "shadow"), I am not aware of them (remember: one key component of autonomy is awareness). When this happens I experience mistery, suffering, hurt or anger resulting emotional, mental or even physical pain. In interpersonal situations this means: no one wins. Stepping on the triangle I find myself in a vicious circle. The picture below summarizes how it works.

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Everybody has their own favorite position on the drama triangle. Under stress we tend to hop onto that spot and the game can begin. Trouble is, it causes further challenges related to five different areas. First, it consists of some DENIAL. Let us go back to the previous example. I may feel sorry for you because you are stuck with the report. You are moaning about your slow PC as well. You are about to find excuses and with that, you (from the Victim position) are inviting me to Rescue you. Accepting the invitation, I use my Parent to help your Child. No Adult ego state involved here. I deny that you can use your resources and you deny you can use your resources too. I might deny my feeling ("I am angry with you because you behave like a lost child") and I can substitute it with a different one ("I feel sorry for you"). Both of us bring these self limiting patterns from the past. That is why it is a trap. These limiting beliefs keep us on the triangle. Second, it consists of DISONESTY. It's a typical feature of the drama triange. We don't face the reality and the truth. My old beliefs, conclusions and decisions (stored in P1) can make me say "Poor you" and rescue you in the example above because I can have a "program" that says "I am OK only if I rescue others." This "program" and the behavior built on that can help me avoid negative self judgements ("I am not OK if I don't rescue others"). Third, it consists of PROJECTIONS. I project the contents on you that I deny in myself. This means that instead of facing my self judgement ("I am not OK if I don't rescue you" OR "I must feel guilty if someone around me is suffering"). I stress that "You are not OK and you cannot be OK until I rescue you. So, you must be rescued by me." Fourth, the focus is on the EGO. While "helping you" I actually focus on m own needs. I ignore your needs in this "helping". The Ego hates change, too. It likes the status quo. Ego is interested in verifying our own truth and beliefs. We might say that the drama triangle is a very good friend of our ego because it strengthens the limited identity who I am or who you are, with all the things we can do in a certain situation. Fifth, it keeps us away from INTIMACY (another key component of autonomy). To reach intimacy, I need to allow you to really know me (know what I think and feel, for example: "I am angry with you because you behave like a lost child"). This can be frightening because intimacy can bring my vulnerability and honesty into the light. We all desire unconditional acceptance. I can bring messages from my past that tell me something like "It's better to show how strong / helpful / good / caring etc. I am than to show my vulnerability". These messages can also keep us on the triangle. Below you can read more about the three drama triangle positions and finally about how you can hop off it.

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Earlier I mentioned that each of us has our favourite position on the drama triangle. Under stress, I open my communication from there. We call it Open Gate position. I'll write about this now. The Open Gate Rescuer (OGR) saves whom he or she sees vulnerable. They offer help that is actually not required. That is why others see them as Persecutors. OGR's compulsively care for others. They protect others from the consequences of their own choices. Why do they do it? Behind the curtains, they can have fear of insignificance, hidden shame, or the need to be acknowledged. They also think: "My needs don't matter." Their old, self-limiting belief can be like: "This relationship will survive only if I satisfy his/her needs." Their typical sentence is: "Let me help you". They feel guilty if they don't rescue. This keeps them "Victim dependent". Their message to the environment is: "I need someone to rescue". Actually they control and manipulate others from this shadow "mother" role. There is a trap here: our society can reinforce their "selfless acts". But if the other person does not want to be saved or rescued, this Victim person can become a Persecutor and the Rescuer goes to the Victim position saying something like: "I did everything for you, this is the thanks I get?" The Open Gate Persecutor (OGP) is typically unaware of his or her power used negatively or destructively. Actually anyone can be perceived as a Persecutor in a game. They, on the other hand, feel that they are the Victim in the situation (i.e. in the game). But they put others down, they discount others. They ignore others' values and needs - in extreme situations even others' physical well being or health). We can see them criticizing, judging, controlling and limiting others in unnecessary ways. If others fall short of their perfectionist expectations, they tend to have a sort of "I have written you off" attitude. They are always tired, harried, angry and use guilt. Their slogen is: "It's your fault". They completely deny their blaming tactics. Behind the curtain, they have the feelings of helplessness and shame. Maintaining their shadow "father" approach overpower others and show domination to overcome the hidden feelings. They are driven by the "I must always be right" message. They invest huge power in denying their vulnerability (that is why they are always exhausted). They are in a constant defense mode. "I must be ready for the next attack" - they believe. The Open Gate Victim (OGV) thinks: "I need help from a Rescuer who helps me think, act and make descisions properly." If he or she gets into trouble, their typical response is this: "I deserve it". They feel themselves helpless, incompetent, powerless, vulnerable and inadequate. They don't take responsibility for themselves. They often have physical complaints to justify helplessness and dependence on others. They usually feel self-pity. They magical belief stored in P1: "I am too damaged/helpless to ever change". They regularly say: "I don't know." Their motto is: "Poor me". When turning to a Rescuer, they send messages like: "You are the only one who can help me". Behind the curtain, they hide much guilt. They prove to themselves over and over that they cannot do it on their own.

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As I mentioned above, the starting gate position on the triangle is where we "get hooked" when we play games. We bring it from our past and we define ourselves through this position (Ego). No matter wehre we start on the triangle, we end up a Victim. To hop off the triangle, the Victim must take responsibility for themselves (both for choices and actions).They must recognize they have power. The Persecutor must acknowledge his or her own hurt and anger. They must moderate their perfectionist expectations of themselves and others. They need to develop the capacity for self empathy and empathy for others. The Rescuer must become healthily self-focused. They need to work on their seld-esteem. They must take responsibility for their own well-being and be able to allow others to learn from their mistakes.