Over the past month, I’ve observed, read about and seen a variety of situations that reminded me of a particular conflict management model called a drama triangle. This is something I learned from my super smart mentor, Stan Smith. Just so I don’t reinvigorate any dramas, no one instance initiated this post. It was a string of things that cropped up from a wide array of sources like in Jung’s synchronicity. So I figure I’ll write about it.
The three points of the drama triangle are persecutor, victim and rescuer. You really don’t want to be any of those three. The idea is to avoid this particular triangle altogether, as difficult as that might be. Here are the descriptions and graphic borrowed from a martial arts website.
- Victims are helpless and hopeless. They deny responsibility for their negative circumstances, and deny possession of the power to change them.
- Rescuers are constantly applying short-term repairs to a Victim’s problems, while neglecting their own needs.
- Persecutors blame the Victims and criticize the enabling behavior of Rescuers, without providing guidance, assistance or a solution to the underlying problem.
As conflict ensues, people may change roles. Perhaps the rescuer switches to persecutor when the victim won’t be “helped.” Stan Smith adds a couple of additional roles to the drama triangle. These include the switcher, who is a serial role changer, but enthusiastic participant in the drama triangle for the sheer thrill of the conflict. Enablers don’t engage in a particular role, but will throw fuel on the fire for their own entertainment.
People will adopt these roles in order to feel some sort of psychological justification, which at it’s root is an attempt to release oneself from full personal responsibility for the way things are. The persecutor has someone else to blame and does so. The victim claims nothing can be done due to the persecutor or unfair conditions. The rescuer can neglect doing the things that really matter because they have to spend their energy saving someone else. Don’t believe me? Go to any online discussion forum and find a zillion examples.
Nothing good comes from acting out the drama triangle. So what do you do when someone else’s drama starts edging your direction? It is sooooo tempting to jump right into one of those roles and then resent them (victim) for starting the whole thing. Or being angry (persecutor) for involving you. Or you jump in and try to fix the whole thing (rescuer) even though no one is really asking for your help. Don’t do it.
Fortunately, there’s another kind of triangle you can adopt as your favorite geometric shape model to live by, and it’s called the developmental triangle. This triangle is way cooler because it’s productive instead of destructive, and who doesn’t want to be cooler? I sure do.
Here are the descriptions of the roles in the developmental triangle (from Stan Smith):
- Mentor - This role is based on personal potency and confidence in the capacity of people to leverage their context. The mentor models values and offers needed protection.
- Facilitator - This role is based on providing permission and opportunity to improve skills and competencies. The facilitator provides resources.
Companion – This role is based on comfort with sharing power, achievement and emotions. The companion provides intimacy and joy.
Witness – This role is not directly involved in the situation but supports and validates the process. The witness gets emotional energy from seeing the positive roles enacted and sometimes provides evidence that helps clarify options.
Energizer – Some people evolve a preference for moving tround the triangle and adopting different roles for the pleasure and variety of the roles themselves. The particular stance becomes less important that the energy resulting from the switch.
It all sounds great, doesn’t it? It does, but what to do when you’re confronted with a drama triangle situation? Just say, hey guys, let’s switch triangles? That’s hardly a winning tactic.
I’d suggest that you do your best to adopt one of the developmental triangle roles with the understanding that the drama triangle is likely to continue, even without your support. Maybe, just maybe, you’re non-complicity will take a little wind out of the drama sails. You can model more constructive behavior. You can provide encouragement and resources toward positive change without veering into rescuer mode, where you feel like you need the other to change, or persecutor mode, where you’re angry (how dare you!) if they don’t.
People will make positive changes when they are ready. You can be there to help them when they are. There’s some parenting gems in here too, right Mommy readers? Once Remy’s older, I’m sure he’ll try every angle on that drama triangle on me. I’ve got to practice this developmental triangle thing so I’m ready.