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“I teach companies how to master the drama triangle”
Excerpt from my book:
II would like to thank Stephen Karpman for supporting my use of his wonderful model. Others copy it, or change the words of his original work and call it their own, but the original works well – so why change it.
Karpman’s drama triangle is a model for communication drawn from the psychological theory of transactional analysis (TA). The model can be used to look at human interaction like a game with three players.
The approach developed by Stephen Karpman is a model of communication within a psychological model called transactional analysis that efficiently removes the power plays from any interaction (Karpman, 1968). Karpman’s drama triangle is described below. If you see an interaction a bit like a game model, the three roles in the drama triangle would be victim, persecutor, and rescuer – taking on any of these roles is a dangerous position. As the roles shift quickly from one to another, anyone playing this game will be caught in a veritable unending spiral of emotional conflict.
The Victim, The Rescuer, and The Persecutor.
As the game is played, no one wins. The roles are exchanged and repeated in a vicious cycle of exchange that moves each player into the other role to maintain the game. As the game continues, the Victim attacks the Persecutor for “crimes” and thus now becomes the Persecutor through the use of blaming. The Persecutor now is the Victim. The Rescuer may step in to offer assistance to the Victim, which threatens the Persecutor, who is now the Victim by way of the Rescuer. The Victim may join the Rescuer and both may now attack the Persecutor, who becomes the Victim by the attack and uses it to justify another attack or to hook another Rescuer and the game continues until someone steps out of the cycle and becomes a Non-Player.
The Non-Player, although seen as a player by the others, can remain in the setting but will take on a neutral, nonparticipating role. This may be seen as a rescue, an attack, or a martyr (victim) stance, but if it is maintained over time, players will either end the game or move on to solicit new players.
When is it a Game and When is it for Real?
a) There are real victims in life. If you are hit by a car, attacked by a terrorist, molested, assaulted, and so forth, you are a victim. (The victim in the Karpman drama triangle, however, puts adhesive on the back of his or her wrist and attaches it to his or her forehead in an ongoing “poor me” position).
b) There are real persecutors. Terrorists, offenders, and criminals are not playing. They are dead serious.
c) There are real rescuers. Law enforcement, nurses, fire fighters, EMTs, teachers, counselors, social workers, and other “good guys” are not playing the triangle game, but must watch that they aren’t rescuing people who do not want to be rescued.
Individuals in the drama triangle are playing roles that are not real – they do it for the game itself. If you stop playing, eventually they will move on because you are not playing. They may up the ante, or raise the stakes significantly to entice you to continue being a player, but if you move away from the triangle, you will eventually feel better and be more useful.
An old classic drama triangle is seen in the melodramatic scene of the sweet and innocent heroine tied to the railroad tracks by the evil villain as the handsome hero rides in just in the nick of time. This is endemic to our collective sense of theater. Hollywood knows that the archetypal evil-doer must kidnap the helpless victim so that the hero as Agent 007, Superman, martial arts expert, or even cartoon figure sweeps in to save the weak and to save the known world for the betterment of humanity.
The drama triangle is everywhere, but that does not necessarily mean we have to play it out at the worksite with theatrical dimensions. Even if your company is part of the industry that promotes or supports the drama of victims, rescuers, or persecutors, it doesn’t mean your workplace has to replicate the soap opera within the work environment. Watch a soap opera or CNN to see how the triangle plays out. Now watch your worksite for how you may be unconsciously playing.