Understanding the drama triangle gives a helpful foundation to be able to understand boundaries (a future post coming some day soon).
Meet the Drama Triangle:
Playing the Roles, Playing the Game:
When we are playing in the Victim role, we want others to do things for us that we can and should do for ourselves.
When we are playing in the Rescuer role we do (or seek to) things for others that they can and should do themselves.
When we are playing in the Persecuter role we are trying to control others forcefully.
When we are in the triangle with someone else you can go around and around in these roles, sometimes very quickly. We tend to play one of these roles more often than the others.
Let me first explain the roles in more detail. In hopes of shedding some light, some examples I've come to recognize from my own life:
*Victim Role: There are occasionally burdens that are too great for us to carry on our own. There are many other burdens, however, that are ours to carry. From other posts, I hope you understand what I mean by carry, because I truly have come to know for myself that Jesus Christ will make our burdens light. Carrying what is ours may mean getting creative or simplifying, etc, but it is ours to partner with God on how to accomplish the carrying.
Just because we are carrying our own load doesn't mean that our feelings or burdens aren't valid. We do need to know what falls in our stewardship. I have come to understand that what we need and how we feel are included in that stewardship. The phrase "he made me so mad," actually isn't true. That is Victim thinking. Rather, "I felt anger when he did ___." People can't make us feel or do anything.
When we play in the victim role we are wanting others to fix us... to own our stewardship...to take responsibility for what we actually should be caring for.
A time when I acted in this role was during Leland's pregnancy. When the placenta pulled away, I was put on "modified" bedrest from week 16-32. I did not need to be on strict bedrest, I could be up; however, I did need to limit my time on my feet and being up. The more I could sit or ideally lay down, the more blood flow could be sent to my baby rather than my own body. I was approached by the Relief Society in my ward to bring in meals. That part was okay. The part that turned into playing the Victim Role is that meals were brought in for several months a few times a week. When it was initially discussed, I turned down the offer; however, it was still pushed forward. We very much appreciated the help and the gesture, but I'm sure if I had been more firm our refusal would have been respected. It was interesting to contrast that with the bleeding during Shipton's pregnancy. The same restrictions were given from week 13-20. Yes it was less time; however, during those months we switched to disposable dishes and make mostly crock-pot dinners. we found ways to work around things. It was a growing opportunity for our family and we missed out on other growing opportunities because we didn't allow ourselves to be stretched. It was a weight we could carry ourselves.
My three-year-old is the most comfortable in this role than the other two. He is soooo convincing to his Daddy that he really doesn't know how to dress himself. He can (because I have taught him how to) and he really should (because I doubt his college room-mates or wife are going to be willing later on). Just with my son, we actually do ourselves a disservice when we shy away from owning our stewardship. We need to take responsibility for those things we can and should do ourselves.
*Rescuer Role: Victim and Rescuer go hand-in-hand so nicely. Victims love having others taking over their stewardship and Rescuers love to take others' stewardships. This is the role I felt the most comfortable playing in the past. I wanted everyone to be happy. I avoided confrontation or saying no. I was quite the doormat, and surprisingly, felt overwhelmed with the weight I was carrying from others' burdens and needs.
When my kids used to come to me crying because they got hurt, I would immediately run through all the things that they "needed" to make it better. "Do you need a band-aid?" "Do you need an icepack." "Can I kiss it better." "Do you need a treat," etc.
As I became healthy, I began asking them and putting the ball in their court. "I am so sorry you got hurt! That looks like it really hurt! What do you need from me?" That magic phrase. Repeat after me: WHAT DO YOU NEED FROM ME? That gives others the chance to "own" their "stuff" rather than taking it from them whether they want you to or not.
I was blown away how magical it was! At first my kids looked at me bewildered. I hadn't given them a chance to own their stuff before. Often I get "I was just telling you, Mom." Sometimes they ask for a kiss. It's usually taken care of with one or both.
I was anxious to see what would happen in other areas of my life. Instead of rushing in to "fix" my husband when he was having a hard day, I ventured my new phrase. "I am so sorry you are having a hard time! What do you need from me?" At first this wasn't well received. I wasn't "playing the game" any more. I wasn't willing to live in the drama triangle and that was initially uncomfortable for me, then in turn, my family until living without the triangle has become our new normal. Over time and with my consistency, he became more aware of his "stuff." His answers changed to similar to the kids. "I just wanted to tell you." or "I could use a hug or smooch." I would reassure him that he was important to me and I was there to support him if he did need something from me...then would go on my merry little way and have a fantastic day despite his up's or down's.
*Persecutor: This is where it get interesting. The Persecutor is when we explode the built-up emotions and seek to control the other person. An example may be my kiddos not putting dirty laundry in the hamper.
When we look at the Persecutor/Victim dynamic, the Victim enjoys having someone to persecute them. It sounds a bit twisted, but as I've shared before, rummage through the Belief Box and it's amazing what may turn up. It serves the relationship to have someone "on their back."
Sometimes the Rescuer can turn to Persecutor if they are fed up with
rescuing the Victim (Parent: "I am sick and tired of always being the only one
in the house to care about getting clothes int he hamper! I am always
picking up your laundry! It's all over the floor! You have to put it
in the laundry basket!" ).
Sometimes the Victim can turn to Persecutor if they get fed up with being babied by the Rescuer. (Child: "Fine, I am going in my room and never coming out and it's all your fault! You are too bossy! I hate you! You are mean!")
The two can do a crazy dance over and over and all over the drama triangle together.
Triangle Language and Taking an Exit:
If we find ourselves saying absolutes (never, always, etc), it's usually a red flag that we are in the triangle.
As soon as we can recognize ourselves in the triangle, it's important to call a "time out." Let the other person know that we are in the triangle and we need to come back and finish this conversation when both parties are ready. This may be 20 minutes, this may be before bed, or tomorrow, etc. If the conversation resumes and we again find ourselves in the triangle, call another time out. Initially I was quicker to recognize drama triangle than my husband. Although I didn't always feel like I was in the triangle, but felt like he was, I would say that I was in the triangle. As we both became more healthy and our communication improved, saying "I feel like you are wanting to pull me in," was safe to say.
Using "I statements" can be helpful during these potentially touchy conversations.
"I felt..." rather than
"YOU make me feel..."
"I need..." rather than
The good news is we can learn to own our stuff and as we choose to communicate in healthy ways outside of the triangle, our loved ones can change with us and we can attract healthy friends to surround ourselves with. The journey to clearer communication may be challenging, but one that is well-worth the efforts!
All right! You probably guessed it! Your challenge is to consider taking time to look at this. How is your communication and interactions with others? If you find yourself in the triangle, what is your primary role? Where are you most comfortable? Are there certain times you take a different role? Pray for help to see this clearly and help to communicate and interact without the drama.
Presdient Uchtdorf gave a masterful talk about communicating and interacting with love rather than fear. Go check it out!