Breaking the Triangle – Examples in Action
Now it is time to take a look at some worked examples of the drama triangle. See if you recognise any of these situations and how they could apply to your life.
Remember, there is a reason we all enjoy watching drama on TV. The neurological processes that enable us to be involved in drama are hardwired in to us. Drama can be significant part of social interactions with other humans. This is why we have evolved these systems in our brains.
We also have a conscious mind too, and it is that which can set us free from unconsciously falling in to dramas because we are unaware that they exist.
These examples will help you view your social interactions with a new perspective and a refreshed awareness of what is unfolding.
In this post we will look at six examples:
- Little Red Riding Hood – A fresh perspective
- The Indecision Triangle – Can’t commit?
- The Yes, But Game – A classic we all play
- The Vicious Cycle Triangle – Self sabotage
- Co-Dependent Relationships – One to avoid
- The K Formula – Office Politics
Little Red Riding Hood
Fairy tales make use of the drama triangle to captivate the audience. In fact, most if not all stories do this. Here is a little exposé on how it works…
Little Red Riding Hood sets off to rescue her grandmother by bringing food and providing some company. Unbeknown to Little Red Riding Hood, her grandmother has become victim to a persecuting wolf. When Little Red Riding Hood arrives, she is unaware that the wolf has assumed the role of her grandmother – meaning Little Red Riding Hood has unconsciously slipped in to the victim role.
As the drama starts to unfold, a wood cutter appears on the scene to rescue Little Red Riding Hood (he is rescuer number two!). As the wood cutter rescues Little Red Riding Hood (who was a rescuer and is now a victim), he persecutes the wolf to death (so they wolf who was a persecutor is now a victim).
It is the changing of the roles as the events unfold that creates the drama and tension. After all, a hero would not be a great hero if he did not need to defeat something to protect something.
The Indecision Triangle
The indecision triangle is an example of how even in our own internal dialogue the drama can play out. Combine this circular inner dialogue with poor outward communication and you are left in a state of inertia.
This is an example direct from Karpmann.
In Fig. a, a man wanted to ask his wife for plastic surgery to help with their sex life, hoping she’d be a Rescuer of the relationship. But he knew if he did ask, she would react as Persecutor and push him further away. So he stayed undecided, “stuffing feelings” as a Victim.
In Fig. b., he is harbouring grudges as a Victim, but if he speaks out, it will sound too angry (Persecutor), so he stays Victim, undecided.
In Fig. c., he feels neglected and wants to Rescue himself by finding an outside girlfriend, but that could backfire and both women would leave him (double Persecutor), and he’d be a Victim again.
The Yes, But Game
“Yes, but” is a game that most people have played at one time or another. It is a game that some people cannot help but play with others. This is often something that people do simply to gain attention from other humans, and with prolific players, it is something that they are doing unconsciously.
The Drama Unfolds
It all starts with a victim throwing out some bait to a rescuer for some help…
One person initiates a discussion with another, asking for help to solve an apparently difficult problem: “How do you think I could get better results in my field?”
Considering that it takes at least two to play the game, the Victim’s targeted helper could then bite on the bait, hook and line, and respond with an obvious helpful suggestion, for example:
“Well, you could start by limiting expenses.”
Note that this response implicitly disqualifies the person asking for help. The underlying message could be:
“You obviously aren’t doing your job correctly. I’ll demonstrate that I am more competent than you”.
Indeed, one can often get the feeling that although apparently helping out, an eager helper or rescuer is actually putting down or persecuting the Victim by pointing out the latter’s limits or lack of competencies. In this case, the apparent rescuer response is both concealing and revealing he or she is actually a potential Persecutor.
The helpless partner in the relationship can then add complexity to the situation and turn the tables by answering: ” Yes, sure. I’ve been there. But if I lower my expenses any more, I might as well starve.”
The apparent Victim reveals that the problem has already been well thought out and that the apparent rescuer will not be able to easily produce a valid or acceptable solution. In fact, The Victim may start persecuting the rescuer by systematically refusing all proposed options with consecutive “Yes, buts”. The Victim may be indirectly telling the rescuer: “If you think I’m so stupid, I’ll demonstrate that you don’t have any valid options, try all you may”.
And the game can go on its course with numerous coups de theatre, surprises, dismissals and turnabouts, knowing that in the final analysis, there will be no sustainable winner.
The yes but game is all about “winning” the interaction. The Victim feels lowly so invites a rescuer to save them; the victim then persecutes the rescuer in a bit to exercise their dominance and elevate their lowly position… which then makes them feel guilty for being a dick. Lose-Lose.
The Vicious Cycle Triangle
Both of the examples given here are high level summaries of how events can unfold. Obviously, every situation is unique and there will be multiple other factors at play. I have included these examples to serve as a stark reminder of the extreme consequences that unconscious dramas can cause.
Think of someone that has an addiction to drugs, food, sex, gambling or basically any kind of self-destructive behaviour. The inner dialogue that is driving this will be similar to this.
A lonely Victim which has unmet needs Rescues themselves with their food, gambling, sex, power, spending or substance addictions. They then suffer negative consequences either within or without so their behaviour has acted as self-persecution. This returns them to be the Victim again.
The same thing can be seen in violent relationships. It just works the other way. The feeling like an unappreciated victim, tension will build so the perpetrator assumes the persecutor role and commits a violent act against a Victim will. Feeling remorse, the persecutor will attempt to rescue the victim with apologies, chocolates and flowers. Over time, as this events drift in to past memories, the feelings of un appreciation will build again and the cycle will repeat.
One way of describing co-dependent relationships is with the Drama Triangle.
Essentially these are relationships where people are locked into Victim/Persecutor or Victim/Rescuer roles, in relation to each other.
The Victim, in order to maintain their victim script, needs someone else to play the Rescuer, or even the Persecutor – validating their victim script. And vice versa.
You can see how a Rescuer–Victim relationship can easily become co-dependent. When both of them are receiving emotional and psychological reward from playing their respective roles for the other.
Understanding the dance between the different roles, and choosing to respond from a new script (not from the Drama Triangle) will help us interact with appropriate healthy behaviour, turning the drama into appropriate healthy interaction.
The K Formula
The K-formula can be considered Karpmann’s second conceptual contribution to the understanding of manipulation games and the least well known T.A. game concept.
The K-formula is presented as a process. It refers to a specific negative interaction segmented into five clearly identified consecutive steps:
- the implicit contract
- the perceived breach of contract
- the double disqualification
- The rupture
- The negative payoff
The first step sets the foundation of the game. It stipulates that an unclear, implicit, vague, incomplete, misunderstood or unwritten contract (agreement) is the first step or sets the stage for an unproductive relationship or communication sequence. On the contrary, to ensure good or productive personal and professional relationships, precise, detailed contracts ensure positive and productive partnerships.
To present a simple example, when a person announces that they will do something as quickly as possible (ASAP), that could mean today, this week, this month or this year.
When not vague in time or “when”, agreements can be unclear as to matter or “what”. It is not rare to witness major misunderstandings between people who thought they understood each other as to common means and goals only to discover later a tremendous gap in what they thought was clear between them.
Breach of Contract
When a personal or professional contract/agreement is not sufficiently precise and written so as to be able to refer back to it in time, it is easy for any of the parties to later perceive any one of its terms have been breached. It is not so important here that the contract has in fact been violated or not. What is important is that there is a perception of violation held by either of the contracting partners. The perception does not so much rest on a reality but on a difference of perception permitted by the original contract’s vagueness.
The interaction is characterized by a more or less aggressive questioning of each contracting partner’s memory, good faith, honesty or professionalism. In essence, the other party is always considered at fault. The verbal escalation can often involve innocent bystanders and sometimes reach proportions significant enough to question the future of the relationship.
Each contracting partner stomps off in opposite directions, and the interaction or relationship is severed without solving the misunderstanding.
The game is not over. All negative relationship processes leave traces of negative energy, confirm negative life positions, and reinforce limiting frames of references. These are considered to be the negative benefits or payoffs of manipulation games in general and of the K-formula process in particular.
This negative payoff is cashed in by all concerned players. Personal, social, psychological professional and existential payoffs can be felt over days, months, and sometimes years depending on the intensity of the game.
Make sure both parties are very clear about all of the details of the agreement at the start. Do not be vague; or if you have been vague, call it out as soon as disagreement arises. Reverse back to the start and point at the vagueness; look to seek new mutual agreement.
Through looking at these examples, hopefully you will be able to better spot the drama triangles that you are choosing to be part of. Maybe next time you are invited to join one, you will be able to spot it first and make a conscious decision as to what to do next.
In the next post in the dram triangle series we will look at how we break this triangle and set ourselves free.
Enjoy, for now.
Previous Post – How to Do You at Work: Part 2