Do you engage in drama?

A well-known example of Ego-interaction is the “drama triangle”, described by psychologist Stephen Karpman. One of your self-justifying narratives could be the prosecutor, the victim, or the rescuer.

The Victim’s stance is “Poor me!” He feels oppressed, helpless, hopeless, ashamed, and can’t make decisions, solve problems, etc. The Victim always finds a Persecutor and a Rescuer – who both perpetuate his negative feelings and justify how he feels.

The Drama Triangle

The Rescuer’s line is “Let me help you.” He feels guilty if he doesn’t come to the rescue. Yet, this keeps the Victim dependent and ready to fail. The reward is that the focus is taken off of the rescuer and he can avoid his problems while feeling useful, important and justified.

The Persecutor accuses: ”It’s all your fault.” He is controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritative, rigid, and superior.

Which of these roles do you prefer..? Most people have a role with which they most identify but once the triangle starts, the participants rotate through all the positions: blaming and shaming, helping and comforting, and suffering while rejecting ownership and accountability.

* Do you recognize the drama triangle in any of your present or past interactions – if you are honest? Do you see it in your group or organization?

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What is constructive is to be able to look at yourself, and to acknowledge your part in keeping a dysfunctional situation alive.

If you identify with your wise, best Self – what would you do? If you were an observer, what would you advise the participants?

What to do about this? In the book, I’ll share exercises and advice. For now, blog readers: it might help to become aware of this interaction pattern.

This is book post #47 – ME

Here‘s the earlier post
Here‘s the next post

If you’re confused – please start with post #1 or check the Positive Power overview and read the Positive Agent Manifesto.

Leaders, employees, consultants, citizens – everyone can make a positive difference from any position, without needing permission or resources from others. This blog will help you see positive possibilities and (re)claim your positive agency. Unstuck yourself and engage others via your interaction and actions. Transform into a positive organization where people and performance thrive.

I’m blogging my next book: “Positive Power at Work – How to make a positive difference from any position.” Your feedback is appreciated!

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  1. Laura

    I recently entered a situation as manager of a team that was set up with victims and complainers. I started 1:1 and team meetings. I set a policy of “no griping” and implemented a system in which people with problems came to me, articulated the problem and suggested at least 2 possible solutions. We discussed the suggested solutions and if one was feasible, that solution was selected and the person who had identified the problem became the lead for implementing the solution. My job was to support them with personnel, supplies and notifying the rest of the team that this was in process.

    I failed to realize how firmly this culture of victimhood was embedded in the organization. None of the people wanted to be empowered to bring about positive change. This was fine as most of these people quickly quit and I hired new proactive employees. Positive change was happening, being responsible and improving the workplace was happening.

    I failed to realize that I needed to fire 2 of the longest term employees. They had good historical knowledge of products and customers but they continued to undermine the new system at every opportunity including poisoning the board.

    I left, they rehired all the same old people who had left, and the atmosphere has returned to the gloomy, poor customer service, and lack of cleanliness that is dangerous in a food service establishment that I found when I started. They seem to be happy with this situation.

    I learned several things:
    1) old habits die hard
    2) people love their misery
    3) undermining behavior cannot be changed and must not be tolerated
    4) positive based leadership works when you are able to pick people who want to work that way.

    I’m not sure I’ll ever choose to work in a team situation again. I enjoyed all the positive shifts and the progress but I did not enjoy dealing with the people who were constantly trying to “go back to the way we always did it”.

    1. Marcella Bremer

      Thanks for sharing your case! It sure looks interesting and I know that it can be tough. It’s important to not tolerate undermining behavior. You cannot force others to embrace positive change or empowerment – some people are not ready or the right conditions are not (yet) in place for them. All you can do is consistently be the change you wish to see and help them create the right conditions to try some responsibility. Or, alternatively, take the rewards of the “old behaviors” away. These two people apparently had built up so much status that they “got away” with old complaining behaviors. It might help to have one on ones with them, and a group dialogue after this to strengthen group will – but sometimes that just isn’t enough. In that case, it can be wise to leave the drama…. I think we should all find the place where we can be at out best – I hope you found that place!

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