No one wants a relationship full of drama...or do they? Turns out there are specific roles that many of us actually enjoy to play in any given "drama" situation. This week we talk about how to break the cycle and transform drama into empowerment.
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Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory Podcast, we're talking about drama.
Jase: More specifically, we're looking at one particular model for understanding what causes drama in relationships, called the Karpman drama triangle.
Emily: Not the Eric Cartman drama triangle, Jase.
Dedeker: That's something else entirely [laughs].
Jase: We'll also explore some ideas and frameworks for avoiding the cycle of drama or for getting out of it with grace.
Dedeker: Okay. I just have to ask straight up the gate before we dig in to this. What actually is drama? I feel like I see it all the time. People on their Tinder profiles are like, "No drama", or "Only want a hook up that's drama free", or "I'm drama free", or things like that. I guess maybe we have a cultural sense of what drama is, but can we actually put that into words?
Jase: Blank stares. Blank stares from everybody.
Emily: I feel like we can all probably talk about specific instances of drama, but to classify it in a way, to qualify it, I don't know.
Dedeker: Okay. Well, I think, yes, the qualifiers, it's kind of like picking out what are the pieces that happen every story that we've heard that sounds like a bunch of drama. For me, I think there's this true line of a lot of telephone game. I think it seems to happen in a lot of story that have a lot of drama.
Jase: Miscommunication, you mean?
Dedeker: Well, miscommunication and a lot of, "Well, she told me that he said this, but then when I went and asked him about it, he said, 'No, I didn't say that. I actually said this.' Then he went and told her that, but then she was like, 'No, actually he said--'" I feel like that's--
Jase: It's like the middleman thing.
Dedeker: Yes. There's definitely a brokering middleman in some kind of situation that tends to come up. What else do the two of you see in drama situations?
Jase: Well, something I was going to bring up is that it tends to-- when people talk about relationship drama, it tends to have this kind of cyclical nature, that it's a particular conflict or a particular irritation or particular cycle keeps repeating over and over again, which I think is kind of an important part of it. Generally, it's like you have one fight over something once, people don't usually talk about like, "Oh, there's so much drama there", because it's done, but when it's like this thing keeps coming up-
Dedeker: It's going back and forth.
Jase: -it's going on and on and on, that's part of, I think, what we define as drama.
Emily: Yes. There's patterns involved in the conflict of a person's relationship.
Dedeker: Yes. What do you think, Em?
Emily: Well, and perhaps an instigator or-- I don't know. Someone--
Jase: Yes. That's an interesting thought.
Emily: Yes. Other people take on specific roles in drama and like you said, the middleman might be there, so there maybe a white shining horseman coming to--
Dedeker: This is more of a surrealist drama that you're describing.
Jase: I love it.
Dedeker: Oh, okay. I know. Okay.
Emily: The horse is a man and he's shining, and he's coming for you to save the day.
Dedeker: Are you trying to describe a white knight kind of situation?
Emily: Yes. That's what I meant.
Jase: Oh, a knight in shining armor.
Emily: He amalgamized into a horse.
Dedeker: Into this weird, absurdist play. I don't know what's going on in your relationship.
Emily: ...the holy painting. Yes. Anyways--
Dedeker: Okay. One other thing I want to throw into the conversation is specifically, on Tinder profiles or dating profiles and people are like, "No drama, please." I feel like that adds another nuance of-- we associate drama with a "serious relationship" or with emotions. Kind of the idea of, "I'm just looking for a friends with benefits, no strings attached, super easy fun, fab breezy" kind of--
Jase: Which equals no drama.
Dedeker: Which equals no drama, but then if you try to escalate it, or feelings get involved, then there's going to be drama. I think that's the nuance there. What do you all think?
Jase: Interesting. I think that's a fairly specific use of the term drama in that sort of casual hook up, no drama. I feel like that's-- maybe it falls into a slightly different category or definition.
Emily: Well, it's an interesting idea that with a long-term serious relationship comes drama or the potential for drama or someone being like, "That's going to be a dramatic situation waiting to happen."
Dedeker: Yes. I think I see it all the time, particularly with people who are unicorn hunting or looking for a third, a lot of request for no drama, or saying, "We're drama-free", which I, in my-
Jase: What does that mean?
Dedeker: -in my extremely biased state, I read that as people trying to call us out on our problematic behavior before. Don't you do that. Don't you get complicated on us.
Jase: Please don't stand up for any of your own feelings, and just satisfy our desires, and let's not worry about you so much.
Dedeker: I mean, that's my jaded cynical self-looking at that. I don't know.
Jase: Well, what I thought Emily was going to get out with saying there kind of needs to be a perpetrator, I was going to say maybe it's kind of that part of drama. Again, not in these specific situations of no drama online, but more of when we talk about like, "Oh, there's a lot of drama in my life right now", or, "I'm tired of all the drama. Whatever." There tends to be a sort of-- yes, a--
Jase: Yes. A certain [crosstalk] stuff happening to me.
Dedeker: Just a story, right?
Jase: A story, yes. A story we tell ourselves about what's being done to us, I guess.
Dedeker: There's a good guy and bad guy, or good side and a bad side, or stuff like that.
Dedeker: I guess maybe that's what elevates it into drama, because then it's like a TV show or like a movie, where there's this clear fight of good against evil to a certain extent.
Jase: I love that. I would make the argument that part of a lot of our problems in general in relationships is that movies have told us that good guys and bad guys are a thing that exist.
Jase: We try to adhere to those, or try to fit those roles into our own stories.
Dedeker: Yes. That makes sense.
Jase: Well, there's a whole field of people in psychology who've basically dedicated their lives to studying exactly this, that we just spent the past five minutes debating what is this, how does it work, all of that. The one that we want to talk about today is something that's called the Karpman drama triangle. When Dedeker first told me about this, I heard the Cartman, Eric Cartman from South Park, the Cartman drama triangle, so I was disappointed and or relieved to find out that it was not that. Anyway, Karpman, with the K, if you want to look it up. This theory was originally published in an article in 1968.
Emily:50 years ago.
Jase: Yes. Oh, yes. Good math, Emily [laughs].
Emily: Okay. Thank you.
Jase: I hadn't even put that together. That's great. Well, he was a student at Duke University, actually, which is one of the schools my dad went to. Fun times. Since that time, it's been developed out further into a more complete framework and a more complete theory. It's also been adapted and modified by other people, which Karpman himself, in some of his writings, really praises some of those different alternative ways of looking at it, and has stayed actively involved in that.
Something that we did want to point out is that it's very important with all of the language we're going to be using in this. To realize, when we say things like victim or perpetrator or persecutor or things like that, this particular framework was very intentionally designed not to be about truly a victim of assault or a persecutor or a perpetrator of a crime, right? That's not what this is about. This is for the most part about slightly lower stakes things.
Actually, the reason why Karpman made the choice to call it the drama triangle rather than the conflict triangle, which it sort of grew out of Conflict Theory, is that the victim in his model is not intended to represent an actual victim, but rather someone feeling or acting like a victim. In writing about this and putting in out there, he actually tried to create some notations, like using capital letters instead of lower case letters to differentiate between the role versus the actual real life thing, but no one actually adhered to those notations, and so he himself is like, "Well, that kind of got lost", but hat distinction is important to make. I wanted to give that little preface here.
Let's get into the triangle.
Emily: Let's get in--
Jase: Sorry. We said the same thing.
Emily: No, yes. I just wanted to point out the first role in the triangle, so one of three, and that is the role of the victim. Again, like Jase said, it's not necessarily a person being victimized. It's just the role that they're in in that moment in time that they perceive themselves being in, and these roles can flip and change throughout the conflict that's arising. That victim feels or acts like they are being victimized. Typically, the person in this role feels powerless, they feel oppressed, and sometimes on a really deep level, they feel ashamed.
Jase: Then, the next role going one direction around the triangle is the persecutor. This is the person that the victim feels victimized by. This person is cast as, I'm using drama terms here, they're cast as controlling and malicious. People in this role often act angry, defensive, and condescending. The persecutor can also be a situation. These all don't have to be people. This can also be a situation.
Emily: "I work too hard. I'm at work too much, they want too much of me."
Dedeker: It's like the idea for work or your workplace in general, being the persecutor rather than a particular person.
Jase: It's like the, again, with the whole good guy, bad guy thing we're talking about, that this is the bad guy role.
Dedeker: Then the third role, the third point in the triangle, is the role of the rescuer. The rescuer is usually a third party, outside the victim and the persecutor, who feels like they need to get indignant on the victim's behalf and they work really, really hard to help save the victim from their persecutor.
Emily: This is the shiny horseman.
Dedeker: The shiny horseman, yes.
Jase: The shiny white horseman. [laughs]
Dedeker: It can look many different ways I think with the rescuer, it can look like trying to give a ton of advice to the victim all the time like, "You need to do this and you do that. Why don't you do this? Why don't you do that?", and getting really stressed if the victim doesn't do any of those things. It can look like trying to intercede on the victim's behalf and actually get involved in the situation. Maybe go try to tell off the persecutor or something like that. Rescuing can look a number of different ways.
Jase: Well, like in the example of the situation, it could be if it is job, the rescuer could come along and be like, "Well, I'm just going to give you money so you don't need to work at that job anymore." or, "I'm going to give you this other job without actually maybe addressing--"
Dedeker: "I'm going to try to set you up with another job", or, "I'll try to forge you a bunch of job listings", stuff like that.
Jase: Yes, "I'm going to get you this connection". Yes.
Emily: We want to kind of talk about and go through the roles a little bit more in-depth. Kind of how one can change their viewpoints or their idea of the role into something else.
First, we wanted to say that each person often will have like a most familiar role that they go to, which we've found is called they're like starting gate positions. That's like their primary role, and it's kind of the place where they generally enter from or they get like hooked into the triangle and that may be something that just happens through a pattern. From that pattern, they generally get hooked into to the persecutor role or they're generally hooked into the victim role, et cetera. I've definitely heard people at work, for example, say like, "Well, I just like dating unavailable women", or, "I just like dating people who need to be saved", for example. They may be like hooked into the role of being the savior or the rescuer.
The starting gate position can often happen because of our families, kind of our origin story. We may have a role with which we most identify once we're on that triangle, but we probably are going to automatically rotate through all of the positions and go completely around the triangle. Sometimes even in a matter of minutes or even seconds, many times throughout the day or throughout the conflicts. I think it's important to stress something that we read was that regardless of where we started out on the triangle, all of the roles eventually end up in the role of victim. It's kind of inevitable, which I found really interesting. When you do look at it often, the persecutor will feel victimized as well, in a conflict situation.
Dedeker: Yes, and I think the rescue can end up feeling like a victim as well because they've got the feeling like, "I feel like I'm trying to help and nothing's working" or like,"This person is not following my advice" or, "What I'm trying to do is not effective."
Emily: "They don't care about me. They're not thankful enough for what I am doing for them."
Jase: Yes. I was reading an interesting thing, one of the things that Karpman wrote, which was about the rescuer coming along and trying to do all this stuff to help. At some point the victim switching to now the rescuer is the persecutor because you're the one telling me what to do or you are the one who set me up in this new situation that now that's bad which then, in turn, that rescuer, who then became the persecutor, now feels like the victim because they're being blamed. That's an example of quickly cycling through all three of the roles.
Dedeker: To build off of that and kind of give a real-world of maybe how that looks is that maybe you come home, you've had a really bad day at work, and maybe you hop right away. Again, maybe this is because of your baggage or because of how things were in your family growing up. You hop into the persecutor role by kind of taking it out on your partner at home. Maybe you've had a bad day, you're in a bad mood and you come home and the first outlet is trying to find a way to hop on something that your partner's done or not done or something like that.
That's maybe kind of hoping that they'll take a little bit of some blame and take some of the weight off of you. Or maybe you could come home and you could hop into the victim role of how hard your day was and how difficult it is and work in hope of getting them to rescue you, then maybe your partner gets into the rescuer role, but then because you're not soothed, or maybe you're not comforted, or you're not accepting any of the advice, then the rescuer turns into persecutor, because then it's like, "Well, screw you for not taking my advice. I'm here trying to help you. You won't accept it", and then you become a victim again. It can all just rotate very very quickly.
Jase: Another thing to mention here too that is worth pointing out is that part of the underlying idea behind this is that all of the roles are being done for a selfish motivation that we're not aware of. Even the rescuer, who tends to get portrayed as sort of the white knight, the altruistic one, actually is getting a reward for themselves by doing that. Oftentimes what that reward is, is that by focusing on someone else's problem and solving their problem, they get to ignore their own. They get to ignore their own insecurities or their own things like that. In that role too, it could be like I had this really stressful time at work, now I've come home and I'm to try to fix all my partner's problems or focus on their problems because then I get to feel good like I'm the successful put together one who's solving their problems. No matter what, all of these roles can grow out of that.
Dedeker: In the same way, the person who's the persecutor, it's not just because they want to be a bad guy or they want to hurt someone. Often, the persecutor can take on that role because they don't want to feel like a victim. Part of them trying to avoid feeling vulnerable or feel like a victim is to go into that more aggressive mode.
Jase: Yes, I just want to mention that it was specifically mentioned that people who are in the persecutor role or that they are sort of starting-gate role as Emily was pointing out, they will identify themselves as a victim. That's also, again, this isn't so cut and dry like we all know who we are. Which again I think the movies really lead us astray. The bad guy knows that he's a bad guy most of the time or at least seems to. [laughs]
Dedeker: That's true. Again, we'll give the same disclaimer is that this model can't be applied universally to every case, especially when there is life. I guess the best way to say it when there's "an actual victim" involved. If you've been mugged at gunpoint and you call the cops, you are the victim in that situation. The cops come in to rescue you and the mugger is kind of the persecutor in that situation. That's not a dysfunctional drama. That's kind of like these roles played out the way that they were supposed to. Someone who is the victim of abuse, of a physically abusive situation or any kind of abuse really, is a legitimate victim. It's not that because you're a victim of abuse means that you're trapped in this drama triangle.
Jase: It's not like it's your own fault.
Dedeker: Yes. However, you can bear in mind that abusers themselves are often very good at playing all three roles in this triangle and keeping the cycle moving very quickly so that the victim never stays in the victim role for very long. The actual victim can end up feeling like, "Part of this is my fault" or feeling like, "I need to save this person because I'm the only person who loves them and accepts them when they're angry or whatever". Again, just bear that in mind, this specifically Karpman's drama triangle, it's most useful when looking at conflicts that are a little bit lower stakes. Even if they feel higher stakes.
Dedeker: Usually when you're in the middle of them. Or situations that feel more murky and fuzzy. I think that's a part of drama too, is there's a lot of ambiguity going on that tends to get amplified by a lack of communication or again more of that telephone communication and that triangulation communication. These are the kind of situations that we want to apply this framework to.
Jase: Yes. Before we get into some of these tools about this, we wanted to talk about a few more personal experiences of how this sort of thing shows up either in our own lives or people's lives that we know. One way, like Emily was mentioning too, that we'll often learn our go-to role in childhood based on our family and how we grew up. This can be just a relationship with our parents or if we have siblings, we can absolutely get into these sorts of roles.
Often for example with myself and my brother, something would happen where one of us obviously would feel like the victim and be like, "He did whatever to me," whether it's the whole like not touching me in the car game, right? "He is not touching me," or, "Wait, what?" That whole thing, or, "He hit me," or whatever it is. Then you are going to the parents to be the rescuer. You are trying to seek out this intermediary to solve this problem for you. Depending on if you are the younger or the older brother, you might tend to have a role that you go to more often. That's a good example too of how you can flip through all these roles too.
Dedeker: My sister and I would start out fighting with each other about something. I would come running to mom and then mom's solution would be like send both of us to our rooms because usually it was for fighting or for like being brats to each other. She would send both of us to our rooms and then suddenly-- then we both be on the same team again.
Well, my sister would be trying to rescue me because I will be more upset. I'd feel more a victim and then suddenly mom is a prosecutor even started out with me and my sister being at each other's throats. With siblings and parents, it's really easy to see that psycho-popup.
Emily: Yes. Also, a child and two parents could be pitted against one another as well. A mom or a dad going to become the child's rescuer, like, "You said no video games until your homework was done." "Well, you are being too hard on Jimmy, why don't you let him play those video games." Don't worry about it and then the two parents are pitted against one another. It's stuff like that as opposed to people working together to seek a good compromised outcome.
Jase: Also, parents, even just a single parent, this can happen as well. Both in more normal benign ways and also more troubling ways. The more benign way might be one of the examples we gave about the situation. Maybe your kid is getting picked on at school or they're struggling in school or something. It's like, well, I'm going to go yell at the teacher about them not teaching my kid well enough or something like that can have varying levels of fairly benign to problematic or something where the parent is filling both the rescuer and the persecutor roles.
Where the parents the one being like, "You're not good enough but also you'll never get anywhere without me," and locking the child in that victim role is a way where someone can end up kind of stuck in that situation.
Emily: Yes, totally.
Dedeker: We can also see this come up between yourself, a romantic partner, and a friend or a family member. I see this all the time. When I was really young, my mom and my boyfriend had a falling out. When I look back on that now, I see, oh my goodness, how much I hopped between those. We all hopped between those three roles because it started out being like, well, my boyfriend said something snappy or nasty to my mom and I see my mom as the victim here, and I want to help. I feel caught in the middle of trying to rescue them both as it is from each other but then the conflict goes on long enough that I feel a victim because now I'm like, "I just want to smash both their heads together and tell them to wake up," and poor me, that I'm caught in the middle of this.
Then my boyfriend turned to the rescue of trying to comfort me and then mom seems the persecutor. This is a relatively common situation that people can get into not just with-- it could be something like that like a parent who doesn't get along with a romantic partner or doesn't approve of a romantic partner or a friend as well. Same thing that doesn't get along with a romantic partner or doesn't approve them or vice versa. That's the situation that's ripe for this drama triangle action.
Emily: Or metamours. It's like we've definitely experienced this and seeing this and it can happen even in triad situations or any configuration by it. We've definitely seen it a bunch in these situations with metamours where two people may be having a challenging time and then a metamour gets pitted against another person or any configuration of that.
Jase: It comes from a very noble place of like I want to protect my partner but it ends up in this drama triangle thing of, well, now I'm trying to make a bad guy out of someone else or tell you what to do and then I can become the persecutor and then become the victim. Again, everyone can rotate through these things again.
Jase: I also want to give a quick example. Actually, that's one that is pointed out in one of the PDFs available on Doctor Karpman's site where it's actually a one person triangle. This is about substance abuse. I'm going to take a more benign version here and just say drinking. I'm not even going to go with full-on narcotic addiction but imagine drinking here.
You're in the victim state because you're feeling sad, or you're feeling lonely, or you're feeling stressed out, or whatever it is. You rescue yourself through the use of substances, so drinking. You drink a lot. The next day you have a hangover and you feel even worse. That's like the persecutor is the situation of having a hangover and you're feeling bad which then leads you back into feeling bad. You're the victim again and then you go back around that cycle over and over again.
Jase: Just to point out more examples of how a situation can also be part of this or yourself, I guess.
Dedeker: Yes. Just the last thing to bear in mind in thinking about the drama triangle is-- one thing we love to do on this show is look at pop-psychology stuff and try to examine it because any psychological concept that becomes pop-psychology, that becomes a buzzword, or becomes a household word like an upset on narcissism or co-dependency or things like that, that it's very easy for the message behind it to get a little bit twisted unintentionally and get interpreted weird. When we were doing some research for this episode, I found a number of resources that talked about the Karpman Drama triangle and talked about each of the roles as though they were like different personality types as though almost kind of like attaching value judgments to each person's personality type.
Emily: Are you a persecutor?
Dedeker: Yes, exactly. "Are you always trying to rescue people or do you constantly pick up people's faults and persecute them? You got to stop that." It really misses the point that it's not necessarily like there's certain types of people who are always the victim, always the persecutor, always the rescuer. This is a dynamic. And again like Emily said at the beginning, that you may have an entry point that is the easiest entry point for you to go to but it's unlikely that you're going to stay there for very long because it's probably going to keep rotating.
Just to bear that in mind, we don't want any of our listeners to come away from this episode thinking that they've got to figure out what their drama personality type is. That's not the case.
Jase: We want to get into some actionable takeaways for getting out of this and for stopping this cycle, but first, we wanted to talk about an amazing way that you can get support in understanding these things for yourself, be able to have more in-depth discussion about all of these, as well as getting the occasional bonus content or invites to exclusive events, things like that. That is to become one of our patreons at patreon.com/multiamory. There at the $5 and up level, we have a private Facebook group and a private discourse forum where you can talk with people in a safe private space about any of these things. We have often a weekly episode recap discussion post that will come up after each of these where people can talk about their own personal experiences with it.
We also have video discussion groups at the $9 level or at the $7 level. you get ad-free episodes that also come out a day early. There's a lot of benefits that you can get, but the biggest one of those is the community and getting to come to cool events and stuff, and that you can do at patreon.com/multiamory.
Emily: Another way that you can support our show is by writing a written review on iTunes between now and October 1st, 2018 for those of you in the future who may be listening to you this
Emily: 2018. For every written review that we receive, we will give $5 to the Ali Forney Center, which is an amazing center in New York City to help give shelter to LGBTQ youths in New York. Something very near and dear to our hearts. It's an amazing center and opportunity for us to get to give back to the community in some way. If you want to help out with that, all you have to do is just write a written review on iTunes for us between now and October 1st, 2018, and we will give $5 for every single written review to the Ali Forney Center.
Dedeker: Then the last way that you can help support us this week is you can visit our sponsor. We all got some sexual shopping needs. Right?
Jase: Who doesn't?
Dedeker: If we're having sex, you got to buy condoms, you got to buy lube, maybe some sexy underwear.
Emily: I have two vibrators on the floor.
Dedeker: Yes. You got to continue building your vibrator collections [laughter]
Emily: Right. When that crap out on you inevitably after a year.
Dedeker: Yes, exactly. I guess it depends on the brand that you're going for. I've had some long lasting vibrators.
Emily: Hitachi does better.
Dedeker: Yes. Hitachi does some pretty good stuff, but I have also bought some crappy vibrators that last like six months. I'm like, "Come on, I wasn't even putting you through your paces just anyway."
Emily: [laughs] Very true.
Dedeker: If you do have some sexual shopping needs, go to adameve.com, and you can use our special promo code, which is "multi". What that's going to get you is it's going to get you 50% off almost any item in the store. I really mean that is almost pretty much any item in the store with I think a few exceptions. It's going to get you free shipping and they're going to throw in a free gift. The free gift rotates on the sex swings, sometimes it's just like a little gift basket kit of like lube and like cock rings and stuff like that. Anyway, it also will send a little kickback to us and you can use the promo code multiple times. Again, go to adameve.com, use promo code "multi", get your fat, old discount, get your free shipping, and give us a little bit of a kickback. We really, really appreciate it.
Emily: We wanted to get into the actionable takeaways for making the shift outside of this cycle of this triangle of doom that we got going on.
Dedeker: The triangle of horseman, and victims, and other fantasy creatures.
Jase: Yes, I know. I'm like a Griffin or like a Slytherin there.
Dedeker: Oh gosh, okay hang on.
Jase: is not a creature.
Dedeker: Okay. Hang on, so if the rescuer is like a white, shining horseman and then the victim is I'm thinking like a weird amalgamations of fantasy tropes, so it's like the victim is like a princess in a tower with long hair but also a mermaid's tail.
Jase: I was thinking of a mouse for some reason.
Dedeker: She's a mouse also.
Jase: Okay, got it.
Dedeker: Not that I wanted to throw gender roles on to this.
Jase: Yes, let's not throw gender into it.
Dedeker: Okay, a prince with very, very long hair.
Jase: It's a shiny, white, horse person is the rescuer?
Jase: And then a long-haired--
Emily: Very gender-neutral.
Jase: A long-haired prince.
Dedeker: A long-haired mouse prince.
Jase: Royal mouse person?
Jase: Gender neutral.
Dedeker: Okay, mouse royal person, yes.
Dedeker: And then the persecutor is--
Jase: Usually like a--?
Emily: Like an angel from the Bible.
Jase: Wow, gosh.
Dedeker: Geez, so like terrifying?
Emily: No, I said that because in Drunk Bible Study role, I've been talking about how weird the angels look in the Bible.
Dedeker: Yes, okay so it's like an angel but also a witch but also a wolf?
Jase: Yes, I was going to say wolf, yes.
Dedeker: Like a wolf-witch angel.
Jase: Right, yes.
Dedeker: Love it, okay.
Jase: Now that's going to be so much simpler to talk about.
Dedeker: I know, yes, now that we've settled that.
Emily: Okay. One of the things that you can do to take yourself out of this cycle and we talk about it a lot on this show is to set boundaries. Really this can change your perspective about what exactly the role that you're taking and if you are constantly finding yourself for example in the victim role, maybe you can be like, "Well, I'm going to set some boundaries." If you're like work is really tough, been there done that, I took three serving jobs at once and then I was like, "Oh my god, my life is so hard." I was like I'm not setting any boundaries for myself and maybe I should cut out some of those jobs, so I did that and then I stopped being a victim. It was nice.
Dedeker: You're no longer a long-haired mouse prince, I mean, princess, prince, princess, whatever person.
Emily: No, I am no longer the long-haired mouse prince person.
Emily: It can kind of, yes.
Dedeker: I was going to say, can we say prinx as a gender-neutral, a prinx?
Jase: A prinx.
Emily: I like that.
Jase: That's good.
Emily: All right.
Jase: Call it, yes.
Dedeker: Like P-R-I-N-X, a prinx?
Emily: Yes. Anyways, that just changed my perspective of feeling victimized and it also changed that idea that I had to sit there and be rescued by someone, like I would be able to bitch to you guys about it or to my nesting partner or whatever and just talk about how victimized I was by the situation. Instead, I was able to get myself out of that situation by changing my perspective and realizing I needed to figure some shit out.
Dedeker: I think that's actually a really good example I would love to come back to a little bit later in this episode when we talk about actually evolving those roles specifically. Another thing that's really useful for being able to break out of this cycle is just being able to recognize the pattern at all as being able to see. Some people who are listening to this, you'll think of drama situations in your life, it would be like instantly obvious like, "Oh my god, I can see it so clearly." Other people, it may not be obvious because maybe it may have switched so many times that you don't know, it may be in the midst of transition. I think that's the first thing. It's just being able to recognize the pattern and then also being able to recognize patterns within yourself, asking the question of like, "I think I'm in this role, why do I think I'm in this role? Have I been in this role many times before? Does this role feel familiar to me? Does this feel like a role I took on a lot in my childhood?"
I think even just assessing yourself and also maybe even assessing people in the situation with you, if they're people that you know very well, like a loved one, or a romantic partner, or family member, or something like that, you can apply what you know of them as well to see like, "It makes sense. My sister always played this role growing up, it makes sense why it's coming up again now and why I'm now playing this role." Again, just shining that light of self-awareness on it can really help to really be a really important first step in getting out of the cycle.
Emily: I was just going to give a real-life example. For example, I have a really hard time saying now and I think it's because of my need to be liked by people, so I feel if I say yes all the time, then people will like me more but then that puts me in a victim situation inevitably.
Jase: Yes, gosh.
Emily: Therefore, I take a million jobs at once and I can't handle all of them.
Dedeker: I know both me and Jase have switched off sometimes as the rescuer, trying to be like, "Emily needs to learn how to say no," or "I need to talk to her about how she's overworking herself. I need to save Emily from her three jobs somehow."
Jase: Right. I think that the beautiful irony of trying to teach someone to say no or not to let other people tell them what to do is you want to feel like, "Do what I'm telling you and say no more often," and you're just part of the--
Emily: You're just adding fuel to the fire as it were.
Jase: Which is a good example of that rescuer role, not actually doing a lot of rescuing, right? It's more of the appearance of it. Another thing to note here is that if you have recognized this, you've identified it, you can see that you're inside the triangle, that you're going through this and that you're aware of the roles and the switches and the consequences of this, it's important to realize that escape is available from any of the corners of the triangle. It's not like only one of those three branches can stop this. This actually comes from Dr. Karpman himself. He has little sayings for each of them.
Emily: Really? I thought you said Karpman there, I was like, "What?"
Dedeker: The funny thing I was going to point out with these little sayings that Dr. Karpman himself came up with that when they were written in a document, both Em and I thought for sure that Jase wrote these because they sound like a silly little idiom that Jase would make up, so I assume you loved all of these. Right?
Jase: I do. I would love them more if they were my own, I think, but they are pretty fun. Emily talked about the victim one actually of her realizing her escape from it was setting up boundaries, learning to say no, learning to change her situation into one that she wants instead of stressing it out when she doesn't. The victim, the saying that he came up with is, "I'd rather be getting than fretting."
Emily: It doesn't quite rhyme but okay.
Jase: Yes, it's true.
Dedeker: It makes sense though.
Emily: Maybe if you say, "Gettin' than frettin'."
Dedeker: I'd rather be gettin' than frettin'?
Jase: That's good, "I'd rather be gettin' than frettin'."
Dedeker: I like it.
Jase: Yes, perfect.
Dedeker: Okay, the idea is I'd rather be pursuing something than just sitting here wringing my hands, stressed about the situation?
Jase: Yes, like changing the focus to what you do want rather than everything that's happening to you that you don't want, right? That's, "I'd rather be getting than fretting."
Emily: Work smarter, not harder.
Jase: Yes. Speaking of smarter, the rescuer role, their little saying is "I'd rather be smarter than martyr."
Jase: Again, a little weird. I think I would have come up with better ones given the time.
Jase: "I'd rather be smarter than martyr."
Dedeker: That's supposed to be their escape.
Jase: That's their escape, is to remind themselves of that. Essentially, that means to not fall into that thing of like, "I'm going to sacrifice myself to try to solve this person's problem, put myself in the middle of someone else's fight, maybe expend my money and resources and energy on trying to fix something." Instead, I'm going to be smarter than that, meaning, finding a different way to help with that situation that's not martyring myself.
Jase: And then for the persecutor, it's, "I'd rather be mad than sad."
Dedeker: I don't understand it.
Jase: Here's my interpretation. It's like when you read the Bible and you have like a tiny little verse you can spend like an hour postulating what it might mean and the significance. "I'd rather be mad than sad," I think the way I interpret this is it's that often the persecutor does their persecuting because they're upset about something. Either someone is doing something that they don't like. They're going to try to control that person, to get them to do the thing that they do want. It could be acting out in violence or frustration because they're frustrated about other things. Remember, again, the persecutor generally thinks of himself as a victim.
I'd rather be mad and sad, it's like I would rather just embrace the fact that I'm upset about this rather than doing something that I'm going to regret, which is going to make me sad and end up continuing the cycle. Maybe the weakest of the three.
Emily: Yes, each...
Jase: Yes. In a different example, actually talking about things like the cycle of violence, for example, that's another one where a person goes around, where maybe they were in a violent situation, and they're the victim of that. Then to rescue themselves is sort of through this pent up aggression and frustration with the situation, getting stronger, becoming more powerful, or putting yourself around people weaker than you. Then you become a persecutor acting out in violence against those people to assert your position, which you then feel bad about. Then you end up back in this victim role. Maybe other people seek retribution, right? You can end up in this cycle.
In that example, he talks about when you're at that persecutor point, that's your time to escape. That's when you are in the power position to just walk away in the way than the other two have to find a way to work and put up boundaries or something. From that persecutor section, that's your opportunity to walk away.
Jase: Which I think I'd like to explore this more at some point, probably not in this episode. I think that in again, not talking about for real abusive situations, but in relationships that have a lot of drama and just are not a very healthy relationship, that when you get to that point where you could be the one who's going to go into the, I'm telling you about all the things you're doing wrong and all the ways that you're hurting me or hurting our relationship, that instead that might be your chance to go, "I'm in this position and instead of doing that, I'm going to put up my boundaries and I'm going to leave this relationship." Anyway, something to maybe theorize about later.
Emily: Yes. There's apparently other therapeutic models of the triangle. Those have been developed over the years. For example, there's something called the winner's triangle. [laughs].
Jase: Way better then the drama triangle.
Emily: I know, the winner triangle and the drama triangle. The winner's triangle was published by Acey Choy in 1990. It works to show how someone can change their behavior from any points in the triangle to avoid creating drama and continuing the cycle. I don't exactly know how, he didn't elaborate on that.
Jase: Well, it's very similar to the next thing we're going to talk about. I just wanted to acknowledge there have been several of these-
Jase: -made over time like I mentioned at the beginning.
Emily: Exactly. Okay.
Dedeker: As we said, this is 50 years old. There's been a lot of time for other people to pick it up and run with it and develop their own theories about it. The one that we're going to talk about, that I think is getting the most play and is the most well known is this modified drama triangle called the empowerment dynamic, sometimes referred to as TED.
Emily: Not to be confused with...
Dedeker: It just makes me think of TED Talks. I prefer to just call it the Empowerment Dynamic. This was a modified version of the Karpman drama triangle that was created by David Emerald. Basically, what it does is it takes every role and just kind of makes what I think is a relatively simple psychological shift to change the way those roles function in order for it to be less dysfunctional as a cycle.
For instance, the victim rather than continuing become the victim, they then become the creator. The creator is someone who works proactively to create a positive or at least a tolerable outcome to a conflict or to whatever's causing the drama. The creator rather than feeling helpless, rather than feeling victimized in the situation, they're able to take ownership of their power and their ability to make a choice and also to respond as well. I think Emily, your example is a great example of that. First, going along, going on feeling like, "Oh my God, my life is so hard, I'm so tired, I'm so overworked. I can't deal with this," and then being like, "Oh, actually, I need to step up here." Literally, you became more of the creator of your situation of I can make choices and I can move things around so that I don't feel this way.
Jase: You almost could say they're more focused on getting instead of fretting.
Dedeker: Yes. You could say that.
Emily: I suppose one could. Yes.
Dedeker: Can you tell us about the other one, the next role?
Jase: The next one is the persecutor role. The persecutor becomes the challenger. Essentially, the challenger is about being honest even when it's difficult. Specifically giving directions and telling others what we want rather than blaming them for doing things wrong or invalidating them. It helps them to be successful and to give you what you want. It actually enables them to do that and it feels a lot better to do. This is something that we also talk about a lot on this show. The idea of rather than being upset, that no one is treating you the way that you want to, or giving you the support that you want or caring for you in a certain way. Instead, doing this thing that seems so terrifying to do sometimes, which is just to say, "Hey, this is what I would like, this is what I want", in a proactive way. Helping them to do those things, as opposed to waiting for them to fail you and then getting angry at them. That actually helps to build up rather than put others down.
Dedeker: I think the important part of that is that the challenger is totally honest. As we all know, honesty can be uncomfortable to hear. Honesty can create conflict. Honesty can create uncomfortable feelings. If there's honesty involved, that means that the creator who was a victim, the creator is actually able to make informed decisions. I think that's an important part of eliminating drama to a certain extent.
Jase: Also, to go back to the idea that conflict is not inherently bad. Just this drama getting caught in the cycle is the thing that we want to avoid here. Like Dedeker was saying, that can be challenging to hear. Also again, this gives everyone a choice. This is something that they don't talk about in the empowerment dynamic, but I think is very valuable, is again, with the idea of boundaries. That this is the challenger's opportunity to say, "This is the way I would like things to be, this is how I would like to be treated or what I would like you to do". Then the victim, who's now the creator, getting to say, "Well, this is what I want to create, I have a choice in how I respond". That choice for both of those people might be, well, this isn't going to work out then.
Emily: That was deep.
Emily: Truly, I liked all of that. That really makes you be, oh man, you do have a say in all of this. Nobody is the bad guy, it's just two people deciding what they want and addressing it. Maybe it's not going to work out if you are honest about your feelings.
Dedeker: It's true though. I don't know. I feel we can keep coming back to that on this show. There's so many people who are in situations of feeling like, I feel so helpless. I can't get my partner to do this or to do that. My partner won't do this or won't do that for me. Not realizing you got a choice in this situation. You actually, you can leave. I mean, yes, I get it. In so many situations, it's really difficult to leave, especially if you have kids, shared finances, or nowhere to go. Yes, those are shitty situations.
Again, if we're looking again, at the more low stakes conflict, it is or low stakes drama, relatively speaking, that is always a choice. There are some clients that I work with who don't even want to hear about that choice. Then they literally are like, "No, that's not a choice. That's not a choice. That's a choice. No, I can't even talk about that. I can't even think about that."
Jase: Well, I think also Emily was pointing out earlier that we learned these roles in childhood. At that point, you don't have that choice.
Dedeker: It's true.
Jase: Right? You can't leave as a kid, right? Not until maybe you're a little bit older, then even then, like that.
Emily: You can emancipate yourself. That's a big, a big deal.
Jase: Right. That's a very difficult situation, and is the reason why we're doing our fundraising thing right now for the Ali Forney center is this those are examples of where the situation was so bad that these LGBTQ youths have had to leave their families, but they're getting killed or they're getting abused or attacked on the streets. There needs to be resources for that. Again, it's very different in your relationship. Now, you might think it's very hard to think about ending this relationship but relatively speaking, it's not so much. We learned that idea of being trapped when we were kids.
Emily: Yes. Okay, we're going to talk about the last role. That's where the rescuer actually becomes the coach. They'll ask the creator now, the former victim but now the creator, they'll ask them questions to help them discover and achieve what they want. They're going to be more maybe a Triforce 2 and Triforce 3 instead of just being, I'm going to give all this advice. They ask questions like, How do you think you're going to do this? How will you do it?
There's supporting, they're resisting, they're kind of like in acting. I just thought of it in acting when you have these directors of give you a line reading, like to me that's more being the rescuer. As opposed to the coach who says, "Okay, let's ask some questions to kind of formulate what I want you to get at," but you come to that yourself. I'm not spoon feeding it to you.
Jase: Yes. That's great. I love that analogy.
Dedeker: Yes. That analogy is good.
Emily: Thank you.
Dedeker: If we'll keep riding the wave of that analogy, if a directors working overtime to give all of their actors line readings, that's extra stress for the director too, that's the director doing more than what the director's job should be and that director is probably, again just--
Emily: Feeling victimized.
Dedeker: Maybe feeling victimized, but also feeling like I really have to stress to pull this together and tell everyone how they need to be acting. I think that same thing can happen with people in the rescuer role is they can feel like I'm so exhausted and this isn't even technically my conflict, like I'm not even the one who's in conflict here, but I feel really stressed and exhausted and burnt out by dealing with this situation. That's why I think the shift into the coach role is so important because it does require trusting that like they're going to work it out. I can be here to support, I can be here to help these people figure out what it is that they actually want, but I don't have to be in the middle of it actually solving everything.
Emily: Yes, I totally-- Almost like a humility to it of acknowledging that I might not know the best solution to your problem.
Dedeker: That's huge.
Emily: That's not something I may have mentioned in this, but that just occurred to me.
Dedeker: Yes. That's huge.
Emily: I think the main takeaway here with all of these three like changes in a reference point of what these things look like is that the whole thing is kind of reframed so that there's no villain in this situation and that everyone has agency as opposed to like, there's a persecutor, there's someone who's going to come save me, and I'm the victim, or however it is configured.
Dedeker: Yes. Definitely. For those of you listening, I hope that this has been really illuminating for you. I know for me that when I learned about it, it just blew my mind because for me it was really that waking up moment of like, oh my goodness, I can see so many situations in my life in the past going all the way back to childhood where it suddenly makes sense all the different roles that were at play and the cycle.
It's really helped me in my coaching practice as well to be able to not only see what's going on in my clients lives and how the cycle is perpetuating, but even how I react as a coach. That if I'm getting too much into rescuer mode, I get really, really stressed. Also knowing that if I'm really stressed about a particular client, that's my key. I'm like, I think I'm trying too much to be a rescuer and need to be an actual fricking coach like the empowerment dynamic says. Again--
Emily: Be a good director and not a bad director.
Dedeker: Exactly. Be a good director and not a bad director. Again, we definitely love to hear from all of you. Have you noticed this in your lives? Have you noticed a particular role that you end up playing? Was there anything particularly useful for you in breaking out of this cycle? Definitely let us know.