Is there someone in your life who’s always creating drama?
You know, the person who constantly overreacts to everyday events and behaves in a melodramatic, attention-seeking way.
They always have a crisis going on: always someone to be angry with, something to complain about, something to cry about.
Peace and balance are not qualities that you can readily associate with this person. In fact, conflict with others seems to be their natural default position.
If you’ve ever associated with someone who loves drama, you will know just how stressful and exhausting it can be.
That person has the power to suck the life out of you if you let them.
They seem to be capable of keeping you in a permanent state of reaction, sucking you into a cycle of constantly trying to appease, argue or defend yourself.
So how do you deal with people like that?
How do you ditch the drama and get some peace?
It isn’t easy, but you start by becoming consciously aware of the power games that are being enacted, and you simply refuse to ‘play’.
Acquiring an understanding of the ‘game’ gives you the option of changing your behaviour and pulling yourself out of this unproductive way of interacting with others.
The psychiatrist Steven Karpman has created a model that helps to explain the dysfunctional games that people play in their relationships. You may have heard of it. It’s called the Drama Triangle.
The triangle shows what happens in a relationship, or during an interaction, between two people where there is some degree of conflict.
A person can adopt different roles during the interaction, and there are three different archetypes: the Persecutor, Rescuer and Victim. (It is important to remember that we are not labelling the person but the role they are playing.)
These three roles interlock and create power imbalances; there is always someone at the top who has more power and someone at the bottom who has less power.
And what is more, the different roles aren’t fixed. A person can easily and quickly move around the triangle, changing their position during the course of a single conversation.
In this model, the Persecutor takes the ’I’m ok, you’re not ok’ position. They will bully, snipe, bitch and intimidate others.
The Rescuer also takes on the ’I’m ok, you’re not ok’ position but in a different way. The Rescuer is the one who takes care of others, whether they want looking after or not. S/he presumes that others do not have the ability to do things for themselves.
The Victim takes on the ’I’m not OK, you’re OK’ position. They see themselves as helpless, and consequently look to others to take care of them. This powerless position also often invites persecution.
Here’s a fictional conversation between two people that demonstrates the triangle at work.
Jay: Why are you late again? You’re always late for everything, and I’m sick of it! (Persecutor)
Ashwin: I’m really sorry; I forgot to set my alarm. I didn’t mean to. Don’t be mad at me. (Victim)
Jay: Well, you’re so stupid and inconsiderate. I’ve no idea why I put up with you! (Persecutor)
Ashwin: It’s not as if you’re perfect. You better stop shouting at me, otherwise you’ll regret it! (Persecutor)
Jay: OK, OK. Calm down. I didn’t mean to upset you. I’ve just had the worst morning, and I had to bust a gut to get here on time. (Victim)
Ashwin: Well, the thing is, it’s not like you ever do anything to help me, so what do you expect? (Persecutor)
Jay: OK, listen, from now on I’ll set your alarm for you and make sure you get out of the house on time. (Rescuer)
Note how the positions changed, and how both participants moved around the triangle taking on different roles as the conversation progressed. When one player shifts position, it invites the other player to move too.
So, what is all this in aid of?
People dance round this triangle for the same reason that we all play relational games; we want to get our needs met, but we are often too scared to ask directly for what we want.
Asking for what we want, being transparent and intimate with others, feels dangerous and carries the risk of rejection, so we take another route. We engage in game-playing in an attempt to manipulate others into giving us what we want, without explicitly asking.
We learn these games as children, either by watching others act out the drama or by figuring it out for ourselves. ‘I have to bully … or play victim … or be overly nice for people to give me what I want.’
If we are honest with ourselves, we have all participated in this game many a time. The underlying intention is always to manipulate, control or hurt the other person into getting our ego needs met, although we may not be aware that we are doing this at the time.
Persecutors try to gain power and control by pushing others into the Victim role.
Victims try to get sympathy and co-operation by pushing others into the Rescuer role.
Rescuers try to pacify and disarm Persecutors by being extra caring and overly nice to them, which can either result in further persecution or the Persecutor backing down into the Victim role.
And so the drama continues, creating misery for all involved.
The result is endless discord.
So how do you step out of this self-perpetuating craziness? Here are some steps you can take to avoid getting sucked in:
First of all, recognise when people are engaged in this game. Notice the minute you or someone around you starts to persecute, play victim or rescue.
Be willing to acknowledge the role or roles you are playing. It only takes a split second to be triggered and pulled into the game. Notice when you have been triggered and have taken on one of these roles.
Be willing to look at the payoffs you get from behaving that way. Why are you engaging in the drama? What are you trying to achieve? Is it attention, validation, love, power, control?
Step back. Disengage. Observe. Don’t react when you are being provoked. Just breathe.
Take responsibility for your behaviour by responding from a neutral place as opposed to a defensive one. Use statements like “That is an interesting viewpoint”…”OK, I get that is your opinion; you’re entitled to that.”…”Ok, sure; you may be right.”
- And, if taking a neutral stance doesn’t shift the interaction to a more positive one, then simply excuse yourself and walk away.
Disengaging from drama ultimately means learning to be assertive about what you need.
It means refusing to be superior or inferior.
It means stopping the ’poor me’ game, stopping ‘the blame’ game, and stopping the ‘I can fix you’ game.
We do this by asserting what we want instead of persecuting, being vulnerable but not a victim, and being caring but not overstepping the boundaries.
Jay could have prevented the drama from occurring with the following statement:
“When you turn up late I feel angry and annoyed. It makes me feel like you don’t value my time or me. In future I would like you to turn up on time or ring me to let me know you’ve been held up”.
This would have allowed Ashwin to think about his behaviour and how it has impacted on Jay. Out of habit Ashwin could still have responded as the Victim or Persecutor, but if Jay continued to respond in a non-defensive way, Ashwin would have eventually run out of things to say.
It takes two to act out drama, so if one person refuses to play the game the drama simply fizzles out.
Remember, drama does not just walk into your life.
Either you create it, invite it, or associate with it. It is a choice you make, albeit sometimes an unconscious one.