fight and watcher

Image by Fiona McGinty

There are moments in our relationships when we feel like we are going round in circles, or that “I’m tired of this game”. And yet we’re not clear how to stop doing this.

One way of seeing clearly what is going on at these moments is Stephen Karpman’s Drama Triangle. The triangle has three points – each one being a standard role in a drama. These three standard roles are: persecutor, victim and rescuer. Which I explored in a previous post.

The question is: what to do. I may know the role I like. I may see how I am switching from one role to the other. I know I don’t like it. But what is the alternative?

One alternative is called The Winners Triangle. This was probably invented by Transactional Analysts (a kind of psychotherapist) in Australia – but last I heard no one could remember who by. The three points of The Winners Triangle are: assertiveness, vulnerability and caring.

These three qualities (assertiveness, vulnerability and caring) are the ‘real core’ of the three roles (persecutor, victim and rescuer). These qualities are what we are – we aren’t playing a role when we are assertive, vulnerable or caring – we are really relating to what is going on around us.

If we feel that we are stuck in a drama we can move out of it by moving to one of these qualities.

Questions for reflection.
Do I feel that I am stuck in a drama (persecutor, victim and rescuer)?
Which of the three qualities (assertiveness, vulnerability and caring) am I most comfortable with?
Which would be easiest to be when the drama happens next time?

Other posts in this series:

The Drama in our Relationships

The Drama in our Relationships: Why Do We Do It?

8 Comments to “The Drama in Our Relationships: From Roles to Qualities”

  1. DrSteve says:

    By and large I find this to be a powerful thought:
    Assertiveness, vulnerability and caring…if we feel that we are stuck in a drama we can move out of it by moving to one of these qualities.

    That’s in (strange to say it) relatively ordinary dramas, though, don’t you think? If the drama is with someone with a serious personality disorder this idea could land one in the soup.

    Get vulnerable with a narcissist and they’ll stomp on you; get caring with a anti-social and they’ll exploit you; get assertive with a borderline and they’ll accuse you today or tomorrow of attacking them.

    Having said that, I do imagine that the very act of stepping and asking the question you raise and then trying on the various options for size can help one to become unstuck. (As long as it’s not from the frying pan…)

  2. Evan Hadkins says:

    Absolutely true.

    Choosing which quality is appropriate is learned. The assertion of leaving is one option that is well worth considering too. Much unnecessary suffering has been caused by the victims of Domestic Violence being told to be assertive.

    None of the qualities is right or wrong. And none of them are necessarily smart in a particular situation.

    I think your comment is spot on.

  3. it was eric berne who came up with transactional analysis, and he was canadian. another person who has done amazing work with this kind of thing is virginia satir.

    seeing our relationships with others as a drama is very powerful. it gives the kind of detachment that is so necessary. i guess in a way as long as we unconsciously enact the drama rather than seeing that we are in the drama, we are always a bit of a victim, even when we’re the persecutor.

  4. Evan Hadkins says:

    Hi Isabella,

    It was indeed Eric Berne who came up with Transactional Analysis. It was Stephen Karpman who contributed the Drama Triangle. You will occasionally see it called the Karpman Drama Triangle.

    I really like the thought that even if we’re playing the persecutor we are still a victim in a sense. Very well put.

    Thanks for your comment and taking the time to comment.

  5. Adelaide says:

    I had no idea there was an Australian alternative to the Drama Triangle.

    The idea has become very current and very explicit for me in recent times. (by recent, I mean yesterday, though I was aware of the Drama Triangle since about 2003).

    I think the Australian Transactional Analyst who came up with The Winners’ Triangle was Tony/Tom Gilbert, in one of his workshops. It is a growth industry in Western Australia.

    Also I would be most comfortable with vulnerability.

  6. Evan says:

    Hi Adelaide, thanks for the information. It’s good to know that it is a growth industry in WA, very encouraging to hear. Thanks for your comment.

  7. Adelaide says:

    I was very foolish when I wrote down the name.

    I was right that it was Tony, but it was actually Tony White, not Tony Gilbert.

    He is the one who writes the ‘graffiti’ blog, on which you have sometimes commented in the past. ‘Kahless’ is there too, and he had a picture of him coming home from rounders.

    Probably one criticism of White’s blog is that it may use fetishist images of underaged people. Yes, I can appreciate the metaphors of the anal and oral stages as observed by Freud and afterwards.

  8. Evan says:

    Hi Adelaide, thanks for the clarification. I quite like the Graffiti blog, good reflections on the business of being a therapist and how therapy can help I think. Thanks again.

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