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How to diffuse a drama triangle.

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Ah, drama. As much as we might say we dislike it, there’s something in the human brain that feeds off drama.

When things become “dramatic”, hierarchical roles come into play. These roles were defined in the 1960’s by psychiatrist Stephen Karpman. He defined these roles as:

  • Persecutor: the role of pointing the finger and casting blame
  • Victim: the role of feeling persecuted
  • Rescuer: the role of stepping in and trying to help, or rescue the situation

For an interesting dialogue that exemplifies these roles, check out this article from LeadershipTribe.

I call these roles hierarchical because within the power dynamic of a tribe (which part of your brain is obsessed with), the human brain can assign a level of power to each of these roles. Interestingly, each of these roles can convince themselves that they have the most power in the moment. Brains are weird!

Anyway, if you’ve ever been caught up in a drama triangle, you might recognize how unconstructive it truly is, and how much time it can waste. It devolves into an interaction of defending one’s position, rather than actually achieving the outcome that the drama is likely happening over in the first place.

So how does one diffuse all this drama?

Be the diffuser

First, you have to make the conscious decision to no longer be a corner of the triangle. That can be hard, because there is likely a natural tendency in your brain to drop into one or more of those roles. But if you’re going to diffuse the drama, you have to step outside of it and get objective.

See the drama for what it is

Think of a peanut M&M. Imagine that the peanut represents and objective or result. All the chocolate surrounding the peanut? That’s the drama. Drama can become layered and nuanced, thick and coated with a hard shell, and it obscures the peanut that is the actual thing you’re after. Often in interpersonal dynamics there’s something that’s desired, let’s say recognition of a job well done. Well, the victim (first corner) who doesn’t receive the recognition may become passive aggressive about their pain. The person who takes on the persecutor role may question why the victim needs the validation in the first place, and turn the tables on them. The rescuer may jump in to mediate the situation. But the peanut at the center is simply saying “good job” to someone. Easy peasy, but not when it gets coated in chocolatey drama.

Create clarity

If you recognize what the heart of the matter (the peanut) is, create clarity about that. Using the example from above, if you’re able to recognize that the person in the victim role is simply seeking a bit of recognition, you might be able to diffuse the drama in an instant by telling them they did good work. All dramatic circumstances have their peanut of truth at the center of things. If you recognize it, point it out. If the other corners of the triangle aren’t willing to see things clearly? Just remove yourself from the triangle. If that creates its own drama? Once again recognize the peanut of truth (hurt feelings), let it go, and move along.

Final thoughts

A triangle is a triangle because it has three corners. It needs three corners to be a triangle. Take a corner away and it becomes a few lines. The strength of a triangle comes from those lines being connected. The strength of a dramatic dynamic comes from the participants feeding off each other.  Take a corner away and the dynamic falls apart, which is a good thing in this instance.

Do you often find yourself caught up in dramatic dynamics that are detrimental to your well being? I can help. Click here to schedule a time to chat.

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