How to Escape the Drama Triangle

07 November 2018 by Shweta Jhajharia

Imagine a child walks into his house and he’s obviously upset. His mum tries to step forward to help and starts suggesting things he should do to feel better.

The child rejects her. She gets upset. Her partner comes home. There’s more tension. Everything starts to unravel.

A similar situation happens in your business – your team members may often react in ways you don’t respond well to and it becomes a bigger drama than it should be.

However, there’s an easy way to escape this…

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You can see that the Karpman Drama Triangle is such an easy trap to fall into – but it is also actually an easy one to escape.

Drama is different from conflict. Conflict in your team can actually be great, and useful when directed well.

However, when you get drawn into a toxic cycle around this triangle, it doesn’t help your business grow and it will contribute to an overall negative culture in your business.

Master the art of this triangle in every aspect of your life and not only does it become easier to manage your relationships with people, but you and the people you interact with will all get much more out of your relationships.

Prefer to read rather than watch and listen? No problem – here’s everything I said in the video as text:

What happened there?

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to help the other person and you had the best intentions in your mind and heart and something triggered? And the entire conversation went in the wrong direction and you just wondered what happened there? Then emotions start flying and people start feeling in a certain way and you’re kind of lost and overwhelmed.

As to what did you do wrong… well, it’s bound to happen because when you’re dealing with human beings, all kinds of biochemical reactions and emotions come into play.

The Karpman Drama Triangle

I wanted to share with you a very simple yet very powerful framework which exists in behavioural science and it’s called Karpman Drama Triangle. Once you understand this drama triangle, you can see it happening around you and how you being a part of it. This whole emotional vortex that exists is unnecessary and is purely draining, energy-wise and emotions wise.

Now how Karpman Drama Triangle looks like is something like this:

You’ve got three main positions: Persecutor, Rescuer and Victim. And as it says, Persecutor is the one who gets upset, who thinks that things should be handled in a certain way. Rescuer obviously wants to save people, wants to help people, and in fact loves the recognition or the attention they get for doing that. And Victim is a person who feels that things are happening to this person and is helpless, and is just suffering. That’s how, at least, the person is thinking.

Now I’ll give you an example so that it just becomes a little clearer to you.

Family Drama

So imagine a child walks into the house and has got something playing on his mind. Mum (or any parent, I’m just using mum as I’m a mother myself) comes forward as a Rescuer and says, what happened? And tries to help. As you can imagine.

The child doesn’t want the help at that time so acts a little rudely.

Mum is doing so much for the child already. She feels that she’s being Victimized and she’s trying to help. So from being a Rescuer mum moves to being a Victim and the child is being a Persecutor.

Mum, obviously being the authority figure, gets upset with the child and shouts or kind of shows those stern feelings, and starts Persecuting.

The child all of a sudden from Persecutor becomes the Victim.

Mum is now sitting here in the evening. The spouse walks in and obviously, there’s a discussion.

The spouse tries to be the Rescuer. Again the Victim mum is sitting there and saying I do so much, what’s gone wrong?

And as you can imagine the whole family environment has gone out of the window and there is a big drama happening within the household with no positive outcome nearby.

And Business Drama

Similarly, in the business situation, as you can imagine; you’re in the best mindset, you try to give some feedback to your team member, your team member feels you have not really understood where he or she was coming from, and so is a Victim.

They ignore your advice and what you asked him or her to do. You obviously get upset, you start Persecuting.

The team member maybe responds back or shows some kind of body language. You all of a sudden start feeling like a Victim.

You go back home, share with your spouse saying, “Look I tried to do so much and my team doesn’t pay attention or respect me.” And again, as you can see, the whole thing is going on and on.

Sometimes I’ve seen business owners giving some very strong feedback to their team member but then they get so conscious of the team member feeling bad, so they all of a sudden move to being a Rescuer. They’re trying to help the team member, the team member then starts Persecuting in his or her own style. The business owner starts feeling like the Victim and so on and so forth. You get the point right?

You see how draining and how wasteful this whole interaction is just because people are stuck in this triangle, moving from one position to the other without even being aware of how they’re coming across. But everyone is right and has his or her own capacity in their own mind.

Escape the Drama

The reason I’m sharing with you this particular framework is because I want you to be very observant, to be very attentive when this is happening or has the potential of happening, and as soon as you can see that one might be getting sucked into this whole Karpman Triangle. The best way to get out of it, whether you’re dealing with your loved one or you’re dealing with your team members, or with anyone, is to try not to be the Rescuer. Try not to be the Victim or be that Persecutor.

Do this by asking the other person one question: How can I help you?

Remember that mum? What if she had asked the child, “How can I help you?”

“Leave me alone Mum.”

“All right that’s fine. Then whenever you’re ready we’ll talk.”

Right, so there is a nice, at parity kind of relationship.

And your team member – yeah you’re giving feedback, but at least ask people or tell them, give them the context and tell them how you’re trying to help them.

Or even before you do that, ask them what they think about it and then say, “How can I help you?” Or, “Is it OK if I help you?”

Take permission.

When people give you permission to help them you’ll be surprised at how they stop feeling like a Victim. Then there is parity, the word is “parity”. They feel that they have autonomy and equality in that status, so they’re more willing to receive that feedback that you’re trying to give.

And they’d be thankful, they’ll do something about it.

But first, take permission before you start being the Rescuer or Persecutor and therefore end up feeling like a Victim if people are not paying attention to what you’re saying. So the best way to get out of your Karpman Drama Triangle is to ask the question.

How can I help you?


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Shweta Jhajharia

Shweta Jhajharia is one of the leading authorities on Business Value Building and the creator of the unique 6M Model. Shweta is widely respected as an impactful, intelligent and results orientated professional who helps business leaders unleash their potential to reach meaningful, higher objectives. This realisation of potential and maximisation... Read more