Who hasn’t heard someone say, “The drama at this company is exhausting,” or “Here comes the holidays — get ready for family drama!”

Funny, but we usually hear it as someone else’s issue. Chances are, I am (and you are) just as likely to be viewed by others as playing one of the drama roles, or at least perpetuating the drama, at any given time. The essence of the book, The Power of TED* by David Emerald, is how to take responsibility for your own part, which ultimately may make a positive impact on others. But no promises, since the only one we can truly change is ourselves. As a leader, you’ve probably faced that unfortunate fact. So why not just work on yourself and reduce the stress?

The Drama Triangle is a psychological term that was first described by Stephen Karpman in the 1960s. It’s a model showing dysfunctional patterns of human interactions. There are three roles: Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor. Although all three are “roles” and none may be true to who we really are, we all get caught in this insidious cycle — and it’s hard to escape.

The Victim sees themselves as having no power over their circumstances or in their relationships with others. They complain and blame but do not take responsibility for changing their situation.

The Rescuer sees themselves as helpers, a noble role, but their hidden agenda is to be seen and valued. Their help, usually in the form of advice, does not actually support the victim but adds to their sense of powerlessness.

The Persecutor is a person or a situation. The Prosecutor threatens and attacks others, reducing confidence and a sense of control.

Sadly, the dreaded Drama Triangle is all too common, even when people are aware of it. (Back to my point earlier about how we point the finger at others, which is the persecutor stance on the Triangle.) Here are 3 widely known facts about the dreaded Drama Triangle:

1. Most of us will find ourselves playing in each of these roles. We are not limited to one.

2. We each have our preferred role or entry point role, but with the right partner, we will cycle through the whole triangle.

3. All three roles are actually victim-based.

Read this article for a more in depth understanding.

There Is Hope

The Power of TED* offers a positive alternative, really an antidote, to the Drama Triangle. Karpman’s model is helpful in pointing out the pattern, but the only solution before TED* was to be aware of it, do a lot of therapy (and I’m all for that!), and do your best to step out of your typical entry point on the Triangle when it happens. It’s all about understanding your trigger points!

The central role in The Power of TED* is Creator. All three roles actually embody Creator characteristics, just as all three roles in the drama triangle are victim oriented. Author David Emerald explains:

You could think of Creator as the light and Victim as shadow. While the Victim is powerless, a Creator claims and taps into his or her personal power in order to choose a response to life circumstances… a Creator is vision-focused and passion-motivated. To really live into your Creator self, you’ll have to do the inner work necessary to find your own sense of purpose and passion — whatever touches your heart and holds meaning for you. Adopting a Creator stance begins simply by making a choice. You decide and declare that in your heart, mind, and soul, you really are a Creator, not a Victim.

Note to my faith-based friends: This model is not meant to usurp biblical (or other sacred texts’) views of God as Creator. As a fellow believer, I support and believe that God made us in his image and calls us to lead, create, build, make a difference, and be a light. I see this model as consistent with God’s challenge to us.

The Challenger role provokes others to take action. Unlike the persecutor and rescuer, the Challenger believes in others’ ability to use their own power. Challenger combines confrontation with compassion. Challenge provides constructive, sometimes provocative insights to deepen awareness and evoke others to action. We all need to be challenged, at times, to remember our strengths and to recover belief in ourselves. That’s what good friends, coaches, and therapists are for!

For the transformation from the Drama Triangle paradigm to the Creator stance, two shifts must happen:

One is intrapersonal, meaning within yourself. This is where you shift how you relate to your life experiences. The second shift is interpersonal, which is how you interact with others. It takes self-awareness of the roles you play with others and why.

The Coach stance replaces the victim’s rescuer. A rescuer sees people as weak and draws power from others. A coach sees others as capable and able to create new realities. A coach supports, assists, and facilitates a person’s progress. A coach asks good questions and listens deeply, seeing the other as a creator who is exploring, and able to come up with their own solutions and strategies. The coach does not see others as broken and needing to be fixed.

As you can see in the model below, by studying and practicing the TED* model, you can move from Victim to Creator, from Persecutor to Challenger, and from Rescuer to Coach.

For more information, read about the empowerment dynamic.

I recommend this book as nothing less than a complete guide for ending the dreaded Drama Triangle!

Happy reading!

P. S. I am shifting my professional consulting and coaching practice in 2023 to working exclusively with senior level executives on a yearlong, individual basis. The process includes twice monthly sessions, unlimited contact, goals tied to organizational business metrics and a coach-directed, verbal, 360 feedback method to help you have the clearest pathway to greater success.

I have limited openings and I am interviewing candidates next month. Email me if you’re interested at elaine@elainemorris.com.

Elaine Morris
Executive coach and positive intelligence expert

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Elaine Morris is a master-level emotional intelligence and executive coach who brings more than 30 years of experience to upper level executives and their teams.

Elaine Morris