Who are you when emotions are high?

One of the most helpful lenses that I've come across to raise my self-awareness and give me practical, straightforward tools to understand my feelings and behaviour even when I'm in the heat of the moment, comes from Transactional Analysis, and is called 'The Drama Triangle'.

Karpman tells us that we all have tendencies to adopt a particular position in a drama:

​​- Victim - makes a move to be rescued somehow (I'm powerless, you're powerful; likely to sound like self-pity, lack of confidence and strength, "don't hurt me I'm already wounded, don't expect too much from me, I'm already on the floor... but come and fix me, come and take the problem away, come and be a hero!")

- Rescuer - makes a move to rescue (you're powerless, but I can be the 'fixer' here, which meets my need to be needed: why don't you...? let me... don't worry - or feel the need to take responsibility - trust me, you're going to be alright...)

- Persecutor - makes a move to attack / blame the other for creating the bad situation (I've had enough of doing all the work... taking all the responsiblity... being the only one who... having to play the 'grown-up' around here).

None of these is better or worse than any of the others, and they all represent sub-optimal ways to handle feeling out of control: to play the victim, taking no responsibiilty; taking sole responsibility for finding solutions - when the responsibility is always shared; or moving to blame and resentment, which is usually saying I've tried taking all the responsibility, and it hasn't worked.

In Karpman's theory, once we're in the drama we move from one cornder of the triangle to another: for example, if we start at victim we will eventually move to rescuer or persecutor.

The way out of the drama triangle is by moving into different (adult) space:

Victim - needs to take back responsibility for his/her own needs and be vulnerable, naming needs and taking initiative to meet them.

Rescuer - needs to clarify what's his/her responsibility and what isn't. Adopting a coaching approach is helpful here, raising awareness of each person's agency and responsibility to be proactive.

Persecutor - needs to remember that he/she is potent, and that blame (scapegoating) is a fear response that is actually avoidance, and that they have been complicit in creating the situation, and need to now take responsibility for next steps that take account of their own needs, too.

Take a moment to think of the last time you were involved in an emotional, interpersonal 'drama' - can you identify which role you adopted? And is there any pattern to your response?

Let me know if you've found this helpful?

Will x

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