Workplace drama in its various forms and flavors is a daily reality for many and we sometimes get sucked into it ourselves. Usually unintentionally. The question is how to avoid these situations that are detrimental to our health, well-being, and empowerment. Not to mention our career.
The Drama Triangle as a tool for self-awareness
The drama triangle is a helpful and simple tool used in psychotherapy to describe the destructive and shifting roles that many of us play at work and home.
The drama triangle is launched when somebody takes on one of the three roles in a conflict situation; The Victim (the one down), the Rescuer (the one up), and the Persecutor (the bad guy). If we are honest, we have all been playing one or all of these roles in our working life.
The Victim: As Victims, we feel oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless, ashamed, and unable to make decisions, solve problems, enjoy work, or achieve what we want at work. Something always seems to get in the way. We seem to attract situations and people that are bad for us and make us small, and we don’t understand why bad things keep on happening to good people like us. Sometimes our victimhood is very subtle.
The Rescuer: As Rescuers, we are reliable and dependable, but also the classical enablers. We feel guilty if we don’t help and rescue others, but this behavior keeps the Victim dependent and gives the Victim permission not to be or become empowered. The focus is taken off us, and this enables us to ignore our issues while feeling good about ourselves.
The Persecutor: As Persecutors, we feel that it is somebody else’s fault. We are controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritarian, and rigid. We know better, we have the right to tell people off, tell things as we see them. This kind of behavior can be both overt or covert, and in its covert forms, we are typically unaware of them, in our minds, we are” just trying to make things right”.
The role that we step into depends on our background and experiences and how conflict resolution was modeled to us in our childhood. Our roles are closely linked to our early attachment patterns that determine how we perceive the world and the people around us. The Drama Triangle plays out in individual lives, in organizations, at the national and the international level. Much of the NGO and international development world revolves around the Drama Triangle. And so does politics.
The tricky thing about the Drama Triangle is that we get sucked into it and our habitual roles. Since the patterns were learned so early, the more primitive emotional parts of our brain are triggered and take over, and logical thinking and reasoning are hampered. We regress.
How to shift roles and evolve
Shifting these unproductive patterns is possible and this is where self-awareness comes into play. We cannot change something that we are not aware of. This doesn’t happen overnight but the more we cultivate self-awareness, the better we can detect the situation and things that trigger us and make a conscious effort to undo the triggers. When we understand the roles that we might be playing in any given relationship and take responsibility for our behavior and thoughts, it will be easier to stay out of unhealthy relationship dynamics. Only then can we respond as mature adults.
We can turn the Drama Triangle into the Winner’s Triangle
The Winner’s Triangle
The Winner’s Triangle (The Empowerment Triangle) has the three positive roles that correspond to the Drama Triangle:
The Victim becomes Vulnerable (The Creator)
The Rescuer becomes Caring (The Coach)
The Persecutor becomes Assertive (The Challenger)
As The Vulnerable/the Creator we understand that we may be vulnerable, we understand that we cannot do everything by ourselves. We start asking for help and accepting it when it is offered, and by doing so, we empower ourselves and can find our solutions.
As The Caring/ The Coach we are deeply compassionate but rather ask how to help than imposing ourselves and our solutions. This empowers the Vulnerable/Creator to decide what they need and want, and we can learn to listen to ourselves better and say no.
As The Assertive/The Challenger we use our time and energy in solving problems instead of blaming others or tramping on their boundaries. We can be assertive about our own needs.
Shaking up familiar drama patterns can feel awkward or uncomfortable at the beginning. When we start changing, people around us may not like our changed behavior. It may feel confusing or threatening to them and they may try to push us back into our past behaviors. That is ok and normal, even likely. It is just important to be prepared for this possibility.
When we decide to become empowered, we reap the benefits directly, and we also do an immense favor for people around us. We are interconnected and workplaces are a sum of its members. When we change, the whole system is impacted. When more and more of us do our inner work, positive change is inevitable.