How often has it happened that someone comes to you in deep despair, sharing a sad story about how they have been mistreated by someone, an oppressor? You then imagine seeing this innocent ‘victim’ being bullied by a ‘bad person’. You feel their pain and perhaps in that moment you are compelled to help them. You sympathise, dry their tears and totally agree that the other person is a terrible bully and something should be done about this upsetting matter. Then a few days later the person in dispute is now on YOUR case about what you have said or done. Before you know it you are sitting in the middle of a huge drama triangle! And you then wonder, “How on earth did I get in the middle of this mess?”
This is called the Karpman Drama Triangle or as we call in layman’s terms “The Drama Llama”.
Stephen Karpman identified three active role players in this triangle - the Victim, Persecutor and the Rescuer. The victim is the one who starts the triangle by setting someone (or some thing) up as a Persecutor. They then proceed by actively attempting to hook someone into rescuing them. If the Rescuer takes the bait and rescues, they then shift into the position of the Persecutor (by persecuting the original Persecutor) and the original Persecutor becomes the new Victim. This is how the drama starts when there is a switch in these roles. Once this process has started, the llama has been fed. This happens more often then we realise.
Our intentions might seem genuinely helpful but they are consciously (or subconsciously) linked to hidden agendas. These roles are inauthentic to the ‘roles’ we take on. However, we play these roles by choice because there is a pay-off for us. The Victim wants other people to take the responsibility for resolving their issues. The Persecutor gets a sense of power by controlling others or situations. The Rescuer gets a sense of validity by being the hero. These are the hidden agendas that drive us to play these roles.
When we engage in these roles we discount something in ourselves as well as in the other person. The Victim does not learn how to own responsibility for helping themselves. The Persecutor undermines the dignity of the Victim. The Rescuer does not allow the Victim to learn how to help them self.
So, how do we prevent these dramas from happening? It is best NOT to start one. If you can identify which role you play, then you can work towards solutions in preventing it from happening again.
If you feel like a Victim, own the situation and see if you can resolve the problem. Don’t expect others to rescue you otherwise you will not learn from this experience.
If you identify with the Persecutor, then be open to the possibility that you cannot always have your own way or respect other’s right to choose what they think is best for them.
If you are a Rescuer, then don’t take on other’s responsibilities and issues. Maintain healthy boundaries to develop your own self-worth.
How do we protect our self from getting hooked in this complex and highly dysfunctional triangles? By giving empathy - not sympathy! - we will not get hooked into the triangle. It could be a simple one-liner such as “Wow, that sounds hectic.” or “Phew, it sounds terrible.” If you really care about your friend and would like to help, them ask them questions so they can find their OWN solutions to resolve the issue.
Drama Triangles are common and can be a lifestyle for some people. It gives people meaning and identity. It is destructive to relationships and can make you VERY toxic.
Now that you know how this works, would you still like to feed this Drama Llama?