In the last two years I have struggled with relationship distress in my circle of family and friends. I am not alone. We are living in a more-authoritarian-than-libertarian pandemic world. Much is altered, whether from having contracted Covid19 and coping with a new-to-the-world nasty disease, or the fragility we experience in our relationships due to the fear and rigidity around it. This is frightening us at both the macro (government/media messaging) and the micro level (personal relationships).
I recently went on a self-help dive into the online ether regarding relationships. One of the things I learnt was that relationships will often triangulate into the dysfunctional roles of victim, rescuer and persecutor. It was first described by Stephen Karpman in 1968, illustrating a power game that emerges between the three participants in the triangle. It results in a two-up/one-down dynamic between the players: the "up" roles are rescuer and persecutor. The "down" role is victim. The roles, over time will usually become interchangeable, but eventually, in a downward spiral, everyone begins to feel like a victim — not a good feeling. This is described as a Transactional Analysis of Games.
Furthermore, it has been observed that each of us tends to have a ‘default’ or a ‘go-to’ role in these triangles. Triangular interactions can cope with a lot more conflict than linear (1-1) relationships and so, it is explained, this is why they so often occur.
The good news is that the negative roles of victim, rescuer and persecutor can be changed to the more positive ones of creator, coach and challenger in a more balanced 1-1-1 dynamic. No one is always “up” (feeling superior) and no one is always “down” (feeling inferior). A more level playing field and a much healthier way to be relating to the people in your life.
I love this elegant, easy-to-digest illustration (on YouTube) of The Drama Triangle and how you can bring change for the better to your own relationships. Check it out, but remember, you can only ever change yourself and the role you choose to play ;~)
Alison Hackett — Director and founder of 21st Century Renaissance; author of The Visual Time Traveller 500 Years of History, Art and Science in 100 Unique Designs