Explorations in the Theory and Practice
The Drama Triangle
You may have been taught about the Karpman "Drama Triangle" in school. It is one of the basic theories in psychology that explain dysfunctional patterns that keep us stuck in our lives. The Faces of the Victim by Lynne Forrest is one of the best explanations of the Drama Triangle online. I highly recommend reading that article first if you are unfamiliar with the theories or what to learn more.
As massage therapists we are drawn to this profession to help. We think that we will be more fulfilled by helping others. There is often a darker side to helping- that we help to get our own needs of needing to be needed and valued met. When we try to get our needs met through our clients, we end up feeling burned out or unfulfilled. Thus we end up on the triangle trying to get our needs met by acting out different "Dramas" or roles. It is usually an unconscious process until we do the work to bring it into consciousness.
All of these roles were learned early in childhood from our families, teachers and early life trauma. Even the simplest things can result in a trauma that makes us believe that we are not good enough or smart enough.
A person is rescuing when they:
Often a rescuer will state that they are doing something only because they care. They attempt to validate their rescuing and relieve the feelings they are having.
The way out of the rescuer role is to start taking responsibility for your own feelings. What is it that you are feeling the second after someone is describing their pain or problem that makes you want to jump in and give your advice or share your story? Can you stay present enough to bear your own pain and story and be clear of it when you respond to the clients pain? Taking responsibility is the act of being able to respond to a person rather than react. It is often a difficult process.
We blame our misfortune on other factors outside of our control. We feel hopeless, helpless and are always complaining. These "victim" beliefs keep us stuck repeating the same things again and again, until we either go out of business, find a new career or settle in and tackle the issue seriously.
Victims are usually raised by rescuers- the mother who is the martyr and does everything for the child thinking they are helpless to do things themselves. Since rescuers have taken responsibility for others it leaves victims being unable to take responsibility for themselves.
The opposite of the victim role or the way out of the victim role is again, taking responsibility and stop blaming others or events outside of yourself.
Persecutors will also take this role on against themselves. We are critical of ourselves when we fail. We harshly criticize ourselves and blame ourselves. We feel it is our duty to give helpful feedback even if it isn't asked for.
Clients can become persecutors when we fail to fix them or relieve their pain.
Carl Jung says "What we are unconscious of becomes our fate." When we hide beneath the roles of victim, rescuer or persecutor, we will often unconsciously create what we most need to see about ourselves. The pattern will keep repeating itself until we become aware and make changes. When we are caught in the drama triangle it is an indicator that there is a boundary violation. Our boundaries are what keep us clear. Getting in touch with our stories is what helps us keep clear. Other things that can also help in the process is developing a spiritual practice, supervision, peer supervision.
Getting off the drama triangle starts with first becoming aware that we are even on it! It is often difficult and humbling to even see our roles let alone accept them.
If we can understand our roles in helping others (our clients), we will have a better understanding of our needs. Often as massage therapists we are not aware of our needs but we can often see others needs more clearly (or so we think). We set aside our needs to help others. Becoming aware of our needs is essential in getting off the triangle. We need to learn to take responsibility for our needs. Our feelings are the key to learning to take responsibility for our actions. Our feelings are what tell us what we need. When we are having feelings like hopelessness, anger, helplessness there is often a need underneath the feeling. When we can figure out what we are needing and learn how to get that need met, the triangle collapses.
Fairy tales and script analysis - by Stephen Karpman
The Dance of Drama - Joan Casey
Getting in Touch with your feelings - Emotional Freedom Technique