Welcome to the next installment in the TA Tools series. In this series of blog posts I will introduce some of the basic teachings of transactional analysis (TA) and share how we might use these ideas to better understand ourselves and those around us.
Today’s tool is the Drama Triangle.
This gem of a tool is all about how we relate to each other and where we position ourselves in situations of conflict. It draws on the idea that we spend a great deal of time re-enacting scenarios familiar to us (a bit like Freud’s repetition compulsion) but it takes this further by helping us to recognise unhealthy patterns in our relationships.
So there are three potential positions in a scenario – Victim, Rescuer and Persecutor – and we tend to switch into different positions in predictable ways..
The Persecutor is rigid, controlling, blaming and critical.
The Rescuer places their own sense of importance on their ability to rescue others, they need to rescue so they can be the good guy. It isn’t really about genuine help, more to appease their own discomfort.
The Victim has learned to be helpless, powerless, unwilling to take personal responsibility or action. They will seek out Rescuers and Persecutors who will reinforce and justify the Victim’s position.
Common dramas include when a Rescuer is thwarted in her attempts to rescue the Victim, so she moves into the Persecutor and becomes angry and dismissive towards the Victim. Or the Persecutor meets a bigger Persecutor so they switch into the Victim position as they become the ‘done to’ person.
Note that the drama triangle is used to help us recognise when we are playing out a pattern, as opposed to reacting from a present and spontaneous state.
I don’t think I have met anyone who has managed to stay out of these roles all the time. The one thing each role has in common is that it expects someone else so be different before that role can be let go of so, as we stubbornly hold to our favourite positions, our patterns of relating to each other becomes more rigid and then we deny ourselves of the things we were chasing to begin with – security, connection and love.