Are You in a Drama Triangle?
After growing up in a highly dysfunctional household, you may find yourself repeatedly engaging in the same relationship patterns later in life without knowing how you got there.
Dr. Stephen Karpman devised a simple way to understand how these kinds of relationships typically work. He calls it the “Drama Triangle.”
The Drama Triangle consists of 3 roles that each relate dysfunctionally to each other:
1. The Perpetrator:
- Believes they have all the power and control
- Bullies and blames to get what they want
- is aggressive/passive-aggressive
- Scapegoats the Victim and ropes the Rescuer into covering for them
2. The Victim:
- Believes they have no control
- Gives up on making their own choices
- Feels worthless and helpless
- Feels powerless against the Perpetrator and dependent on the Rescuer
3. The Rescuer:
- Focuses only on others’ needs
- Ignores their own needs
- Tries to control how others feel
- enables the Victim and makes excuses for the Perpetrator
Different family members will usually gravitate toward one or two of the roles, but over time the roles can start to flip around too. For example, the rescuer in the family may get so burnt out trying to help the family victim, that they start to feel victimized themselves, and begin to view the victim as a perpetrator.
Or the victim may begin to see the rescuer as a perpetrator if the rescuer gets too drained, leaving the victim feeling abandoned. Sometimes the perpetrator may also play the victim role to try to get someone else to rescue them from the consequences of their own actions.
What do all three roles have in common? Everyone on the triangle neglects to take responsibility for their own emotions. The perpetrator blames others, the victim waits to be rescued, and the rescuer focuses on saving others from their emotions instead of acknowledging their own.
Unless someone else is around to consistently model healthy relationship roles, kids born into highly dysfunctional families can grow up to assume all relationships follow this same unhealthy pattern. Then when they encounter similar relationships as an adult, they easily fall back into old familiar roles. It feels normal. When you don’t know what healthy roles look like, it’s also possible to accidentally assume someone is being a perpetrator, victim, or rescuer when they’re actually relating in a healthy way.
In a future post, I’ll talk about what healthy relationship patterns look like in comparison to the Drama Triangle. Stay tuned!
You can check out this quiz if you’re curious to see which role you fall into most: https://cdn.website-editor.net/848c74c539684751972b4649bf55aae7/files/uploaded/Drama%2520triangle%2520quiz.pdf
Cleaning Out Our Emotional Backpacks
Have you ever let your kid’s backpack go too long without being cleaned out? It’s like the creature from the black lagoon’s habitat in there! There’s no telling what you may find but you can be pretty sure it will be horrifying.
Kids also need to clean out there emotional backpacks on the regular!
I got caught talking so my teacher wrote my name on the board.
So I stuff embarrassment, anger and injustice (because my friend started the conversation) into my emotional backpack.
I finally figured out that math concept I’ve been faking that I understood for days but couldn’t celebrate because I wanted everyone (including my teacher) to think I already got it.
So I stuff frustration, deferred pride & self-hatred into my emotional backpack.
My best friends were pulled for a special project and I wasn’t so I had to hustle all of recess to find new kids to play with.
So I stuff sadness, loneliness and feelings of inferiority into my emotional backpack.
Some kids like to verbally unpack their emotional backpacks and a feelings chart can be helpful. You can ask which of these feelings did you feel today? Encourage them to list more than one and then say, “It was important enough for you to carry (enter their feeling word here) with you all day & you brought them home. What do they want to say?”
Some kids like to creatively unpack their emotional backpacks. Encourage them to build paint or journal their feelings. A prompt that might help would be, “It sounds like you felt really proud of yourself today but you didn’t get to shine. Can you show me that shine with your markers & glitter or magnet tiles.”
PSA: Playdough is great for cleaning up glitter
Some kids like to physically clean out their emotional backpacks. You can offer the opportunity to write out difficult feelings and tape them to a punching bag, trampoline or bury them in the back yard.
Cleaning out our emotional backpacks should help mitigate meltdowns, sibling squabbles and rigidity after school.
Parents might want to try cleaning out their emotional work bags too!
Our Most Recommended Books By Age Group
Littles and Pre-K Kids
No Drama Discipline – By Daniel J. J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
- This is a parenting book on how to stay calm when your child isn’t calm. This book helps you combine connection and clear limits every time your child needs discipline.
The Way I Feel – By Janan Cain
- A simple book on feelings. We like to read it to our kid clients and ask them about times they’ve felt those feelings.
Charlotte and the Quiet Place – By Deborah Sosin and Sara Woolley
- A great description of what it feels like when you’re overstimulated and overwhelmed and what they can do about it.
Moody Cow Meditates – By Kerry Lee MacLean
- This books is really cute and I think many parents with more “outspoken” kids will relate to it! It does a really good job describing anger and how to calm the internal storm.
Jabari Jumps – By Gaia Cornwall
- This is an inspiring story of a kid struggling with anxiety around trying a new skill, his dad supported him and celebrated with him when he did it.
Sitting Still Like a Frog – By Eline Snel
- This book introduces mindfulness techniques in a child-friendly way
Blessing of a Skinned Knee – By Wendy Mogel, PhD
- This book is helpful for parents struggling with over-parenting, wanting to raise self-controlled, self-reliant children.
Whole Brain Child – By Daniel Siegel & Tina Bryson
- This book explains the Interpersonal Neurobiology of Children and how to work with them to help regulate their emotions and enjoy childhood more mindfully.
Brainstorm – By Daniel J Siegel
- This explains the changes that happen in the adolescent brain and it also provides discussion guides for parents and children.
Untangled – By Lisa Damour, PhD
- This book guides parents through seven important transitions from childhood to womanhood addressing a girl’s inner and outer world.
The Care and Keeping of You (Revised): The Body Book for Younger Girls – By Valorie Schaefer
- This book is forthright description of a girls changing body. I recommend parents read it first so that they’re prepared to answer questions and discuss the topics further with their girls.
- Also, read The Atlantic article about this book here: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/08/the-puberty-book-embraced-by-preteens-and-sex-educators/569044/
Parenting From a Place of Value
Parenting is difficult in every generation. Currently though, it is so hard because we are dealing with not only how our parents parented us, how our friends are parenting their kids, and what the latest parenting book says. We are also faced with how influencers on social media, experts on podcasts and literally every person we’ve met since high school (thank you social media) is handling every minute problem of parenting. There are so many voices and they all have an air of importance and authority. How can you know what is best for your family? How can you get off this wild carousel?
What about learning to parent from a place of personal values instead of peer pressure or indecisiveness?
Consider these questions and process them with your co-parent to identify your values:
- Where do we spend the majority of our time and our money? When we have to choose between two important things, which one usually wins out?
- If I have a day where I feel like a great mom/dad what have I spent the day focused on or what feedback did I get from my kids?
- Whose approval really matters to me as a parent (note: not whose approval should matter or whose I wish matters but whose really does).
- If I have a rough parenting day, when my head hits the pillow I think, “that was a dumpster fire of a day but I hope my kids still know__________________.”
- Imagine that your child is a young adult coming home for a visit with the person they are seriously dating. You have some time alone with their significant other, and they say to you, “I’m grateful to be in a relationship with someone who (fill in the blank).” Try to come up with a list of at least three and no more than five things. It could be hardworking, empathetic listener, gracious with those in need, spiritually attuned, etc. Try to be as specific as you need to to identify what it will take to parent this kind of person.
Once you identify your values, quiet the voices that go against your parenting values. This may mean unfollowing some social media accounts, taking certain books to the used book store for resale or repeating a mantra when your Aunt Karen gives you parenting advice that doesn’t fit for you. It could be something like, “We will parent from a place of value, not of pressure.”
If you need more help sorting through your value system in order to parent from a place of value consider seeing a therapist for parental coaching. If you have any questions about this topic, feel free to contact me (Kate) here at East Dallas Therapy!
When parents bring their kids to therapy it’s usually for these reasons:
We support families in East Dallas in all sorts of ways.
Kids sometimes need someone to talk to other than their parents. And parents need a sounding board, a support person in helping their kids be a success. We like to bring families more peace in their homes. We help you focus your parenting strategy and build consistency and security in your family.
Here are some reasons families come to us for counseling:
- Parent coaching
- A child has a mental health diagnosis: ADD, ADHD, Spectrum Disorders, Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, PTSD
- A child is differently abled and needs help coping with big feelings
- A family is grieving a loss or a recent trauma
- A child needs help being assertive
- A child needs learn to calm down anger outbursts or other big emotions
Kate Miller, LPC is our family therapist and can meet your kid where they’re at and give them the tools they need to succeed. Read more about her here.
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toxic positivity and why we hate it…according to Summer April 24,2023
toxic positivity and why we hate it…according to Kate April 17,2023
Are you gaslighting yourself? March 27,2023
What You Resist, Persists March 20,2023
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