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
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!
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/
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