No Dramas? The Drama Triangle Tidies Up The World’s Mess

In The first Of This Series I Ask: Can The Karpman Drama Triangle Explain Brexit?

Photo by Habib Ayoade on Unsplash

Life can be unpredictable, human beings are a complicated mess of conscious and unconscious parts that often don’t seem to make sense, and why would they? Most of us don’t even realise that we are internally tangled, let alone how it affects our behaviour and how we interact with one another in exchanges that have become increasingly oppositional.

The Pope: Don’t mess with him

Maybe the only way to explain this heightened, reactive state we find ourselves in is that we’ve entered into some kind of triangle, but not the fun kind that Barry Manilow likes to sing about. I’m talking about the Drama Triangle.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the Karpman Drama Triangle is a user-friendly way of studying human behaviour and interactions. It is popular model in the field of Transactional Analysis and it can be a particularly useful tool for identifying ‘game playing’ activity in society.

Dr Stephen Karpman’s Drama Triangle

The social model, originally developed by Dr Stephen Karpman in 1968, is used to map destructive relationship transactions which involve being in a one-up (Persecutor/Rescuer) or one-down (Victim) role. In any emotionally heightened situation we can be triggered into playing a part in the Triangle. Inside of the Triangle no one is permanently stuck in one role and we can all exist at more than one point of the triangle, sometimes simultaneously. Drama Triangles have one thing in common; that is when two parties are in conflict, they will always reach out to a third.

So can this model help to bring understanding to the dynamics of Brexit, the most interesting/terrifying sociopolitical experiment in recent history? Well let’s see. Within the Triangle a significant amount of the UK can be seen to occupy the Victim role, while the EU has been set up as the Perpetrator, imposing its own laws on us, allowing an influx of immigration that has hurt our economy, and taken local jobs etc. So the UK looks for its government Rescuer, who guaranteed that it will save us from the Perpetrator and make everything better by ‘getting it done’— the Conservatives in other words.

If we use the Drama Triangle we can perhaps understand why some members of society have come to identify with the Victim role

Vanishing jobs and grim austerity cuts have obliterated the services that are badly needed for everybody. Money that once went towards leveling the playing field in terms of education, health, justice and societal advancement has been brutally withdrawn. It is easy to see why some members of society have come to identify with the Victim role and are desperate for someone to change things for them. But unfortunately there is a sinister narrative that surfaces especially in times of financial and social upheaval, in which the ‘other’ is blamed for causing problems, as though if they (the Perpetrators) were simply removed, everything would be okay. In this Brexit-based scenario the EU is not only the ‘other’, but also the villain who allowed more ‘others’ (immigrants) to ‘infiltrate’ the United Kingdom — Clearly this is oversimplification and I do not share this opinion; but in the world of the Drama Triangle (and the Brexit Party manifesto) there isn’t much room for subtlety I’m afraid.

The Conservatives, have quite easily maneuvered themselves around the Triangle, enjoying the Victim role when it suits so they can blame the EU for failures in negotiating a deal. The EU is often placed in the role of Perpetrator and will no doubt be declared responsible if there is a no-deal Brexit. During the December election the unyielding members of society who are convinced that leaving the EU is the key to solving all the country’s problems were able to move into the Rescuer role. They were indignant on behalf of the government because they voted leave, but the EU apparently ‘won’t let them go’. The Conservatives briefly adopted the Victim role as it allowed them to maintain power — but only because they were the only party that the Rescuers could vote for who could deliver a promised ‘victory’ against the Perpetrators - no matter what the consequences may be.

I would like to think that there is more hope for them in the Winner’s Triangle

So to sum up, for a simple concept, the Drama Triangle can get bloody confusing. Maybe this is because it is so easy to move around a Brexit Triangle when nobody can ever really be a winner. They are too busy blaming and shaming each other to notice that all of the roles available are distinctly unhealthy.

And what about the rest of the UK; what about the people who didn’t want to leave the EU? Or who are terrified of a no-deal Brexit scenario; and those disheartened to say the least because the Conservatives are still in charge of the country? Where do they fit in all of this?

Well you could argue that they are in the Victim point of the Drama Triangle, but I would like to think that there is more hope for them in the Winner’s Triangle.

Winner’s Triangle Acey Choy 1990

All of the positions in the Winner’s Triangle can be seen to be positive and valuable: Assertiveness is not about domination, abusing power, or being better than others; Caring is being supportive without discounting the attributes or abilities of the Vulnerable; and Vulnerability is not about being powerless or laying blame. Nobody steps on the other person, no one is one-down. The only way to move into this Triangle is to commit to positive change, self-responsibility, learning and growth; and leave behind those who refuse to do so. Now is the time to extract ourselves from the toxic drama and move into the Winner’s Triangle.

Easier said than done? Definitely, but perhaps just by recognising how destructive the Drama Triangle is to our personal and societal growth, and being aware of when we are (re)acting as a part of it, we can change how we make our decisions and respond to others.

And isn’t that what Brexit was all about anyway?

The need for change.

Film and literature criticism graduate. I have a background in Mental Health Studies. Observations and opinions about society, the media and mental health.

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