The Drama Triangle in the Three Realms
The Drama Triangle is a concept from Transactional Analysis, a choice-based approached to therapy developed by Eric Berne, MD, in the 1950’s. First described by Stephen Karpman in a 1968 essay, the Drama Triangle consists of three roles, persecutor, victim and rescuer. A protagonist or hero rescues someone who is being persecuted by some evil person or power, and that rescued person is, therefore, a victim. In the process, the rescuer becomes the victim of the powers of the persecutor as well, but in the end, the persecutor becomes the victim of the rescuer’s superior abilities. If this sounds familiar, it is because this is the plot of almost every cartoon and drama that you have ever read or seen. It also can be observed in almost every major historical event in the history of the world, from the life of Buddha, the life and death of Jesus, Julius Caesar, the rise of Islam, the Inquisition, the colonization of the West, Abraham Lincoln’s battles with Congress, the Armenian holocaust, the Apollo program, and the economic meltdown of 2008. And that’s not all. If you stop and examine them, your thoughts and feelings are immersed in the Drama Triangle. Every night, you dream this plot; if you take a look at your dream journal you will generally find yourself in the role of victim of some threatening or confusing persecuting individual, object, and situation. If a rescuer does not appear, you may rescue yourself by attacking the persecutor, switching to a different dream (“changing the channel!”) or waking yourself up. The Drama Triangle is probably a major component of your nightly dreams, whether you remember them or not. Relationships, thoughts and dreams are the three realms where the Drama Triangle can defeat your happiness and undercut your peace of mind.
Drama can be educational, entertaining and valuable, but being the victim of drama means living your life on an emotional roller-coaster without any peace of mind or understanding of why things turn out painfully for you despite your best intentions. When you’re in the Drama Triangle, life is always intense but things never change. You’re stuck. You stay stuck. You get used to being miserable. Drama becomes natural after months and years of adaptation. When you can’t imagine a meaningful life without it, you are probably addicted to drama. Some common indications of an addiction to drama include taking things personally, worrying about what others think about you, worrying about the future, guilt about the past, fear of failure, fear of rejection, yelling and poor impulse control, and nightmares. Here are descriptions of the three roles.
The Role of the Persecutor
We rarely see ourselves as persecutors. Parents say, “I am only punishing you for your own good.” When is such a statement educational and when is it abusive? Bosses say, “I don’t want to fire you; it’s nothing personal.” When is such a statement “creative destruction,” (a capitalist term for justifying firing people), and when is it worker exploitation? Soldiers think, “I am only killing the enemy because they are aggressors and I’m making the world safe.” Is killing ever justified or is it always persecution? Grand Inquisitors say, “I am only torturing you to save your soul.” When is warfare and cruelty just and when is it simply persecution in the Drama Triangle? How can you tell the difference with any certainty? These questions are important, because when you get into the role of the Persecutor, you’re reinforcing both selfishness and inhumanity. These are all examples of playing the role of persecutor in the first domain, the realm of your interpersonal relationships. We will talk about self-persecution in your thoughts and night time dreams below.
The first and most fundamental characteristic of the persecutor role is self-righteousness. Persecutors know what is best, not only for themselves, but for others. Persecutorial actions are justified in their eyes and, therefore, are never abusive. You can see how law enforcement agents, from the President to judges to cops, routinely fail to distinguish between the common good and persecution, in order to justify short-term goals that improve their reputation or career status, get them re-elected, reappointed, or make them money. When you are in the role of persecutor, people are getting what they deserve, or you are only doing what you have to do. Perhaps you justify it because the other person broke rules, is a threat to the nation, or because it is “God’s will.” Persecutors often frame themselves as victims. They will say, “This hurts me worse than it does you.” They may see themselves as having no choice, themselves the victim of unfair laws, work policies they must follow, or the directives of their military commander, employer, government or God. Monarchs, dictators, presidents, and prime ministers justify persecution by saying they have no choice. They must limit personal freedoms of citizens to ensure national security; they must wage war because it is their duty. It’s nothing personal.
What’s going on here? Persecutors seek control and fear being out of control. They think that if they can just get enough power, then not only will their life go smoothly, but yours will, too. Like a good parent, they say, “Trust me. I know what’s best for you. You must obey me, for your own good. If you do not, I will punish you, but only because I care so much for you.” If this sounds twisted, grotesque, cruel, wrong, yet all too familiar, it is because occupying the role of the Persecutor is all of these things.
When things don’t work out, persecutors blame others. Parents tend to blame the schools for the failures of their children. Politicians blame the opposition for their own lack of leadership. Lawyers, judges and cops blame bad laws or “the system” for their own arbitrariness and cruelty. This is called “changing the subject.” You hope to divert responsibility from yourself to others. The price that you pay is that you give your power away to whatever or whomever you see as the source of your unhappiness. Your hands are tied because of God, the government, the rules of the department, or the need for “discipline.” If that doesn’t work, we tell ourselves that others don’t understand; we didn’t mean to be hurtful, cruel or unfair; or we were only trying to help. We may even say, “It was only a joke! Can’t you take a joke?” If none of this works, and often even when it does, you will persecute ourselves by falling into guilt. Then, you may do things to punish yourself: tell yourself that you were wrong or stupid, that you are a failure; feel angry at yourself for your actions; attempt to lose yourself in alcohol, drugs or other mindless, unrelated forms of escapism. This is an example of the role of persecutor in the second domain, of your thoughts and feelings.
When you persecute others, you may be trying to avoid what feels like self-persecution by putting the responsibility elsewhere. When you think your choice is to either blame others or blame yourself, it’s easy to see how and why you choose to blame others. However, when you persecute others, you are persecuting the parts of yourself that they represent. Consequently, persecution of others is always self-persecution. Self-persecution is the core problem that leads to the blaming of others. If you learn to stop blaming yourself, you will stop blaming others. However, the inverse is not true: if you stop blaming others you are unlikely to therefore stop blaming yourself. Therefore, Integral Deep Listening focuses on stopping the Drama Triangle by teaching you that self-blame is never helpful or productive and by showing you how to stop blaming yourself.
It is important to recognize that guilt is self-persecution. If this is true, then when you choose to use guilt to make children behave or get your partner to change their behavior, then you are persecuting the parts of yourself that they represent, in addition to immersing your relationship even deeper into the dream or delusional reality of the Drama Triangle. When you feel guilty, you are not only persecuting yourself, you are condemning yourself to life inside the Drama Triangle. If you want to get out, you have to realize you have an addiction to guilt that you have to break. One way of doing so is to stop using the language of guilt in your speech and thoughts. This means to ask others to catch you using the words “should,” “ought,” and “must.” It means learning to stop using these words. It means to learn to substitute other words, such as “want to,” “need to,” “prefer to,” not only in your speech but in your thoughts. This strategy will be explained in more detail below, in the chapter on cognitive distortions and how to deal with them.
Life never gets better for persecutors because the world won’t change to conform to their unrealistic expectations. However, that doesn’t keep them from continuing to believe that it should. Therefore, they continue their futile attempts to make others responsible for both their happiness and their pain, and to blame others or themselves when the world doesn’t act the way they think it should. While persecutors often don’t see themselves as threatening, they use intimidation and threats to get what they want.
The third way that you stay stuck in the persecutor role in the Drama Triangle is in your night time dreams, whether you remember them or not. You do this in several ways. When you see a dream threat, such as a monster or a fire, isn’t that some aspect of yourself you are reacting to? If that is so, aren’t you scaring yourself? If that is so, aren’t you persecuting yourself within the Drama Triangle? A second type of dream persecution is when you attack, abuse, or ignore another character in a dream. Is that not persecution? If so, who are you persecuting? Are you not again persecuting yourself? A third type of dream persecution occurs when you wake up in a dream by becoming lucid, that is, aware during the dream that you are dreaming, and change it according to your wishes without considering the interests of the other characters in the dream. To understand how this is abuse, switch roles. How do you feel when people come into your life and demand that they change to meet your expectations? While IDL has nothing against lucid dreaming, one of the reasons it teaches deep listening to dream characters is so that your lucidity can support the agenda of your inner compass instead of simply colonizing your dream world with your own waking agenda. A final way that we are routinely abusive in our dreams is that we jump to conclusions, based on the assumption that are perspective and assessment of events is correct, without stopping to ask questions of other dream characters. For example, most dream monsters and villains, when questioned either during dreams or afterward, during an IDL interview, will tell you that their intent was beneficent: to wake you up to get you to pay attention to something that they consider important that you are ignoring. Because you are ignoring normal wake-up calls, the next step is to startle or scare you awake in an attempt to get you to pay attention. Instead, this strategy normally fails, because we assume we are being persecuted and respond with persecution or self-rescuing, both of which miss the message and perpetuate the Drama Triangle.
Persecution in your dreams matters because it reinforces anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and helplessness that are probably already strong elements in your life script. Dream self-persecution makes it more difficult for you to function in your daily life or to use the help of counselors, coaches, and spiritual teachers to get unstuck.
How Do You Know When You Are in the Role of Persecutor?
When you yell, blame, attempt to make others feel guilty, manipulate others to get them to do what you want them to do, interrupt, name-call, gossip, drive aggressively or tell people what is real and true for them and what they should do, you are in the role of persecutor. Stop rationalizing your actions and face that reality and what it means. The role of persecutor is in the eye of the beholder, which generally means you need to learn to respect the opinion of those who claim to be the victim of abuse by you. Give them the benefit of the doubt. However, a more accurate and effective way of telling if you are in the role of persecutor or not is to ask, “What is the opinion of objective others who don’t have a bias one way or the other?” For example, in a dispute between a parent and a child or between partners, the perspective of a counselor is often more trustworthy because it is more objective. In a dispute between nations, an international court is often more objective and trustworthy. You will learn below how IDL interviewing provides you with powerful internal sources of objectivity in the form of the perspectives of the dream characters and personifications of life issues that you interview. Since persecutors are naturally blind to their own abusiveness, if anyone tells you that you are in the role of persecutor, ask for more information. Assume that they may be correct, even if you don’t see it.
That does not mean is that you should therefore blame yourself or feel guilty. This is what people fear and desperately attempt to avoid, generally by changing the subject to the behavior of others, that is, by blaming others instead. But this is a false choice. Both blaming others and blaming yourself keep you stuck in the Drama Triangle. You persecute yourself whenever you think, “I’m stupid, ugly or a failure.” “I can’t do it,” “They’ll never like me,” “It will never work,” or “I’m to blame.” Recognizing these cognitive distortions and learning to substitute realistic and accurate alternative thoughts is an essential life skill to protect yourself from depression and anxiety. Whenever you are critical of others or yourself, you are probably functioning in the role of persecutor. While there are circumstances where consequences can be delivered without being in the role of persecutor, assume you are not smart enough to know the difference and that no one else is, either. Assume that those who say that some action you find abusive is not persecution are probably indulging in some form of self-justification. A good example is self-criticism. While you may be willing to acknowledge that this is a form of persecution, you justify it because you think you deserve it. Isn’t this a rationalization and an excuse? Is it persecution or not? Isn’t it self-persecution, whether you think you deserve it or not? Just because you are stuck in the role of persecutor, this does not mean you are justified in persecuting yourself for it! Blaming yourself only perpetuates your suffering and keeps you stuck in the Drama Triangle. It is much more effective to ask yourself some questions in a level-headed sort of way:
“When do I play the role of persecutor?”
“When I find myself persecuting others, what do I do?”
“When I find myself persecuting myself, what do I do?”
“How is that working for me?”
“If I have a job or role that “forces” me into the role of persecutor, how long am I willing to accept that excuse for staying stuck in the Drama Triangle?”
“Do I want to stop enough to give up my excuses and change my behavior?”
If you want to stop, you can.
You need objectivity to wake you up out of persecution because you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing. As you read on, you will find powerful ways that IDL can help you get and use the objectivity you need to recognize and stop falling into the persecutor role of the Drama Triangle.
The Role of Victim
We all get victimized by disease, accidents, aging and each other. Shit happens. However, being victimized is different from being in the role of victim. Victims are helpless, hopeless and powerless. Therefore, they are blameless and not responsible. Victims say, “It’s all those bad persecutors that have to be dealt with before I can ever be happy.” These persecutors are not limited to other people. They may be debts, an illness or disability, a messy desk, a run-down house, a bad neighborhood, a corrupt government or an unhealthy environment. Because there will always be circumstances to be seen as persecutors, life can’t get better. Even in good times, we know that it is just a matter of time before we as victims are abused again.
Ironically, the role of victim is the most powerful position in the Drama Triangle. This is because victims are blameless and so cannot change or be expected to change. In divorces, it’s generally the other person’s fault that the marriage didn’t work out. If you get fired, it’s because your boss is unfair. If you don’t get the job you want, it’s because the system is rigged. Prisons are full of people who are convinced they are victims, quite apart from whether they were victimized or not. Israel, Zionism, and Judaism all generally use chronic victim status for self protection by professing perpetual victimization and therefore non-responsibility for whatever actions they are therefore compelled to take to defend themselves. The result is resentment, because no one likes being seen as helpless, hopeless, and powerless, followed by self-rescuing, followed by the generation of more persecutors.
Victims are depressed. Because most people are stuck in the Drama Triangle, most people are depressed, whether they realize it or not. If you put on a happy face and have a lot of energy and still feel powerless and out of control, trapped on the squirrel-wheel of life, then you’re depressed and stuck in the Drama Triangle. That’s the existential position most people find themselves in most of the time.
In the domain of interpersonal relations and your cultural-social reality, you are in the victim role of the Drama Triangle when you perceive yourself, fairly or unfairly persecuted by people, events, governments, genes, demons, or deities. In the domain of cognition, you put yourself in the victim role of the Drama Triangle when you take self-abuse. This means listening to and accepting self-critical thoughts, scare yourself, or attempt to punish yourself. In the domain of dreams, you put yourself in the victim role when you allow yourself to be persecuted by your own self-created delusions. All three of these domains are interdependent; if you work to get out of one and ignore the other two you will be much less successful. You need to learn to interrupt patterns of victimization in all three domains.
To get out of the victim role, you have to decide that just because you get victimized, you aren’t going to play the role of victim. You have to face the fact that you are addicted to the Drama Triangle and are stuck in the role of victim. You need to recognize that you can have no deep inner peace of mind or lasting happiness in the role of the victim. Playing the victim not only does not help, it only makes victimization worse. You also have to decide that victimization does not give you the right to play the role of the Persecutor. Beyond that, you need to understand that attempting to escape hopelessness and helplessness by jumping into self-righteous anger only keeps you trapped in the Drama Triangle.
When do you play the role of victim? How is that working for you? When you find yourself victimizing yourself, what do you do? When you find yourself seeing others as victims, what do you do? Are you ready to give up your excuses for staying stuck in the role of the victim?
The Role of the Rescuer
Victims need rescuers; they are perpetually looking for them and, if they can’t find them, they’ll manufacture them, creating gurus, messiahs, saviors, life-saving technologies and soul-mates. Victims attempt to escape their hopelessness and helplessness by rescuing themselves by escaping into mindless and addictive avoidance strategies like smoking, drinking, eating junk food, gambling, watching TV, working to avoid family and personal conflict, reading escapist novels or taking vacations to “get away from it all.” It’s easy to feel you need to be rescued from your fears, your depression, your lack of control, your insecurity or the boring monotony of your stressful day-to-day life. Another strategy for self-rescue is to find meaning in your life by rescuing others by becoming either a professional or an ad hoc rescuer.
Rescuers are not selfless at all; instead, they are selfish because they are attempting to help themselves and are being dishonest about it by making the rescue effort seem like it is all about the other person. If the person they are “helping” asks them to stop or complains that they aren’t being listened to, the rescuer is likely to think, “After all I’ve done for you! This is the thanks I get!” Rescuers end up feeling over-worked and under-appreciated, on the road to burn-out. Secretly, they don’t want to stop rescuing. It allows them to feel secure and adequate by keeping others dependent on them. Moms that build their lives around their children are classic examples of rescuers. If the child favors the father or doesn’t make the life decisions that the mother wants, she feels betrayed. When the child leaves home, her life is empty, because she has no life of her own; she has been living vicariously through her child.
Persecutors often think they are helpers. They masquerade their cruelty by thinking, “I’m only doing this for your own good.” Victims often rescue themselves through avoidance, “tuning out,” and anesthetizing themselves with food, TV, the internet, shopping, drugs, sex and endless drama—anything that changes the subject away from their inner emptiness and fear of failure. You get to choose most of what you do, think or feel during any twenty-four-hour period. Even when you are at work, you get to choose how you think and feel about your work. If you look at your life in this way, you will see that almost everything you do is a self-rescuing behavior. You are either rescuing yourself from boredom, work and responsibilities you don’t want to do, the presence of interfering family members or co-workers, or your own internal self-critical, persecuting voices. Perhaps you are rescuing yourself from your fear that you are a failure or that life is meaningless. You are afraid to stop, because you don’t know where or how to find meaning in your life outside the Drama Triangle. That’s the reality you’ve lived with all your life and you can’t imagine anything else. You are suspicious of those who claim that there might really be an alternative.
We encourage your suspicions. However, we also encourage you to temporarily suspend your disbelief for your own self-interest. Why? Because if you do not, you will continue to do what you have always done and get the same results you have always gotten. You will stay stuck. If you play the rescuer, you will inevitably be viewed as a persecutor by others, because you aren’t listening to them. Instead, you are imposing your own version of salvation on them. Consequently, you will eventually end up feeling like an unappreciated victim yourself.
The role of rescuer in relationships should be pretty clear by now. Do you also see how most of the behaviors you do are attempts to rescue you from something, like your to-do list, or from some unpleasant feeling? You rescue yourself in your dreams when you don’t remember them so you don’t have to look at the internal reality you have created for yourself. You also rescue yourself in your dreams when you make them mean what you want them to mean instead of listening to what they have to say that may be different. Other ways to stay stuck in the role of rescuer while you are dreaming is by changing the dream, dreaming a different one, or waking up in order to avoid some dream event.
When do you play the role of rescuer? How is that working for you? When you find yourself rescuing yourself, what do you do? When you find yourself rescuing others, what do you do? Are you ready to identify your self-rescuing thoughts, feelings and behaviors, so you can get on the road to happiness and inner peace that you deserve?
Differentiating Rescuers From Helpers
A rescuer is different from a helper in three very important ways. A helper waits for a request; when you rescue, you see a problem and jump in like Superman or Wonder Woman. A helper checks to see if the help they are giving is helping; you rescue when you know that you are helping because you know your intentions are loving. Helpers stop when the job is done and wait for a request for further assistance; you rescue when you keep on keeping on, because it validates your own self-worth. You rescue when you indulge in “selfless sacrifice” that is designed to give your life meaning and value, when in fact, you aren’t listening to what others need. For example, one woman called the fire department to rescue a cat that was meowing in a tree. The fireman on the other end of the line said, “Lady, have you ever seen a cat skeleton in a tree?” The cat didn’t need rescuing; that was a projection by the concerned lady.
The reward rescuers get for being so caring, committed, and self-sacrificing is they burn out. They give until they have nothing else to give and then collapse emotionally, mentally, physically, or all three. When they burn out they switch from rescuer to victim, persecuted by all those who have not rewarded them for their altruism and self-sacrifice. Rescuers burn out because they give more than they get. This is because they are not honest about what they need. Their premise is, “If I give and give, everybody will love me, appreciate me, treat me nice, and love and care for me.” When people do not read this unspoken script and instead take what is freely given without any request for reciprocity, they are shocked and often feel manipulated when they find that all this giving wasn’t so altruistic after all, that all the time there were unspoken expectations, and that now they are being blamed for the health crisis of the poor, overworked, under-appreciated rescuer.
If rescuers sound dishonest to you, you are correct. They are actually giving to others in order to validate their own life script, which is something like, “If I am loving, generous, and caring, other people will be loving, generous, and caring to me.” Parents and society have a strong vested interest in teaching children this script because they grow up to be obedient, compliant, respectful, grunts. They cause no problems, and if there are problems, if you blame them they will take responsibility and jump in and try to fix them, even if you caused the problem in the first place. If this description fits you and makes you angry, that means you are on the road to recovery. A little focused, directed anger can be a healthy thing when it is channeled in constructive rather than abusive ways. You’re waking up!
How the Drama Triangle Shows Up in Life
Your Thoughts and Feelings
As discussed above, the Drama Triangle exists in three areas or realms of your life: your relationships, your thoughts and feelings, and in your dreams. How it shows up in your thoughts and feelings is most important, because it controls how you perceive the Drama Triangle in your outer world relationships and the inner world of your dreams. If you change how you deal with drama in your own thoughts and feelings, you will change how you deal with it in your relationships and dreams as well. Thinking within the Drama Triangle is delusional and dysfunctional. It is impossible to have peace of mind as long as you are in the Drama Triangle. It makes you sick. It causes you to feel bad. Test this statement for yourself. If you find it is true, then you are faced with a clear choice: you can either have peace of mind or you can have drama; you can’t have both. As we shall see in a later chapter, all cognitive distortions occur within the Drama Triangle and cause you to live your life within it. Such cognitive distortions are a major source of depression and anxiety.
Whenever you criticize yourself, blame yourself or feel guilty, you are in the role of the Persecutor. It doesn’t matter whether you think you deserve it or not; you will generally think that you do! What matters is that such thinking keeps you stuck in drama and is making you sick and crazy. Therefore, the question is not, “Do I deserve to feel bad?” but, “Is making myself feel bad keeping me stuck in the Drama Triangle or not?” When you see that such thoughts inevitably keep you stuck in a self-created delusion, dream and/or nightmare, you will start to identify your critical, blaming and guilt-producing thoughts, choose to either stop them or substitute a realistic thought, and focus on your goals rather than your weaknesses.
Whenever you use any of the various defense mechanisms that are discussed below, you are rescuing yourself and thereby keeping yourself stuck in the Drama Triangle. For example, when you think, “One more cookie/cigarette/drink/won’t hurt!” you are using a defense mechanism called “rationalization.” You are rescuing yourself by creating an excuse for behavior that is a persecutor in disguise. The result is that you keep yourself stuck in the role of victim, feeling out of control and reacting, rather than responding to your urges, impulses, feelings and desires.
Whenever you give yourself reasons to stay stuck, you are in the role of victim in the Drama Triangle. One of the most common ways you do this is by avoiding doing the things on your “to do” list. If you do anything on your list, you tend to do the minor and fun things and avoid the highest, most pressing priorities, because they are difficult and require more time, energy and resources. Don’t you give yourself “reasons” for not doing those important things? Aren’t these “reasons” merely excuses? The end result is that you feel victimized by your “to do” list! You spend your life avoiding it because you’ve turned it into a persecutor! Think about times when you’ve tackled and completed a high priority on your “to do” list. How did you feel? Didn’t you feel energized? Didn’t it immediately take you out of the role of the victim?
To get out of the role of the victim in your thoughts, observe what you are avoiding. Recognize that avoidance turns that thought, feeling or action into the persecutor in your mind, thereby putting you in the position of victim. Resolve to face whatever you are avoiding today and watch how you move out of the Drama Triangle.
Dreams and Nightmares
If relationships are the easiest way to spot the Drama Triangle, and thinking is the most effective way to avoid it, your night time dreams are your best guide to healing, balancing and transformation. Rightly understood, they reflect the priorities of your inner compass. They provide you with the objectivity of your innate, unique center of growth that knows you better than you know yourself, better than others could possibly know you.
Most of us live within the delusion that we know who we are and what we need to do. We know we are fooling ourselves because we routinely waste precious time and money on dead-end relationships and activities like TV, games, surfing the internet, or eating junk food, that don’t add to the quality of our lives in any lasting way.
Interviewing characters in your dreams and nightmares helps you to let go of your assumptions about why you had a dream and what it means and instead listen to the opinions of other authentic, innate perspectives that represent your inner compass. This, in turn, helps you to let go of your assumptions about who you are and how you live your life, assumptions that are not working to bring you the growth and happiness you seek. IDL interviewing allows you to not only understand why you had a dream or a nightmare, but more importantly, you will become clearer about how and why you stay stuck and what you need to do to get unstuck. How come? IDL dream and nightmare interviews demonstrate that whether dreaming or awake, you project onto others characteristics that you yourself possess. Monsters in your nightmares are recognized as your own fears. Rescuers in dreams are seen to be your own potentials. You come to understand that if you are victimized in your dreams, it is only because you are choosing to put yourself in the role of victim; no one is doing that to you. The result is that you understand that the way you treat others is the way that you are treating those parts of yourself that they represent. You then treat others with respect, not because of social conscience, but because it shows respect for yourself. You love others not because you were taught you should be loving, but because it shows love to the part of yourself that they represent.
When you see through the drama in your dreams and nightmares, you are hearing the wake-up calls they have for you. Therefore, the self-created drama in your life tends to stop. You stop having nightmares. You stop having repetitive dreams, because you are practicing deep listening. When the Drama Triangle no longer shows up in your dreams, you have confirmation that you are no longer planting the seeds of dysfunction in your consciousness, incubating them in the soil of your inner mind while you sleep. Without seeing through the drama in your dreams, you are always vulnerable to those seeds sprouting, no matter how hard you work at eliminating the Drama Triangle from your relationships and your thoughts. Your dreams and nightmares are a continuous, enormous asset for escaping the Drama Triangle and transforming your life; are you using them?
If you remember life in your childhood home, you may be able to recognize that your parents and siblings viewed life from one or another role of the Drama Triangle most of the time. Children generally take the role of potential victims of a dangerous, impersonal, cold and persecuting world, to be protected by their rescuing parents. Parents want their children to be happy but they are afraid they won’t be unless they go to school, play by the rules, learn a career and have a family.
Families that are normally in all three roles of the Drama Triangle create a toxic environment in which to raise children. The problem is not with families; the problem is that family members don’t recognize when they are in the Drama Triangle and what role they are playing in it. Parents want to rescue their children from the world, because they don’t have confidence that their children can learn to find and listen to their inner compasses and find their own paths to fulfillment. This is understandable, because no one ever taught them the concept of inner compass or how to access it, so how can parents teach it to their children? Parents don’t realize that beneath all those rules for happiness that they are compelling their children to internalize lies one fundamental and toxic life skill: how to play the three roles in the Drama Triangle. All children learn how to play these three roles, and they eventually teach their children how to do so as well. Victimized by their own addiction to drama, such children grow up to exploit other families and the world itself. Parents lack the skills to get out of the Drama Triangle and stay out. Teaching them how to recognize when they are in the Drama Triangle, and how to get out and stay out are important goals of IDL.
Did you grow up in a family that was caught up in the Drama Triangle? If so, what role or roles did your mother play? When? What role or roles did your father play? When? Who generally played the persecutor in your family? Who played the rescuer? What role or roles did your siblings play? When? What role or roles did your relatives play? When? What role or role did your pets play? When? What role or roles did you play? When? Which roles do you end up playing when you are around your family? Would your other family members also see you in the same role you see yourself or in a different one?
When you talk to or visit your family members in the future, what do you need to do to keep from falling into the Drama Triangle? Remember, whether your other family members are in the Drama Triangle or not is not your problem; it is enough to recognize their plight and to avoid getting sucked into that drama yourself. If someone is covered with mud and you fight with them, you will end up covered with mud yourself. If someone is stuck in a pit and you jump in, you are stuck in the same pit with them. Your responsibility is not to get your family out of the Drama Triangle, because they may not want to change, and you don’t need to put yourself in the role of rescuer. Instead, your responsibility is to ask for their help in getting out and staying out. Explain the Drama Triangle to them and invite their feedback when they think you’ve fallen into it. Beyond this, the emerging potentials that you interview in IDL don’t do drama. You can ask your family members to interview you as a way to help you get out of drama by getting in touch with authentic, personal antidotes to the Drama Triangle. When you ask for help from your family members, you are at the same time educating them about the Drama Triangle and introducing them to the possibility of a family culture that operates outside it. What a gift to those you love!
Love and the Drama Triangle
The Greeks had a tripartite concept of love. Eros, which is biological and intensely emotional, tends to peak early, be highly addictive and crash suddenly, leaving one depressed, confused and alone. It represents a temporary state of consciousness. You can also get into an eros relationship with a sport, hobby or addiction. Philos is the love between friends and is based on common interests, like work, raising children, music, football, drinking, eating, watching movies and laughing together. Philos is more sustainable than eros and may be deep or shallow, depending on the depth and breadth of shared interests. It represents mutual interests based on shared aptitudes, or lines of development. Agape is not love for one another, but a shared love for a common direction in life. The depth and breadth of this shared direction determines the sustainability of agape. For instance, many couples stay together to raise children. What happens to the relationship when the children are grown? It may end, mellow into a friendship or find some other common goal. Genuine agape involves mutual support in advancing stages of development. The two people do not need to be on the same developmental level, only bound by a mutual desire to support the other in self-actualization. All three of these forms of love are important and support growth when balanced with the others.
Regardless of the type of love you experience, you are susceptible to the Drama Triangle. You know what eros within the Drama Triangle looks and feels like. It is an intense emotional game of passion that often also includes insecurity, possessiveness, disappointment, betrayal and revenge. Most love songs and romance novels are about eros and the Drama Triangle. The better question is, “Can one do eros outside of the Drama Triangle?” The answer is, “Yes, of course, but it’s not easy.” Those who think they can are generally naive. Philos naturally involves less drama, but friends tend to validate each other in their stuckness and play similar, supporting roles in the Drama Triangle. These “friends” validate your addictions by sharing your views on who to love and who to hate. They are unlikely to challenge your addictions or your life decisions. They tend to feel victimized in the same ways that you do and rescue the same sorts of people that you do. In short, friends tend to be stuck pretty much where you’re stuck.
Of course, a “real” friend challenges your stuckness and helps you to grow, whether you like it or not. A classical example of such a friend would be Socrates, who made everyone question all their assumptions about what was true and good, and was generally considered a pain in the ass. Few of us choose to surround ourselves with such friends, because they irritate us and make us uncomfortable. Of these three types of love, agape is the most detached and abstracted from drama. There is little personalization of the relationship and, therefore, less likelihood that you will feel hurt by your unmet expectations. Clearly, you need all three types of love. If you settle for eros, you may well miss out on philos and agape. If you settle for eros and philos, you may well miss out on agape. If you insist on agape, it is possible that you may also achieve philos and eros, but there is no guarantee. To the extent that you define love as intimate and honest, you can’t have it and the Drama Triangle, too. You have to decide which is more important to you: drama or love. If you decide on love, recognize that people who do drama are likely to select themselves out of your life, because you won’t play. You may experience this as loneliness. Consider the possibility that you don’t need to feel lonely. You are making space in your life for quality, non-dramatic relationships to form.
How good a job do you do at staying out of the Drama Triangle in your love relationships? What do you think would need to change for you to do a better job at that?
The Drama Triangle in Your Relationships
If you take any problem you have in your love relationships or in parenting, you can effectively look at it as an expression of your addiction to drama. For instance, your partner or kids don’t listen to you. Do you feel victimized? Do you put them in the role of persecutor? Do you want them to rescue you from this problem by growing up and learning to listen to you? Without drama, your partner or child’s failure to listen will either be much less of a problem or not a problem at all. In either case, whatever is bugging you about your relationship will then be far, far easier to solve. This is the fundamental truth that gets clouded over when you start focusing on specific relationship problems, whether they involve jealousy, laziness, unfairness, infidelity, possessiveness, selfishness, stupidity, ignorance, intimidation, abuse, aggression, avoidance or some addiction. These are like limbs of a vine, like kudzu, that are smothering the tree of your love.
You can read a lot of books and spend a lot of time focusing on cutting off one or another of these limbs while ignoring the vine itself. How well is that likely to work? The trunk of the vine is your being stuck in the Drama Triangle. When you move out of the Drama Triangle, you stop fertilizing the vine that is smothering your relationship.
There are a few simple keys for doing so. Assume that whatever your partner or child says to you or about you is not about you. What they are saying or doing is stereotyped; it’s stuff they learned long ago and is not about you. If you stop and think about it, wouldn’t they probably say those same words to someone else if you were not in their life? This includes, yelling, name calling, interrupting, telling jokes, getting drunk, blaming, flirting, having sex with other people, buying you things—whatever. Their reality is not about you. People in drama don’t love you; they only see the fantasized you that they have created in their own minds, based on a life of previous experiences. They have confused their delusion with you; don’t compound the problem by shadow-boxing with their delusion! It may sound harsh and discounting of the genuine affection your partner has for you to say so, but you are basically a fun house mirror for your partner. They see more or less distorted aspects of themselves in you. When they talk and interact with you, they are shadowboxing with the parts of themselves that you represent. When you take what they do personally, you are making stuff that isn’t about you be about you, thereby compounding the problem. Which would you prefer, dealing with their delusions or dealing with both their delusions and your delusional reactions to their delusions? Would you rather deal with one problem or two, including a second one of your own creation?
This means you need to grow up and get over yourself. You’re just not that important; you’re not that special. So stop taking things personally. Start asking yourself, “Today, how personally have I taken how my partner talks and acts?”
Repeat back what your partner says. This shows that you are listening. It allows them to hear what they have said, which often leads them to clarify or correct themselves. It keeps you from reacting. It sets an example that hopefully they will emulate.
Ask questions to get more information if you are irritated or want to state your opinion. The stronger your feelings are, the more you want to state your opinion, and the more likely you are to say something that will backfire. Stall for time by asking clarifying questions. It keeps you out of drama for the moment._
Assume you are in the Drama Triangle, regardless of how sure you think otherwise. Encourage your partner to ask you, “If you were in the Drama Triangle right now, which role would you most likely be taking?” This is a sober and unpleasant question, but one you need to hear. This is not designed to leave you open to having to accept your partner’s strategy of focusing on how you are playing the Persecutor/Victim/Rescuer. Your partner needs to accept their responsibility for their part in relationship drama rather than shifting the subject of the confrontation to you. Focusing on how you are in drama gives you power and control. You have power and control over the drama in your life because you created it. You get to choose how you feel. You get to be joyful if you want. You get to have peace of mind. Nobody, nobody is worth you giving up your peace of mind. Do you believe it?
Addictions are wonderful, useful things or you would have gotten rid of yours long ago. It doesn’t matter if you are addicted to chocolate, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, self-criticism, rages, sex, the internet, coffee, email, gambling, texting, shopping, gossip, exercise, soap operas, shoes or work. All addictions, without exception, occur within the tender embrace of the Drama Triangle. You are an addict, and addicts are the victim of their persecuting addictions. They live for the next rescuing.
The function of your addictions is to rescue you, the victim, from something or somebody: boredom, anxiety, depression, shyness, the monotony of work, an abusive spouse, yelling, kids, stress. Your addiction will always present itself as your rescuer. The problem is that it is both the rescuer and the persecutor. When you indulge in your addiction, are you not both rescuing and persecuting yourself? Because you like the feeling of being rescued, you play all sorts of games to maintain your favorite addictions. I have known smokers who had “spiritualized” the smoke so that it was no longer harmful; I have known tantra sexual practitioners who had so spiritualized sex that they were no longer in the Drama Triangle about it. This is the nature of addiction; you tell yourself that you aren’t really addicted or that even if you are, it’s not that big a problem. You tell yourself that you can control it; you only need to cut down. You tell yourself that because you are out of the Drama Triangle, you can do your addiction without it being an addiction. You have evolved beyond that.
The problem, at least in most cases, is not your addiction; it’s that your addiction keeps you a prisoner of the Drama Triangle. Can you do your addiction, just a little, and be out of the Drama Triangle? How do you know if you are fooling yourself of not? The recommended default position recommended by IDL is to assume that you are fooling yourself, that you are indeed deeply asleep, dreaming and sleepwalking through your life, lost within the Drama Triangle.
What are your favorite addictions? How do they rescue you? How do they persecute you? How do they keep you in the role of the Victim? Are you ready to face the fact that you can’t do your favorite addictions and be out of the Drama Triangle, or do you need more failure and misery first? If so, how much more? Six months? Three years? Ten years? The point is to take your focus off hating yourself for your addiction and focus on breaking the core addiction that is beneath all your others: your addiction to the Drama Triangle. Get out of it and you may develop the common sense to take care of yourself.
Many people, perhaps most, who go see doctors or mental health professionals, are going to get rescued. They see that professional in the role of the Rescuer and themselves as the Victim of their injury, illness, problem or condition. The doctor will rescue them by giving them a pill or doing surgery, reducing their stress or teaching them life skills. When the doctor succeeds, it reinforces all three roles. The doctor really is a rescuer! You, the patient, really were a victim! The condition really was your persecutor! In this way, healing perpetuates the underlying disease: the belief in the reality of the Drama Triangle.
The view of Integral Deep Listening is that your health problems, whatever they may be, are not persecutors at all. They are best approached as if they are wake-up calls. This is a neutral to positive formulation. It keeps you from being in conflict with the part of yourself that the illness represents. Such conflicts add stress and block healing. Viewing your ailments and disabilities as wake-up calls keeps you out of the victim role and from going through life putting health care professionals and their treatments in the role of Rescuer.
World Views and the Drama Triangle
The world view of the Western Allopathic medical tradition grows out of Mosaic law (the Ten Commandments in particular), Greek rationalistic dualism and scientific (empirical) humanism. It emphasizes good over evil, right over wrong, godliness over sinfulness, and the scientific over the traditional and metaphysical. It tends to identify with the rescuer position in the Drama Triangle and the “Good” in the Socratic triune of the True, the Beautiful and the Good. Its integration in IDL is through identification with those emerging potentials that personify compassion and acceptance, aliveness, service and detachment.
The world view of the shamanistic-Chinese traditions emphasizes societal stability and the balancing of natural forces. It emphasizes harmony over chaos, balance over imbalance, yang over yin and loyalty over selfishness. It tends to identify with the victim position in the Drama Triangle and the “Beautiful” in the Socratic triune. “Beauty” is another word for harmony, balance and peace. Its integration in IDL is through identification with those emerging potentials that personify inner peace, witnessing, freedom and clarity.
The world view of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions of India emphasizes enlightenment, liberation and life as an illusion. It emphasizes liberation over karma, enlightenment over dreaming, wisdom over ignorance and purity over impurity. It tends to identify with the persecutor position in the Drama Triangle and “Wisdom” in the Socratic triune. Its integration in IDL is through identification with those emerging potentials that personify wisdom, confidence, balance and wakefulness.
On a personal level, you may have an optimistic or pessimistic world view. You may value work over play, or comfort over risk. You may value getting along with people over being assertive. In any case, such life positions were generally crafted when you were a child in order to survive in the world of your family. But now, you are most likely in a different reality but you are still clinging to an old, outmoded world view. A world view that was designed to rescue you when you were a child may be persecuting you today.
Do you know what your world view is? Do you know what beliefs and realities it is designed to rescue you from? What would it mean to view those persecuting beliefs and realities as wake-up calls? What, if anything, would be different? World views are perceptual cognitive distortions. This means that they are the delusions that generate the context of your life. Consequently, they are difficult to spot because you are subjectively enmeshed in them. In addition, they are difficult to change because your entire sense of who you are and why you are alive is determined by it. When you recognize it and question its assumptions you call into question the very foundation of your life. Many people are afraid to do this because they are afraid that the alternative is meaninglessness and nihilism. However, IDL interviewing clearly demonstrates that the exact opposite is the case. The more you free yourself from your world views the more you let go of fundamental perceptual cognitive distortions that keep you stuck in the Drama Triangle.
Money is the ugly toad that, if you can only catch and kiss, will turn into the handsome prince of security, status and freedom. You may think it is the root of all evil, but you want it and need it. You look for various ways to be rescued by money. You get a job. When you find it doesn’t get you off the treadmill, you study hard and start a career. The income you earn compels you to stay in work that is not what you thought it would be. Now, you can’t start over because you’re trapped: you have to keep working to pay your bills. Perhaps you get “lucky” and find financial security. Money has rescued you from poverty! You are now secure and have status and freedom, right? The Drama Triangle has validated itself.
If you interview most wealthy people, they will tell you that they don’t have security, status or freedom, compared to some bigger toad sitting on some bigger lily pad. If you spend your life trying to catch and kiss ugly toads, don’t be too surprised if you mostly end up sweaty, dirty and, perhaps, covered with warts.
How in your life have you viewed money and financial security as a rescuer? How has that worked out for you? What could you do instead? Is it possible to have a healthier attitude toward money and financial security? If so, what would that be?
Cultural traditions are wonderful things. The idea of karma has provided social stability within Indian culture for thousands of years. The Jewish belief in being God’s Chosen People has helped keep Jews together as a group long after other groups have come and gone. In the United States, the ideas of individual initiative, human rights and capitalism combined to create a model imitated by much of the world. Still, there are intrinsic trade-offs built into any notion of culture. The idea of American “Exceptionalism” has allowed it to exploit and kill Native Americans, Africans, Central and South Americans, Iraqis and just about everybody else, making American culture, in many ways, a persecutor rather than a rescuer.
You hold certain beliefs that you think are true that you use to make sense of your world and your relationship to it. These beliefs create the cultural context in which you live. Americans tend to believe in individual freedom above government and laissez faire capitalism above regulation. Religious beliefs are a large part of mainstream American culture. Chinese tend to create centralized systems of governmental control of both business and personal life. Europeans tend to place governmental regulation above individual freedoms and to base decisions less on religious motivations than Americans do.
Your culture generally takes the place of your inner compass. Instead of finding and listening to your own emerging potentials, you follow the assumptions of your culture. They are supposed to guide you and protect you—in short, to play the role of the Rescuer. The problem is that your cultural assumptions often differ from your inner compass. When you follow cultural assumptions that do not reflect your own intrinsic potential, a conflict is set up that turns those cultural assumptions into persecutors. They keep you from finding and following your life’s path. Consequently, it is important to know what your cultural assumptions are and where they differ from the priorities of your inner compass.
You have both a personal and a social culture. On a personal level, your culture involves your beliefs about work and play and how you treat others. It is not merely what you believe, but both what you say you believe and what you actually do and don’t do. Many people say they believe in one set of values and practice another. We often do this toward ourselves when we are kind to others and critical of ourselves, treating ourselves in ways we wouldn’t treat others or allow others to treat us. The traditions of your personal culture are your habits. They create stability and comfort, rescuing you from instability and discomfort, so you can live your life. They serve to insulate you from the disruption of other cultures and forces that are a threat to your own culture. In time, that insulating cocoon of comfortable expectations and ritualistic routine suffocates you. At that point, the culture that rescued you by giving you an identity and a place in society has become your persecutor.
Most people are victims of their cultures, yet tenaciously cling to exactly what is suppressing their freedom. Jared Diamond, in Collapse, describes this self-destructive reality throughout history, using the Mayan civilization in Central America, Easter Islanders and Viking settlers in Greenland as examples of self-generated cultural collapse.
What is your personal culture? How do you use it to help you stay secure and stable so you can live your life? How does your personal culture wall you off from challenging influences that you need to grow to the next level in your life?
We all know that terrorism is a terribly violent act of aggression. What we can’t agree on is just who the terrorists are. For Israelis, Palestinians are terrorists. For Palestinians, Israelis are terrorists. For the US, Islamic fundamentalists are terrorists; for Islamic fundamentalists, the US government is the terrorist. Who is the Terrorist and who is the rescuer? The basic problem is that whoever buys into this model has already put themselves into the role of the victim in the Drama Triangle. You can never eliminate terrorism as an individual, society or world community as long as you are in the Drama Triangle.
Anything that can cause mass extinctions and destroy all the cities on seacoasts of the world is a persecutor, right? We need green technologies, educated entrepreneurs, a new world of green workers and supportive government policies to rescue us, right? From the perspective of Big Oil and the majority of the Republican Party in the United States as of 2012, the answer is no. From the perspective of most corporately-owned media, the answer is also no. From these vantage points, global warming is a lie perpetrated on the public by devious progressives, and it is their job to rescue us and the world from such mythical constructions and wastes of money.
When you look at global warming as a wake-up call, the question is not, “How loud does it have to be before others (politicians, corporations, investors) wake up?” Instead, it becomes, “How loud does the wake-up call have to be before I hear it and wake up?” You can’t ever be sure when and if anyone is ever going to choose to get out of the Drama Triangle. All you can do is work hard at identifying it in your life and staying out of it yourself. Looking at global warming from within the Drama Triangle invites dramatic decisions that will cause you to end up in the role of the Persecutor in the eyes of others when you change your buying habits (or, on a national level, allocate funds) in ways that disadvantage individual group. It is important to remember that you can never control whether or not others see you in the Drama Triangle, or what role they put you in, or how they will react when you stop playing. What you can control is whether you fall into the Drama Triangle or not, and when you do, how long you stay in it before you wake up and get out.
Personal and social solutions to global warming that are balanced and lasting are going to require outstanding judgment and dedicated, persistent action. None of that is possible from within the Drama Triangle. Instead, what is generated is more drama at a time when time is precious, and when you need to be clear and out of your own way. While IDL will not solve global warming, it can help you get out and stay out of the Drama Triangle.
Many people use religion to give their lives meaning and purpose. In other words, religion plays the role of rescuer. Generally, it rescues you from evil, meaninglessness or selfishness by promising some sort of salvation: nirvana, samadhi, the end of karma, heaven with Mohammed, the Messiah, or hanging out with the angels and Jesus in heaven after the Last Judgment. Society teaches you to do all sorts of things to reach salvation: say your prayers, do good, help others, go to church, temple, mosque or synagogue, obey your elders, follow God’s laws, tithe and follow the leaders of the religion.
All of this is good, when there are no better alternatives. However, in today’s world, there are options to religion that either did not exist in the past, or these options were prohibited by heavy social sanctions. The more people wake up to this new reality, the more church, temple, synagogue and mosque attendance shrinks. This trend is accelerating, and there is not much religion can do about it. While church leaders, messiahs and gurus may appear as some of your emerging potentials, most of your emerging potentials have little to do with religion. Your inner compass and socially-created religions are different things. While it is indeed possible to relate to religion from outside of the Drama Triangle, religion tends to function within it. This is because religious communities are bigger than we are, and our participation places us within their world view, which is a context of drama. Therefore, participating in any religion, while staying out of the Drama Triangle, is not easy. Most people who believe they can become adherents of a faith without falling into the Drama Triangle end up deluding themselves. Recognize and respect your own limitations.
Getting Out of the Drama Triangle
Are there any alternatives to the Drama Triangle? Yes. Anything and everything is potentially an alternative to the Drama Triangle because tit is not about what you do but the consciousness or world view in which you do it. There is a real difference between victimization and being a victim, between being a helper and being a rescuer, and between being assertive and being a persecutor. Are there some guidelines or ways to know when you are out of the Drama Triangle? Yes.
Assume that you are always in the Drama Triangle. This will keep you from presuming that you are out of the delusion when you are not. Ask yourself throughout your day, “If I were in the Drama Triangle now, what role would I be in?” Look for examples in your world and in your thoughts. For example, what is the last thing you ate? Why did you eat that instead of something else? Because it was handy? Because you liked it? Of course! However, try asking another sort of question: “If I was eating that to rescue myself from some sense of persecution in the Drama Triangle, what would it be?” For example, one reason why people gain weight and can’t lose it is because they experience hunger as persecuting. Is it? No. The physical sensation of hunger exists outside the Drama Triangle; you get to choose what meaning to project onto those sensations. So, begin by considering that whatever you are doing, moment to moment, may be occurring within the context of the Drama Triangle.
Develop an ongoing awareness that there is no peace of mind within the Drama Triangle. When you view life from within the roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer, you are at war with yourself. Is it any wonder that individuals, nations and religions end up being at war?
Trust that there really is such a thing as life outside the Drama Triangle. Give yourself permission to get out. Don’t give yourself reasons why you can’t or won’t get out of drama, such as, “Life would be boring.” “I would lose all my friends.” Such rationalizations and excuses are indications that you want to stay asleep, dreaming and sleepwalking. It also reflects a lack of confidence in the ability of those you love to wake up. If your daily work involves rescuing or persecuting people or feeling like a victim, you may need to find alternatives for becoming more creative in your work.
If someone accuses you of being in the role of the Persecutor, give them the benefit of the doubt. That’s because we never see ourselves as persecutors. We know that what we are saying or doing is only for the good of others, but that is a form of grandiosity and mind-reading. We think we have no choice but to defend ourselves against some perceived threat or attack, and so we do not feel that our reactions are persecuting, when they are.
Understand the role of the Helper and how it is different from the role of rescuer.
Know what it feels like and looks like to be out of the Drama Triangle. Refuse to play. Recognize and decline all invitations to play.
Explain the Drama Triangle to your family and friends. Ask them to tell you when you are in one or another of the three roles.
Understand the antithesis to these three roles, the Socratic Triune.
The Socratic Triune
In the 4th century BC, a philosopher in Athens concluded that happiness involves the balancing of three different qualities, Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Truth is a natural antidote to the role of the Persecutor. This is because persecutors are self-righteous, which is a form of phony, dishonest, selfish knowledge. It says, “I know what’s best for you,” when it doesn’t. Truth, on the other hand, is based on listening, respect, open curiosity, reason, and a willingness to experiment. IDL is not focused on the mythological ideal of ultimate Truth, but on the practical daily process of moving away from ignorance and the persecution of self and others, toward greater wisdom.
Goodness is a natural antidote to the role of rescuer. Rescuers are selfish mind-readers masquerading as selfless altruists. They are dishonest and offer false hope by willingly accepting the unrealistic idealizations of perfection that victims project onto them. Goodness, on the other hand, continuously reminds people that what they see in others, both good and bad, is within themselves. It works to empower people by teaching them to think, feel and act in ways that reflect not the wishes of the rescuer but the priorities of each person’s own inner compass. IDL does not idealize goodness as divine love. Instead, it is focused on the daily process of becoming a more empathetic and altruistic person in small but genuine ways that add up over time.
Beauty, the third of Socrates’ virtues, is another word for harmony and peace of mind. These qualities are the natural antidotes for the helplessness and hopelessness of the role of the victim. Victims are dishonest because they disown the power that they possess. They say they are powerless when they have enough power to resist any and all efforts to get them unstuck. They may disown their anger, their ability to think or their ability to act, projecting those abilities onto imagined persecutors and then blaming them for their own inability to access their power. Anyone in the victim role can use IDL to access their power at any time and get in touch with their inner harmony and inner peace. When they do so, they will no longer see themselves as victims nor displace their power onto persecutors and rescuers, regardless of how depressed, helpless or powerless they may feel.
Here is a diagram of the Drama Triangle changing into the Socratic Triune. This is genuine alchemy; unlike transforming lead into gold, this can be done; unlike transforming lead into gold, transforming the roles of persecutor, victim and rescuer into their Socratic antidotes has real and lasting value.
One way to work with this concept is by putting each of these three qualities, on three continua from zero to ten and give yourself a value several times throughout the day for each of the three. Let’s say you just had an argument with your partner and you are trying to figure out what went wrong. Ask yourself, “During the argument, how would I score myself, zero to ten, with Persecutor at zero and Truth at ten?”
0 — 1— 2 — 3 — 4 — 5 — 6 — 7 — 8 — 9 — 10
“How would I score myself, zero to ten, with Rescuer at zero and Goodness at ten?”
0 — 1— 2 — 3 — 4 — 5 — 6 — 7 — 8 — 9 — 10
“How would I score myself, zero to ten, with Victim at zero and Beauty (inner peace and harmony) at ten?”
0 — 1— 2 — 3 — 4 — 5 — 6 — 7 — 8 — 9 — 10
Then, ask yourself, what could I do differently next time to leverage these scores a half a point or a point higher on each of these three number lines?”
Notice that the change is incremental and that it involves you—not the other person. It is your job to recognize when and how you are in the Drama Triangle. It is your job to maximize your presence in its antidotes moment to moment in your life.
Truth, Goodness and Beauty are themselves lower octaves of life._ At a higher level, harmony is luminosity,_ which is a freedom, inner peace, clarity and witnessing of both others and yourself. Goodness is abundance, an aliveness and compassion, detachment and acceptance of life. It is freedom from the fear of scarcity, of not having enough love, freedom or food. It is a sense that you have a surplus of all these and that you experience greater abundance as you share what you have of each of them. There is great wisdom and truth to learning to not take things personally. When you do, you become able to laugh at the dramas of life instead of getting caught up in them. When you learn to do so, you experience what has been called crazy wisdom or cosmic humor, an ability to not personalize anything, to not only stand back and watch the drama of life but also take pleasure in its poignancy. You move into it as you wake up, bring your life into balance, practice assertiveness and become wise. These three aspects—luminosity, abundance and cosmic humor—do not embody life any more or less than rock and roll and dirt do, but they are vectors that point you toward it._
Using the Empowerment Dynamic
David Emerald has developed an alternative to the Drama Triangle which he calls the “empowerment dynamic.” It involves the substitution of the roles of persecutor, victim and rescuer with healthy alternatives which are accompanied with rational thoughts that substitute for the cognitive distortions that support the roles of the Drama Triangle. These healthy roles and thoughts produce positive emotions and behaviors. Instead of fear-based action they generate behaviors that are motivated by creative passion. Ideally, the empowerment dynamic generates behavior that is solution-focused in relationship to behavior within the Drama Triangle, which is problem-focused.
The Persecutor evolves into the “Challenger” who thinks, “You can do it!” They see all of life’s challenges as opportunities for growth. Challengers ask themselves, “What is my intention?” instead of assuming they know what is best or right. Instead of putting others or themselves down they build up and gather new, helpful information. They recognize and speak to the potentials in others, often unrecognized. Challengers produce clear structures and guidelines for accomplishment. They challenge by asking, “What do you want to do?” “Who do you want to become?” “What are you committed to?” “You aren’t doing what you said you were going to do; what are you going to do about it?” They think, “I can hold others to a high standard because I see the best in them, and I can do it in a way that is kind, thoughtful and empowering.” Challengers state boundaries such as, “We are agreeing not to interrupt or change the subject.” Challengers listen without personalizing; you do not take on the problems of others and make them your problems. Challengers make expectations clear: “I want you to keep your agreement. Please have it done by our next meeting.” They provide choices: “If you cannot keep an appointment you can call to reschedule with 24 hours notice or you can pay me for the missed appointment.” Challengers generate feelings of security, respect and trust and behaviors that are responsible and clear. They call forth learning and growth while provoking and evoking conscious and constructive action.
The Victim evolves into the “Creator” in Emerald’s system, a role that is also an “achiever” or “evolver” who thinks, “I can do it!” “I am capable!” Evolvers state what they want, create a plan, follow it and take action to achieve their goals. They keep their agreements, which means they also learn not to over-commit. Evolvers ask themselves, “What do I want and what do I need?” “How can I get what I need in a healthy way?” “How can I move from reacting to responding?” They think, “I am moving ahead in my life.” “This is what I’ve learned.” “I can make my own decisions and create a life I desire for myself.” “I can hold myself to a high standard without being critical and pressuring, perfectionistic, or thinking that makes me better than others.” Evolvers remember what they have to be thankful for and focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses, limitations and failures. Evolvers ask for help from coaches, not rescuers, meaning that they not only know the difference but recognize that rescuing will only keep them stuck. This generates feelings of empowerment and behaviors that are satisfying because they move Evolvers one step closer to their goals. Evolvers own their power to choose and respond rather than react. They focus on outcomes and solutions rather than on problems.
The Rescuer evolves into the “Coach” who says, “I care about you and I know that you are capable.” They ask themselves, “How am I seeing this other person, as a victim or evolver?” Coaches don’t do for another person what they can do for themselves. This is not a failure of generosity but rather a statement of confidence in the ability of the other to think, figure things out and take action. Coaches say, “I know you can do this.” “What are your next steps?” “What do you need in order to achieve them?” Coaches support and assist, facilitating the development of clarity by asking questions, and asking, “How will you do it?” They provide choices while focusing on solutions rather than problems. This generates feelings of confidence and behaviors that are effective and successful.
All three of these transformed, constructive roles combine into an identity that becomes increasingly transparent. Life is not about you and your interests but increasingly about what life wants and how you can help yourself and others get out of the way so that life itself can evolve as it moves into a fuller expression of its infinite potentials.
Waking Up is available here.