Get Off the Drama Triangle


Y’all are gonna like this one.

This phase of my life has included more self-work than ever before. I love the look on my face when I read something and learn that I am CAUGHT — that I thought I “got it,” but henny, I didn’t. Usually we think drama comes from Teresa Guidice-like table flipping or paternity results on the Maury show, but nah. I’ve learned that we can very skillfully (and, more importantly, covertly) stir shit up in our everyday lives.

In one of my favorite books this summer, Quantum Love, Dr. Lisa Berman writes about how most of our negative, painful emotions come from ego. We’ve talked about ego a few times in RTU, and usually we’ve associated it with pride, achievement, or generally thinking you’re da shit. All of that can be true–but in Quantum Love, ego emotions are one that only serve the self, even if they aren’t tied to narcissism: shame/humiliation, guilt/blame, apathy/despair, grief/regret, anxiety/fear, disappointment/longing, anger/hope, scorn/entitlement. 

One of Dr. Berman’s best manifestations of the ego frequency (adapted from an earlier psychologist) is the drama triangle. How do you know you are on the triangle? Five words:

You think you are right

This could mean…

  • You believe your position is fully justified.
  • You believe partner/friend/family member/dog/co-worker/etc. is the only one wrong.
  • You believe your position is the only sane one.

Let’s break this triangle down (in Dr. Berman’s words):


The Victim: “The victim sees themselves ‘at the effect’ of someone, something, or some situation. There are lots of ‘if only’ sentences in the victim role. The victim tends to be…

  • passive aggressive: the victim has a hard time overtly expressing anger. For instance, when asked where they wants to eat dinner, the victim will say he doesn’t really care. But then they will feel angry and unloved when his friend/coworker/partner doesn’t choose their favorite restaurant.
  • easily injured: the victim finds hidden insults, often needs to be confronted, and requires lots of apologies. The victim’s partner may ask her if she’d like to go for a run, and the victim will interpret this as meaning the partner thinks she is fat.
  • helpless: victims have a lot of ‘I can’t” and ‘I need” statements in their vocabulary. Of course there’s nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it, but victims often avoid taking responsibility for their own lives.”

The Villain: “The villain is typically critical, sarcastic, and blaming. Usually a villain takes on this role to hide insecurities. Rather than showing vulnerability and expressing hurt or fear, the villain attacks a partner with words and shouts. The villain tends to…

  • attack someone for something out of their control: if delayed on the way to a party because of an accident farther down the highway, the villain will start shouting that the other person in the car should have been ready to leave earlier.
  • criticize character: instead of expressing anger and frustration toward the partner’s actions when the villain is upset with them, they will generalize and attack personality.
  • make others feel inferior: rather than take responsibility for their actions when they have let someone down, the villain will turn it around. If they don’t understand why another person is upset, the villain will get exasperated instead of trying to understand.
  • refuse to admit wrongdoing or drop an argument: the villain has a hard time letting things go. The argument can be over, but the villain will have to say, ‘I just hope you got my point. You really upset me and I’m still in shock over this.'”

The Hero: “The hero feels responsible for everyone’s happiness and is willing to do what it takes to make others comfortable, at any cost. This, as you can imagine, is a common role for women who are too focused on meeting the needs of everyone else in the family before their own, but men can also play this role. The hero will often…

  • take on more than they can handle: in an effort to keep those around her happy and calm, the hero will say yes to way too much and won’t ask for help; in fact, they will refuse it.
  • allow others to forego responsibility in their relationships: the hero will take on all the responsibility for all that is wrong in any of their relationships.
  • treat others as incompetent: the hero believes they are the only responsible one. When the hero is out of town, for instance, they will leave endless lists, call every hour to check in, and control activities from afar.”

These areas can intersect as well. For example, a statement like “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself” is a combination villain + hero.

Where are you at on this triangle? Dr. Berman writes that it’s not possible for us to be out of the triangle at every moment of every day, but we can certainly regulate how much time we spend there. More importantly, why do we feel the need to be one of these three things? 

Many people often romanticize the feeling of being a victim. As someone who works within social justice education, I am not here to minimize the feeling of victimhood because that feeling is real. However, there is a difference between identifying as a victim because shit has happened to you and loving the pain that comes with being a victim. The drama triangle encourages you to work on the latter.

We all know mean people. In some cases, they’re really, really mean. How will we approach them differently knowing all of that anger comes from insecurity they are mismanaging? If you resonated with some of the victim statements, how will you opt for vulnerability next time?

Ah, my personal favorite, the hero. As a recent college graduate, I loved calling myself the hero that would save people from the horrors of public education, even if it meant losing my entire sense of self. Clearly this did not work outHeroism is just as egotistical because it implies our unquestionable accuracy and invincibility, which founds fun until you become a hero who starts to hurt and can’t handle the fact that you bleed like everyone else.

Save that drama fo’ yo’ mama, hunny. Do some solar plexus chakra meditations, as that is the epicenter of ego. See you on the other side of that triangle!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s