Most people I encounter want a fun, loving, respectful relationship. I ask myself, how many of us have had healthy relationships consistently modeled to us? Not many. Many of us have experience with health in relationships and a whole lot of drama. It is human nature, if there are two or more people, then there’s the same number of opinions and potential for conflict. Now I may have a skewed perspective since I work as a trauma counselor with a specialty in assisting separating/divorcing families. I admit not many families are seeking my help when things are going great.
When folks come to me, one of the first things we look at is power: Self empowerment and power dynamics in their relationships. One way of looking at power, personally and relationally, is the Karpman Drama Triangle or Karpmans’ triangle. See diagram above.
Most of us, most of the time are operating from a “Power Over” (NVC term) perspective. How can I get my way? I’m not saying that we have the conscious thought, “I want my way and I don’t care about the other person.” I am saying that there is the notion inside each of us that our lives would flow a bit easier if everyone else just cooperated more (i.e. “did it my way”).
So let’s talk about how and what we do to get our way by looking at the fairy tale adaptation of Karpman’s triangle. Each of us wants to feel safe and empowered. I define empowered as the notion that I can handle my life (i.e. keep myself safe). When we experience disconnection from ourselves, our true power source, we lose the perspective that we can take care of ourselves. Many of us have learned to regain our sense of safety in coercive, manipulative ways. The most obvious is the Perpetrator (Dragon). “I am big and strong…You better watch out or I will tear the roof off your castle and eat all of you for breakfast.” In the perpetrator role we violate another person’s boundaries by attacking and using bullying techniques (blame, shame, name calling,…more on this in future articles). As a Dragon we need a victim (Princess) as the focus for our anger and the one whom we have power over. We can see this on the playground as “You don’t even know how to play. You missed that last shot. I don’t want you on our team.” Overt and destructive.
The second way to get people to do what you want is by playing the victim. This is the person whose boundaries are violated by another (the dragon/perpetrator). “I’m weak and vulnerable. Somebody help me! Poor me.” When in the Princess role we use guilt, passivity and helplessness to get our way through pity–all of which can back fire and evoke the Dragon in the other person (anger) or succeed in having a rescuer step in (“I’ll save you”). It is a very powerful act to get someone else to fight your dragons.
The third role that may work for others is to be the Rescuer (Knight) in Shining Armor – the person who comes to “save” the victim from the perpetrator and in that act can usually become the perpetrator himself. The Knight has an elevated sense of self (arrogance) and is at the top of the triangle. Vigilante justice is an example of a healthy impulse to stand up for self and others but can become destructive and dragon-like.
Confusing? Sound familiar? Sound depressing? We flip flop around in these roles hundreds of times a day. “My kids don’t like dinner tonight (usually the thought after a dragon statement from the children). Don’t they know how hard I try for them? (Princess) They are so ungrateful! (Dragon) They are just little kids and don’t know better. (Knight saving the kids from the Mama Dragon). You are such a Jackal. (Dragon).
So why try and explain this confusing drama we all play out daily inside our heads and with each other? To bring awareness to it. It is the air we breathe and once we realize the toxicity of it and how it operates, we can change it. First step is recognizing the pattern. Second step is stepping out of the triangle (at a minimum, say nothing and go calm down). Third step is to self connect and create a plan. A full article on Self Empowerment through Self Connection (steps two and three) will be in next month’s issue. For now, notice the pattern, increase your understanding of how you participate in each of the roles and disengage. You can go to www.sherry-lynn.com for information and exercises to increase your awareness of your patterns and calming down techniques.
If perpetration moves into a realm of abuse, it is time to seek professional help. In a crisis situation don’t hesitate to call 911 or the Access Line at 800-753-6879.
Image Credit: Sherry Lynn Fisher, M.A.