Mastering Presence

with Diana Chapman

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Drama Triangle

Stepping out of the drama triangle

Diana Chapman

Master Trainer, Conscious Leader, Co-founder, Author

Lessons Learned

The hero’s job is to seek temporary relief and unconsciously needs to be needed.

The Hero, Villain, and Victim need each other to survive.

People default back to drama for the entertainment, but play & purpose are much more fun.


Lesson: Mastering Presence - with Diana Chapman

Step #4 Drama Triangle: Stepping out of the drama triangle

So one of our favorite tools that we use in companies is called the Drama Triangle, Karpman's Drama Triangle. I think it is a brilliant tool that helps us map how most of us have learned to have relationships. There are three roles, and they're all three flavors of victim-hood.

The first role is the Hero, which I see a lot of in my clients. The Hero's job is to seek temporary relief, and the keyword is “temporary.” You could feed a man a fish every night, that's a temporary fix over and over again. That's what a hero would do. Or you could teach him to fish for himself and be empowered. That's what a coach would do. The Hero likes that temporary relief because the Hero unconsciously needs to be needed over and over again.

I see this a lot with companies where they'll have a client that's a problem client, that always has the emergency, and so the team steps in to hero them and they fix it short-term and the client's happy. But then the next emergency comes up and there's just this ongoing dance of having to put out fires with that client. That would be a group of people who are collectively committed to being Heroes to a victim client. And I see that happens a lot, instead of taking a look at, "Hey, wait a minute, how do we keep co-creating this with this client and how do we shift this pattern permanently?"

The next role on the drama triangle is the Villain and the Villain's job is to blame. You can blame yourself: "I shouldn't have made that choice, I should have more success than I have right now. I should have more money in the bank." You, "You should be different. You should know this stuff. You should be more competent by this point." Or them, "They should be different than they are. There's something wrong over there." We love to do that with politics. One is right and the other one is wrong.

And then the final role in the drama triangle is the Victim, and the Victim's job is to be at the effect of, "I can't. It's hard. I tried. I'm confused." Any of those kinds of statements are statements of victim-hood. It's a sense of, "I can't make it. I can't get the change I really want. I'm just at the effect of." We can be at the effective climate, we can be at the effect of time, the traffic, our kids, our spouses, teammates, and the client.

These three roles, Hero, Villain and Victim, they all need one another to dance around on this drama triangle, and this drama triangle is really addictive for many reasons. One is you don't have to really take responsibility in here, and for a lot of people that's great. "I don't want to be responsible. I don't have to feel my authentic feelings here." Authentic feelings, they're that area of, "I don't know what that's like over there and I know what it's like to stay in the drama triangle with my moods," which can look like feelings but they're very different than an authentic feeling.

I also like the drama triangle because it's really entertaining. Gossip and stuff like that in the workplace like, "What? What?" It makes for a good story, and a lot of people are afraid that if the drama drops out, it's going to be like, "What, are we like all going to sit around and sign Kumbaya?" It sounds a little dry.

Most people will default back to the drama for the entertainment, and we would say the only thing that we know that's more entertaining than drama is play. Play is really entertaining, and we're not just talking about childhood play. There's all kinds of ways adults play. And also being on purpose. When you're really on purpose and passionate, drama gets really disinteresting.

Another reason why you get to be in the drama triangle is you get to be right and the ego loves to be right, and there's a lot of high in that. Our fear is, "If I'm not right, then I'm wrong," and off the drama triangle, it's not about right or wrong. It's just about "What do I get to learn?"

And then probably, last but not least, you get that adrenaline high we talked about. A lot of people are addicted to adrenaline in the corporate world, and it's like that next hit that makes me feel like, "Here I am!" If my caffeine buzz is wearing off, then let's get a little adrenaline going here to kick myself back in again.

Most of us have lost touch with the "aliveness," the energy that comes from being able to be fully in your breath and be fully present. There's a lot of energy there, but we've gotten so disconnected from it that adrenaline is now one of the big defaults we go to.

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