#1 – The Drama Triangle

Self-Defined Human
Self-Defined Human
#1 – The Drama Triangle

This is the first episode of my podcast, Self-Defined Human. Let’s see where we go from here.

Stop being a Victim. Be a Creator instead. Learn about the Drama Triangle vs. the Empowerment Dynamic. Two radically different paradigms for viewing your role in the world.

The Drama Triangle comes from Stephen Karpman.

The Empowerment Dynamic is from David Emerald.


The first episode is about the Drama Triangle and the Empowerment Dynamic. The drama triangle is invented by the psychologist Stephen Karpman, and the Empowerment Dynamic comes from David Emerald.

Most of us look at life in terms of the drama triangle. every interaction you have with other people, you put yourself and other people into one of three roles.

You’re either the Victim, the Persecutor or the Rescuer. You could think of this like you’re either a Victim, a Villain, or Hero.

We’re taught to do this. This is the way the culture is, this is the way we are. All the time. We take it for granted. We don’t even notice that we’re doing this. It’s a specific way of thinking about things. A specific way of structuring our reality. And we take it for granted.

It’s not a good thing or bad thing. It’s just a thing. It’s just how we do it.

 the whole structure of our society is based on this concept. You have a Victim and yellow Persecutor, and the Persecutor is doing something bad to the Victim , and The Rescuer has to save the Victim from the Persecutor. We take it for granted.

Everything we do. You go to school and this is how it is. All these Notions about fairness, about Justice, all these ideas are based on this concept that there are good guys and there are bad guys. There are Victims and there are Villains. And, either we are a Victim, or we are a Villain, or we need to rescue the Victims from the Villains.

You may say, “well, obviously.” it seems so obvious that this is just how it has to be. Because, if someone is suffering, then it means that someone else has caused it. And, and if you can see that someone is causing it…

 what is the conclusion that you draw from this, when you see that somebody is suffering as a result of something that someone else did?

The way that you link these two events together, it’s up to you. It’s not obvious. It’s not just a foregone conclusion that this is just how it’s going to be. It’s not.

You think it is, right?

Why do you do that? You have to ask yourself this. You have to take yourself to task here. Don’t just take this for granted. That’s a big mistake, come on. Huge mistake. Don’t take these things for granted.

You know, you’re the one who’s responsible for this, You’re the one who’s telling the story.

Nobody wants to be a Victim. Nobody wants to be called a Victim. If I call you a Victim, what happens? I become a Persecutor. Immediately. If I tell you that you’re letting someone else take advantage of you, if I tell you that you are the one who’s responsible, that you are the one who is responsible for your own suffering, you see me as a Persecutor.

Why is that? Why don’t you want to hear that?

I mean, I don’t like hearing that either. I don’t like hearing it. Nobody seems to like hearing this.

Sometimes I’ll say something, and somebody else will think I’m saying that. Because, we know that it’s not good to be a Victim. We know that.

But, why is that the story you’re telling? Why is the drama triangle the story that you’re telling? Why do you put everything into that framework, into that little triangle? Why? Why is that the way it has to be?

You know, the way that you interpret events is that you take the things that happen, the things that you could observe objectively, and you string them together. You connect the dots and you make a story out of it. You find some interpretation on it.

Your mind does this automatically. You don’t even know that you’re doing it. Most people don’t even think about this kind of thing. It just happens.

This is how you’ve been conditioned. this is how you heard people talk around you. These are the stories you’ve heard, this is what you’ve seen on TV, this is the behavior that’s been modeled for you. Since you were a little kid, this is what has happened. These are the roles that people play, and these are the rules that people follow, that they have to follow. And, when something happens, these are the consequences that must follow.

We blame people for things, when something bad happens. We say that it’s somebody’s fault. we say, they deserve something.

I didn’t invent these words. I didn’t. Not me. You’re the one who invented these words. I didn’t. You. Not me.

It has nothing to do with me, because I don’t speak that language. That’s my choice. But, you do, right?

Why? Because you want to be a Rescuer? you obviously don’t want to be a Victim, but sometimes you’re forced to. If somebody does something to you. somebody says something to you that you don’t like.

“Oh, no no no, Michael. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s an offensive thing. It’s inherently offensive.”

Yep. Uh huh.

Inherently offensive.

No, the problem is that you don’t like it. You. Why? Because it’s your preference. You would prefer that those things weren’t said to you.

Yeah, okay. That’s not even true. You prefer that these things are said to you. That’s why you get so excited when somebody says it. When somebody offends you.

You love that.

Why? Because now you get to be The Rescuer, and now you get to save the world from that person, from that evildoer. you get to jump to the rescue. you want me to offend you. You’re just waiting for it. You’re just itching for it.

That’s great.

So, you want to be a Victim, and you want to be a Rescuer. But, you don’t want anybody to call you that. You don’t want to be called a Victim. Do you want to be called a Rescuer? I don’t know. You tell me. What about a Persecutor? Do you want to be called that? Do you want to be a Persecutor?

 of course not. Nobody wants to be a Persecutor. You see that as an evil thing. Right? When you’re a Persecutor, that means that you are bad. That means that you deserve punishment. You did something wrong,  because you made somebody else suffer.

 Think of all the ways that you spend all your day, that you spent all your time and energy, trying to avoid being the Persecutor. How much time do you spend on that?

And when you do something accidentally that causes suffering, what happens? You beat yourself up about that, you feel guilty about that, you feel ashamed about that, you try to fix it. You’re spending all your time doing this, because you don’t want to be a Persecutor. That’s a bad thing too.

Is this fun for you, to live your life that way? In that drama triangle?

I doubt it very much.

There’s an alternative. The alternative is the empowerment dynamic. This is invented by David emerald.

 You should check out this book he’s got, The Power of TED*.

In the empowerment Dynamic, we’ve got three roles as well. We’ve got the Creator, the Challenger, and the Coach. Instead of the Victim, we’ve got the Creator. Instead of the Persecutor, we’ve got the Challenger. And instead of The Rescuer, we have the Coach. These are three roles which are much more productive.

Because, you see, you are a creator. You are the creator of the universe. The whole universe. Everything. You may as well accept it, may as well own it, may as well claim it. “I am the Creator.  I am God “

Does that offend you?

 of course it offends you. you don’t want to be a Creator.

Why is that? Because creators have a lot of responsibility.

Calling you a Creator, if you’re stuck in the drama triangle, is equivalent to calling you a Victim. now, I’m calling you to task and I’m asking you, “hey, why haven’t you been created? Why have you been spending all your time running away from Persecutors? Why has that been occupying all of your time? “

when I call you a Creator, you’re forced to confront that. you’re forced to ask yourself, “hey, why haven’t I been  making the universe that I want to make? Why haven’t I been making the world into the world that I want to live in?”

And because you’re stuck in the drama triangle, this is a horrible thing. It’s a horrible thing to be called out like that.

See, I don’t see it that way. You know, sometimes I’m a Victim. You can call me a Victim, that’s okay. You can ask me, “hey Michael, why haven’t you been creating? “

 yeah, I don’t know. Sometimes I’m lazy, sometimes I’m tired, sometimes I’m scared of something, sometimes I’m hungry.

That’s fine. That’s fine for me, because when I notice that I’m in the drama triangle, I step outside of it. I don’t see myself as a Victim, I don’t see other people as Persecutors , and I don’t believe that anybody needs to be rescued. I don’t.

 The whole thing’s a game. I always think about Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication, who says, “don’t do anything that isn’t play.”

See, it’s not that serious. But, you want it to be so serious.

Remember, when you were a kid, you created a lot. Kids are very creative. All day long, creating things. That’s how I was. I don’t need to give you examples, you know it’s true.

But then, we become adults, and what happens?

It’s not even when we’re adults.

This happens, maybe 9 years old or so? We get fearful. We get really scared, and we see that the purpose of life is to follow rules and not break the rules. And not be in the wrong. To not be the ones who are to blame for anything, because we want to be right.

So, we invent these religions where we learn how to be saved, Because we have this compulsive need to be in the right.

 We have to be the ones where the teacher can’t look at us And say, “You’re the one. You’re the one who broke the rule. You’re the one who needs to stay after class.  You’re the one who needs to clean up this mess, because you did it. you caused it. You’re responsible for all this pain and suffering.  And if you don’t fix it, there’s going to be consequences later on. There’s going to be consequences after you’re dead.  you’re going to be stuck in eternal damnation, forever. That’s how bad it’s going to get.”

That’s how future-fixated you are. you imagine this infinite future where you’re going to be suffering the whole time. That’s what it’s like for you, because you’re so obsessed with this idea that you need to follow the rules.

 That’s your thing, Because you don’t see it as a game. You see it as something that has dire consequences.

See,  in a game, when the game’s over, game over. Put it away, go do something else, and come back to it when you want to play again. You know it’s just a game. that’s fine. No problem.

But, when you make things serious, you can’t do that. You’re attached to it. You have to stay in it. You have to stay in the game, even after it’s over. When you die in the game, you’re dead in real life, so you better not let that happen. That’s how you look at it. Big mistake.

So, you can be a Creator. Just be a Creator. You’re the one who gets to decide what happened.

See, this changes everything. This changes how you look at everything else. A Victim doesn’t look at it that way. A Victim doesn’t have choices about what the Victim is going to create. A Victim is only responding to what happens. As a Victim, I need to keep everyone else at bay.

The Victim is only concerned with maintaining stability. That’s it. The whole story the Victim tells is, “I was just trying to go about my business, just trying to do my own thing, just trying to relax, just trying to have a good time, and then you came along and messed everything up for me.”

That’s the story the Victim tells. ” I was just doing nothing, and then you messed it up. “

What’s so great about nothing? Why is that the story? Like, that’s the ideal state: “I’m just doing nothing I’m just minding my own business.”

You’re going to be spending a lot of time after you’re dead doing nothing. See, this is the chance you have right here to do something. These few years, where you could potentially do something. But no, you’re just complaining about how no one’s letting you do nothing. I mean, come on, that’s ridiculous.

You can do whatever you want.

But now, you have some responsibility, because if you’re the Creator, you can’t look at other people as Persecutors. Or, as Rescuers. You can’t, because that doesn’t have any importance anymore.

 When you look at somebody as a Persecutor, that’s what they’re doing. They’re messing you up. But, you’re the one who’s deciding what happens, because you are the Creator. So, the Persecutor becomes the Challenger.

The Persecutor becomes the task. That’s what you’re doing.

You are confronting Challengers.

See, there’s no Adventure otherwise. think of any great adventure story. Just imagine there were no obstacles on the path. What is that? It’s nothing. The only reason that the story means anything is because of the obstacles. if you just stay at home, you have nothing. There’s no story. You don’t grow, you don’t change, you don’t learn anything.

 The Challengers are good things. They’re good guys. They’re not bad guys. The Victim is the bad guy. The Victim is the one who says no, we’re not going to go on an adventure, we’re not going to learn, we’re not going to grow, we’re not going to change.

And, it’s good to be a Challenger. You don’t want to be a Persecutor, because you don’t want to hurt other people. But, the Challenger doesn’t mind hurting other people, because the Challenger knows that by hurting other people that you’re helping them grow.

They might not see it that way, because if they’re stuck in the drama triangle, they’re not going to appreciate that, but so what?

You are a Creator. They are a Creator. When you’re in the empowerment Dynamic, you just see it that way.

If they don’t want to be a creator, you don’t even hear it. You treat them as creators whether they know it or not. Whether they admit to it or not.

 You can’t have Rescuers either. No one needs to be rescued. See, the Challenger is a good guy. When the Creator is hurt by the Challenger, that’s a good thing. So, The Rescuer becomes the Coach.

The Coach’s job is to help the Creator create. it’s not to save the Creator from anything. The creator doesn’t need to be saved. The Creator is God.

You don’t need to save God from anything. You need to help God do God’s work.


2 responses to “#1 – The Drama Triangle”

  1. Michael, this was a very interesting podcast on The Power of Ted: the empowerment dynamic. This book came out when I was in Coach training at Invite Change in Edmonds, Washington. When I went into 12 step family group, this concept helped me a lot. Thank you for the reminder. I can see how useful it can be during ‘these’ times. : )

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kim. I’ve found this concept very useful during all sorts of times.

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