“three people sitting in front of table laughing together” by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Transform Group Dynamics by Diffusing the Drama Triangle

Once you know about this pattern of human behavior, once you’re able to recognize it, and once you’re able to avoid or resolve it, your life will become much more pleasant.

Pretty much exclusively, when there is interpersonal drama, it will manifest with three roles: a victim, a perpetrator, and a savior. When one person gets triggered, they will usually step into one of these roles and try to pull others into the other roles.

The cycle usually begins when one person believes that they are disempowered and they will often initially take a victim role. That person regresses to a very young age and starts to accuse another of attacking them. In doing this, they become the perpetrator of the perpetrator, who usually becomes defensive and regresses, and takes the role of victim. At this point, another person usually steps in to defend whoever is currently playing the victim role; this is the savior.

Soon the savior is framed as an attacker and the one that was being positioned as the previous perpetrator becomes the new victim. This pattern tends to repeat and re-energize itself indefinitely, with each of the three people taking the role of victim, perpetrator, and savior repeatedly.

The hardest aspect of breaking this pattern is noticing that it is happening. Once it is recognized, it’s possible to do something about it. This pattern is very challenging to resolve from within. One or more of the people involved in it are usually determined that it will persist, even if only unconsciously. All of the roles flow from a sense of disempowerment and a sense of disempowerment is usually deeply ingrained in personal identity. The easiest solution is to choose not to take part. If you can remove yourself, then do so.

If you cannot physically, emotionally, or psychologically remove yourself, then you are responsible for raising the awareness of the whole system. Whichever of the three positions you seem to be getting placed into, you take that position and you ride it for the good of the group. You take charge in that role and bring empowerment to the group. You lead. Here is what the empowered positions look like:

The Empowered Victim

“This is not good for any of us. I want us to succeed, but I can see that we’re fighting. Right now, it seems that I’m the one getting the short straw, but when any one of us gets the short straw, we all do. What can we do to get our needs met? What can we do to move towards a win-win-win scenario?”

The Empowered Perpetrator

“I’m not going to put up with this. I’m not willing to see us all struggle like this. I demand change. I demand that we figure this out so that we all get our needs met. I want us all to reveal what we need and want. Our behavior up to this point has been harming the group and harming us as individuals. I demand win-win-win. A, tell me what you want. B, tell me what you want.”

The Empowered Savior

“I’m not going to side with anyone over the group. I want us all to succeed and I’m advocating for us to move forward. Let’s focus on clearly communicating our needs. Let’s take turns to lay out what we need and want and then we can discuss how we can all get our needs met.”

Often when you take one of these empowered roles (they’re really all the same role), the others will want to grab that role to feel empowered. When this happens, you gracefully hand them the role and smoothly move into your assigned role, but in an empowered way. Over time, everyone gets to experience some empowerment one way or another, and the whole system is healed as the individuals are healed.

An engineer-psychologist focused on machine intelligence. I write from my own experience to support others in living more fulfilling lives | duncanriach.com

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