The drama triangle is a model for communication first described by Stephen Karpman from the psychological theory of Transactional Analysis. (Karpman, 1968). The model can be used to look at human interaction like a game with three players: The Victim, The Rescuer, and The Persecutor. As the game is played , no one wins. The roles are exchanged and repeated in a vicious cycle of exchange that moves each player into the other role to maintain the game. As the game continues, The Victim attacks The Persecutor for "crimes" and thus now becomes The Persecutor through the use of blaming. The Persecutor now is The Victim. The Rescuer may step in to offer assistance to The Victim, which threatens The Persecutor, who is now The Victim by way of The Rescuer. The Victim may join The Rescuer and both may now attack The Persecutor, who becomes The Victim by the attack and uses it to justify another attack or hook another Rescuer and the game continues until someone steps out of the cycle and becomes a non-player.
The non-player, although seen as a player by the others, can remain in the setting but will take on a neutral, nonparticipating role. This may be seen as a rescue, an attack, or a martyr (victim) stance, but if it is maintained over time, players will either end the game or move on to solicit new players.
There are real victims in life. If you are hit by a car, attacked by a terrorist, molested, assaulted, and so forth, you are a victim. The victim in the Karpman Drama Triangle puts adhesive on the back of their wrist and attaches it to their forehead in an ongoing "poor me" position.
There are real persecutors. Terrorists, offenders, and criminals are not playing. They are dead serious.
There are real rescuers. Law enforcement, nurses, fire fighters, EMT's, teachers , counselors, social workers and other "good guys" are not playing the triangle game, but must watch that they aren't rescuing people who do not want to be rescued.
Individuals who play the Drama Triangle do it for the game itself. If you stop playing, eventually they will move on because you are not playing. They may up the ante, or raise the stakes significantly to entice you to continue being a player, but if you move away from the triangle, you will eventually feel better and be more useful.
An old classic drama triangle is seen in the melodramatic scene of the sweet and innocent heroine tied to the railroad tracks by the evil villain as the handsome hero rides in just in the nick of time. This is endemic to our collective sense of theater. Hollywood knows that the archetypical evil-doer must kidnap the helpless victim so that the hero as agent 007, Superman, martial arts master or mistress, or even cartoon figure sweeps in to save the weak and the known world for the betterment of humanity. The drama triangle is everywhere, but that does not necessarily mean we have to play it out at the work site with theatrical dimensions. Even if your company is part of the industry that promotes or supports the drama of victims, rescuers or persecutors it doesn't mean your workplace has to replicate the soap opera within the work environment. Watch a soap opera or CNN to see how the triangle plays out. Now watch your work site for how you may be unconsciously playing.
The following guidelines are a compilation of strategies based on a number of well- tested interventions. The information has been adapted from voluntary organizations, professional associations, counseling techniques, traumatic events interventions, debriefing and defusing models, and applied psychology. Managers can be trained in any such specialties to gain more knowledge in how to support and encourage individual or group emotional recovery. Although a brief overview of defusing and debriefing are included in this text, most managers should not attempt to facilitate these processes without specific training and practice. There are many agencies and consultants who will teach these techniques for basic and advanced competencies.
PART ONE: Brief Intervention and support ” individual or group
(20 minutes maximum; this intervention is meant to defuse, calm, validate and support in order to manage an immediate emotional context. It is not intended to be used for recovery, restoration, mitigation, counsel, or to remove emotions. It is a first-level management response that acknowledges and slightly ventilates the top level of emotions)
Put the situation or event into the Big Picture context
Ask what happened , and listen
Support the individual in your own natural style
Remember that emotions are natural
Remind them it will take time to recover
Give good self-care advice
Let the individual know more help is available
Encourage going about normal routines as much as possible
Give reassurances and support for future support
Help to develop a plan of action for the immediate time
Keep all responses private
PART TWO: Next Step of Intervention and Support ” individual or group
(As long as it takes, usually 2 “3 hours in length and approximately 72 hours after an incident. This process is intended to go more into depth about events and feelings. It is NOT ever intended to critique performance or task accomplishment, be mental health counseling, or evaluative. This is meant to debrief, support, allow, educate, relieve and ventilate deeper level emotions)
Introduce yourself and ask others to just share their names if unknown
Make no critiques, let people know that will happen, but at a different time
Maintain and establish privacy, confidentiality, or who will be informed
Assure that everyone is safe, and that everyone in the room should be here
It is useful to do this process with peers as the presence of supervisory personnel can intimidate people from sharing their emotions, and supervisors will generally not share their feelings in the presence of subordinates
Ask everyone to explain their role in the situation
Offer an opportunity to share any thoughts and memories
After step seven is done, offer an opportunity to share emotions
Ask if there is any emotions that are lingering about and causing ongoing stress
Ask if there is anything that someone is having a difficult time with or a specific idea, image, feeling or thought that is persisting
Offer education that it is natural to have all these feelings
Don't hurry any part of the discussion, let it evolve naturally
Encourage participants to continue normal activities as much as possible, and reassure that it will take time to recover but that most people recover
Give assurances that seeking help is appropriate and acceptable. Provide a list of resources available
Decide if anyone needs help making a plan of action for short or long term recovery
Remind participants again that recovery takes time and they may do this process again if needed