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Hi and welcome back! I saw this thing about the drama triangle recently, and it explained so much. Today, let me show you what it is — and why it’s relevant to our interests.

(Alex Woods.) Credit: Alex Woods / Unsplash

(Today is a short overflow post so Disqus doesn’t cause issues for commenters. Overflow posts are always off-topic wonderlands.)

The Drama Triangle.

This article explains how drama-seekers arrange roles in their dramas. Drama-seekers try to create a three-role play. Psych people call these roles “the drama triangle,” or more properly the Karpman Triangle (after its creator, Stephen Karpman).

A lot of interpersonal stuff gets more stable with three people involved, rather than just two. So drama-seekers find it far more rewarding to bounce off of two people rather than just one. That’s why we often find dramas that involve more than just a couple, or just one child and parent. One or both people in these pairs will seek out a third person. Here are the three roles in the drama triangle:

  • Persecutor. This one needs to feel correct and justified.
  • Victim. This one needs to feel innocent and blameless.
  • Rescuer. This one needs to feel like a kind, brave do-gooder.

The conflict initially erupts between the Persecutor and the Victim. One of them will seek out a Rescuer. Maybe both of them will seek out a Rescuer, though it seems like the classic model only the Victim seeks a Rescuer.

Incidentally, this is why a lot of people seem to seek out the same dysfunction in relationship after relationship. Once we get used to one role, we tend to perpetuate it and train others to handle the other roles for us.

The Roles in the Drama Triangle.

And the Victim doesn’t need to be an actual victim in this conflict. The person in the wrong can easily play the Victim. All we require here is that Victims feel unfairly hard-done-by.

Similarly, the person who is in the right can be the Persecutor very easily. They’re the one insisting the other person is wrong and at fault.

Meanwhile, the Rescuer just keeps their target (whoever it is) stuck in their mindset. Personally, I can see a Rescuer propping up the Persecutor, especially if that person’s technically in the right in the conflict.

In addition, the three roleplayers can take different roles in different dramas. Maybe the Victim will get mad at the Persecutor, who then becomes the Victim and seeks out their own Rescuer, while the former Victim morphs into a Persecutor in this particular conflict.

Always, each roleplayer gets something out of their participation in the drama triangle: a payoff. That payoff means more to them than actually resolving the conflict amicably.

The Way the Drama Triangle Reinforces Dysfunction.

You might have noticed that the roles in the drama triangle are very black-or-white viewpoints. Indeed, they are. While the Victim feels unfairly mistreated, for example, it’s almost impossible for them to take an active role in resolving their dysfunctional relationship. If a Rescuer is there reinforcing the injustice and unfairness of the Persecutor’s behavior, it’ll be that much harder for the Victim and Persecutor to resolve their problem.

Luckily, there are ways to avoid becoming part of a drama triangle. Authoritarians, however, will find those ways impossible. One of the biggest shifts in avoiding drama is refusing to see oneself as superior or inferior to our loved ones — and to stop seeing conflicts as fights to be won or lost, but rather as situations that need resolving in a way that works for everyone. (More to the point, conflicts that absolutely can’t be resolved — because any resolution makes one or the other of the partners deeply unhappy — get recognized as the dealbreakers they are.)

That’s authoritarianism in a nutshell, unfortunately. Authoritarians think it’s a good thing that everyone in a relationship has a rank compared to everyone else, and that whoever holds more rank can command obedience from anyone else beneath them. They’re quick to seek outside counseling from their church leaders and peers, thus creating triangles galore. And they see all conflicts as battles that they must win at all costs.

What I’m saying is that I may have stumbled into an understanding of why hard-right authoritarian Christians’ relationships are such drama bombs — and just in time for our traditional Halloween post about dysfunctional Christian relationships!

NEXT UP: An evangelical guy thinks he’s figured out how to prod the unwilling flocks to sell their product more often. See you tomorrow!

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This is an overflow post. Overflow posts are always OT wonderlands. Enjoy!

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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