Are you a victim, a persecutor, or a rescuer? If you’re human, chances are there will be different situations where you may view yourself (or be seen by others) as all three. As a coach, it’s hard to know which role clients find more exhausting. It’s a toxic dynamic. Luckily an empowering antidote is on hand.
The drama triangle (first described by Stephen Karpman in 1961) is used in psychology to describe the insidious way in which we present ourselves as “victims,” “persecutors” and “rescuers.” Although all three are ‘roles’ and none may be true to who we really are, we can all get caught in a cycle that is hard to escape.
The Victim sees life as happening to them and feels powerless to change their circumstances. Victims place blame on a Persecutor who can be a person or a situation. Being powerless, the victim ostensibly seeks a rescuer to solve the problem for them. Victims also have a sneaky interest in validating their problem as being unsolvable.
The Rescuer in turn seems to want to help the victim but in fact acts in a way that is geared to the rescuer’s own need to be seen, It’s important to qualify here that when we talk about the rescuer in this situation we do not mean someone such as a fire-fighter, who is dealing with a real emergency in an honest way. The definition of Rescuer in the Drama Triangle is someone who seems to be striving to solve a victim’s problems but in fact does so in ways that result in the victim having less power, with the rescuer benefiting more than the victim.
Do you recognize this form of mind game that is anxiety-based and focused on problems? It’s self-perpetuating and designed to keep the victim powerless in a dynamic which creates a roller coaster of tension and relief.
For years, it was generally accepted that the only way to deal with the ‘Dreaded Drama Triangle’ was simply to be aware of it and to exert a huge amount of willpower over the roles one played. Then, in 2005, a Medical Doctor and Coach, David Emerald Womeldorff -don’t you love that name- published a new model which is now starting to become widely used to facilitate teamwork and productivity in organizations around the world.
Unlike The Dreaded Drama Triangle, which is problem focused, TED (The Empowerment Dynamic) is oriented towards your passions. It’s very focused on goals and outcomes. TED is a teaching story about self-leadership whose principals and frameworks are based on Wolmerdorff’s own studies on collaboration with a wide range of individuals and organizations. In short, it offers up a much-needed antidote to the drama triangle.
In TED (The Empowerment Dynamic Womeldorff creates a new triangle in which:
The Victim transmogrifies into Creator
The Persecutor takes on the role of Challenger
The Rescuer assumes the dynamic new role of Coach
Of course, each of these shifts requires a huge amount of imagination and courage. For someone who has always seen themselves as the victim, it can be an enormous stretch to get creative and consider, perhaps for the first time, what their long-term goal or vision is. Creators are focused on outcomes, rather than on problems. Yes, of course, problems will always occur, but TED encourages us to see these obstacles as challenges that force us to clarify our goals.
By taking what Womeldorff calls “baby steps,” as creators, we get clearer about the outcomes we are trying to create in our lives.
The final role of the triangle is that of coach. Instead of seeing their duty as being to rescue someone, a coach asks questions intended to help the individual make informed choices. The key difference between a rescuer and a coach is that the coach sees the individual as capable of making choices and solving their own problems.For the rescuer, the victim is broken. For the coach the client is creative, resourceful and whole.
Whether you currently find yourself most often playing the role of victim, rescuer or oppressor, I’d love to invite you to pivot into the more empowering, passion-based roles of challenger, coach or creator.
Remy Blumenfeld is a creative life coach living in London. He empowers leaders to play the game of life with purpose, grace and ease. Before training as coach, he launched a TV Production company which created dozens of ground breaking, TV shows.