“Leave yo dramma with yo mamma.” – Unknown

“I can’t believe he’s late again!”

“How was I supposed to know?”

“It’s not fair!”

“It’s all your fault!”

What’s The Drama Triangle?

The Drama Triangle has been around long before 1968 when Stephen Karpman, M.D. coined the concept as a way to graphically display a type of destructive interaction that can occur between people in conflict.

Karpman was a student of Dr. Eric Berne, who wrote one of the most insightful books I’ve ever read, Games People Play. Eric was the founder of Transactional Analysis, who developed a model of people and relationships. The Drama Triangle is in a similar vein, and explains the dynamics of victimhood that causes us to make mistakes in how we can be responsible communicators and as a result, improves our own self-care.

In the Drama Triangle, each of us operates from one of three positions:

  • The Victim
  • The Rescuer
  • The Persecutor

We rotate through them possibly several times a day, maybe even taking on all the roles at once or rotating among them in one situation. Participants in a Drama Triangle create misery for themselves and others.

Here’s one of my favorite graphical depictions of the Drama Triangle, and associated behaviors for each of the three roles:

Drama Blocks our Self-Care

Without self-care, we spin our wheels in ways that don’t serve us. We continue until we are exhausted, or we feel unappreciated because someone didn’t see what we were trying to explain or point out. When we are aware we are in drama, we can recognize when we are in it. We can get out of drama by expressing our true feelings, ideally responsibly.

Pausing, or shifting your time or behavior intentionally, can help increase your awareness, and do something about it, such as responsibly expressing how you are feeling in the moment.

How Does Pausing Help?

Making an intentional shift in behavior — what I call a pause — allows anyone to step away from the drama and look at what’s really going on. When you allow yourself time to pause, it builds in time to also evaluate and sense if you are in the drama triangle.

Are you going on and on and on about something? Are you complaining or feel helpless? Are you blaming or shaming when expressing how you feel would result in something more meaningful and allow you to be more accurately seen?

If so, take a pause. This could be as simple as a few deep breaths, or a minute of silence to reflect. The idea is to allow the space to pause and increase your awareness, and then take action.

You can get out of the Drama Triangle by identifying what you are feeling, and expressing that responsibly.

Being responsible means taking ownership of your feelings and expressing them in the moment. This requires a willingness to be vulnerable.

“I am hurt right now.”
“I am frustrated.”
“I am upset.”

Why is it So Easy To Be in Drama?

It all goes back to the theory of attachment. In our early developmental stages, from when we are born to about two years old, we get ‘hardwired’ with our neurological networks. These experiences form how we deal with our emotions, and what we believe about others, the world, and ourselves.

The resulting attachment we feel towards others in our lives during this period affects who and how we show up in the world today. We are hard-wired to attach. The yearning to attach is a basic human need, but our attachment patterns often limits, warps, or avoids the healthy, sustaining, comforting attachment we yearn for. The good news is, all of us are capable of shifting these patterns, but it takes time and conscious shifts in behavior.

Our efforts to attach often result in unconscious roles, queue the Drama Triangle. Each of the three roles: These roles of victim, prosecutor, or rescuer, are all “false” roles taken on to attach to others in some way, but instead usually result in further conflict, unmet yearnings, and pain as the illustration points out.

How to Get out of Drama

I use Daniel Siegel’s “name it to tame it” strategy whenever I catch myself in drama. “I’m so hurt. I’m angry. I don’t feel seen.” I express. I cry. I scream. I reach out for support. I use my self-care practices and get nourished. If I still feel reactive, I need to continue to express and go through it to come out the other side.

Personally, my unconscious is happy to play any of these three roles on a regular basis. I default to take on a victim role, but other times I’m a great rescuer, and still other times I pull out my prosecutor card and start pointing the finger at someone else.

In any of these roles, our needs go unmet because we’re not seen accurately seen in the here and now with positive regard unconditionally. We’re left feeling drained, exhausted and tired.

Be a Drama Detective

Here’s a few ways you can become a drama detective so you can identify when you are in the Drama Triangle. Once you’re aware you can quickly get out of it by expressing how you feel in the moment.

Pick a situation where you feel victimized and identify who is playing the other roles, which can be a person, place, or thing. 
Watch TV and name the roles. Who’s the victim? Who’s the prosecutor? Who’s the Rescuer?
Tell someone about the Drama Triangle. . Studies show that when you teach something, you improve your understanding of it.

What’s your favorite drama role to take on? How can you be more aware of drama, and what feeling is going on when you are in it? How does drama affect you? Are you excited and feeling great? Or are you exhausted, drained, and spent of energy trying to mitigate it playing out?

The more you are aware of drama, the more you can recognize it and leave your drama behind.

References & More Info
Dr. Bob Wright “Dealing With Office Drama.” https://youtu.be/Uy1XiNJ74vY

“Breaking The Drama Triangle.” Johngouletmft.com. www.johngouletmft.com/ 

“The Drama Triangle by Stephen Karpman, M.D.”



  • Rachael O'Meara

    Author & Speaker of bestselling book Pause. Googler. Coach.

    Rachael O’Meara is a transformation and executive coach who empowers professionals to learn and build the emotional intelligence skills to thrive at work and beyond. For the past twelve years, Rachael's experience in sales and client services at Google has helped her have a pulse on what it takes to be a successful and thriving transformational leader. Her book Pause was named one of 2017's top business books for your career and was featured in the New York Times, WSJ.com and on the TEDx stage in 2019. She is certified in Transformational Coaching from the Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential and currently completing her MA in Transformational Leadership & Coaching. Rachael also has an MBA from Fordham University. Rachael lives in San Francisco with her husband and pauses as much as possible to ski, road bike, and BE (a lifelong challenge!).