If you’ve ever worked with a therapist or a relationship coach, you may have been introduced to the Drama Triangle. It’s a model for understanding the unhealthy relationships we can establish with other people, ourselves, or the world around us. Perhaps you’ve also seen The Empowerment Dynamic, an inverse model that puts a positive twist on each of the Drama Triangle roles. What you might not know, though, is what to do with those models — how to flip the switch from Drama to Empowerment.
The difference between the Drama Triangle and The Empowerment Dynamic hinges on the belief about the person at the center — a Victim with a fundamental lack or a Creator who’s resourceful and complete. With a shift in that core assumption, you can flip from toxicity to empowerment in your life.
Before we get into the how and why of this, you’ll want to review the fundamentals. Whether you’ve been introduced to these triangle models before or are meeting them for the first time, check out the companion article “Flip the Drama Triangle — Try the Empowerment Triangle!” It will lay the foundation of understanding that you’ll want for this article.
Stuck in The Drama Triangle Trap
David Emerald calls it the Dreaded Drama Triangle for a reason. It’s great at sucking people in and keeping them trapped inside.
Being in a Drama Triangle can be a trap, but it’s not a static experience. Rather, it’s normal to shift from one of the roles to another. None of them help you escape the triangle, though.
No matter which role you’re currently playing in a Drama Triangle, you’re not really in a position of power — at least not the power to resolve the situation and break free.
A Drama Triangle Example
Let’s look at an example dealing with romantic relationships.
A person might be in the Victim position because they feel that they don’t have the relationship that they want. The Persecutor could be the idea that there are no good men or women out there. And then the Hero in that situation would be a person who’s going to love the Victim the way they want to be loved and save them from their uninspiring life.
When someone looks at relationships through this sort of lens, they can enter the world of dating from a place of disempowerment. Whether subtly or overtly, they’re looking for someone to rescue them from their circumstances. That’s not attractive or magnetic.
What that person ends up doing is finding someone who is going to willingly play the Hero role in their life. They enter into a chain reaction that could well lead to getting trapped in a Drama Triangle cycle.
In this situation, the Hero who comes in to rescue the Victim from singleness might enjoy the role for a while. “I’m here to make your life exciting! Don’t worry about finding satisfaction within yourself; I’ll provide it.”
That reinforces the Victim’s powerlessness, and it puts the Hero in a position of being okay with the fact that the Victim isn’t okay. The Hero is sacrificing themselves to be the source of joy and fulfillment.
Over time, the Hero might develop resentment about the role or feel that they’re not being appreciated enough. There might be feelings of aggressive tension or a complaining sort of energy in the relationship.
And so the Hero ends up feeling like a Victim, and the relationship roles start to switch. But despite that change, both parties stay stuck in that Dreaded Drama Triangle.
Taking Control with the Empowerment Triangle Model
It’s so common to get trapped in a Drama Triangle that you might assume there’s no way out.
Let me tell you a secret: There’s a back door. It’s the door of responsibility. When you choose to take responsibility for your experiences, you can move from Victim to Creator. You can get out of a place of powerlessness and start to ask questions that will help you live intentionally.
When you realize that you are the architect of the situations in your life, you’ll have so much power in your reality. If you’ve been creating your situations the way they are, then you can also create them some other way. That’s so freeing and empowering.
An Empowerment Triangle Example
Let’s envision a business executive — let’s call him Jim — who works with a team of several people. He’s noticed that he tends to switch between the Victim and Hero modes in his relationship with one of those employees.
Jim wants this individual on his team to succeed, but he finds that he starts to overcompensate for the person’s lack of capability and attention. He often swoops in to save the day on his work projects.
Each time, it gives Jim a serotonin hit. He likes coming to the rescue and showing off his competence.
The serotonin boost doesn’t last long, though. Then, Jim starts sliding into the Victim position. He thinks, “I’m carrying too much. I have to hold this person up again and again. I feel obligated to compromise myself for him.”
Is it time to give up on this person? He genuinely cares about the employee’s success, but the Hero-Victim cycle is taking its toll.
There’s another option: Jim can move into The Empowerment Dynamic and take his place as a Coach instead of a Hero.
Permission to Fail
Making this shift calls for a change in thinking. It will require Jim to allow his employee to fail. He may even have to let him hit rock bottom. When the employee stumbles, Jim’s not going to swoop in and save the day next time.
By holding back, Jim will allow the other person to create and develop the necessary learning. The team member will then have opportunities to move into the Creator position.
Shifting from the Dreaded Drama Triangle to The Empowerment Dynamic isn’t always a simple mental switch. It can require going through the gauntlet of actually failing and finding your feet underneath you. It calls for taking responsibility for certain consequences and then stepping into your life.
If like Jim, you’ve been playing the Hero for a long time, that can be challenging to watch. But if you’re able to get out of the way, you can start to hold space for the other person’s development.
An Act of Courage
The knowledge that failure is possible means that this move takes courage. It requires a real act of courage to move into this position of trusting someone — whether yourself or another person — to be whole and complete.
I think courage is such a beautiful concept. It’s also a powerful tool you can have in your toolkit.
When faced with a choice to shift your thinking, ask yourself, “Is this something that’s worth being courageous about?” If not, save yourself the headache. But if it is, then take the step, make the jump, and go for the risk.
So many of the great benefits we can experience in our world come from taking some kind of courageous action in the world.
Doing so helps us become the kind of person who doesn’t build walls around the city to protect it from some external threat. Rather, we come to accept that a threat could happen, but we can be okay on the other side of that threat. That is courageous action.
Whole, Resourceful, and Complete
It’s said that Joseph Campbell once observed, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
A step in moving into The Empowerment Dynamic is going into the cave that you don’t want to go into. It might be surrendering control or giving up trying to control others. It could mean moving into a place of taking radical responsibility for your part in creating the very thing you don’t want.
And then there’s courage involved in dismantling that dynamic. It could lead to a loss of approval or validation.
Fear of loss stems from a belief about some kind of lack in the world. Perhaps you are afraid that there could be a situation where you won’t have something that you want in the world.
But at the center of the empowerment model, there’s this idea that you are whole and resourceful and complete.
You can step out of the Drama Triangle when you realize that you have always had enough, exactly as you are right now. You are here. You are whole and resourceful and complete within yourself to find whatever the thing is that you are looking for in the world.
There are two forces in the world: love and fear. We can make choices from one of those two places all of the time. We’re either moving toward something that we want, or we’re moving away from something that we don’t want.
We can take action from a place of fear and stay in the Drama Triangle, or we can act from a place of love and wholeness as we move into The Empowerment Dynamic.
It’s resourceful to think of moving from the Drama Triangle to The Empowerment Dynamic as a practice. It’s a step-by-step journey in which you shift the balance toward making more decisions out of love than fear and taking more and more ownership of your role as a Creator.
It’s okay to make that switch incrementally over time. For help along the way, listen to “Getting Out of the Drama Triangle with Clayton Olson” on The Shift to Freedom Podcast.