I generally like my drama short, simple and solvable. To me, a good movie plot involves clearly bad people doing obviously wrong things on their way to being utterly destroyed by clearly good people doing what’s right. I can handle 90 minutes of dramatic content as long as the plot is heading to a resolution. Two hours? No. Your average Kevin Costner Field-of-Dancing-Wolves-in-Waterworld-Dreams movie? Goodness, NO! Simple storyline with righteousness prevailing and I’m happy. No sequel. A sequel means the drama wasn’t resolved with finality.
Drama on the big screen is one thing, drama in real life is another. Everyone encounters problems and disturbances from time to time. We engage these upsets by developing and implementing appropriate solutions. Most of us are diligent and proactive to reduce the frequency and impact of these dramatic life hiccups. However, we all know people who seem to live in a constant state of drama. Their lives are an ongoing storyline of conflict and upheaval and victimization. Well-meaning individuals have tried to help them but the problems are never really resolved. These people simply remain upset and upsetting to everyone around them.
At the heart of these renewable and unsolvable struggles is a fairly predictable life script. Dr. Stephen Karpman first described the basics of the Drama Triangle in the late 1960’s. Since then, communication and management consultants have modified the model to fit a variety of relational and organizational contexts. The Drama Triangle remains a simple but relevant paradigm for understanding chronically troubled people’s behavior. Basically, the drama is driven by three main roles:
- The Rescuer: The strong and capable hero who is working hard to save the Victim from the Persecutor.
- The Persecutor: The bad person who is harming the Victim.
- The Victim: The innocent person being persecuted, oppressed and generally mistreated.
The Drama is set in motion at the initiative of the chronically upset person. Since it is their drama, they get to choose their role first. And they generally choose Victim, though occasionally they will take a shot at Rescuer. They assign unsuspecting people to the open roles and create the plot and direct the action. You’ve seen this played out many times. For example: A person comes along side you and whispers, “So-and-so must be mad at me. She just walked past me without saying a word. I don’t know what I did to her. I smiled at her but she acted like I wasn’t even there.” You feel the Rescuer well up inside you as you comfort and reassure the victim of the alleged slight. You feel offended on her behalf and consider confronting the other person about being insensitive. You also consider how you can show the wounded person more attention. You wonder if you have also been insensitive to her. Within a matter of seconds you are devising a plan to right these wrongs. Unfortunately, you just bought into the Drama. And once you’re in, it is tricky getting out.
The Drama can be as simple as the above scenario or complex and well developed, spanning years of upheaval and trauma. The long version of the Drama consumes huge amounts of time and energy. The initial excitement quickly gives way to a weary dread of “what’s next?” as the curtain never falls on the plot. Getting into the Drama is easy. Getting out is difficult.
Drama bail out basically involves resigning from the cast and getting off the stage. Getting out comes at a cost but it is well worth it. The Drama exit is always through the Persecutor role. If you decide to bow out, count on becoming the bad guy. Here are a few pointers on getting out if you’re already in:
- Don’t waste your time pointing out the Drama to the troubled person. They don’t see it. It is their reality.
- Monitor your own need to be a hero. Under normal circumstances, most people are attracted to the Rescuer role. We all want to be helpful. However, In cases like this, there is no happy ending.
- Monitor your guilt about being the bad guy. Get used to the idea that you will be talked about in negative terms. Relinquish any hope of controlling the gossip. You’ll be better off in the long run even if a few people think you’re unkind.
- The Drama isn’t real. It is always at least 90% fiction and the 10% truth is exaggerated. Living in fiction will eventually make you crazy. Live in the truth and stay sane.
- Don’t try to defend, explain or otherwise persuade the troubled person that you aren’t evil. At no point will he/she thoughtfully say, “Wow. That’s a great point. Thank you for making this clear to me.” It’s usually best to just acknowledge that you heard their complaint and move on.
- Staying out of the Drama in the first place is always the best strategy. Recognize it early and don’t take the bait.
It’s fortnight. Enjoy it. And may all your dramas last no more than 90 minutes.