Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Gem From a Master - The Drama Triangle

In 1987, my dear friend and teacher, Jordan Roberts, hadn’t yet contracted HIV and died of AIDS. He was, rather, a strong and healthy 40-something-year-old psychologist. Working from his beautiful craftsman-style home on Seattle’s Capital Hill, Jordan held classes and group therapy and met with clients, both individually and in couples. He was an extremely private man, even though hundreds of people came into his home every month. He was also one of the wisest men I have ever known.

I met Jordan via a small, free newspaper, bundles of which were dumped into the doorways of health food stores, coffee shops, and libraries around the city. The Experimental College advertised short, low-cost adult classes which ran the gamut from pottery and dance classes to self-esteem building.

Earning a psychology degree had not put an end to my shyness and struggle with feeling not good enough. I knew I had low self-esteem. It was time to do something about it.

[Confession time: it took three times of attending Jordan’s self-esteem class before the dramatic shifts really happened. Consequently, my life and relationships changed profoundly.]

I would like to share with you the shining jewel that forever changed the way I conducted myself in relationships, the most empowering tool that Jordan shared with tens of thousands of students. It is called The Drama Triangle. Designed by Stephen Karpman, a teacher of Transactional Analysis and respected psychologist, many therapists today still use his diagram to help clients create healthier relationships.

Karpman Drama Triangle

Imagine a triangular-shaped board game with three positions, one at each corner. We, as players, unwittingly play this game, attempting to get our emotional needs met. We are usually not aware of how caught up we get, nor that there is a much healthier way to live. The object of the game is to Get Off The Board.

The first step is to become aware that we are playing. The second is to learn a different, more healthy way to interact -- one that can authentically fulfill our emotional needs.

When caught in the game, people generally play a favorite position, but often jump to the other two corners when things get uncomfortable. It’s nearly impossible to STOP playing until you recognize you’re on the board, but once you do, jumping off can stop a cycle of shame and disempowerment you may have been unconsciously living for years.

THE VICTIM – “Poor me” “It’s not my fault” “Life happens TO me” “I’m incapable”

The Victim role is by far the most influential (read: manipulative) and destructive to healthy relating.

While the Victim may look like the least powerful person, the truth is, Victims run the game. 

If you find yourself in this position or someone in your life is playing it, the key to getting off the board is for the Victim to 

  • realize there are always options and 
  • move into problem solving.

THE RESCUER – “Let me help you” “It’s for your own good” “Enabler” “Smotherer”

Being a Rescuer may sound and look noble, but is actually a big part of the powerlessness game.
Whether you want it or not, this person will be your caretaker. The Rescuer is the classic helpful “co-dependent.” (This was my favorite role, and it is still a struggle at times to stay off the board!) 

If this is you or someone you know, the key for the Rescuer is to 

  • recognize the habitual behaviour and
  • learn to encourage and empower others.

– “It’s all your fault” “Criticizer” “Always Right” “Win-Lose”

The Persecutor can be recognized as the angry-at-the-world role.
Desperately needing to be right, this person pushes, executing sophisticated power-ploys that keep everyone off-balance and one-down. As with all of the positions, it is a controlling role, stemming from a wounded self-image. 

If you find yourself or see someone playing this position, the keys to stopping are 

  • admitting you’re playing the blame-and-attack-role and 
  • learning to set clear boundaries. (“This behavior works for me, that behavior doesn’t.”)

Jumping out of this far-too-common game is not easy if it has become habit. The roles can become so familiar (every TV drama banks on it) that there don’t appear to be alternatives. 

The truth is, the fulfillment that comes from taking full responsibility for the health of your relationships is worth every step it takes to stop the game and learn new, empowering ways of communicating.

Once again, this reminder: We Can Only Change Ourselves. If you see this game happening in one of your relationships, consider that you may be an unwitting participant! At a time when you are NOT in the midst of a drama, you may choose to share this information with your person… not to change them, but to ask for their support in changing your pattern. Be kind and patient with yourself. Expect some resistance. Change is rarely easy. But especially in this case, totally worth it.

[Even though I wrote and posted this nearly ten years ago, I still regularly refer clients to it. Bringing it back to the top to be more easily found.]

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


Hope you enjoy this story. It started with the single prompt word: 


“Torino’s,” came the almost-barked answer.

I could hear the bustle of the kitchen crew working around him and the murmur of customers’ voices chatting, laughing, blending with the pulse of Bob Marley’s music.

“We just got a call from the Humane Society. Someone’s turned in a golden, and we’re first on the request list," I jumped right in. "He’s an owner surrender, so there’s no four-day hold before he can be adopted. I have him reserved and can be there at 4:30. Can you meet me?”

“Won’t be able to make it ‘til 5, but yes!” There was a pause. “Call me if he’s not the right one, okay?”

“Will do.”

“Gotta run. Crazy lunch rush today. See you soon!”

Walking between the cages at the pound was always heart wrenching. The Green Mile flitted through my mind. Some of these dogs, I knew, would be euthanized within days of my visit, their time having run out. It was the only reason I would never volunteer there. I would probably exceed the city's pet limit before the end of my first shift.

Stopping in front of the second to last pen, the shelter assistant turned to me. “He’s pretty scared, so you'll want to take it slowly.”

Peering into the narrow cell, I saw a cowering, thin, gold dog tucked into the far corner. He sat up as we stood at the door, continuing to press his back into the wall, keeping his gaze down, only glancing briefly at us and then quickly away. I read the paper clipped to the metal board that was attached to the wire wall:

Max. Male Golden Retriever. Neutered. Approx. 1.5 years. Owner surrender. There was a sad-looking polaroid stapled to the corner and a huge white expanse beneath the section titled “Notes:”

 I dropped to my knees, shifted my gaze away from him, and softly called, “Hey, Max. Come on, pup." There was a slight shift as he heard his name. "Promise I won’t hurt you.”

I looked up at the woman beside me. “Do you know his story? Why is he here?” 

“Sounds like this guy’s been passed around a lot already in his short life. The girl who brought him in was his third owner, as far as she knew. She got him from her little brother. Kept him secret from her landlord for the past couple weeks, but a neighbour ratted her out. Landlord told her it was either the dog went or she did. Kinda tough hiding an 80-pound dog.”

We chuckled together.

“Anyway, it seems her brother stole the dog from some guy who had a junkyard, selling parts from crashed cars. He’d somehow gotten ahold of Max here… and was trying to turn him into a guard dog. Throwin’ rocks at him. Tryin’ to make him mean. Imagine… a golden. The kid couldn’t stand seeing that jerk damaging this beautiful dog and one night borrowed his dad’s wire snips and broke him out. When his dad heard the story the following morning, he didn’t make his son take Max back, but also wouldn’t let him keep him. So, the boy reached out to his sister.

“What a story,” I said, gazing back into the pen. He hadn't moved. “It’s okay, Max. Come on, bud.”

The assistant reached into her pocket and handed me a small Milk Bone.

“Here you go, Max. Want a treat?” I’d never known a golden who could resist food, and true to his breed, he lifted his twitching nose and slowly began to follow it forward. Just before reaching the door, he slunk to his belly. Stretching his neck as far toward the cookie as he could, he eventually pulled himself within reach of the treat that I held through the wire. 

There was no snapping. He looked up at me with those big brown eyes that seemed to be overflowing with gratitude, as he gently took it and stepped back to crunch it down. 

In the greeting room, it took a good ten minutes before he eased out from behind my legs to meet Wayne. Once he did though, the bond was instant. He was safe. An hour later, we signed the paperwork, wrote a check, and the healing began.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Marianne Williamson for POTUS??

Over the past couple of days a few friends have shared the news that Marianne Williamson, an author and teacher whose work I have read for years, is considering running for President of the United States. (You can click those last few words to read her announcement.)

Perhaps you have read Marianne's most famous quote at some point:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us....

As an almost-dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, I would love to see Marianne Williamson leading the U.S., not only for my friends and family in the states, but because of the country’s international clout. (Even though, as I just learned, the U.S. holds only 4.4% of the world's population, its wealth and firepower influences so many countries' policies.)

My thoughts may be unpopular – and totally un-IPpie-like – but they come from my gut and hours of thinking and discussion with wise, insightful people…. 

I honestly don't believe America is anywhere NEAR mature enough to elect as President someone as evolved as Marianne Williamson. I would absolutely LOVE to be wrong about this. I sincerely hope she runs for office (though I’m not convinced that President is the place to start.) I believe she has the potential to begin opening more people's minds -- those who don't judge and mock her, that is. She could get the political ship heading in a wiser, more compassionate direction. 

We who work with clients know that it takes time (and baby steps) to help shift even the most willing people from their fears. There are millions of people in the states – nearly half of the voting population – committed to the status quo, insisting that being tough and kicking a** on the world stage is “great” – people who don't seem to be interested in win-win collaboration or inclusion, let alone creating a loving, empowered world family.

It’s my belief that, in order to overthrow Trump in 2020, we U.S. voters will need to support the candidate who has the best chance of ousting him. Many of us know and love Marianne Williamson; however, most of my friends have never heard of her – or perhaps have heard her quote above and nothing more. 

We need someone that can actually be heard by a larger population than just their “base.”  Over the years I’ve seen many liberal, compassionate voters split their votes between two or three candidates, hoping to elect somone with awesome values, and lose to the regimented conservatives by doing so. 

As much as I wish that America was ready for a wise president (female or male), I think there are a lot of tough old white men and their diamond-studded wives (not to mention their middle-aged kids) who are clamped onto their wealth and privilege, wanting someone who looks and thinks like them in the White House. How can we find a win-win in this environment?

Sadly, in our current culture, I don’t believe that a highly-educated woman talking about loving and spiritual awakening can beat a neighborhood bully appealing to people’s base selves. There are too many people looking to blame rather than looking to connect. 

I’m not saying the tide isn’t shifting and there is no hope. Our message of empowerment is strong and miraculous and is spreading. I just don’t think we’re there yet.

The 2020 election is an important stepping-stone one, where moderate-to-liberal U.S. voters will need to choose their candidate carefully, finding someone that the semi-scared, on-the-fence folks AND more open-hearted, inclusive people will elect. Our next candidate has to beat a TV rock star! Our candidate will have to know how to play the current political game, or guaranteed they will lose, and we will have four more years of Trump's bullying, lies and self-serving policies to endure. That person will need to speak the language of the terrified nationalists in order to help ease them into a healthier future. I’m not sure that Marianne Williamson speaks that language.

How about you? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about M.W. as POTUS or any other ideas sparked by reading this post.