I’m the kind of guy who likes to geek out about things like conversations, so below are my current thoughts on the topic.
The Drama Triangle
I run into so many people who want to feel empowered in their relationships but keep getting caught in frustrating emotional entanglements. Does this ever happen to you?
What’s going on here? One way to think about it: even with your best intentions, you’re ending up not with real empowerment, but with faux empowerment. Instead of feeling powerful and joyful, you’re caught in the role of victim, persecutor or rescuer. The bad news is this isn’t fun. The good news is that you’re not alone, and we know a lot about this place. It’s called the Drama Triangle. Let me show you how you get into it and provide a set of paths out.
Children learn to embody the positions on the Drama Triangle (from Steven Karpman) as its their only way of accessing power, albeit POWER OVER or POWER UNDER others. Getting power this way is a zero sum game and generates negative emotion (drama). Children haven’t yet developed to the place where we can enact POWER WITH others, which comes online with the maturing of the pre-frontal cortex (around the mid-20’s). My hope is that adults can unlearn these strategies and learn to move to the Empowerment Triangle (from David Emerald), bringing more true empowerment into the world.
Years back I had a martial arts instructor who was in the military. His platoon’s motto was, “admit nothing, deny everything and make counteraccusations.” This is an extreme version of a Drama Triangle conversation, focused on fixing the blame on others (rather than fixing the problem). Embodying the skills required to be on the empowerment triangle moves us from “fixing the blame” to “fixing the problem.”
Heaven and Hell
The Drama Triangle is the Hell I want to avoid, and the Empowerment Triangle the Heaven I want to create. Do you feel the same way? I hope you will be so excited about the Heaven you can create with others that you will use these insights, reflection questions and practices to dramatically improve the outcomes, love, conversational skill, relationship and maturity you experience in your life.
Power Over, Power Under and Power With
The fifteen conversations outlined below are both a reminder of what conversations are available and an invitation to build skill with brand new conversations, as well as those you are already familiar. Each of the fifteen conversations listed below offers the possibility of getting OFF the Drama Triangle (Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer OR Savior, Scapegoat, Sacrificial Lamb) and ONTO the Empowerment Triangle (Creator, Challenger and Coach).
It’s easy and common to shift from Power Under (Victim) to Power Over (Persecutor) and feel empowered. Not so fast… I call this move “faux empowerment.” In the words of Jonathan Haidt, this is not the desired “integration” and subsequent move to the empowerment triangle, but merely an “inversion” of power relationships. Inverting is much easier than integrating as it doesn’t require that we develop our Wise Adult Consciousness (Nancy Shanteau).
True empowerment (POWER WITH others) comes from leaving the Drama Triangle and being on the Empowerment Triangle. It involves cultivating our Wise Adult Consciousness, and standing in the positions of Creator, Challenger and Coach.
Making the Move
The key question is, how do you get from one triangle to the other? I think the missing piece is understanding that this development often happens in conversations. What kinds? See below for a taxonomy of fifteen conversations I hope will help you to:
Fifteen Powerful Conversations
An Initial Categorization
A list of fifteen conversations may seem overwhelming (it does to me!), so here is one way to categorize them.
Now that we have the two triangles and fifteen conversations, here are reflection questions and practices to help you embody and enact true empowerment across a broad range of conversational possibilities!
Extra Credit Practices
Understand, Embody and Enact
At Kirtan Leader Institute we share understandings and practices required to EMBODY the moves of the Empowerment Triangle and ENACT them in the world with others. In order to Chant, Lead and Serve we need to be able to have power with others, create win-win situations and generate long-term relationships marked by positive (not negative) affect. Skill in a wide variety of conversations, conducted from the perspective of the Empowerment Triangle is very useful for making this happen!