This post is a cut and paste from David Emerald’s recent TED Letter. I am respecting the copyright requirements by not editing the content to make a short and snappy post. Despite the length, I feel the post is worth a read which is why I am including it here. Check out The Power of TED for more. It is a simple story with a powerful message.
In the end… we’re talking about choice… You choose your response to what shows up in your life-either as a conscious response or an unconscious reaction. When you simply react, it means you are choosing the way of the Victim. If, on the other hand, you stay mindful of current reality and determine how best to respond, you’ve entered The Empowerment Dynamic.
In last month’s TED* Letter we explored addiction to drama from the perspective of being in relationship – personal or professional – with someone else who is the addict. This month we turn our attention to an even tougher challenge: when we are the one who is addicted to drama. Admitting an addiction is the first step to transforming your relationship to the addictive behavior – as anyone who is familiar with the 12-step recovery process well knows. Addiction is part of the human experience and we all – at least to some extent – have addictions. All addiction pulls us into – and perpetuates – the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT). Each of the roles – Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer – has their own ways of fanning the flames and keeping the drama alive. The addiction to drama is fueled by the adrenaline rush of anxiety (or even fear) and results in reactivity in a variety of forms. So, when you “go reactive” (and we all do), which of the DDT role(s) do you gravitate toward? You may have one primary role or you may play all of them, depending on the situation. As you read the following descriptions of how each role plays out their drama addiction, pay attention to where discomfort arises. That may be the very place(s) to look!
- Victim as Drama Addict – On the surface it may seem improbable that a person in the Victim role would “want” to perpetuate the drama. However, if one has adopted Victimhood as a way of being and a self-identity, there are a number of payoffs. (For more on Victimhood, see the February, 2006 and May, 2008 issues of “The TED* Letter” in the archives.) One primary payoff is the abdication of responsibility and accountability. “It’s not my fault,” is the song of the Victim and blaming a Persecutor for their powerlessness is the refrain. Another is that the Victim then can look for and become dependent on a Rescuer – be it a person or a thing, such as alcohol, drugs or some other way of numbing out from the feelings of powerlessness. A Victim may feel justified in lashing back at the Persecutor (“an eye for an eye”) and, in so doing, become a Persecutor themselves and add fuel to the flames of the drama.
- Persecutor as Drama Addict – Persecutors are pivotal to the DDT. The Persecutor often gets the ball rolling or keeps it in play. There are a variety of ways in which this can happen, all of which stem from the Persecutor’s need to be “one up” and/or to dominate the Victim. The need to be right; the show of superiority; the blaming of the Victim for their circumstances are all ways the Perpetrator can ignite the drama. Arrogance, criticizing, finger-pointing, fault-finding and controlling may be ways in which the Persecutor’s personality expresses itself. Such behavior sometimes is conscious and purposeful, but many times it stems from the Persecutor’s own reactivity and fear of their own Victimhood. In either case, there can be the addictive “rush” that comes from the sense of righteousness that characterizes a Persecutor.
- Rescuer as Drama Addict – A Rescuer loves to be the hero, rushing in to “save the day.” When they do, they enjoy the satisfaction – the “high” – of righting the wrong or putting out the “fire.” Only, in so doing, they reinforce the powerlessness of the Victim and perpetuate the drama (even if it seems to alleviate the “pain” of the moment). A Rescuer may even be so addicted to their role that they create the very situation into which they can later insert themselves as the hero (for example, “Savior Sam” mentioned in last months issue). What a drama-addicted Rescuer most fears is not being needed. When they do not feel needed, they then feel rejected or abandoned and move into the Victim role. Of course this only serves to keep drama alive. Which of the brief descriptions above elicited the most response from you?
Do you see glimpses of yourself in any one – or all three? I do. Here is an example from my own life – a “true confession” to illustrate both a previous addiction and the way I have transformed my relationship to it: Because of some early childhood experiences, I was “wired” to be hypersensitive to the possibility of abandonment in my relationships with “significant others.” The fear of becoming a Victim of such rejection drove the drama addiction. If I began to suspect any form of abandonment, I would react in one of two ways: Either by saying something harsh or cynical – thereby stepping into the role of Persecutor to get her to react and engage with me – or by withdrawing or pouting in hopes that she would react by becoming the Rescuer and making me feel better. Either reaction on my part perpetuated the drama and fed my addiction to it! As I came to identify the pattern, I looked for the “dream that was denied or thwarted” – what it was that I was really after.
In The Power of TED*, Ted points out that “All Victims have experienced a loss – a thwarted dream or aspiration…” (page 17, second edition). What I came to see is that both reactive strategies were dysfunctional attempts to create connection. As a Persecutor, I could get her to react and interact with me (though not pleasantly!) and playing the Victim so that she would be my Rescuer only served to reinforce the underlying sense of powerlessness and neediness. As a result, I now ask for what I want or need in my relationship with my wife and, if twinges of the old pattern emerge, I speak directly about the feelings so that we can process the situation as co-Creators. As this brief example illustrates, there are several simple (though not always easy!) steps you can take to break your own cycle of addiction to drama.
1. Identify and own your default drama role(s) – In what ways do you initiate and/or perpetuate drama in your personal and professional life? When you “go reactive” and enter the drama, which role(s) do you default to? As you take on the role of Victim, Persecutor and/or Rescuer, what is a typical way in which the drama plays out? What are the “payoffs” for you in the role(s)? What are the most common unintended consequences that come from continuing the drama?
2. Discern the “dream or desire” behind the behavior – What is it you really want? If a Victim, what is the dream or desire that has been denied or thwarted? If a Persecutor, is your behavior to prove your worth; to be right; to be superior – or is it to urge growth and development? If a Rescuer, are you wanting to be the “hero” and save the day and fix the other person or situation – or is to be of support in helping others find their own solutions?
3. Make the shift from DDT to TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic) roles – As a Victim, shift your focus from reacting to what you don’t want or like to focusing on what you do want and take baby steps to move in that direction as a Creator. If a Persecutor, by shifting from an intention to look good/be right into a “learning intention” for yourself and others, you can become a Challenger that sparks growth and development. If a Rescuer, by shifting from seeing the other as a problem to fix into holding them as inherently capable and resourceful, you can support them by helping them clarify their own outcomes and create their own solutions. (Much more on how to make the shift between roles can be found in The Power of TED*.)
As human beings we will always be challenged by the push and pull of drama in our lives. By increasing our awareness of those ways in which we may be addicted to drama and how we initiate and/or perpetuate the toxic DDT, we can claim our capacity as a Creator to transform those old, outdated and habitual patterns into new, empowered, more resourceful – and more rewarding – ways of thinking, being and taking action.
Putting TED* into Practice: Breaking the Cycle This practice is best done as a journal exercise. Use the three steps above to identify and explore your own drama addiction patterns; discern your true intention, dream and/or desire; and commit to the making the shift in your roles and relationships.
Written and edited by David Emerald © 2009