The Toxic Triangle – How to Avoid Unnecessary Relationship Drama as a Working Mum
Do you ever find yourself on a treadmill? That your life as a working mum gets stuck in an unhelpful groove that you can’t quite get out of?
Maybe you feel resentful towards people in your life?
Maybe you’re constantly helping others but feeling that you don’t get the same help back?
Maybe you feel stuck in making any changes to get off the treadmill that you’re on?
If so, I want to share a common, but unhealthy, pattern that we can easily get drawn into. It’s called the Drama Triangle and it was first identified by Dr Stephen Karpman M.D.
The Drama Triangle
This triangle describes behaviours that we can fall into. These behaviours can grind us down and lead to unhealthy relationships. They can cause us unnecessary stress and limit our choices and ultimately our ability to thrive as working mums.
By recognizing these patterns we can consciously choose more empowering ways instead.
In the Drama Triangle Karpman placed the three central roles on a triangle.
The common roles I see playing out as working mums are:
Rescuer; Feeling like it’s our responsibility to do everything for everyone. Over helping, Over pleasing. Over accommodating. Over nurturing.
Persecutor: Blaming others and feeling resentful without taking responsibility for our own needs and communicating them effectively.
Victim: Ignoring our own wants and needs, putting other people’s needs before our own. Giving up on who we are and how to support ourselves to be at our best. Then feeling stuck and helpless to thrive as a working mum.
If you find yourself caught up in a Drama Triangle, either because you’ve been cast in a role (i.e. someone has sucked you into their drama) or you’ve cast yourself (i.e. it’s an unconscious pattern), give yourself some grace.
Many aspects of the roles in the Drama Triangle we’ve fallen (or get triggered) into once enabled us to cope and survive. But being in the Drama Triangle is toxic. We can bounce between the roles and it can deplete our energy and resourcefulness.
Tips if you find yourself in the toxic triangle
So here are some tips if you find yourself part of a Drama Triangle.
1. Notice when you’re being triggered into a Drama Triangle. The tell tale signs are:
- The blame game! This is classic persecutor behaviour. Instead of blaming others for doing things wrong, try telling them what you want. This is a more empowering stance as it gives you more choice and influence over the situation.
- Feeling the need to fix! This is a classic rescuer behaviour. If we’re used to being in this position on the triangle it may mean tolerating some guilt for not swooping in to fix and rescue. This doesn’t mean that we have to stop caring about or loving the other person. Instead we allow them to take responsibility for their situation which is empowering and strengthening for them…..and also freeing for us
- The ‘poor me’ game! There’s a difference between feeling sorry for ourselves (which can be healthy self-compassion) and getting stuck in victim mode. In order to stop being a victim, we have to be willing to accept the actual circumstances of our relationship with the other person. We have to face the fact that if anything is going to change, we will have to be the one to make the changes. Empowering ourselves with choice can unhook us from the drama.
2. Find your center. Instead of being triggered into one or more corners of the triangle move to the centre. From this position you can see the extreme of the corners without being dragged into them. You can observe the drama playing out. You might feel the gravitational pull towards the corners but you can remain in the grounded centre. If you’ve successfully taken the centre the other people in the triangle will likely back off, rather than unmasking themselves and their toxic role(s).
I’d love to hear your feedback. Do you recognise the roles in the triangle? Do you have people in your life that pull you into their drama triangle? Do you have a particular role in the triangle that you play well?
Just being aware of the triangle and the part you may sometimes play in it can be powerful to prevent getting drawn into the drama.
Awareness in and of itself is curative
Fritz Perls, Gestalt Therapy
Hopefully this insight into the toxic triangle is useful.