We did the right thing last night by demanding the Wii turned off, rooms cleaned, and new semester notebooks and next-day’s outfits be readied by ten p.m. We did the right thing by waking them at nine yesterday and demanding they get ready and go to Sunday school. We believed it would soften the blow of the six a.m. wake-up call on Monday morning after two weeks off of regular school. Certain aspects of parenting aren’t too difficult to figure out.
And then there are other aspects.
We’d said our goodnights by ten, climbed in bed and turned on a DVD—one definitely inappropriate for kids, but one I soon learned our teenager had already seen at least four times. Twenty minutes into it, there was a soft knock on the door. We hit the pause button. Without a doubt, we knew the knock had come from our younger, more innocent daughter. What we didn’t expect, however, was to see her tears and hear her say, “I can’t sleep because I’m nervous about going to school tomorrow.”
She spent most of her break playing with her sister and then also with a good friend when she returned from an out-of-town Christmas visit with extended family. Throughout the break, our daughter was joyful and fun, seemingly without care. And then she received a bizarre and hurtful text. It was from another friend, who told her she no longer wanted to be “best friends,” and didn’t want to hang out with her at school anymore. In spite of having other friends, it broke our daughter’s heart and, truly, there was nothing we could do to fix it.
Why? Because we didn’t want to climb aboard the “Drama Triangle.”
The Drama Triangle, also known as “the Victim Triangle,” the “Emotional Triangle,” and even the “Blame Machine,” was introduced by Dr. Stephen Karpman in 1968. (It is also called the “Karpman Triangle.”) It’s a toxic social behavior dyanamic involving three roles: The Perpetrator; The Victim; and The Rescuer.
The key word/role in this triangle is VICTIM. The Victim is at the bottom of the triangle, and according to Karpman, is the anchor of the dynamic. The Victim fuels the energy, and in spite of where a person enters the triangle in any given situation, victimization spins the triangle, and each person involved can and will do time in the position of Victim.
Briefly, the roles are defined as follows:
The Victim places blame and looks for someone to pity her, rescue her, or take responsibility for her.
The Perpetrator attacks the Victim as a means of retaliation, believing she has a good reason behind her actions. Her attack makes her feel powerful.
The Rescuer is the self-proclaimed “good guy.” She feels better about herself for believing she’s saving the day and often takes pride in helping others while failing to take care of herself. Meanwhile, not only does she foster dependency, she often ends up feeling resentful when the Victim fails to thank her, thus becoming a victim of the Victim.
And round and round they go, spinning from point to point to point. It’s a bumpy, uncomfortable ride.
Last night’s tears could have easily cajoled me into the Rescuer role, a natural place for any woman, particularly a mother. I’m very familiar with that place on the triangle, not only in situations within my own family, but also with other relationships in my life. But thanks to a timely conversation with a friend at church yesterday, also a mother and a student of psychology, she pointed me in the direction that helped me to avoid the Drama Triangle. She mentioned the Karpman Triangle by name, and reminded me of the power one has to first recognize behavior patterns and then to make the right choices to avoid toxic or unproductive outcomes.
This morning I collected a pile of tissues as big as a snowman’s head from my daughter’s nightstand and tossed them in the trash. Then I drew the Triangle diagram and asked her to point out her role. Naturally, she pointed to “Victim.” Over waffles I explained the roles as best as I could and then we talked about her learning to take responsibility and believing in the ability to take care of herself. I told my beautiful daughter that she had the POWER to escape the cycle. “Whenever we fail to take responsibility for ourselves, we end up on the triangle,” I said, quoting material I had found on the Internet after speaking with my friend. If the girls at school starting teasing her about her hair, her size or accusing her of things she didn't do, she had a choice to make in how she was going to respond. With tears? Or with strength of character.
Finally, I gave her a slip of paper and asked her to put it in her pocket. “You always have a choice,” it read. I suggested she take it out and read it anytime during the day if she started to feel like a victim of adolescent girl behavior at school.
Then I put her on the bus and prayed to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. God, I hope I helped her.