Ditch the Drama: How to Recognize Drama in Ourselves and in our Kids
Your daughter comes home from school in a fit because she wasn’t invited to Jessica’s birthday party. She stomps her feet, sheds some tears, and yells about how much she hates that girl.
You tell your son no when he asks if he can go play with his friends. A tantrum ensues. Toys are thrown as he screams, “You never let me have any fun!”
When your daughter comes home from school with a report card full of bad grades, she runs to her room, hides in the corner, and cries. When you try to console her, all she can say is, “I’m so stupid. I’m so dumb. I’ll never get good grades.”
Yes, kids are full of emotions.
And as we’ve said before, emotions aren’t good or bad, they’re just… emotions.
As parents and caregivers, our job is to validate our children’s emotions. We must teach our kids how to respond to their emotions—to sadness, anger, excitement, fear, etc. However, we walk a fine line between validating our children’s feelings and allowing them to express or manage those feelings in inappropriate ways.
Is it okay for your daughter to feel sad when she’s excluded or for your son to feel disappointed when he can’t go play? Of course!
Is it appropriate for them to respond with tantrums and meltdowns? No, it’s not.
When kids (or anyone, for that matter) respond to big emotions in inappropriate ways, they typically take a place in the dreaded “Drama Triangle.” It’s easy and oh-so tempting as parents to join our kids there. But let us explain why the Drama Triangle can be so destructive and what you can do to turn things around in a positive, productive way.
What is the Drama Triangle?
The concept of the Drama Triangle was coined by psychologist Dr. Stephen Karpman. He used a triangle to explain three different roles people typically take on when engaging in drama (situations or environments of unmanaged emotions and intense conflict). The three roles that make up the drama triangle are the victim, the persecutor, and the rescuer.
Here’s a breakdown of what each role looks like:
The victim takes a powerless stance and allows themself to be strongly affected.
The child that cries, “I’m so stupid! I’ll never get good grades!” is taking on the victim role.
The persecutor (or bully) blames others and is usually aggressive and angry.
The child that throws toys and screams is taking on the persecutor role.
The rescuer (or fixer) tries to save everyone from their pain by perpetually and fruitlessly trying to fix the situation.
A child that always tries to make everyone happy (oftentime at their own expense) is taking on the rescuer role. You may wonder if rescuing is really that bad? Most of the time, rescuing stems from intentions to control someone or something (these intentions may not be initially apparent). Another person’s pain can be uncomfortable and sometimes it seems like the best option is to jump in to try and fix it.
Where does the drama triangle show up?
We enter the drama triangle more often than we think! There are everyday situations and relationships where we take on the role of victim, persecutor, or rescuer.
Pay close attention to uncomfortable and intense emotional interactions—especially where blaming is involved.
Can you see the drama triangle in action? It’s important to remember that drama can be present with any number of people, not just three. Sometimes we may take on a drama role all by ourselves or even switch from one drama role to another within the same conflict.
Think about your family interactions. When and where does the drama show up? What role do you most often find yourself in? What about your children?
So what’s wrong with drama?
Drama is destructive; most people call it toxic. When we step into the drama triangle or invite someone else to join us in it, we harm our relationships.
When we go into drama, we are mismanaging our emotions—responding to them in inappropriate ways.
It’s easy to say and do hurtful things to another person when we’re in the thick of it. When our children watch us engage in drama, they don’t learn how to take responsibility and effectively deal with emotions. Instead, we send a message that our emotions control us instead of the other way around.
How can you exit the drama triangle?
You can leave the drama triangle by choosing to take responsibility for your own happiness. While “victim” is the official name of only one of the roles, all three roles exhibit a victim mentality by not taking responsibility for their choices and the outcomes of those choices.
Stepping away from the drama requires you to take responsibility for your happiness and drop any responsibility (or blame) you may feel for another’s.
We—and our kids—are invited to step into the drama triangle every day. We experience big emotions and have to choose how we will respond. Will we take responsibility for our choices and respond in an appropriate way? Or, will we let our emotions control us and respond inappropriately?
One of the main ways our children learn how to manage their emotions comes from observing how we manage ours. The truth is, we are likely to step into the drama triangle every day—and our kids will too. But we can practice getting out of it by taking responsibility for our emotions and how we deal with them. Our children will pick up on this positive, productive behavior. Then we can work together to ditch the drama and have more meaningful and connected relationships.
Teach your kids about drama and the drama triangle with one of the EQ Explorers books, Lulu Llama and the Triangle of Drama!