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If You're in Conflict, You're in the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT)

Maladaptive Ways of Trying to Get Connection Needs Met

Derived by Dr. Karpman, this is where the word “drama” came from. It also applies to long term

dysfunction and “trauma.” The DDT has three roles: Hero (feels 'good' and helpful), Villain (feels 'right' and powerful), and Victim (feels hurt or harmless).

The key is to realize when you're in the DDT and take 100% PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for yourself, not OVER 100% (POWER 0VER) or UNDER 100% (POWER UNDER), so you can get out of it ASAP with awareness and skills. communicating your genuine likes, dislikes, wants, needs, expectations and boundaries.


  • During an argument, we quickly swap roles

  • If one isn't working, we switch to another, looping into conflict trying to 'win our case' explaining how hurt, good, helpful, harmless or right we are

  • We tend to jump to Critic Role when feeling unappreciated, resentful or oppressed (Hurt)

  • Only one person can occupy a role at a time

  • Everyone inevitably ends up in the hurt/victim role


  • Defaulting to roles that stem from childhood (stuck in old patterns)

  • Severe relational distress and trauma, rather than just "drama"

  • Without awareness, you may be stuck in the Triangle for years... repeating in relationships and family dynamics, only to feel unloved, resentful, unappreciated and hurt

  • Results in framework for work, family and relationship dysfunction, resentment, Codependency patterns and Narcissistic relating

How We Stay Out of the Drama Triangle


  • 100% RESPONSIBILITY (POWER) to feel, process and understand our own emotions (with maturity and Emotional Health Skills)

  • 100% RESPONSIBILITY (POWER) to know our own needs, wants and boundaries

  • 100% RESPONSIBILITY (POWER) to communicate our own needs, wants and boundaries

  • 100% RESPONSIBILITY (POWER) to ASK others what they want or need from us instead of making assumptions or telling them what they should do. For example, "Would you like my advice?" or "How can I help?"


  • 100% RESPONSIBILITY (POWER) to feel, process and understand their own emotions without 'fixing' or criticizing them

  • 100% RESPONSIBILITY (POWER) to know their own needs, wants and boundaries

  • 100% RESPONSIBILITY (POWER) to communicate their own needs, wants and boundaries without you making assumptions, mind-reading or criticizing them (respect their words at face value, even if you think their words are misguided or disordered)

Why We Fall Into the Drama Triangle Why do we get into the Drama Triangle if we inevitably get hurt, angry or in conflict? Simply put, to get a quick boost of CONNECTION, and attempt to avoid the painful feelings associated with the threat of disconnection, rejection, heartbreak, oppression, loneliness, or feeling like the 'bad guy.' ​ ​1 TO CONNECT AND AVOID PAINFUL EMOTIONS Connection is a need. If our mind detects disconnection - like not feeling seen, heard, valued or respected - our nervous system fires off survival stress-chemicals and emotions, like loneliness, worthlessness, shame and anxiety. To avoid this, our unconscious mind thinks, "I won't feel alone in the Drama Triangle trying to be Right, Helpful or Harmless" ​2 ONLY WAY WE KNOW HOW TO CONNECT OR GET A 'SENSE OF PURPOSE' Without awareness, it's possible you haven't experienced much connection (feeling seen, heard, valued, respected and cherished) outside of the breadcrumbs of connection the Drama Triangle offers. You may only feel a sense of reliability and worthiness by helping, being right, in control, or harmless. The major flaw in this, is you end up feeling valued for your 'role' and for what you 'do' for others (codependency), rather than feeling loved and valued for who you are (authenticity). ​ ​3 HELPFUL, RIGHT, HARMLESS OR HURT WORKED IN CHILDHOOD Here are examples of how we get our connection needs met in childhood:

  • Being right with correct answers and good grades is rewarded​​

  • Being helpful, quiet, servient, and having few wants is praised

  • Being harmless can get us sympathy or prevent punishment

  • Being hurt can get us immediate care and nurturance (and can create a 'smoke and mirrors' affect to delay getting in trouble)

In adulthood you can follow all the rules, be helpful (Hero), have the right answers (Critic), and explain how harmless or hurt (Victim) you are, but these roles won't get you the love, respect, value, sense of purpose and belonging, and appreciation you crave and need. ​4 FOCUS ON OTHERS' WANTS INSTEAD OF OUR OWN As a child, asking for what you wanted may have been taboo. We may get shamed or accused of being selfish due to underlying beliefs in scarcity, as if there's not enough love to go around or we have to earn love by being good enough. These limiting beliefs keep us stuck in low self-worth, and disconnected from our authentic wants, needs, boundaries and sense of self, leaving us feeling unloved and resentful. ​ ​5 ASSUMING OTHERS KNOW OUR NEEDS Do not assume, that just because your family or partner loves you, they can automatically understand how you feel and what you're needing. We need to be self-aware and understand our own needs first, then communicate. As a child, it is our parent's job to decipher and predict our needs and wants. As adults, however, it is our responsibility to understand our own needs and wants. ​ ​6 FEEL BAD ABOUT HAVING EMOTIONS When we are taught to shame certain emotions (instead of learning emotional health skills), we grow up shaming and feeling bad about our feelings - and thus, feel the need to explain or defend them, or blame others for them. Thinking, "You make me mad" or "You make me sad" automatically puts you in a "power-under" position. We need to take 100% responsibility for our emotions and perceptions, so we may be empowered, rather than disempowered. ​ ​7 UNAWARENESS AND DEFENSIVENESS Explaining or blaming, instead of clearly stating your values, ideas, wants and needs (Unarguable Truth), puts you in "power-under" position. It happens so fast, you're likely unaware! Although, if you observe how you feel next time, you'll likely notice you feel small, powerless, cornered, frustrated or anxious because you've fallen into "power-under" and your nervous system activates as if you're under attack (your mind perceives the other person as a real threat). ​ 8 DEFENDING AND EXPLAINING CONCEPTS We are raised to think critically and to defend concepts, perceptions, beliefs, ideas, and right vs wrong. This tends to work great at school, work and many areas of life. However, defending and getting others 'buy in' doesn't necessarily create connected relationships with family, friends and other loved-ones, as it inevitably leads to arguments, pulls you into the Dreaded Drama Triangle, more defensiveness and disconnection, rather than loving connection. ​ ​ But... What if I Want to Be Helpful?!?

AWARENESS AND BALANCE When first learning about the Drama Triangle it can be off-putting to think of "being helpful" as "bad." To clarify, being helpful is not bad (nor is, being right or wanting to be harmless). Giving is wonderful! It gives life meaning and joy! In fact, giving is healthy for many reasons, and it even boosts oxytocin, serotonin and other 'feel good' hormones. However, this giving needs to come from intention and choice, which is OUTSIDE THE DRAMA TRIANGLE. ​ The issue is, without AWARENESS, we tend to default to Rescuer, Critic or Victim roles with the unconscious belief that they create fulfilling, trustworthy, respectable relationships in our personal and professional lives. But, when they inevitably don't, we will FEEL the results, deeply and emotionally:

  • Resentment

  • Anger due to unmet needs

  • Sad and disappointed

  • Anxiety and even panic attacks

  • Shame (unlovable, unworthy, not enough)

  • Emptiness and depression

  • Pathological loneliness

  • Fear of these painful emotions (painful cycle)

Being more helpful, useful, 'good,' 'right,' or needless is not going to pull you out of these painful emotions and Codependency (over-giving) cycles. Whereas, taking 100% responsibility for your emotions, understanding your genuine wants, needs, boundaries, and communicating from this place of self-worth can!

GIVING AND RECEIVING We need to be open to RECEIVE from others in order to fulfill our CONNECTION NEEDS, much like we need to eat food to fulfill our HUNGER and nutrition needs. Love, respect and trust involves giving and receiving. It is a BALANCE. If we are only focused on being helpful and giving, we may be ignoring our own needs and blocking opportunities for others to give to us, respect us, fall in love... and to continue to love us.

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