This explains 98% of politics (and the rest of life, too)
I experienced a huge a-ha moment when I understood the structure and flow of the drama triangle.
There are two fundamental positions we can take in life: we can either be inside the drama triangle, and waste all of our life energy on pointless drama, or we can stand outside it as powerful creators, focused on molding our lives to be the way we want them to be.
What’s the drama triangle, you ask? Also known as the Karpman Drama Triangle, the idea comes from family therapy, transactional analysis, and classic storytelling: there’s a protagonist, an antagonist, and a guardian.
Little Red Riding Hood is the protagonist, the wolf is the antagonist, and the hunter who frees Little Red Riding Hood and kills the wolf is the guardian.
I like to use the terms victim, villain, and hero.
The victim is the person who’s been harmed. It could be you. Your scenario might be: “I’m miserable because my boss was mean to me” or "I'm unsuccessful and angry because I'm black and America is systemically racist".
Of course, every victim needs a villain. It’s simple logic; without a villain, there is no victim. So now your boss is the villain. Or America. Or systemic racism.
The hero hears of the victim’s woes, and springs into action. He or she runs to the rescue by saying: “Poor you, what a terrible situation! Yes, you really are a victim! Here, let me help you out, because clearly you don’t have agency in this situation, let me agree with you that your boss is awful, and America is systematically racist.”
This happens over and over again in society. People feel like victims over all kinds of things: being poor, rich, unemployed, employed, sick, single, married, black, white, Latino, Asian, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, tall, short, disrespected, offended, hurt, wronged, whatever.
When you feel like a victim for being poor, who do you blame? Not yourself. The fault lies with the system. The government. Your parents. Your employer. The economy. The 1%. Wall Street. Private Equity investors. Anyone but you.
So you’re basically projecting the villain role onto someone else.
Have you ever been in a situation where you blamed a friend or a partner for something, only to realize it was all on you? “How could he just ignore my text where I wrote him about how sad I was and how much I needed his support right now; doesn’t he see how I’m suffering--why am I even staying with this guy, he obviously doesn’t care about me!” and on and on. Then you see that you didn’t actually hit send on that text. Oops!
He wasn’t a villain at all. But in your mind, he was.
We do this all the time.
Then in swoops the hero. The hero agrees with the victim that it’s unfair, that the victim is indeed helpless, and then says: “here, let me help you.”
But they’re not helping. They’re making things worse by reinforcing the lie that they were a victim in the first place.
What do the victim and hero get out of this arrangement?
The victim gets an excuse for not having the success they want. They get to say: “see, I was right, it’s not my fault.”
Instead of confronting the painful truth that they’re placing the blame with themselves, instead of taking responsibility for the failures of their past, and for their dreams for the future, they get to shift that blame onto someone else. It feels good in the moment. “Look, it’s not my fault.” But it solves nothing.
And the hero gets to feel like a hero. They get to pat themselves on the back. “See, I’m a good person. Unlike these other people, who are very mean, very bad people, I help the helpless.”
But instead of helping the victim out of their self delusion of victimhood, the hero serves to reinforce the helplessness. Just as victims need villains, heroes need victims. They’ll work overtime to keep them there. Heck, they’ll even create victims if they have to.
The drama triangle is addictive. We get a literal hormonal kick out of dropping into victim, villain, or hero. It makes us feel good for a moment, even if it ultimately causes harm.
Because that’s how all addictions work. That cake or porn or alcohol or cigarette relieves the unease for a second, and then it goes on to cause long-term harm to you and your relationships.
Jumping into the hero role gives you temporary relief from your own suffering, by focusing on someone else. But you're doing it purely for selfish reasons, while causing harm to the other.
Once you get the drama triangle, you start to see reality through a completely different lens.
You realize how much of what’s going on in the world is just drama.
Most conflicts of any kind, lawsuits, politics, international relations, are all a race for the coveted victim position: “I’m the victim, you're the villain!” “No I’m the victim, you're the villain!”
So much effort is expended, and nothing moves. You can keep cycling around the drama triangle forever, and though it feels like so much is going on, nothing changes. You’re just wasting all of your life’s energy.
So what do you do instead?
You step out of the drama triangle, and into being the creator in your life.
You focus on what you want to create, and then you find ways to create that.
There’s always a choice, there’s always opportunity, there’s always a way; you just have to find it.
And it starts with one step you can take today.
There’s never been more opportunity than there is right now. There’s never been a better time to be alive. Seize it.
What’s crazy is, according to Robert Kegan, only about 1% of the population is able to recognize that their unresolved conflicts from the past are what’s being replayed in their current conflicts.
70% of the population is living in full-on victim mode, seeing the world as happening to them.
This, right here, my friends, is the big shift that needs to happen in the world in order for us to create the world we want to live in.
Why? Because victims are committed to their problems.
Victims want their problems to be unsolvable.
Because if the problems were solvable, they would have to leave the comfort and familiarity of the victim role. They'd have to admit they were never a victim.
So as long as the majority of the population are stuck in victim consciousness, we’ll never get anywhere collectively.
That’s why I need you to step out of victim consciousness and into being the creator.
Do that, shine brightly, and inspire others to do the same.