Life Coach lessons: The Dreaded Drama Triangle

5 Jun

Last year for my birthday my brother gave me a 4-session life coach package.  The life coach was a friend of his who he had worked with at the bank, and said she had stayed successful even in this down economy—he believed she was one of the best.  After my initial reaction of “…my brother thinks I need a life coach??” and wondering what I’d done to give him THAT impression, I took it in the very generous and giving spirit that it was intended and…proceeded to stick it in a corner of my desk for the next 8 months.

Here’s the simple truth: When he gave it to me I was in a relationship that was far from healthy, and I knew this would be a really honest process and I wasn’t ready to be honest.  Not with myself, and not with T.  I didn’t want to verbalize those big questions because I knew what the answers would be.  But when T and I broke up last February, it sort of freed me to ask the tough questions—where am I heading, what’s my purpose, why have I made certain decisions in the past, etc.  I really didn’t know what kind of “stuff” she was going to dig up, but I tried to approach the process with an open mind.  

I had 4 sessions: 1 15-minute exploratory session about my expectations, 1 2-hour session about values, and 2 1-hour follow-up meetings.  So for my first session I went to her house where her office is (with a live chicken in the yard! and a bunch of dogs and a cat—she’s farm adjacent) and we had a little sit-down chat.  Laura is exactly what you think a life coach should be—perceptive, high energy, cheerful, observant.  She made me tea, asked me some questions, and generally just probed around in my life to see what I was happy with, what I was unsatisfied about, etc.  One of the things that really stuck out to me was something she said about choices.  We all make choices—every single day, practically every waking minute, we make choices.  Choices to get up to make breakfast, or to hit the snooze button.  Choices to sit in front of the TV (even good tv!), or read a book, or do a nerd fitness routine.  Choices to grab a burger from McD’s or go home and make dinner.  Don’t be mad at yourself for making one choice versus another—just accept that you made them.  If you want to do something differently, make different choices.  That seems so simple, and yet we’re a nation of complainers about how we feel, how we look, how tired we are, how broke we are—and I’m not different.  Just accept YOU made the choices you made, and be good with them.  If you’re not good with them, make different choices.  Simple, no?

This conversation preceded what turned out to be my biggest takeaway from her, the concept of The Dreaded Drama Triangle.

I’ve been involved in a series of unsatisfying romantic (but not friend or family, thankfully) relationships most of my dating life.  Odd, since my father and brother are two of the most well-adjusted and generous men you’ll ever meet, but there you have it.  My men all LOOK different, but they are often very similar—smart and interesting but vaguely (or incredibly) unhappy and hyper critical of themselves and others.  Difficult yet sensitive over-thinkers.  Most men I’ve dated have fit this mold.  I knew this was a pattern in my life, but I wasn’t sure how to change it, and T was no exception—in fact he was the most extreme version of this model and I was with him longer than the others!  While these guys make for great dating stories, they make for terrible long-term partners and I knew something had to change.

So at the end of this short session and mentioning my unhappiness with my relationships, Laura said “You should read The Power of TED, a short parable about the The Empowerment Dynamic.”  And what is that, you may ask?  It’s based on reversing the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) created in the 60s by Stephen Karpman.  Then Laura proceeded to map out the DDT (and its partner TED) on a piece of butcher paper.

The DDT is a model where the primary role is the Victim, and our society basically runs this way: things happen TO you, awful, frustrating things, and you are helpless to stop them.  On one corner is the Rescuer who wants to save you from yourself, take care of you, help you, FIX YOU.  (That’s me.)  In the other corner is the Persecutor, and that could be your parents, your wife, your boss, cancer, the cigarettes you can’t quit, etc.  The Rescuer can BECOME the persecutor if the victim doesn’t listen to them (“Why won’t you listen to meeeee?  I’m just trying to help you!  You never pay attention to me!”) and the Victim can become the Persecutor when they bully the Rescuer (“You never let me make decisions for myself!  You’re always in my business! I can handle this on my own, MOM.”  Etc.)  Basically all roles can shift in any situation.  But the DDT is all about problems, and you’re always reacting to those problems.  It’s based in fear.

So turn the DDT on its head, and you have TED.  The Victim becomes the Creator—you are creating your own reality, and you don’t have to react to anything in a fear-based, negative way.  You are moving towards something, and not away from something else because of fear. The Rescuer becomes Coach—they will help you and give you advice, but ONLY if you ask for it, and they aren’t attached to the outcome.  I give you advice about your boyfriend, and if you don’t take it?  Ok, then!  It’s not my life. It’s yours, and it’s not making me miserable.  I’m here to be supportive.  And finally the Persecutor becomes the Challenger—ok, let’s say your boss sucks and you can’t get your work done efficiently.  You can complain about it constantly, or you can work around him.  Or get a new job.  For example in my own life I have ongoing health issues.  I can let them suck me down and whine about them (because they do in fact suck, although Bob has been feeling better), or I can be proactive about either fixing them or managing them (find a naturopath, try different diets, go to yoga, take my meds, whatever).  It’s all about your attitude, and are you working towards something positive or simply trying (and failing) to prevent bad things from happening to you?

Think about how you’ve seen the DDT in your own life—at work, at home, in relationships.  It’s everywhere.  It’s constant.  It’s what makes drama (TV, movies, life) INTERESTING. It’s what all fairy tales are about! (The Witch, Prince Charming, and Snow White all need each other to work, right?)

I’m not saying I’ve become a creator overnight.  But I’m now looking critically at my past choices and my future potential decisions in a much different way than I used to.  I look at family interactions with each other, and with me, more critically.  I look at how sometimes my first reaction is “Oh great, why is this happening to ME?” instead of something more proactive or more productive.  I’m working on taking responsibility for my choices (hey, we’ve come full circle!) and realize I’m the one in charge.  Again, this doesn’t seem like a novel idea, but I don’t think I realized how fully attached I was to my own Rescuer role, and how much condescending ego it takes for me to think I can live your life better than you can.  I mean, you might be effing it up, but until you figure out how to NOT eff it up, there’s not much I can do about it, right?  And if you’re really attached to continuing the drama, you’re probably not the right person for me, correct?

CORRECT. (I felt like that needed an answer.)

Sometimes it’s hard to resist jumping into the drama pool, but at least I’m aware of it when I do it.  I can honestly say that conversation and reading that book has changed my life—and how often can you say that?!?

I’ve got my last session with Laura tomorrow morning (sob!), but I’ve got a few more great lessons from her that I’ll share with you all.  Honestly, it’s been one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.  Thank you, bro!

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2 Responses to “Life Coach lessons: The Dreaded Drama Triangle”

  1. thirtystory June 27, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

    Love this and so glad that your life coach sessions turned out to be a great gift. I love the idea of owning up to your own decisions and being empowered. I know i’ve definitely experienced a major transition in my life when I finally stopped being the victim and took control of my own destiny I guess you could say. Exciting stuff!!!

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  1. The Promise of Radiant Health « Breath by Breath - July 19, 2012

    […] I saw Laura and we talked about my values, what’s important to me, one of the first things I said (and I […]

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