Many therapists use a tool called the “Drama Triangle” or “Disempowerment Triangle” to help people identify unhealthy patterns in their life and in their relationships. It’s based on three roles – the victim, hero, and villain – that we play out with ourselves and with others. Understanding the Drama Triangle can be a powerful awareness tool, especially as we learn how to move out of it. The core issue causing every aspect of the triangle is disempowerment. We disempower ourselves and those with whom we interact when we participate as a victim, a rescuer or a villain (someone who carries resentment). The below diagram and explanations focus on being able to honestly see when we are in a disempowering role and how to move into empowerment. As we practice with these tools, we will see how disempowering roles aren’t real – they are an illusion driven by fear. The empowering roles (shown below) move us into a new reality where we can always change our situation and personal power through choice. They promote freedom, clarity, truth, accountability, and power in your life. The process of moving from illusion to truth can be simple, but as you’ll see, it requires a willingness to face our fears, our shadow side, and embrace all of ourselves so that we can break through disempowering roles and emerge free and alive.
MOVING FROM THE INNER TO OUTER TRIANGLE
The process of moving from the inner disempowerment triangle to the outer empowerment triangle can be fast and simple by using one or all of the techniques below when you are in a bad place:
Awareness. Be present with yourself and notice everything that is going on, especially what you are feeling (sensation of drama through signs like heart rate, fight, flight or freeze or anger and blame). Just by noticing you are feeling disempowered, you can quickly change gears and switch into empowerment.
Acceptance. Just be. Allow for the sensations that come up and sit with them. Observe them. Use your breath to move deeper into them and allow for whatever comes up in your awareness without judging it. Find compassion and acceptance for yourself by recognizing that you don’t know everything and you are learning in this situation. Validate that there is a reason for what you are feeling. And try to avoid getting into stories about what it all means. Simply choose to feel and accept where you are and just be with the sensations. You might tell yourself, “I’m in the drama triangle, and it’s OK. I’m still learning and acting out of prior programming.” Acceptance has the power to shift you into empowerment as you see and value your efforts to face reality, learn and try to change.
Moving. Move the energy and emotion. Allow it to release when you feel ready to move on. Don’t let the energy get stuck in fight, flight, freeze or numbing/addictive habits. Instead, move the energy through expressing emotions (to yourself first), moving your body, breathing with intention or making a sound that expresses what is real for you at this moment. It’s important to remember that emotions and feelings are signs of energy that want to pass through you. They are not you, but they are a part of your life for merely a moment in time IF you don't avoid them. And so, feel and acknowledge whatever is real for you right now and so you can let it go, give it away and not get stuck in stories, pain, sadness, or unhealthy patterns. By choosing to face this moment and the feelings that are a part of it, you are moving forward and that is always empowering.
Choosing empowerment. Put yourself in an empowerment role by making a choice (any choice) to move forward and feeling your personal power increase. That’s really the crux—you move toward empowerment through acting on a choice (*see specific ideas under each section below).
If you’re still feeling disempowered after working through these four steps, you may need a little extra work targeted at the role you’re stuck in. The below provides additional explanation into each role and specific steps that can be used to free yourself from the disempowered role and shift into the associated empowerment role.
DISEMPOWERMENT ROLES AND HOW TO SHIFT TO EMPOWERMENT
Victim to Creator — power potential through choice
The victim gives his power to circumstance. The people around him, his work, community, childhood or past experiences—in his mind, his life and power are in another’s hands frequently. And he or she doesn’t have a say. External factors dictate how things go. As we The victim gives his power to circumstance. The people around him, his work, community, childhood or past experiences—in his mind, his life and power are in another’s hands frequently. And he or she doesn’t have a say. External factors dictate how things go. As we come into adulthood, it’s essential for a happy and healthy life to realize that no matter the circumstance, you can always make a choice to alter your situation in some way. The key is that it is your choice and that you are reconnecting with being the authority of your life and a co-creator with Source. Your choices have power.
The victim role is a space of power potential because, while here, we are on the floor, depleted, having had our power seemingly taken from us and we can only go up and anything is possible. We are moving into choice and the role of creation, which is at the root of all true power. Here is a fast way to shift out of this space:
1. Ask, what do I need? Possible answers include, “I need to take care of myself (eat, sleep, meditate, bathe)” or “I need to prepare to receive answers.”
2. What do I want to create? What else is possible for me?
3. How can I love where I am right now?
4. How is where I am right now better than what I would have chosen for myself? Can I see this possibility?
The Creator path is a space of empowerment where you let go of attachment to outcome and connect with being the authority of your life. You are aware that you don’t have total control and you choose to work with what is in your power to choose rather than letting life choose for you. You co-create your life with the Universe or God by using your power to choose.
Hero to Mentor — the path of personal power
The hero role is the rescuer, the savior whose worth is based on proving they are good or looking like a good person. In this role your power comes from others because you need to prove you are good to yourself, them, or both by rescuing them. Over time, the hero will eventually shift into the Victim or Villain role when they inevitably get depleted and resentful because they feel that others are taking advantage of their kindness instead of seeing how they are forcing the role of hero on the world.
Shifting into empowerment from the hero space starts by asking yourself:
1. How can I see my inherent power? Or others’ inherent power (ability to care for and validate themselves)?
2. How can I choose internal validation, rather than external?
3. How can I help others to see what I see (that we are each capable)?
These questions will put you on the Mentor path, becoming someone who brings to light the fact that we all have the power within us to know what is best for us and to see the solutions to our question. The Mentor’s influence promotes personal power for themselves and for those around them. A Mentor does not attach to the outcome, and others’ choices do not affect his or her sense of self.
Villain/Resenter to Advocate — finding power in advocating for truth
The Villain takes power from others. He keeps track of everything that has happened and resents being in the drama triangle and then, he manipulates, deceives, gaslights, and speaks in half-truths. He intentionally (whether consciously or subconsciously) makes interactions a power struggle and always has to win or have the upper hand. He or she doesn’t care as much about what the other person feels as he does about his need to feel powerful and he rationalizes this by focusing on his resentment from the past. Sometimes it’s easy to spot a Villain, and other times the villain is subtle. While pretending to care about the other person, a covert Villain is using manipulation and gaslighting to knock others down and to maintain his power and get what he feels he deserves. This sense of entitlement often grows from staying in the Victim or Hero mode for too long. That's where the resentment comes from, that fuels this stage. They “need” to feel on top or at the center of attention because they’ve been sacrificing their own needs for so long (or feeling they are). Often, the path into the Villain role begins through believing messages of self-hatred or self-criticism from your inner critic. When you are in the Villain space, notice if you are channeling your inner pain (or pain body) and rationalizing treating others badly because you are connecting to feeling so much hurt yourself.
Moving from the disempowered Villain can start with asking yourself, “Who am I really?” and “Who are they really (whoever else is involved)?” Your willingness to pause and ask to see truth will shift you away from the Villain mentality because the truth you find will clear away the pretend, false image you’re creating in the Villain role.
Choosing to be an Advocate often requires challenging your or someone else’s sense of truth or ownership of choices. However, you are coming from a space of honesty rather than the need to belittle, hurt, degrade, knock-down, etc. Your soul values truth and accountability, and as you turn your intention in that direction, the need to have power over others and hold onto an illusion, falls away, and you become an advocate for truth and honest accountability. You will see your true self and others’ true selves, and you will feel the relief and freedom of clarity in your life.
Try using this framework with yourself and in your relationships. As you do this work, you will become increasingly aware of your drama-based roles and relationships, and you will quickly shift into true empowerment, personal freedom and intimacy.