Getting Off the Drama Triangle

drama triangle

Where is your favorite place to go during times of conflict? According to Stephan Karpman, most of us like to go to one of three corners of what he calls the Drama Triangle: the persecutor, the victim, and the rescuer.

The Victim’s stance is “poor me!” You might know a victim at work who is constantly complaining about something - whether their pay, their manager, or the food in the cafeteria. They might say things like “it’s just not fair,” or “there’s nothing I can do.” You might know a victim in your personal life who is continuously getting herself into one toxic relationship after another - needing constant help and console from those around her; or a loved one who seems to actively create toxic and destructive situations for himself, keeping him stuck in victim mentality.

The Rescuer is the favorite section of the triangle in my circles. I work with high performing, high achieving people - and sometimes, in our quest to help others be high performing and high achieving, we go a bit too far, into the land of rescuing. While healthy support looks like empowerment, rescuing can look like enabling those who are stuck in victim mode. Rescuers stance is “let me help you.” Rescuers often feel obligated to expend unhealthy amounts of time and energy to help the victims around them, and guilty if they don’t. In families, this often looks like one family member trying to “save” another family member - whether from destructive behavior, or from debt. In organizations, this might mean working so hard to try to improve your organizational culture that you take on issues that aren’t actually yours to own, ultimately burning out or leaving in a flame of frustration. Oftentimes rescuers take on the role of martyr and focus their energy and attention externally, as a way to avoid looking inward at their own feelings, emotions, and anxieties.

Finally, The Persecutor (aka The Villain) has a mindset that “it’s all your fault.” They are controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritative, rigid, and superior. I find that in especially toxic situations, a person might alternate between the persecutor (blaming others and avoiding ownership and accountability) and the victim (especially if others suggest the possibility of ownership or accountability). In the eyes of the victim, the persecutor can also take the form of events or situations (a company or organization, a health condition, or even the weather).

Oftentimes, a relationship of enabling and codependency arises between a victim and a rescuer who, through their default behaviors, keep each other stuck in this destructive pattern.

Ideally, we are not spending our time in any of these three corners of the triangle and can get off of the triangle altogether. Our opportunity, as we are exploring how to be more skillful in navigating conflict, is to recognize when we might be playing a part in the drama triangle. From there, we can consciously work to get off the triangle and then create something different.

Here are a few ways that we can do that.

  • Notice when we find ourselves on the Drama Triangle. Ask ourselves: what role am I currently playing?

  • Zoom up from our individual corner (victim, persecutor, or rescuer) to observe: what’s happening in this situation overall? What is needed?

  • Look at things from a systems perspective. Outside of the individual people or situations involved, what does the system need? For example, in a family where each member often defaults into certain roles to perpetuate a toxic situation, what is truly needed in the family system? Is it more honest dialogue? Healthier boundaries? More tough love?

  • Notice your patterns. Which corner is your default? And what is the root of your tendency to go there? For example, if you have rescuer tendencies, what might be leading you to that corner? Is it a need to feel validated? A longing to feel appreciated? Or the avoidance of feelings within yourself?

Oftentimes turning the mirror toward ourselves can be uncomfortable, but it’s what allows us to uncover the root of our behaviors so that we can change them and create something different.

Photo Credit: Stephan Valentin

Reviving the #StopBy


When I was in high school, I would often observe, with a smile, the mother of one of my friends and the rhythms of her everyday life. My favorite thing to observe was the way she gathered with her girlfriends - casually, joyfully, and ad hoc - often with a bottle of wine and some crackers on the back deck. Together, they would talk, laugh, and catch up on the happenings of their days. Their gatherings radiated joy and love - the perfect picture of women coming together, of female friendship, of connection.

At the time, I knew that was how I wanted to gather with my girlfriends when I was older…when I had a house, a back deck, and a neighborhood of my own. I loved the impromptu nature of their gatherings. I loved the laughter and conversation that floated from the deck, through the screen door, and into the house. I loved the way that when they gathered, it seemed as though they didn’t have a care in the world or anywhere else to be.

Now that I’m older, I realize that they had plenty of cares in the world and many other places that they could have been. But they chose to be there - on that back deck, together, with wine and crackers and conversation and laughter.

Since then, our lives have only gotten busier. At that time, there weren’t cell phones or Slack channels or Instagram Stories. There were landlines. There was slow dial-up internet and AIM Instant Messenger for the tech savvy. My parents called me home for dinner via a bell on the back deck that I could hear from the neighbor’s house.

I hear many people say that this impromptu way of gathering is no longer possible today. We are simply too busy. Schedules are simply too hard. There are the kids’ sports schedules and the baby’s bedtime. There’s the work trip next week and the conference the week after that. There are schedules and meal plans and agendas and chores. There are the shared calendars and the shared reminders and the agility classes with the dog, and it just doesn’t look like there’s going to be any free space until next quarter.

But what if, even amidst the schedules and the shared calendars and the text messages and the demands of everyday life, we can still create time to come together - to gather, in friendship, with the people who are most dear to us?

What if it doesn’t have to be so hard?

What if, instead of a dinner scheduled out six months on the calendar, it can be a random stop-by for 20 minutes - between the baby’s nap and the kiddo’s soccer game and the pup’s agility class?

What if, instead of a five course dinner, it can be some pizzas on the back deck?

And what if, instead of the get-together that’s been rescheduled six times now due to unexpected conflicts, it can be a random visit with a bottle of wine and a box of crackers - to be shared together, alongside laughter and connection and love on the back deck?

These are some questions I’ve been pondering lately.

With a few friends, we have, in the spirit of this pondering, been piloting what we’re calling the #stopby. In short, the definition of the #stopby is: stop by at friends’ houses when a) in the neighborhood or when b) one could be in the neighborhood with just a bit of creativity. This might mean while running an errand, while out on a dog walk (in our case), or while walking with the baby (in theirs).

The overall #stopby success could be summarized as “mixed.” Oftentimes, the folks at the destination are out and about and therefore not available for the visit. Sometimes, I have just gotten out of the shower at the exact time of our friends’ #stopby and am in a towel or bathrobe - arguably not the best #stopby attire. But success metrics aside, the intention behind the #stopby has sparked creativity and fun, in addition to seeing friends more. It has led to music videos and pranks taking place on our front stoop; staged photo shoots on theirs; and plenty of smiles while finding a baby stroller (baby inside) parked on randomly on our front sidewalk (don’t worry - her parents were right around the corner).

The #stopby has been a fun and easy way to see friends more frequently in a manner that doesn’t need to be scheduled on the calendar or planned six months in advance. The #stopbys create a sense of community, a feeling of joy and lightness. And, one could argue that the #stopbys might even lead to the house being a tiny bit cleaner, since subconsciously you might never know who might drop by in any given moment…

What do you think? Does the #stopby sound delightful, or terrifying to you? Do you love, or loathe, the idea of unannounced visitors?

For those who are interested in increasing the #stopby activity at your house, here are a few possibilities to explore.

  • Add a Little Free Library. There is nothing better than seeing our little “frequent patrons” of the Little Free Library walk, skip, bike, or scooter up to check out the latest selection. Adding a Little Free Library has helped us get to know far more neighbors, more dogs, and more kiddos in the neighborhood.

  • Move to the front yard. While we spend most of our time out back, I’m always delighted by the impromptu conversations with neighbors and friends that occur while spending time in the front yard.

  • Throw out the invitation, “stop by anytime!” (and mean it).

If random #stopbys are the things that your nightmares are made of, I recommend doing the opposite of everything written above, while turning off the lights and drawing the blinds. I write this last section with a loving and slightly mischievous smile aimed at my most wonderfully introverted friends, who have likely been cringing throughout this entire post.

Here’s to #stopbys and simplicity.

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris. This is neither my front door nor my bike, but aren’t they both charming?

This Week in Moments


Despite the hopeful saying that April showers bring May flowers, we’ve had nearly a full week of rain here in the midwest to kick off the month of May.

I remain hopeful that the extra rain will bring extra May flowers once the sun re-appears!

Over here, despite the rain, it’s been a lovely week of moments with clients, and moments with the pup in between. Here is a little snapshot of the week.

  • Enjoying this delicious Black and Tan roast (thank you, Mara!) from this mug.

  • Experimenting with a little social media break in service of more white space. Using the extra moments to sneak outside with the pup between the ongoing rain showers  (necessary, it seems, as he has a new favorite hobby that involves digging holes in the mud in the backyard…).

  • Enjoying this cover on repeat, shared during an impromptu jam session when this week’s evolving leaders participants took over my jambox, which I loved...mostly...until we got to this one (but our accounting leaders will love it!) and this one, which raised my blood pressure a few levels. Ha!

  • Donating to this organization, to help preserve my favorite lake in Madison; this organization, to support waterway cleanup when water recedes after some intense flooding in the backyard of clients; and this organization to help improve the health of all of our local lakes.

  • Reading this helpful overview of what each of us can do to protect and preserve our local watershed (and keep the awful algae blooms from taking over our lakes again this year), especially as we get into lawn mowing season.

  • Re-reading this great little book by Austin Kleon - and referencing throughout the week, for little boosts of inspiration.

  • Traveling to see clients with this peanut butter protein bar in my purse (a deviation from my typical on-the-go granola bars)....

  • Paging through this lovely cookbook, trying to decide which cake to make for this weekend’s Mother’s Day brunch.

  • Singing this song to myself while attempting to resolve a customer service issue with a not-to-be-named company that rhymes with horizon. Playing this song afterward, taking some deep breaths, and deeply pondering how some companies endure.

  • Deeply appreciating my clients, who are oh-so-thoughtful and intentional about the way that they approach their work and their lives, and who model what conscious business looks like in action.

I hope that you are staying dry and cozy this week if you, too, are experiencing what feels like endless rain. Here’s to those May flowers being extra bright this year.

Leadership Starts at the Top

leadership starts at the top

With consistency, across various industries and sizes of organizations, I find that patterns and challenges within our executive leadership teams present as issues elsewhere in the company. For example, a lack of trust among members of the executive leadership team may present as a lack of trust across the organization or what sometimes shows up as “a lack of trust in management.” Difficulty speaking truthfully with other members of the executive leadership team may show up across the management team, as difficulty addressing performance challenges head-on or having tough conversations. Fear or uncertainty among teams of co-founders may present as gossip and drama within the organization- rooted in fear.

I am grateful to work with many leaders who both understand and embrace this. This means that, together, we invest just as much time and energy (or more) at the highest level of the organization as we do in supporting evolving and emerging leaders. This might look like 1:1 executive coaching for top-level leaders within the organization; it might look like group coaching and strategy across teams of co-founders to increase trust and explore how to best serve a growing and scaling organization; it might look like executive intensives where we go offsite together for a day or two and have important, fierce conversations about how the executive team can operate most effectively in service of the organization.

While engagement-related initiatives can be effective if they’re done right, and fun committees can, indeed, be fun, I believe that oftentimes, our engagement and culture and people related opportunities present an opportunity for deep work and reflection at the highest levels of our organizations rather than a committee a survey. As the saying goes, Leadership Starts at the Top.

As leaders, here are some things we might consider.

  • For challenges we face within our organizations: in what way might this challenge be present within our executive leadership team, as well? What could it look like to explore this challenge together?

  • In what ways are we actively focusing on our own growth and development as executives, leaders, and/or co-founders, alongside the work we are doing to help others in our organizations grow and develop?

  • What dedicated, safe spaces exist for us, as leaders, to be vulnerable and talk about the things we can’t talk about anywhere else?

  • What is the greatest opportunity before us as leaders? What would it look like to run toward this opportunity?

  • What is the greatest challenge we are facing as a leadership team? In what ways are we enlisting help or support to tackle this challenge?

If you are curious what it could look like to come together to do this deep work within your own executive leadership or co-founder team, I invite you to reach out so that we can talk more. While too often the phrase “it’s lonely at the top” can feel true, it doesn’t have to.

Inspiration versus Imitation

inspiration vs imitation

Inspiration versus Imitation. It’s a blurred line in our world today, where it’s easy to take other people’s stuff, repackage it into a lovely little black and white quote, repost it, and take credit for it as our own.

I’ve seen this even with incredibly high profile and successful individuals - for example, a leading researcher and author recently being credited for inventing an “amazing new term” in 2019, when in fact I learned this term five years ago from a friend in Vancouver who learned it from someone else before that. Neither my friend nor her friend were cited by this renowned researcher and author, of course. Or another best selling author being credited with all sorts of concepts on interviews and podcasts and reposts that were actually taken verbatim from others, but that are being repackaged in a snappy way on Instagram and in books and being marketed to women across the US with wild success.

”There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” - Mark Twain

I believe in Mark Twain’s perspective on ideas. I believe that many ideas are a rebirth of some sort of idea that came before. I believe in the myth of the ah ha and the fact that slow hunches are formed gradually - often by bringing together a number of ideas that came before. I believe that ideas are formed from hundreds and sometimes millions of data points - many of which are not even recognized by our conscious mind.

And, I believe that if we are reposting or sharing or recreating something that was explicitly created by someone else, we need to be transparent about this. That the right thing to do is to cite authors and researchers and sources. That if we are reposting a pretty black and white quote of a concept that was created by someone else, that we need to clearly disclose that we are the messenger versus the creator.

In my courses and retreats and workshops and events, I aim to do this by including sources and references for anything I share that is not uniquely mine. Online, I aim to do this by never reposting a pretty black and white quote of a concept that I did not create. And in conversations, I aim to do this by mentioning the source (or at least what I believe to be the source) of concepts that I mention that come from somewhere else.

Some questions we may consider include:

  • If I am sharing something that explicitly came from someone else, am I crediting this person appropriately?

  • If I am inspired by something that explicitly came from someone else, is my version unique and original in some way?

  • Am I regularly creating time to connect to my own inspiration - the inspiration that only lives within me, versus on other people’s websites or social media feeds?

What about you? How do you find the place of inspiration versus imitation? And what are your thoughts about this blurred line between the two, in our current time?

Image Credit: Ben Weber