In the last Drama Triangle post we left Marcia and Jenny simmering in the perpetrator corner of the Drama Triangle. Both women were angry at each other. Each was gossiping and bad mouthing the other. Jenny continued to use Marcia as a babysitter, and Marcia continued to do it resentfully.
I imagine you can see that this will not end well if both women keep going in their Drama Triangle roles. It will likely culminate in a fiery explosion of perpetrator anger.
However, either woman has the ability to get off the DT at any point. Here’s how that would work.
Marcia, as the original rescuer, needs to create boundaries of her own, respect the boundaries of Jenny’s, and become assertive in putting her own needs first.
Jenny, as the original victim, needs to take responsibility for her own kids, stop using Marcia as a daycare center, and become assertive in letting Marcia know she is not open to parenting advice.
As perpetrators both Jenny and Marcia need to stop blaming the other for being wrong (i.e., not being like them!), and become assertive in directly stating what’s not working.
Did you notice that a common thread for getting off the triangle is assertiveness? What does assertiveness mean to you? When I ask my clients that question, I get a variety of answers. Often, women think that assertiveness equals being bitchy or outspoken. And, assertiveness is frequently mixed up with aggressiveness. So let’s clear that up.
There are four types of communication: passive, aggressive, passive aggressive, and assertive. I like to think of them in terms of how they communicate power in a relationship.
- Passive – I lose, you win.
- Aggressive – I win, you lose.
- Passive Aggressive – I win, you lose, but I’m doing it in a sneaky way that doesn’t look aggressive
- Assertive – I win, you win too.
Jenny and Marcia are using the first three communication styles and are in a battle of winning and losing. Marcia feels like she is losing all the time in her rescuer/victim role, and so becomes the perpetrator in order to win. Jenny wins as long as Marcia doesn’t change, and then becomes the perpetrator to keep winning when she feels the possibility of losing as Marcia changes positions.
Here’s what it would look like if Marcia started using assertiveness and moved off the DT.
Jenny: ‘Marcia can I drop off the kids at 10 instead of 11 tomorrow?’
Marcia: ‘No, I’m sorry Jenny that won’t work for me. I can do 11. In fact I’m not going to be able to watch your kids as much anymore. I can do it on Friday afternoons, but that’s it.’ (What a good assertive boundary Marcia is setting here.)
If Jenny follows Marcia off the triangle she would respond: ‘Oh, OK. That makes sense since you’ve watched them an awful lot. I really appreciate your help. Do you have any ideas for babysitters?’ Marcia’s then off the hook and both move on.
If Jenny decides to stay on the DT: ‘Why can’t you watch my kids like you always have? I know you don’t have anything else going on.’
Marcia, staying off the DT and resisting defensiveness: ‘I’m just not able to do it any more Jenny. I have some babysitter referrals if you’d like.’
Jenny, still on the DT: ‘Fine! I can’t believe you’d leave me in the lurch like that though. I thought we were friends.’
Marcia: ‘We are friends. I just can’t watch your kids as much anymore.’
Notice how when Marcia remains non defensive and assertive that she is not making Jenny bad, however, she’s clearly stating her boundary with no explanation or excuses.
When Marcia goes off the triangle Jenny has the option to follow her off and be in a new role, but she can also stay on an entrenched in her victim role (what are you doing to me?!)
One of the basic principles of the DT is that if you get off (by practicing assertiveness, setting appropriate boundaries, and stating things clearly and directly) and the other person chooses to stay on the DT in their role, then that person will see you as a perpetrator, the bad guy. This is so hard for women who most frequently occupy the rescuer role, since to be perceived as bad goes against all people pleasing desires. It’s often the inability to tolerate this part of getting off the triangle that sucks rescuing women right back on.
A review – Skills to get off the triangle:
- Setting appropriate boundaries
- Letting others be themselves and respecting their way
- Communicating clearly and directly
- Taking responsibility for your feelings and your life
I’ll explore each of these skills in another post.
How good are you at assertiveness? Do you see it as selfish or being bossy?