The Drama Triangle

We all have people in our lives who are dramatic: they suffer, exult, despair, rejoice. Some days they sweep into the room, while on other days they work very hard to convince you that the world is against them. When you are related to a dramatist, you expect fireworks at family dinners and melt-downs at weddings. When you work with those who value drama more than peace, you have to carefully manage yourself and your business, so it’s helpful to learn about and manage the Drama Triangle.

The Drama Triangle was defined by psychologist Steven B. Karpman in 1968 and has been an essential element of inter-personal and corporate training ever since.

The Persecutor abuses power over another by knowing better.

The Rescuer abuses power by “saving” instead of empowering others.

The Victim/Martyr abuses power by claiming to be powerless,
therefore not accountable or responsible.

The challenge is staying centered, rather than drawn into the drama.

It seems to me that the Drama Triangle is becoming more dramatically pronounced in many client relationships today. Real estate agents tend to be “fixers” and “problem solvers”, and many clients sure seem to need a lot of problem solving. Many home sellers are racked by financial and emotional difficulties, and who better to step in and manage things than the friendly local REALTOR®?

But understanding the Drama Triangle shows the pitfalls of migrating from a sympathetic consultant to someone who aggravates an already emotionally charged situation. The “Rescuer” somehow accelerates normal difficulties into major challenges that only the Rescuer can solve.

For example, last month when a seller’s attorney and I walked into late Friday afternoon closing the buyer’s agent pushed her chair back, squared her shoulders and announced “we have a major problem”. The buyer and their attorney looked a little surprised when their agent loudly declared that at the walk-through, they lifted the phone receiver and…wait for it…the ATT service was still on. The seller’s attorney gave me a look and muttered “you handle her” and left the room.  One more time, I explained to the agent — and now her buyer — that it was a relocation sale and that the utilities were all scheduled to be transferred at midnight. I drew the line, though, at giving the buyer the seller’s phone number in California “just in case” something “went wrong”, because I knew things were taken care of. Thinking back on it, this long-time but unsophisticated agent was so insecure that she created and solved numerous problems throughout the transaction to justify her existence.

But despite this agent’s many attempts to engage me in her drama for two months,  I never entered the Drama Triangle with her. And that’s what’s important to understand about the Drama Triangle: it takes two (or more) to tangle, and it’s the change in roles in the day-to-day of the relationship that creates the drama.

Many people who live in a series of Drama Triangles experienced abusive childhoods or abusive personal relationships in early adulthood. The deeply insecure person who swings from Victim/Martyr to Rescuer to Persecutor is the engine of a Drama Triangle.  One day the person is laying out their deepest, darkest secrets….the next, they encourage you to spin around in your own misery…and finally, they lash out when you no longer have endless hours to once again revisit their string of injustices.

In a Drama Triangle there is always a scapegoat, but sometimes it’s an idea, not an individual: the “banksters”, the “fraudsters”, the evil-doers at Zillow….the list is endless for the person who craves the Drama Triangle. The phone company, the Republicans (or Democrats), the appraisers, the REO agents, the Yankees, the Mexicans….there is always someone who can be castigated. The reasonable person who suggests a balanced view of the world? Some days the dramatist embraces the peacemakers, other days the dramatist pours salt into wounds and will turn on anyone who doesn’t join the chorus of condemnation.

Clients, co-workers and friends who try to create Drama Triangles are not just bad for your health and sanity…well, the endless cycle of blame, attack, guilt and fear is bad for them, too.

The Victim-Persecutor-Rescuer cycle is so powerful that  if you are susceptible to participating in it, understanding and managing it will make you a more successful professional in the long run (and, I think a happier person). Whether it’s the agent on your team who is the “crap magnet” or the client who pulls you in and sucks you down, keeping boundaries around your “self” and controlling the dramatists is essential to survival in this world.



Wikipedia: The Karpman Drama Triangle

Melody Brooke “The Cycle of Compassion”

Rich Casto: The Real Estate Coaching Company Training with Rich in 2008 and 2009 changed my business and my life. It’s where I first heard about the Drama Triangle and “pop”, the light bulb went on…and stayed on. Thanks, Rich.








Leslie Ebersole, Real Estate Broker
962 S Randall Rd St. CharlesIL60174 USA 
 • 630-945-7935

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About Leslie Ebersole

I am a Realtor with Baird&Warner Real Estate in St. Charles, IL. I am deeply committed to helping sellers and buyers navigate and succeed in this challenging real estate market. I list and sell homes in the western suburbs of Chicago, including St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia, Elburn, South Elgin and Wayne.

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