One of my greatest breakthroughs in life happened when I was first introduced to the model of triangulation in relationships. It saved me from a terrible marriage. I will describe it the way I learned it from my mentor. He used to call it the „drama triangle“ because there is a lot of drama happening.
So let’s set the stage.
For a good drama we first need a damsel in distress. The drama will evolve around her. She is in trouble, helpless, overwhelmed and feeling powerless, a victim.
To make the story work we also need a „bad guy“, someone who caused the distress. He is dominating, mean, angry and looks very powerful and intimidating to the damsel in distress.
This would not become a good drama without the third protagonist, the savior/helper. She is a nice person who always steps in to help the needy and the poor. She protects the damsel and fights off the bad guy. And everyone lives happily ever after, right? It doesn’t work that way.
The dynamics change all the time. Nobody is just the bad guy or just a helper or a victim.
The helper stepped in to crush the bad guy, which makes the helper the new bad guy and the former bad guy the victim. Or the victim is not fully happy with the way the helper helped and attacks them, becoming the bad guy and pushing the helper into the victim position. And round and round it goes, where it ends nobody knows. But one thing is clear, nobody is happy. At least not for long. Practice by observing interactions between people and you will start to see this everywhere.
The problem with these roles is that while at least two of them feel powerful, they are not.
A powerful person knows that the only person they can control is themselves. People who don’t believe this truth end up in triangulation. They are trying to control others.
The bad guy uses violence or intimidation to make people do what they want.
The victim is using blame against the bad guy, to make him feel guilty and stop, and shame towards the rescuer, to show her how much she needs her help (that is called manipulation if you don’t open your mouth and actually ask for help). She is either showing her blameface or her shameface, depending on the direction she is looking in the triangle.
The rescuer often feels out of control of her own life, but she found someone else who has a problem she can control and that way she can feel powerful.
The illusion of control makes them all feel better somehow.
But men were created free and sooner or later we can’t help but fight off any attempt to control us. The victim in a co-dependent relationship with a helper will lash out one day. You cannot keep up triangulation without everyone going from one position to the next in an endless drama. Everyone gets to be the victim sooner or later.
But you can end triangulation in your relationships.
It starts with the deep understanding that you are powerful. Not powerful to control others or every situation, but powerful to control yourself and your response to every person or situation. They can’t make you do anything. Unless you agree to play the game and get your damsel costume out. All of triangulation is based on the lie that controlling others works. Without their agreement it doesn’t. Ever.
The intimidation of the bad guy only worked because the damsel agreed to it in her heart and played the role. She could have listened and then started to laugh until her cheeks hurt. She could have answered „Are you ok? Do you need a hug?“. Dominance is fake power. Your anger makes you look out of control and like a toddler throwing a tantrum. This is not pretty.
Helpers often fall for the idea that they would help a victim if they just take their responsibility from them. It is not within your power to save anyone from themselves. People, in their power over themselves, make choices that get them into situations. And you can’t take away their choices for the rest of their life. You cannot help them unless you teach them how to make better choices. If the helper jumps in and the victim doesn’t own their mess they will just repeat irresponsible choices and wait for you to come clean it up. How long until you get angry and become the bad guy?
I am not saying never to help anyone. But if you do it out of the illusion that you get to control their out-of-control life you are not helping at all. If you know the 10 steps of what the other person has to do to get well you are doing it wrong.
Everyone is powerful. Everyone can control themselves. Self-control means to make a choice and then act on it. If you are typically taking the victim position there is often a whole pattern in your soul backing it up. You have probably been a victim at some point in your life. This is past. You can learn how to live a powerful life. Whatever is telling you that you can’t be powerful right now, it is a lie. Every given situation holds choices. You can stir yourself in a direction of your choice.
To stop taking the victim position you need to deal with your blameface and your shameface.
You need to erase the option of blame from your life. So someone did a bad thing that is causing you distress. Then you go look at yourself, not them, get your self-control going, calm yourself down using all the skills you need and then you decide how to respond. Only respond when you realize that you are powerful and they can’t control you. Stop being scared of them. If you react while feeling scared you will end up in triangulation. It helps to look behind the dominant behavior and see how powerless they must feel if they are trying this on you. It also helps to watch out for signs that they are hurt, scared and feeling out of control. You would be surprised how often that is the case. Dominance is just a mask to hide behind, like helping can be. And like your shameface and blameface masks. To end the drama you have to get off stage and look behind the masks everyone was wearing. Behind the devil mask you often find a scared little boy.
If someone attacks us we try to remember using our one-liners: „I know“, „I don’t know“, „could be“, „probably so“ and „nice try“. They make you a cloud, not a target. One of our former Ts who worked almost exclusively with people who used triangulation always responded with a calm „You are probably right“ when he got attacked and moved on. He never entered the stage.
When you stop using your shameface, the mask that tells everyone that you are no good and that you need help desperately, it doesn’t mean that you have to live without help. It means that you will feel powerful while you get the help. No more giving up all your freedom to someone who has the plan to fix your life, just to see that they cause you more pain. Now you have the chance to get the real help. The key to that is asking for it. People cannot read minds. If you don’t manipulate them into „helping“ you, you need to tell them what you need. Well, there is the challenge: what do you need? You don’t need anyone to control you because you have self-control and the power of choice. If you communicate about the help you need you often get the help you need! What a major difference to a lot of the „help“ you got before! (by the way, expressing a need is not the same as telling someone what they have to do)
It’s scary because people might say no. That is because you really can’t control them and they have free choices too. The world does not end when you get a „no“. It just means that you turn to someone else and ask again. The person who said no is not the new „bad guy“. Respect their choice as they respect yours. Don’t start a drama. We have eliminated the blameface mask already. A „no“ is not mean. It is honest and it is powerful. Because you are powerful you can regulate yourself and then find the next choice you can make. Asking why they said no, guided by curiosity, not blame, can provide a revelation sometimes.
In the end we are all just people.
If you stop triangulation you will soon notice that your relationships start to be based on heart-to-heart connection, not on a power struggle of who gets to control whom.
If people don’t like the changes you might be better off finding new friends. The old ones might be slowing down your healing process. Be a powerful person and surround yourself with powerful people. Controlling others is an illusion. It is the stage for drama to unfold.