In relationships, drama can be defined as manipulating others so that one's own conflicts can be acted out on a 'larger stage' or allowing oneself to be manipulated by others for the same purpose. Interpersonal drama shares with the theater the use of exaggerated expression so that the audience will not miss the message.

In drama, the response of others becomes paramount, so that one's own actions no longer arise out of conviction but rather arise out of strategy of some sort. If actions are chosen, consciously or unconsciously, in anticipation of the response, then it can be said that a 'game' is underway. The outcome is judged in terms of winning or losing. Few people are fully aware that they do this, but the competitive format is also evident in the sense of struggle between people. In a game, people are unable to really cooperate, even to mutual benefit.

In drama, the situation is often maneuvered so that one is justified' in having the feelings one wants to have (projective identification). Drama also gives the false impression that something profound is happening when actually something cyclical or repetitive is happening. The cost of this is that the real building blocks of satisfying living or solid relationships are neglected.

Spontaneous, very upset behavior in extreme situations is not drama. Behavior that is drama-driven has a 'fakeness' to it that is easily perceived next to real sincere behavior. Yet drama also has an intensity and provocativeness which seems to override the slight flavor of insincerity. Most people resort to drama sometimes when they feel overlooked.

Having more feeling than one knows what to do with causes anxiety. Drama draws off anxiety for a time. It is like an escape valve. During adolescence drama increases because feeling and drives have increased dramatically and emotional regulation has not caught up. Drama can become a favored coping mechanism. Even for those who do not tend toward drama as a way of coping usually, may see it increase during stressful times. Work with self-expression, however, tends to decrease drama considerably because the directness and honesty takes the 'reaction' of others out of the equation


Karpman Drama Triangle

One way to look at drama in relationships is with the Karpman Drama Triangle. This model comes from the tradition of Transactional Analysis and not the Reich and Lowen tradition, but is very useful and practical. In the model there are three 'triangle roles' --Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor--and by implication, one 'non-triangling' role, the 'adult'.


Two people in conflict tend to involve or blame a third person or entity to reduce tension. All participants consider themselves either victims or rescuers, which are the 'good' roles, and struggle to be acknowledged by the others as such. Participants also struggle to prove one of the others to be a 'persecutor' which is the bad role. The roles are never stable, of course, because no one believes they are a persecutor. All roles place the power to change things on other people. Said another way, all roles use blame.

Most turmoil and drama in life is caused by players endlessly trying to change places in the triangle. People tend to identify strongly as basically a rescuer or as a victim in life, and they maintain that role during times of low to medium tension, but when tension gets high, things turn into a rapid scramble through all the roles. Honest, assertive, behavior that avoids the drama is called the ‘adult’ role. Below is a breakdown of some aspects of the roles. Whenever drama is conspicuous in a situation, participants are playing all the roles.

Helpless Victim

Righteous Victim



The role of persecutor is somewhat trickier to illustrate because it only shows up momentarily in behavior, or only shows up in accusation. The following are two ways to think of the role 1) when person A believes he or she is helping and making things better for person B, but person B says that person A is making it worse, in effect person B is calling person A the persecutor. This is especially difficult if person C joins together with B ‘against’ person A. A fruitless argument over who is really the persecutor will ensue. All participants will believe they are either victims or rescuers, and statements in the above sections will apply. 2) When any participant is overtaken with rage, envy, and desire for revenge, he or she may move to hurt or control the other person, all the while putting responsibility for his or her behavior on them. This point of view is described by the statements below.