Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Triangles & Caregivers
It’s always a dance, this caregiving thing.
This week three words jump-started some crucial role shifting for me: Karpman Drama Triangle. I learned about that psychosocial theory, developed by Stephen Karpman, years ago in my first Psychology 101 class. Then it popped up again in a Family Systems Theory class, and then, much later, in a class called “Literature and the Novel”.
It’s a valuable tool for assessing most relationships: families, family stories (hence, novels) and even workplaces.
It is absolutely a safe (though maybe uncomfortable) way of looking at your self in a caregiving situation.
Karpman describes his cycle-- or triangle –as a way to understand where individuals find
Take a look at the triangle diagram here and see if the words help you find your favorite spot. (You may need to think about ways that people (family) have described you. Are you the bossy one, always in control (you wish) or sure you are right?
Are you the one who claims to have no ego, just trying to help, make life easier, “Oh let me do it”, but secretly you enjoy some pride and moral superiority?
Or maybe no one understands you, always blames you, “Its not my fault.” It just doesn’t make sense, does it, that you are always the victim?
But Karpman’s theory is that these three “characters” (siblings/coworkers/friends) need each other to keep the dysfunction in stasis. And the only way to grow as an individual or change your life is to step out of your corner—regardless of what the others do.
That can feel really scary and chaotic—but that way growth lies.
Karpman’s characters: Victim, Rescuer and Persecutor show up in hospitals, waiting rooms, nursing homes and family care meetings. It takes a lot of staying conscious and listening to your own inner refrain, to “out” yourself. And note: the only way out is to say, (to yourself) “I’m playing Victim again” or “I need to stop being a Rescuer.” You get no points, no personal growth and no benefit from pointing out that someone else is a Persecutor or a Victim.
I know, I know...that does seem to take away some of the self-righteous fun. But you want to grow. I know you want to grow
Cancer care is loaded with victims, rescuers and persecutors all vying for top billing: Who can be the biggest victim. We even say “cancer victim”. (Stop saying that.) It’s so easy to say, “Take care of yourself first”--but in real life, and real caregiving, theory is honored in the breach.
Maybe the Karpman Triangle should be taught to caregiving teams. Maybe we can give out little triangle pins as a reminder.
Maybe I need to get a little triangle tattooed on my right hand.