In relationships, drama can be defined as manipulating others so that our own conflicts can be acted out on a 'larger stage' or allowing ourselves to be manipulated by others for the same purpose. In drama, the response of others becomes paramount, so that our own actions no longer arise out of conviction but rather arise out of a 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. 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.

In drama, the situation is often manipulated so that we are 'justified' in having the feelings we want to have (the psychological term is '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.

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 and real responsibility has not caught up. In adolescence drama may have a legitimate role as 'rehearsal' for later major problem solving. However, drama can become a favored, life-long coping mechanism. Even for those who do not tend toward drama as a way of coping usually, may see it increase during stressful times. Falling into a co-dependent role with someone having addictive behavior, is among other things, using drama to decrease anxiety.

Expressive work in therapy, 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 a model called the Karpman Drama Triangle. The model has 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

Times of relatively lower tension

Righteous Victim

Times of relatively higher tension



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.