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Life in the Drama Triangle

Warning: The following content contains a descriptive recount of a traumatic experience that may be triggering to some readers.

Oh the drama

It wasn’t enough to be raped by a co-worker and to later learn that I was pregnant from his seed (Read The Moment I Became a Victim). I continued to experience challenge after challenge and some of them were quite traumatic. I didn’t plan to be pregnant at 21, but I believe God gave me something beautiful out of a nightmare of a situation. I was still scared to be judged by others and scared of what being a single mom would mean for our future. But even so, I knew I loved the baby growing inside of me and it was my job to protect him. What I didn’t expect was for that to begin while I was still pregnant.

A co-worker advised that I purchase a maternity uniform so that others would know I was pregnant and provide support if needed because there are moments where physical activity is required for gate agents. However, the uniform didn’t help the night I found myself as the lone gate agent with a passenger who needed support to exit the plane. The pressure of getting passengers off the plane in the 10-minute allotment to avoid disciplinary action led me to do more than what my body could handle. After pushing the doublewide wheelchair up the inclined loading bridge, I felt something was off. I was bleeding and I was pretty sure that wasn’t a good sign. My baby was stressed and I was placed on bedrest for a short period of time. To make matters worse, my supervisors said I would be marked as a no-show for work because I hadn’t been with the company long enough to be eligible for leave. I chose to stay in bed and protect my baby and my employers chose to terminate my employment.

Raped. Pregnant. Unemployed. I was beginning to wonder if I was attracting bad things to happen to me. I felt like life was out of my control. I withdrew socially and fell into a lonely place. Then one day, I received a call that turned into a dinner invitation. I was excited about going and nervous about how he would respond to me being pregnant because I hadn’t disclosed that detail. One of my former co-workers dated his brother and all of us had previously hung out. I had a great time at dinner and let my guard down. A few weeks later he held a gun to my head as he demanded my car keys. I remember standing there questioning whether he would really do it. Then he moved the gun to my stomach and I knew I had to protect my baby. I gave him my keys and he took my phone and my car.

Letting go of being a victim

According to the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary, victim is defined as “a person who has been attacked, injured, or killed as the result of a crime, a disease, an accident, etc.” I was tired of being a victim, but I felt stuck in this uncomfortable cycle of trauma. Yes, I had been a victim of horrible criminal acts that would take years to heal from. But I had also taken on a victim mindset in that I saw everything as something happening to me and constantly felt sorry for myself. This way of thinking left me feeling powerless and I got to a point where I didn’t like the feeling. I had been holding onto hope that I would be rescued from my misery. As much as I love Cinderella, there was no prince checking for my shoe size. I’d have to do something different in order for my situation to change. So I took off my “woe is me” victim perspective like I was removing a name tag and I decided to put on a cape instead.

My thought was, “There was no one to save me, but perhaps I can save others”. I helped as many women as I could help. I’d show up to save and rescue women from abusive relationships. I’d let my neighbor sit in my apartment while I called the police on her abusive partner. I let teens take a break from their parents by spending days/weeks at my place. I organized church members to take care of the single mom and her kids for Christmas that I had just met. I thought and felt as if I was doing a good thing. The truth is, I was avoiding my own mess and not actually addressing my problems. I was choosing to focus all of my energy in areas where I felt I had more control.

Then I learned about the Drama Triangle. Are you familiar? Stephen B. Karpman used an inverted triangle to model the destructive roles that people may play in response to high-conflict.

  1. Persecutor - The person who is motivated by anger and approaches conflict in a dominating and oppressive manner. This might be a bossy and overly critical manager who influences through force. It might also be that intimidating person who is very controlling and everything wrong is always someone else’s fault because they’re always looking for someone to blame.

  2. Victim - The person who believes their circumstances are outside of their control and that everything is happening to them at the fault of a persecutor.

  3. Rescuer - The person who often steps in to save others because they see them as being in need, being weak, or in need of being fixed. This person typically assumes that others cannot do for themselves, so they play superhero in their lives.

When faced with conflict, many of us find ourselves trapped in a cycle of moving between the roles of the drama triangle and we always have excuses for while we are there. We don't have to stay there. Continuing to operate in these roles is a choice just like shifting into roles that are more liberating and productive for all parties involved. To counter the Drama Triangle and teach us a way out, David Womeldorff introduced The Empowerment Dynamic, which is just like its name...empowering and dynamic.

  1. Challenger - Instead of persecuting others, try to challenge their way of thinking by offering opportunities to advance learning and growing.

  2. Creator - Trade in your victim identity for the chance to create a different outcome by focusing on what is in your control.

  3. Coach - Helping others is great when the motive and approach is centered on the other party and not all about you. Coaching allows space for clarifying questions that spark reflection which invites the person being supported to make their own decisions and take action in a way that they believe is best for them.

Image inspired by David Emerald Womeldorff's The Empowerment Dynamic (TED)

Life can be challenging and we’re all doing our best to try to navigate it the best way we know how. There comes a time when we may need to seek support to build knowledge and skill so that we can move beyond the stress of our situations and create a path forward. I’m grateful to have been supported through therapy and coaching to further my healing journey and transform my life. I’m even more grateful that I get to live my life helping people the best way I know how. I create safe spaces for Black Women, who feel they are not enough, to embrace their authenticity and evolve into the best version of themselves.

Stuck in your own drama triangle? Schedule a complimentary Better Life Strategy Session with Life & Leadership Coach Waneka Jackson.

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