I’d like to tell you about a game called The Triangle Game. There are 2 levels to this game, and most of us are already playing on the first level but we’re not aware of it. This first level isn’t really very fun — I call it the Bermuda Triangle Game, because basically we get lost in it — sometimes our whole lives.
According to psychiatrist Stephen Karpman, there are three roles we humans unconsciously play with each other when we’re in conflict — these roles are victim, persecutor, and rescuer. Other names for them are victim, villain and hero (think of Little Nell, Snidely Whiplash and Dudley Do-Right). Another way to think of it is poor me, poor you, forget you! But my favorite names are Meanie, Weanie and Genie.
Some clues that you’re in the Bermuda Triangle Game are that your breath is shallow, you use absolute words like “You always” or “You never,” and your body posture is frozen in a certain position that goes with the role. The object of the game on this first level often is to win the victim position — that’s the prize. It’s as if we’re presenting our case to a judge, saying, “Your honor, I am the victim here.” And the other person says, “I object! Your honor, I am the victim here, and I can prove it. I have witnesses!” These exchanges can get quite heated. One word of caution to you — issues in the triangle may appear larger than they actually are!
You can get lost in the triangle, but you can also get found in it. That brings us to level two of the Triangle Game. When we finally get dizzy from going round and round the triangle, we can take a drama-mine pill — that’s the reality pill we take when we start to see that maybe this drama is mine. Maybe it might have something to do with MOI (as in My Own Issues). That is the key to level two of the game. Instead of having witnesses to verify that we are victims, we’ve brought in a new kind of witness, our conscious awareness that is witnessing us and seeing that there’s a familiar pattern to what we’re doing. Einstein said, “No problem can be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it.” Awareness that we are contributing to the conflict shifts us to another level of consciousness.
The object of the game at level two is to shift into even more awareness and into taking responsibility and expressing greater authenticity. One way I’ve learned to make this shift is once I’m aware that I’m in one of these roles to play with them by exaggerating them, make them bigger, give them names. For example, my rescuer, I call Miss Wonderful, will do anything for you. She says, “Just give me a cape and here I come to save the day! Let me help you!” Eventually my victim, Chopped Liver, shows up and says, “Nobody appreciates me, what am I, chopped liver?” She can then flip into my persecutor, who I call Miss Thunderful, and might say something like, “It’s all about you. YOU, YOU, YOU. I do and do and do for you and this is the thanks I get!” These roles can all occur within our relationships, or just within our own head. By playing with these personas we have fun with them and we also can more clearly see these roles we’ve been unconsciously playing.
Playing with them is one way to loosen their grip on us. A second way we can loosen their grip and shift our position even more is to literally change our body position, to move our bodies. We can literally shake free of the grip of the role by shaking our bodies. Dancing is a great way to loosen the grip. I met my husband Tom at Gay and Katie Hendricks’ relationship workshop where I first learned about the Triangle Game. He and I danced during the breaks, playfully dancing our defenses and making faces at each other. We still do that ten years later and it’s a really fun way to get free of the triangle. A third way to shift off the triangle into more authenticity is to take deep slow breaths. Soon you will be freed from the triangle into a more spacious, objective, creative place.
The next time you find yourself in a conflict with someone, notice if you’re on the triangle, notice if you’re in a Meanie, Weanie or Genie role. If you become aware that you are, congratulations, you’ve made it to level two of the game. There you can try these three shift moves: Play with the roles you’re in, move your body, and take deep, slow breaths. This can help shift you off the triangle and into your authentic self. That’s how you win the triangle game, and that’s how you win the game of life.