The Empowerment Dynamic (Drama Triangle part 2)

Who’s ready to be done with drama, forever? It’s possible! Simple, too. Not necessarily easy, but simple, and anyone can do it, no matter what your circumstances may be.

In my last post, I taught about the dreaded Drama Triangle, and how victims take that role on themselves when they blame villains, or persecutors, for their problems. They see themselves as helpless and powerless, and look to a rescuer to make things better. I explained how these rescuers unwittingly keep victims down by reinforcing their sense of powerlessness.

Sometimes simply being aware of these three players in the situations that arise in your life is enough to cause you to shift your perspective and make different choices. The feedback I received in response to the previous post confirmed that to be true. But there’s an even more powerful way to rise above drama. Instead of merely trying to avoid and/or stop drama, you focus on what it is that you DO want to create. This is where the Empowerment Dynamic comes in. This is the antidote to the Drama Triangle, and it is glorious!

Before diving headfirst into that, it’s important to draw a distinction between victimization and victimhood:

Victimization happens when one’s dream or desire is being denied or thwarted by another person or circumstance. If you think about it, you can be victimized quite often throughout the day, whether it’s a traffic jam that makes you late for work, or your economic situation that isn’t allowing you to take your kids to Disneyland, or more serious incidences which cause you pain and suffering. You can find 10-point scales out there ranking different incidences in terms of severity. First-world problems (or the “cruise-world problems” I wrote about in this satirical post) would be 1-3 on the scale, with more life-altering situations such as job loss or illness in the middle of the ranking, and disasters such as those which make news headlines in the 8-10 extreme. As varied as our experiences may be, victimization is a part of life in this fallen world for every one of us.

Victimhood, on the other hand, is a source of identity, an orientation, a way of being in the world, in response to victimization. Victimhood is distinct from victimization in that an external event is being given power to define one’s very identity. When we say things like “This always happens to me,” or “I can never catch a break,” etc., it’s an indication that we’ve taken on victimhood orientation. Here’s the important part: even though we may be victimized, we can always choose whether or not to take on victimhood. Without putting our head in the sand, we can acknowledge the reality of victimization, while choosing our attitude and actions in response to it. The stories we tell ourselves are very powerful.

The key is where we put our focus. Are we focusing on problems or outcomes? Instead of looking for someone to blame, or someone to rescue you, think instead about the choices you have available to you and about what your ultimate end goal is. It feels a lot more comfortable in the moment to lounge in victimhood and point fingers outward rather than take responsibility for moving forward. But I promise you, when you live your life primarily as a creator, you will find joy and satisfaction far surpassing the momentary pleasure and comfort one may find in victimhood.

Okay, so here’s David Emerald’s diagram of the Empowerment triangle, placed over the Drama triangle. Each of the three players in the Drama triangle has an antidote counterpart in the Empowerment triangle, and I’ll go into those in a minute.


Just as you choose to put yourself into the Drama Triangle by focusing on problems, you also choose to put yourself into the Empowerment Triangle (aka TED: The Empowerment Dynamic) by focusing on outcomes–what you want to create, contribute to, have, do, become, see happening, etc. It’s as simple as a shift in perspective and can be done in the snap of the fingers.

The drama triangle operates through anxiety, whereas the Empowerment Dynamic is fueled by passion. I’ll talk more about passion in a future post, but it actually means “to suffer.” Being passionate about something means we are willing to suffer for it, which probably won’t be pleasant or comfortable, but the rewards of peace, fulfillment, love and joy come through the creation process and in no other way. When we’re passionate about the positive outcomes we intend to produce, we become creators, generating growth and progress for ourselves, others, and the whole world!

Persecutors or Villains are still operating in the Empowerment Dynamic, making things difficult and causing situations that we’d rather not be in. That’s just always going to be the case. The difference is, in Creator mode, we label them Challengers. Nothing about them changes except our perception of them. Instead of viewing them as persecuting us, we view them as challenging us to rise up and be our best selves, to spur our growth and development. In this way, we hold onto our own power over ourselves, and those former villains do nothing more dastardly than “red-flag” our weaknesses or become catalysts for our growth. If nothing else, Challengers help us develop patience and resilience, which can’t be brought about any other way than by going through challenges.

Can you imagine how boring it would be if everyone was perfect and behaved exactly as we expected and wanted them to? If every situation went exactly according to our plans? When we recognize and celebrate our differences from one person to the next, and the randomness of life, it becomes so much richer and more vibrant. Think about that the next time you want to wish away your particular Challengers.

Rescuers or Saviors still come into play as well, but we view them instead as Coaches or Mentors. We no longer give away our power to them, but allow them to guide and instruct us. We retain our power over our own lives by taking personal responsibility for our own results, and then that power grows.We turn to coaches and mentors not to get out of a challenging situation, as we would with a rescuer, but for support and guidance through our challenges. A real coach or mentor doesn’t take credit for our successes, but is more like a teammate and supporter, sharing in and celebrating our successes with us.

A coach or mentor can even be someone we’ve never met, but who we’ve learned from or whose example we follow, such as Christ, the Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln, Justin Timberlake, etc. Nor does a coach even have to be a person. I believe animals also support us and can be examples to us, and that we can find great strength just from being in nature. There are also habits and routines that support us, as well as physical objects which we particularly love.

Is all of this making sense? Please ask away if you have any questions, and feel free to share your experiences in the comment section. I’ve planned one more installment in this series, in which I will be giving you powerful questions to ask yourself to help you shift out of the lower triangle and into the upper.

Remember, the choice is yours. Are you going to give away your power, operate under anxiety, and worry constantly about problems? Or are you going to retain and grow your power, live with passion, and make your dreams come true? It’s up to YOU!


Lean Into It

“Growth and comfort do not coexist.” -Ginny Rometty, CEO of IBM

Do you ever take cold showers…on purpose? Call me crazy, but I’ve tried it a few times. You have to psych yourself up for them. As soon as that cold water hits you, your heart races, you start hyperventilating, and it feels for half a minute like you’re gonna die. But then the discomfort recedes and the cold water starts to feel refreshing. You feel a surge of vitality and energy, and by the end it doesn’t even feel cold anymore. And that energy boost and refreshed feeling lasts for a long time. Given several good experiences with cold showers, and knowing how beneficial they are for your circulation, brain functioning, and energy level, you’d think I take them all the time, but I hardly ever do. It’s that half a minute of discomfort that I have such a hard time voluntarily putting myself through.

If you were given the choice between experiencing discomfort, or experiencing pain and suffering, which would you choose? While the answer seems obvious, I see people over and over again choosing to be comfortable in the moment, even knowing that they will reap pain and/or suffering in the long term. Or, like with the shower example, knowing that rewards and benefits lie just on the other side of a temporary discomfort, but resisting it anyway.

A prime example of this is exercise. It doesn’t matter how conclusively science proves its benefits; many will not exercise enough–even when their doctor tells them they will die an early death! That’s because in the file cabinet of our minds, the discomfort of exercise is filed in the same file folder as “Pain.” Yes, exercise feels uncomfortable or even painful at times, but the surge of vitality that comes with it confirms just how good it is for us. A muscle will never grow unless it is strained first. (That said, please don’t push your body past the limit of what’s healthy! Learn the difference between real pain and fake psychological “pain.”) One benefit of practicing yoga is learning how to breathe through discomfort, finding relaxation and surrender even while pushing to the edge of your pose.

Feedback is another necessary part of life that can feel very uncomfortable, for both the receiver and the giver of the feedback. We shy away from feedback because it challenges us to change, and change almost always feels uncomfortable. A feedback conversation is deep and real, causing us to (hopefully) examine ourselves beyond the superficial. One thing that can help a feedback conversation feel less stressful is going into it knowing that it’s supposed to feel uncomfortable. When we begin to normalize these experiences, we will start to welcome them rather than shy away from them.

I’ve enjoyed reading what Brene Brown has to say about discomfort. She challenges us to “lean into” discomfort instead of instinctually shying away from it. When you lean into and welcome discomfort, you often gain a new perspective that causes you to cease to be concerned about comfort. She writes:

“When we stop ‘taking the edge off’ and those sharp edges come back into our lives, we begin to witness how leaning in to the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude, and peace.”

One of the most uncomfortable experiences for me is leaving a conversation before it’s resolved. Sounds pretty stupid, I know, but I have almost never been able to make myself walk away from an unproductive conversation when emotions and tempers are running high. I want to keep on discussing (translation: arguing, repeating myself, crying, demanding, etc.) until the issue is tied up neat and tidy, according to my own standards. It doesn’t matter how many times I learn by experience that continuing to behave this way leads to pain and suffering in my marriage; the short-term sensation of discomfort gets me almost every time. Also, during stressful conversations, silence is so uncomfortable that not talking for ten seconds while I wait for my husband to respond takes every ounce of willpower I have. My poor husband. For him, having these conversations is more uncomfortable than just about anything else in life, and for me, it’s not having them or ending them. What a wonderful opportunity for growth this provides! (Translation: recipe for disaster!) Declaring this here makes it official: I’m now challenging myself to end conversations with my husband when they become strained, and lean into the discomfort of letting things remain unresolved for a period of time. It won’t kill me, and I know it will add to the peace in my home and build trust with my husband.

Comfort seems to have become almost a religion in our society. I won’t get into politics here, but it crops up everywhere, from discussions about altering bathroom legislation so that some individuals can feel more comfortable, to demonstrations in favor of raising the minimum wage in order to provide people with a “comfortable” living. The problem with comfort is that it’s different for every person, and what one person is comfortable with may alter rapidly, even day to day or hour to hour. For this and many other reasons, comfort is not a benchmark we should be shooting for.

Why do so many of us choose comfort above all else? A primitive area of our brain actually thinks that uncomfortable things will eventually kill us. Going without food may cause discomfort, although for a limited time period it doesn’t harm us, and it is in fact healthy to fast periodically. But if we were to keep going without food for many days, obviously, we’d die. Getting pins and needles in a limb is harmless, but uncomfortable, because if the blood flow is restricted long enough, our cells would start to die. We feel uncomfortable being in situations or around people who leech our energy, because our energy is our life force and we’d die without it. That discomfort serves us by motivating us to cut off those drains on our energy.

Discomfort can therefore serve a purpose, but it has a negative effect when we mistake the harmless or beneficial for things that can kill us. The reason the experience of embarrassment is so uncomfortable is because in primitive cultures, if someone were to make a big enough social blunder, they’d be ostracized by the community, which often meant death, since the harsh realities of life caused ancient people to depend upon one another for their very lives. But even though times have changed, we’re still so afraid of doing anything that could cause us embarrassment that we hold ourselves back from doing things that could help us grow and add to our quality of life.

On the other side of discomfort lies opportunities for growth, excitement, love, adventure, learning, happiness, and connection with others. I certainly don’t want to give up these benefits in order to merely remain comfortable. So get outside your comfort zone daily. You don’t have to take cold showers, but challenge yourself. Find out who you really are. Beyond discomfort, you just might find the life of your dreams!