Fleet Maull How to Eliminate Negative & Toxic Drama in Our Personal & Work Lives. - Fleet Maull

How to Eliminate Negative & Toxic Drama in Our Personal & Work Lives.

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Class Overview

Part one of a three part series - Our Brain & How We Get Caught in Negative Drama. Learn about the origins and dynamics of unhealthy drama. In particular, Stephen Karpman’s Drama Triangle.


Negative drama has impacted most of our lives at some point. Some of us grew up in households full of unhealthy drama. Many of us confront negative drama in the workplace on a regular basis. This same kind of negative and toxic drama impacts everyone’s quality of life, siphoning away precious community, national and global resources in order to deal with a host of toxic drama related social and political problems, including violence of all kinds. In this first class we will learn about the origins and dynamics of unhealthy drama. In particular, we will discuss Stephen Karpman’s Drama Triangle, an extremely helpful model for understanding, taking ownership for, and reducing the negative drama in our lives, our communities and society at large.

The Top 10 Big Ideas

  1. What is Drama?

    What do you first think of when you hear the word “drama?” Do you think about theatre, movies or television, about negative “drama queen” or “drama king” behaviors, or about dramatic events and adventures? Drama refers to all of these and simply references some occurrence that heightens our interest and grabs our attention. Literally there is something going on, and we find that something interesting. In this class, we will focus on conflict related drama.
  2. Classical Elements of Drama

    Many of us enjoy television programs or movies that involve drama grounded in conflict. Classically, one finds three principal roles in any such drama: a victim or damsel in distress, a villain or “bad guy” and a hero, the “good guy.” A classic cartoon melodrama, Dudley Do-Right, demonstrates these roles with clarity and simplicity. The victim or damsel in distress was Nell, an orphaned young women in danger of losing her mortgaged home to an evil banker named, Snidely Whiplash, the villain. In the midst of this conflict who rides in the rescue, our hero, Dudley Do-Right, a handsome Canadian Mounty on a white horse. Modern film and television crime dramas often portray law enforcement in the role of the hero, rescuing victims from every sort of criminal villain.
  3. Healthy Human Drama

    Before we focus in on the problem of negative or toxic human drama, it is important to point out that there is also healthy human drama. Examples include major rites of passage like births, graduations, weddings and deaths. Other examples include humans demonstrating great courage and/or overcoming serious handicaps to accomplish something amazing, like the blind man who successfully climbed Mt. Everest. The feats of dedicated athletes at sporting events like the summer and winter Olympics are further examples of healthy human drama.
  4. Fear-Based Toxic Human Drama

    Then of course there is the other kind of drama, the negative and often toxic drama many of us are all too familiar with. When we fall under the influence of fear, we often shift into survival mode and find ourselves at odds with others, caught up in heightened negative emotions and escalating conflict. This may take the form of arguments escalating to verbal abuse or even violence. These kinds of dramas play out among individuals at home and at work and among communities and nations on the larger societal or global stages. The common denominator is fear, and fear breeds distrust, conflict and even war.
  5. Drama Hooks & the Neurobiology of Drama

    We can use Paul D. MacLean’s triune brain model, which divides the brain into three major areas or complexes, reptilian complex (basal ganglia), the paleomammalian complex (limbic system), and the neomammalian complex (neocortex), to help us understand how we get caught in drama and how it escalates.Based on our past conditioning, we all have emotional triggers or “hot buttons” that when triggered or pushed by some external stimulus can activate moderate to extreme emotional and physiological responses. We swallow the “drama hook,” so to speak, which activates a fear-based neural pathway in our limbic system, which then triggers the survival mechanisms of the reptilian brain, leading to the “fight, flight or freeze” response. To the extent that this is occurring, our executive function located in the neocortex is deactivated to a greater or lesser degree leading to a sharp decrease in our capacity for making decisions or exercising good judgment. You can see where this is going. We have all said and done things when emotionally triggered that we later regretted, and these actions have often led to the escalation of conflict and drama.
  6. Karpman’s Drama Triangle - Origins

    Stephen Karpman, Ph.D., a psychologist and transactional analyst, developed the model known as, Karpman’s Drama Triangle, and inverted equilateral triangle with it’s apex pointing downwards. The three points of the triangle are labeled with what Karpman saw as the essential roles, mindsets or psychological positions that drive drama, the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Rescuer. These are mind states or ego states that we all fall into from time to time. They are fear-based strategies for establishing some sense of control or power when we feel out of control and helpless or powerless.
  7. Victim Mindset/Strategies

    We fall into the “victim” mindset anytime we attribute the cause of our internal emotional state, especially challenging or uncomfortable emotional states, to someone our something outside of ourselves. We are blaming how we feel on someone or something else. By definition we feel helpless or powerless. It is the “poor me” position. We some times play the victim role in an attempt to control or manipulate others.
  8. Persecutor Mindset/Strategies

    The “persecutor” position is strategy for maintaining a sense of control or power, which often involves behaviors like judging, criticizing, controlling, dominating or even abuse and violence. The persecutor has a strong sense of being “right.” The underlying position of the persecutor mindset is the victim position. Out of sense of helplessness or powerlessness, we gravitate toward persecutor strategies in an attempt to regain a sense of being in control and having power.
  9. Rescuer Mindset/Strategies

    The rescuer position is an attempt to feel powerful or in control by “fixing” or rescuing others. We are not talking about the genuine role of rescuing someone in a crisis, but rather about a strategy for getting one’s own ego needs met by feeling needed or more powerful. Just like persecutors, rescuers need victims to be in business. To the extent that we are caught in this mindset, we enable others to be victims or we treat others as childlike and unable to take care of themselves. We are the expert, the fixer, the hero. This is the “poor you” position.
  10. Personal, Familial, Workplace & Global Impact of Fear-Based, Toxic Drama

    The drama taking place inside our own head or between our own ears, so to speak, keeps us disconnected from others and ourselves and undermines our confidence, happiness and well-being. Drama destroys friendships, marriages, and partnerships and undermines relationships of all kinds. It leads to traumatic childhoods and divorce, to community discord and violence, to wars and harm and destruction on a devastating scale. In Class Two of this series, we will learn “How to Get Off the Drama Triangle.
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