Letting Go of Suffering- Week 8: Getting Off of the Drama Triangle


Suffering is often the result of having participated in a transactional “game” identified by Stephen Karpman as the Drama Triangle. The Drama Triangle contains three roles- 1) The Persecutor (P) who blames and criticizes, 2) The Rescuer (R) who thinks for others, helps when they have not been asked to help, does things they don’t want to do, and does things for others that they could do for themselves and 3) The Victim (V) who feels oppressed, blamed, unloved, hopeless and/or helpless. The Victim often is immersed in “Poor Me” energy.

Although it is possible to play the “game” totally within oneself, it is almost always played out between two people. Once the “game” begins, both players generally spend some time in all three roles.


Person A:  Gives unasked for advice (R)

Person B: Feels irritated and makes a belittling comment. (P)

Person A: Feels unappreciated and blamed. (V)

Person A: Angrily blames Person B for being unappreciative (P)

Person B:  Feels depressed because it seems like she can’t do anything right. (V)

Person B:  Over-adapts and does what Person A suggested even though she doesn’t want to. (R)

Drama Triangle Home

There is usually one part of the Triangle that is more familiar to us than the other parts. When we are involved in the “game,” what I call our “home” is the place where we usually spend the most time.


Identify two times in the recent past when you have been on the Drama Triangle. Think of situations that occurred 1) at work with supervisors, employees or peers, 2) with friends, 3) with family, or 4) with any other individuals in your life. It could be a sales person, a barista, or anyone else who has crossed your path.

If you can’t think of anything that happened recently, then use two situations from the past. Describe how you and the other person moved through the Drama Triangle process. What caused the game to end? Was the problem that started the game ever solved? How?


Getting Off of the Drama Triangle

At first, you might not recognize that you are on the Drama Triangle until you are fully involved in the “game”. Over time, you will begin to notice feelings, thoughts and body sensations that will alert you that you are on the Triangle. Eventually, you will recognize when other people invite you onto the Triangle and will be able to prevent the game from even starting.

The most important step in getting off the Drama Triangle is to decide that you are not willing to play the game. If one person refuses to engage in the process, the other person will soon give up.

When you decide you are not going to engage in the Drama Triangle process, picture yourself stepping off of the triangle. Here are some tips:

If you have been in PERSECUTOR:

a) See yourself stepping off of the Drama Triangle.

b) Take a time out so that you can cool down. Constructive problem solving is not likely to occur when you are in the heat of anger.

c) Do work to release your anger. (Examples: Write lists of the things you are mad about; write a poison pen letter letting out the rage, and then destroy the letter; twist a towel putting your anger into the towel; and/or tear up a phone book.)

d) When the amount of anger you have has decreased, engage with other person. Work with them in solving the problem. Set boundaries as needed.

If you have been in RESCUER:

a) See yourself stepping off of the Drama Triangle.

b) Take a time out if you need it.

c) Let the other person know that you love, support and care about them.

d) Acknowledge to yourself, and to them, that you have been rescuing and that in the future you will wait until they ask for what they need, or you will ask them if they want help from you.

e) Ask yourself if you have been rescuing others because there is a need of yours that needs to be met. If there is, then think of how you can meet that need. It may be YOU that needs to ask for help.

If you have been in VICTIM:

a) See yourself stepping off of the Drama Triangle.

b) Take a time out if you need it.

c) Write lists of what you are mad, sad and scared about.

d) Give yourself affirmations for your ability to think and solve problems.

e) Ask others to give you affirmations for your ability to think and solve problems.

f) List all of the solutions you can think of for solving the problem.

g) Start doing the items on your list. Continue until the problem is solved.

For the rest of this week record what happens when you realize you are on the Drama Triangle. Record small examples as well as big ones. Also record ways you avoided getting onto the Triangle in the first place. (Add more pages to this document if your list is long)


See you next Monday for the ninth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

Letting Go of Suffering- Week 7: Stopping Passive Behavior


A major predecessor of suffering is passive behavior. Many years ago one of my mentors, Elaine Childs Gowell, taught me that we are being passive when we are aware that there is a problem and we:

a. Do nothing and hope the problem goes away.

b. Overadapt and do what other people want us to do.

c. Agitate by doing repetitive behaviors that aren’t directed towards solving the problem, e.g. tapping  fingers, swinging legs, playing with hair, mopping the floor at 2:00 a.m., etc. Addictive behaviors may be forms of agitation, e.g. over-working, over-eating, alcohol, drugs, and over-thinking.

d. Incapacitate through headaches, backaches, stomach aches, depression.

e. Escalate by behaviors such as throwing things, screaming and hitting.


Situation: Your 12 year old daughter received two D’s on her report card.

a. Do Nothing: Tell yourself she will do better the next time and just ignore the situation.

b. Overadapt: Decide not to talk to her teachers because your daughter doesn’t want you to.

c. Agitate: Grumble under your breath and clean the house late into the night.

d. Incapacitate: Develop a headache

e. Escalate: Scream at your daughter and then slap her when she sasses you.

Eliminating passivity from your life takes time and effort. First, you have to recognize when you are being passive, or are considering being passive, and then commit to doing something to solve the problem instead.


This week, record each time you realized you were being passive, or had the opportunity to be passive. Then write down what you did to solve the problem.

When you choose to solve the problem instead of being passive, brag about it to yourself and to a friend. Receiving acknowledgement can be very helpful in changing self-sabotaging behaviors.


See you next Monday for the eighth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

Letting Go of Suffering- Week 6: Using Affirmations to Heal

I often ask my psychotherapy clients what they would think and feel if they overheard a parent berating a child with the negative messages that they dump on themselves, e.g. “You are so stupid.” “Can’t you do anything right?” “You are selfish.”  “You are a disgrace.”

Clients often respond that they would feel angry and think that the child was being abused. I tell them when they speak that way to themselves, it is as if they were the parent who is abusing the child. In this case the child is their inner child. That awareness is often jolting enough to motivate clients to learn what they need to learn to stop the negative self talk.

Affirmations are positive statements which can be used to replace the negative messages you tell yourself. By using these positive statements, as one might use a mantra, i.e. saying them over and over, you can fill yourself with positive supportive energy instead of negative, discounting energy.

Below you will see two styles of affirmations. The affirmations in the first style are phrased so that you affirm the beliefs you want to have. These affirmations are stated as if they were already true. For example:

I belong

I am worthy

I am enough.

I am a competent, capable adult.

I am love.

I am lovable.

My needs are important.

I am learning and growing.

I deserve support.

The other option is to pick an affirmation that the healthy parent part of you says to your inner child. For example:

I love you.

Your needs are important to me.

I will teach you and guide you.

Pamela Levin and Jean Illsley Clarke created sets of developmentally based affirmations. Their affirmations use the parent to child style.

Pam Levin’s can be found her her book Cycles of Power. Some examples of her affirmations:

You have a right to be here.

You don’t have to hurry, you can take your time.

You don’t have to suffer to get your needs met.

Jean I. Clarke’s are in Growing Up Again. Here are a few of hers:

I’m glad you are you.

You can know what you need and ask for help.

You can learn when and how to disagree.

Creating Affirmations from Think Structures

You can use the Think Structures you wrote in Week Four and Week Five‘s Letting Go of Suffering assignments to create personalized affirmations. (The Think Structure and this affirmation structure are processes created by Pam Levin (Cycles of Power.)

I will show you how to create affirmations using this Think Structure:

  1. I am scared
  2. That if I ask for what I want
  3. I will be ridiculed or punished
  4. Instead of being heard and supported
  5. So I pout, isolate and don’t ask for what I want.

To form the affirmation, you will use the 2nd and 4th line of the Think Structure.

So my affirmation would be:

I do ask for what I want and I am heard and supported.

Create affirmations from some of the Think Structures you wrote during the last two weeks. If you have not seen or done those assignments, consider going back to those lessons and completing them.


If you like, you can use your Think Structure affirmations when you do the affirmation exercise I will describe in the next section of this post.

Another way you can  use your Think Structure affirmations is to set up life situations that will facilitate your healing. Using the example above, I could let my friends know that I am focusing on asking for what I want and would like to practice doing that with them. I could also let them know that when I ask for what I want, I would like to be heard and supported. (Being heard and supported doesn’t mean they will give you whatever you ask for. A long time ago, I practiced this exercise with someone by asking him if he would pay for my Masters of Nursing degree. He was very honoring of my request but, of course, did not agree to fund my education!)

Using the Affirmation

Pick one of the affirmations from this lesson, or create one of your own. For the rest of the week say it at least 1000 times a day; 5,000-10,000 would be even better! It is fine for you to say it internally, going as fast as you want. (A short mantra can be repeated 1,000 times or more in 20 minutes.) You can count using a tally counter from an office supply store or an app such as iPhone’s Counter +.

Even though this lesson only lasts a week, it would be best if you continue to say the same affirmation for 21 days. If you say it in the higher range (i.e. 10,000 a day or more) you may find that it starts flowing through your mind automatically. You may even wake up during the night and realize you were saying it in your sleep. Imagine what it would feel like to be listening to positive thoughts throughout the night instead of your self-critical ones.

What if my mind is fighting the affirmation?

Sometimes a particular affirmation is so far from what you believe, you may find yourself very resistant to saying it. If that is the case, take a piece of paper and make two columns on it. On the left side write your affirmation and on the right side write the negative response that comes to your mind. Keep doing that until you have written the positive one 50 times. Here is an example:

Positive affirmation               Discount

My needs are important…      No they aren’t

My needs are important…      I should be needless and wantless

My needs are important…      It isn’t safe for me to have needs

My needs are important…      No they aren’t

My needs are important…      No they aren’t

My needs are important…      That statement is nonsense


Do this two column affirmation exercise for several days if you need to and then start saying the 1,000 repetitions of the positive affirmation each day. Or do the 50 written affirmations in the morning and then say the affirmation during the rest of the day. As you continue to write and/or say the affirmation, the negative messages will decrease and then stop.

Another thing you can do when you find negative thoughts coming into your mind when you say the affirmation is to speed up the rate you are saying the affirmation. Speed it up until you drown out the negative message.


Take a few minutes each day this week to write about your experiences with the affirmation.

Day 1


Day 2


Day 3


Day 4


Day 5


Day 6


Day 7


See you next Monday for the seventh lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published, click here.

Letting Go of Suffering- Week 5: Why Do I Suffer? (continued)

Most likely, the reason you suffer as an adult is because suffering was an acceptable method of expressing your feelings, or more accurately, a method of “stuffing” your real feelings, in your family of origin. This week you will explore some of the childhood origins of your suffery behavior. Again, Levin’s Think Structure (Cycles of Power) will be used as the tool to help you organize your thinking.

(The Think Structure process is taught in the previous lesson.)

Example 1

Situation: As an adult, I have trouble saying “NO”. I will think about what happened when I said “NO” as a two-year-old and nine-year-old child.


Example 2

Situation: As an adult, I have trouble asking for what I want. I will think about what happened when I asked for what I wanted as an infant and a 14 year-old child.



When you explore how your adult behaviors relate to your childhood, it would be helpful for you to look at one behavior over a variety of ages. In each of the examples below I ask you to look at an issue for two different ages. Fill in the blanks to come up with your own think structures.

Practice Exercise 1


Practice Exercise 2


During the rest of the week, complete Think Structures for some of the adult behaviors you worked on in Practice Exercise 3 in the previous lesson. Explore two childhood ages for each Think Structure. (Ages that tend to be particularly good to reflect on are infant, 2, 5, 9, 14 and 17.)

You may need to change the way you described the adult behavior in Practice Exercise 3 in the previous lesson, so that it becomes a childhood behavior. For example, if your adult behavior was “leave work early”, the child behavior might be “do what I want to do.”


See you next Monday for the sixth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.


Letting Go of Suffering- Week 4: Why Do I Suffer?

The task for this week and the next will be to explore WHY you suffer, e.g. why you are suffering now as an adult and why you learned to suffer as a child. The primary tool you will use is Pam Levin’s “Think Structure” (Cycles of Power). This structure will help you 1) organize your thinking and 2) determine what motivates or drives the behaviors that lead you to suffering.


Example 1

Situation: I agreed to help a friend move to a new apartment and even though I didn’t want to do it. I feel mad that I am not spending my day doing what I want to do. This would not have happened if I had said “No” in the first place, but I was afraid to do that.


Example 2

Situation: I want to go to the movie but I am afraid that if I ask my friend to go, she will say “NO” to me, so I stay home alone.


Your turn! Think of recent times when you had trouble 1) saying “NO” and 2) asking for what you want. Fill in the practice exercises below. If you can’t think of recent incidents, use experiences from the past.

Practice Exercise 1


Practice Exercise 2


During the rest of the week, be aware of times you are suffering. Use the Think Structure to help you sort out what is going on for you.  If you have no incidents of suffering during the week, complete the structures from incidents in the past. If you have trouble identifying when you are suffering, use some of the behaviors you identified in Exercise 1 of Lesson 2. Complete at least three more Think Structures this week.

Practice Exercise 3


Feel free to share or ask for feedback on Think Structures that you come up with!

See you next Monday for the fifth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

Letting Go of Suffering: Week 3- What Would Your World Be Like If You Didn’t Suffer?

Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Many years ago, Pam Levin taught me that the first step in manifesting your vision is to have one.

The exercises for this week are devoted to imagining what your life would be like if you didn’t ruminate about the past, worry about the future or do the unhealthy behaviors that you know make you miserable.

Exercise 1

Identifying Your Vision

Take a few deep breaths. Focus on “breathing in relaxation” and “breathing out tension.” Let your body settle into the chair you are sitting on, or the bed or floor on which you are lying. As you begin to relax, let yourself imagine what your life would be if you were no longer immersed in suffering.

Let the images come and your new world develop. When you are ready, bring yourself back into the present and then answer the questions in this exercise. If you need to, close your eyes and go back into your new world to get the answer to a question.



Exercise 2

To make your vision become a part of your life, spend 10-30 minutes a day for the next five days putting yourself into a meditative state (through breathing slowly and allowing yourself to relax) and then experiencing your new world. Feel what it feels like to live there. Experience whatever you experience. Let your new life develop in your mind’s eye. Jot down some notes in the spaces below.


As you identify other components you would like to have in your new world, add them to your vision. Periodically, throughout your life, refer to the two exercises in this lesson to see where you are in creating that vision. Each time, see if there are areas you want to add, or parts you want to let go of. Decide which part of your vision you want to work on next. Don’t feed suffering by expecting your life to change all at once. You will create you vision one day, or even one step, at a time.

See you next Monday for the fourth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

Letting Go of Suffering: Week 2- The Beginning Continued

Exercise 1:

An important step in letting go of suffering is identifying the many ways we contribute to our suffering. I make myself suffer when I eat too much chocolate, when I agree to do things I don’t want to do, and when I over-think or over-do. What are the unhealthy behaviors  you do that bring suffering into your life?


Exercise 2

In the psychotherapy model I use, therapists differentiate between core feelings and racket feelings. Child words, i.e. mad, sad, scared and glad, are used to designate the core feelings. Rackets are substitute emotions that are used to cover (hide) the core-level feelings.  Racket feelings are much more likely to lead to suffering than experiencing and addressing the core feelings.

In our families of origin, some emotions might have been more acceptable than others. In my family it was okay to feel scared but not mad, so I learned to cover my mad with scare. The pattern became so pervasive in my life that there was a period of time when I needed to assume that I was mad whenever I felt scared. When I examined my scare, I usually discovered there was no danger present and that I was actually mad. So in this example, scare was the racket and mad was the core. Other people may cover their scare with mad.

While core feelings can become rackets, there are also many other kinds of racket feelings. Some common examples are disappointment, confusion, sarcasm, and guilt. Using the chart below, identify the racket feelings that you use as substitute emotions. If you identify any that are not on the chart, add them. This week, whenever you experience a racket feeling, see if you can identify the core feeling that lies underneath it.


Exercise 3

The more we can learn about our own suffering tendencies, the easier it will be to stay out of them. For example, if we tend to be miserable on holidays, then it is important to be proactive in making plans for those days, ones that will give us satisfaction and prevent suffering. In the chart below, identify factors that are part of your suffering profile. If you become aware of other factors during the week, or in the future, add them.



See you next Monday for the third lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.


Letting Go of Suffering: Week 1- The Beginning

You are probably reading this post because you have a desire to let go of your suffering. This course will consist of 17 lessons, each containing concepts or tools that can aid you in your endeavor. The content is based on a workbook I wrote in 1991. I will be posting a new lesson each Monday.

Suffering, as used in this course, is defined as “extended hurt.” It is “the persistence of painful feelings long after they were provoked.” (Judy Tatelbaum)  Letting go of suffering does not mean living a life void of challenges or pain; it means not getting stuck in the pain

People often think of suffering as being prolonged sadness. It can also be prolonged anger or fear. There is likely to be some degree of suffering present whenever we are holding on to the past or worrying about the future.

Suffering is also brought on by the unhealthy behaviors we do in the present, those behaviors that make us miserable.

Be gentle with yourself as you go through the course.  Let this be an opportunity for you to experience being successful without expecting yourself to be perfect.

During the first two weeks, you will be gathering information about yourself. You will also learn more about suffering and about letting go. As you complete the exercises, either print the post and write your answers directly on the exercise sheets, or just write your answers in a notebook.

Exercise 1

When you are suffering, it is often important to get help from others as you work to shift the energy. In the boxes below, or in your journal or notebook, write the names and phone numbers of people in your life who might be available when you need support.


Exercise 2

What scares you about letting go of your suffering? Write down any fears that come to your mind, whether they make sense to you or not.


Exercise 3


For the rest of this week, reflect on your answers to these three exercises. Consider journaling about the thoughts, feelings and/or insights that surface as you do that.


See you next Monday for the second lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

Letting Go of Suffering- New Series Announcement

Are you tired of holding on to the past or worrying about the future?

Have you had your fill of feeling like a victim?

Are you committed to stopping your self-defeating behaviors?

Starting on Monday, November 21, I will be posting one chapter a week (for 17 weeks) from the Letting Go of Suffering workbook I wrote in 1991. If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions above, this upcoming “course” may be instrumental in helping you to make those changes.

This course is meant to increase your understanding of why you are the way you are and to teach you some new behaviors that can facilitate your movement from suffering to joy. Among the areas that will be addressed are:

  • Identifying Your Vision
  • Discovering Your Suffering Profile
  • Stopping Passive Behavior and Critical Self Talk
  • Using Affirmations and Contracts to Heal
  • Holding Yourself Accountable

I look forward to the possibility of sharing this journey with you.

Letting Go of Suffering Series:

Letting Go of Suffering- New Series Announcement

Letting Go of Suffering- Week 1: The Beginning