There are two sides to every story, and three sides to every drama. Those three sides are what David Emerald, author of The Power of TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic) calls DDT, the Dreaded Drama Triangle.

Communication Is Key

Language is powerful. Most of what we communicate (93%) is non-verbal. It’s not what we say that counts; it is what we DON’T say.

It’s the hostile silence our partner picks up on. It’s the eye roll that shouts our true feelings. It’s our posture, our facial expressions and our tone of voice that tell the world what we really think and feel.

Conflict deferred is a breeding ground for DDT.

Playing the Triangle

Any time two people are in conflict, it is normal for one of them to ‘vent’ to a third party. If we choose someone who will understand our position and be unaffected by what we have to say, it can be a positive, strong choice.

If, however, we bring in someone who we know will take our side and commiserate with us (victim) or be strong for us (rescuer), or even go after the one we are upset with (persecutor), then we have entered the DDT.

As an approved TED* Practitioner, I easily recognize when other people have fallen into the trap of Persecutor, Rescuer or Victim. It takes a little longer to recognize it in myself. Here are the key indicators that help clarify.


You are in Victim mode if you catch yourself complaining. That indicates there is something happening you feel powerless over or hopeless to change.

We complain about people, places and things. Our parents, our children, our bosses. Our communities, our churches, our government. Our homes, our cars, our bodies.


You behave as a Rescuer when you step in to save someone else from either the consequences of their own actions or their strong emotion that happens to trigger some of your own.

You find yourself caught in the middle, explaining things away a lot. Rescuers need to be needed and make exceptional enablers for addicts and alcoholics.


You know you have picked up a Persecutor role when you find yourself looking for something or someone outside of yourself to blame for your pain. Sometimes we can feel persecuted by a condition (cancer), a situation (death or divorce) or a person (employer).

How to Tell When You’re Stuck

When you dread seeing someone or going somewhere, it may mean there is some unfinished or unspoken business. If you can’t stop thinking, talking about, or worrying about someone or something, it is a sign that you need to take a step back.

Feeling that your emotions are churning and boiling from things that are outside of your control is a good pointer, too. When you feel like you should do something about the situation right now because you can’t stand it one more minute, then you know that you’re stuck.

We need not do for others what they can or should be doing for themselves, nor should we expect others to do for us what we can and should be doing for ourselves. Love and care is a two-way street, not a three-sided triangle.

Do’s and Don’ts to Avoid Triangles

If you are angry with someone, that’s the person you should tell. Even if that person is rude and resistant, he/she is still the person to deal with.

If you want to go up the hierarchy at work to discuss a problem, make sure to go through the appropriate channels and be open about the issues that upset you. Tell your boss you plan to go over his head and why.

If you are open about bringing in a third party, you may avoid a triangle that will escalate anger and stress in the long run.

When you are angry, speak in your own voice. Don’t bring in an anonymous third parties by saying “Other people think…” or “There have been some complaints…” If you have an issue with someone, use the word “I.” Let other people speak for themselves.

Try to avoid secrets at all costs. If you believe someone should know they are being gossiped about, tell them, and understand that they may go directly to the source to clarify the problem. If you plan to swear someone to secrecy, better say nothing at all.

Here is some sound advice: Don’t become a third party in someone else’s triangle. If someone complains to you, you can listen sympathetically without blaming or taking sides. Other people can best work out their problems if you stay calm, stay out, and stay emotionally connected. You can be concerned but neutral.

The DDT Is a No-Win Situation

Here’s a hard fact: the only way out of a triangle is to step out. If we dance around the edges, we will continue playing every corner of that game to our great emotional detriment.

We may start with the best intentions of trying to help someone less fortunate. But when they don’t take our advice long enough, or when they turn on us for not minding our own business, it will catapult us from Rescuer to Victim to Persecutor before we can catch ourselves.

Direct communication keeps us from getting cornered into any of the DDT roles. It allows us to say what we mean, and mean what we say. With practice, we can move from:

  • Victim to Co-Creator and live our dreams without drama.
  • Rescuer to Coach by allowing sovereignty for others as well as ourselves. We can learn to ask questions rather than give unsolicited advice.
  • Persecutor to Challenger by becoming conscious of our body language and tone of voice, as well as our intention.

We can communicate clearly, concisely and consistently who we are, what we want and what we will or will not accept. Most importantly, we can do all of this without carrying guilt or shame.

We can make strong choices for ourselves without the need to position as a Victim, Rescuer or Persecutor to justify meeting our own needs.

When we get well, the people in our lives will either get well or they will find someone else to be sick with. Life is just like that.

Do you always speak your mind? Why or why not? Do you talk in circles, beating around the bush? Do you say what you think the other person wants to hear? Please join the conversation below!