Ever feel like there’s a little too much drama in your life? Well, if that’s the case, then you probably have been caught in the Drama Triangle. If you’ve never heard of the Drama Triangle then be prepared – you’re going to start seeing it EVERYWHERE. Today you’ll learn how to spot it – and even better, how to escape it. Our guest is Dr. Stephen Karpman, the creator of the Drama Triangle, and author of the recent book “A Game-Free Life: The Definitive Book on the Drama Triangle and the Compassion Triangle” – which explains how to spot the sources of drama and dysfunction – and what to do to break the cycle. Along the way, you’ll also get clear tips on improved communication, how to deepen intimacy, and what agreements are essential to maintain in any relationship.
As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!
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Visit Dr. Stephen Karpman’s website for resources to help you conquer the Drama Triangle and live a game-free life.
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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Sometimes life can be really dramatic. There can be highs and lows, you can feel like you’re the victim with people just out to get you. You can feel like you’re doing your best to show up for the people in your life, and they don’t appreciate you. In fact, they see you as some kind of enemy and in the end, all of this drama plays out in ways that keep us from being truly connected with the people around us, and these could just be our acquaintances or our colleagues and co-workers, or it could be the people in our lives with whom we’re most deeply connected: Our children, our partners, ourselves.
Neil Sattin: So I was actually going through a situation about a year and a half ago, and really struggling. And in reaching out to one of my friends about it. She said, “You know, this sounds like a classic Drama Triangle,” and I had never heard of a Drama Triangle before, so I was like, “I’m going to have to check that out.” I looked it up and there were lots and lots of references online describing what the drama triangle was, and sure enough it felt like that was what was going on in my life, but it didn’t necessarily help me figure out how to solve the drama triangle.
Neil Sattin: And that’s where today’s conversation comes in. We have with us an esteemed guest, Dr. Stephen Karpman, who is the person who created the drama triangle, and whose work has evolved past the drama triangle in ways that help us see how to escape from these games that we play with each other, in ways that actually build intimacy and closeness with the people in our lives, or if we’re not looking for intimacy, at least they keep us from being caught in a repetitive loop. So Dr. Karpman is the author of the recent book, “A Game Free Life,” the definitive book on the drama triangle and compassion triangle and along with many, many other books and papers, and we will talk about that more over the course of today’s conversation. If you are looking to download a transcript of today’s show, you can visit neilsattin.com/triangle, as in the drama triangle, or as always you can text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. So let’s dive in today, Dr. Stephen Karpman, thank you so much for joining us here today on Relationship Alive.
Stephen Karpman: Thank you, Neil, for asking me, and I’ll do what I can to help people with their lives.
Neil Sattin: Great. That’s the best we can hope for today. And I just want to note that I’m really excited to be talking to you. What people listening don’t necessarily know is that you and I have actually been in dialogue for almost this whole past year and a half, maybe even more. So, it’s exciting that we finally made it all work. You’re very busy in presenting and getting your books together and I’m glad that we’re finally here today to talk.
Stephen Karpman: Okay.
Neil Sattin: So Steve, Stephen, let’s just start… It’s probable that a lot of people listening do know what the drama triangle is, at least on some level, but for those who don’t, or for those who haven’t really thought about it for a while, let’s talk about it and enumerate each of the roles in the drama triangle, and then talk about what actually creates the drama. So, can we start there?
Stephen Karpman: Sure. The drama triangle is something I created many years ago. Primarily, originally, I was working on a strategy in football and basketball, and I’d do this three-corner triangle of different roles, and then it turned out to be applicable to theater, like there would be a villain, and a hero, and a victim. But eventually, the way I originally drew it is the way that took off, which is a triangle with the point down, which is the victim in a one down position. And the two people in the power position, in the upper left corner had the persecutor role, which is a person who’s always blaming, always putting the victim down. And then the other corner on the upper-right is the rescuer position. That person is always helping, and always trying to save and trying to fix the victim who somehow never seems to get fixed and it’s a very frustrating for the rescuer.
Neil Sattin: So when you’re in a challenging situation, at a minimum it can help to step back and say, “Okay, which of these roles am I playing? And which role is the other person or persons playing in this situation?”
Stephen Karpman: Sure. Now, there’s the difference between a game playing role and in real life. For instance, the persecutor might be an aggressor in real life, and just being an aggressive person who might be critical at times, but it goes into the triangle when they have… They’re linked in with someone in a non-ending game. So the persecutor is always blaming, always criticizing the victim. The victim can never do anything right, but the persecutor always has to be right because they don’t want themselves to feel like a victim inside, so they always have to win.
Stephen Karpman: Now the rescuer had to come in and save the victim from the persecutor, then more than likely the rescuer is a good-hearted person initially, and it’s okay to be a rescuer in life, very good actually. But it becomes a drama triangle, when they’re involved in an unending game with the victim who’s always helpless, always wrong, never can do anything right, and they deplete themselves in their own… Drain themselves in their own light, devoting their lives to saving the victim and meanwhile neglecting their own life.
Stephen Karpman: And then the victim is a person who may be from their past, they see themselves as inadequate or insufficient and somehow get into the role of asking for help from people. But eventually, which is okay, but eventually, if they get into a game, then they play the role of a victim. They’re not actually the victim, they’re playing the role of a victim, which is very manipulative and playing all sorts of games to keep the rescuer helping them and to keep the persecutor criticizing them. So then, you have the drama triangle, that’s the drama. When people get into dysfunctional roles and dysfunctional relationships, they get into the triangle. Sometimes they switch around different roles, like the rescuer might suddenly become the persecutor, or the victim might get even with the rescuer by becoming a persecutor, so then it gets complicated, and you get into a game that’s… People… That can go on for years, and people can’t solve it or get out of it.
Neil Sattin: So how do I know if I’m in a game or not?
Stephen Karpman: Well, it depends on the role, but primarily it’s very frustrating. You’re involved with someone else, that’s when you’re in the triangle, and it’s very frustrating because you feel drawn in, particularly the victim will draw a person in. It’s like quicksand, you get drawn deeper and deeper, and try harder and harder to fix the person to get them to think, to get them to realize things. The rescuer might say, “I’ve gotta get you to realize things.” And the persecutor might say, “You’re dumb because you don’t understand anything,” so it’s one of… The relationship gets stressful, it gets exasperating or gets depleting of energy and primarily nothing ever gets fixed, nothing gets clear, nothing is understood and it just seems to stay that way, on and on.
Neil Sattin: So if a situation isn’t evolving and it feels dysfunctional, then the odds are you’re trapped in some sort of game?
Stephen Karpman: And you may not know that you’re trapped, you just… You keep wanting to try hard, it’s one of the drivers. You try hard to fix things or to be perfect in your answers or be perfect in your feelings so maybe the victim will change, and the person could make the criticism even stronger and stronger, thinking that will teach the victim a lesson, and by… With their strength, they will protect themselves from ever being criticized. So it’s primarily… It’s a relationship and other people may notice at first and you may not notice it yourself for months and years, and you don’t want to leave the other person but you don’t know how to make the situation better or to get it livable.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and why do you think that it’s not enough? ‘Cause this was my experience when this particular situation, and I can’t get into the details just out of respect of other people’s privacy, but I saw it happening and I was like, “Oh this is very clearly what is going on.” And yet, just recognizing that, that I was playing a rescuer role, this other person was playing the persecutor role, and then someone else is playing the victim role, just recognizing that wasn’t enough to actually change the dynamic. And I’m wondering if you can give us a sense of why that might be so, that it’s not enough to just recognize that this is what’s happening.
Stephen Karpman: Well, primarily, most of the people that write about the triangle talk about empowering. One needs to feel empowered, that they are successful and if they don’t feel that they’re successful, that nothing they’re doing is working, at that point, they may step back and say, “Well, perhaps I need to change something and it starts by knowing what the roles are in the drama triangle, that there’s a persecutor, rescuer, and victim role, and people do get trapped in it and get frustrated. And once they know the roles, then they need to get in touch with their feelings and why they’re in that role and what’s their pay-off.
Stephen Karpman: They’re involved with people that they can’t control. You can’t control the persecutor or the rescuer, or the victim. You can’t control yourself. So, at that point, you decide that you will control yourself and decide what to do about the game. Of course, you’ll try to discuss it first or you may get into counseling about it, but at some point, you need to decide that the triangle isn’t working for you and you move on if you can’t make it work better for you or if you can’t tolerate it.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I think one thing that might be challenging is probably most people arrive at thinking about the drama triangle by feeling like they’re a victim to someone who’s persecuting them and… That would be my guess. ‘Cause that’s the place where you feel like you’re being stuck in a situation of powerlessness, and so it seems like it might be challenging to go to someone that you’re perceiving as your persecutor, and say, “Hey, I think… I was doing some reading online and I think that we’re stuck in this drama triangle thing, and I’m pretty sure you’re stuck in the role of the persecutor and I’m the victim,” I don’t see that going very well.
Stephen Karpman: Yeah, the persecutor would then tell you that you’re wrong, and that you’re reading all the wrong information and your friends are telling you the wrong things and you got to shape up. The persecutor often is a narcissist or a bully, and they just like bullying people, they just like telling people what to do. And they can get along in life that way, but in the drama triangle, there’s actually a link between all the roles and they’re actually trapped in that role and they may persecute the rescuer, telling the rescuer that they don’t know what in the world they’re doing, and they’re not going to stop because this is their power position. So how to get the persecutor to back off would be challenging and maybe some insight might get through or it won’t get through and then you would face other decisions, whether you need to move on.
Neil Sattin: Right, so there is that element, as always, of someone being discerning and trying to figure out like, “Is this person that I’m perceiving to be a persecutor, are they adaptable, are they flexible, are they willing to work with me to show up or not?”
Stephen Karpman: Well, also you need to take into account the role of the victim. Are you feeding the persecutor what they need? Are you trying to, as they say, “sail a pizza past the wolf”? The persecutor may not pick up on things because your way of telling the persecutor may be either accusatory which would get the persecutor to fight back or maybe so sympathetic and so helpless that the persecutor would see it as a weakness, so the victim would need to look at their role, whether they’re really playing a role that makes themselves irresistible to the persecutor, and then the victim would need to look at whether they need to empower themselves, so they come across as more effective and more worthy of respect and get listened to.
Neil Sattin: Yeah and maybe this would be a good time to also talk about what you alluded to a few moments ago, which is that, people often are playing more than one role and can switch back and forth. Or they can perceive themselves as one role while the other person is perceiving them differently, and the example that pops into my mind immediately of that is, you talk about the political system, the political parties in our country, where the classic, maybe Republican postures that they see themselves as the rescuer of the taxpayer, and the Democrat might see themselves as the rescuer of the common person, and both of them perceive the other as a persecutor. And that they’re being victimized in some way by them.
Stephen Karpman: Well, that becomes a turnoff to the voter when they realize that politics has become a game of accusing people, lying, accusing people of things, switching around and only taking one position and not knowing what’s going on on the other side of the aisle. So a person gets out of the political game by respecting both sides, to see that each side has a following and they have a point of view. Now the other question about the switching of roles is very real. The persecutor may decide that they want to win the game and if they’re being accused of being a persecutor, they may switch. They may switch over to be a rescuer and say, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, I really care about you. And I didn’t mean that… “
Stephen Karpman: That could all be a game, it could all be a manipulation. Or they could be… Play the role of the victim in order to win the game and keep things confusing and keep things involved. So they could play the victim of… They never can be understood, they’re really trying to help the person with the criticism and they’re being misunderstood. So you can wind up switching around the triangle in order to win. In order to not get pegged into one of the roles, you switch around so that you can win.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and what is winning exactly?
Stephen Karpman: Well, winning is the excitement, the excitement of the drama of staying involved in some argumentative relationship wherein some problems, problematic relationship, which is very involving, it’s… They’re standing for negative strokes instead of positive strokes, but some people think negative strokes are just as good or even better, or they don’t even know why they’re involved, but they are involved and sometimes they don’t realize how involved they were until the game somehow ends which could be traumatic sometimes or mind blowing. It could free them, they can all of a sudden feel free. The rescuer would say, “I’d rather be smarter than martyred.”
Stephen Karpman: They don’t want to be a martyr anymore, they want to be smart that they’re out of the game and they’re free again, and so the victim might say, “I’d rather be mad than sad instead of complaining all the time.” They’d get angry at the whole game, saying, “Why am in this game? Why am I playing this silly role of a victim all my life? I can get things for myself.” And then they can empower themselves, which is a big part of the drama triangle and getting out as people learn to empower themselves and realize they can’t change others but they can change themselves and get what they want in life.
Neil Sattin: And where does this all… How did you come up with the compassion triangle as the antidote to the drama triangle?
Stephen Karpman: Well, in transactional analysis which started with Eric Berne’s “Games People Play,” which was a runaway bestseller years ago, 120 weeks in a row on New York Times best seller list, and I trained with Eric Berne, and one of the principles in transactional analysis is that there’s three ego states. People can either play the role: The parent, adult, or a child; or be those people to others. And the thing is that the roles can be played positive and negative, like the critical parent role can be played in a negative way, which is always criticizing, but in the positive way, which is a strong leader with decisive… With rules and people follow them, and society is stronger because of the rules.
Stephen Karpman: So using that idea from Eric Berne that all these ideas can be seen in a positive or a negative way, I started looking at each of the roles in the drama triangle, can be either positive or negative. So, for instance, the persecutor is very negative ’cause they keep the victim feeling terrible about themselves, but if you get out of the triangle, it can be positive, you can be an aggressive, self-empowering person, who’s determined to channel your energies into life and to being purposeful and productive.
Stephen Karpman: And the rescuer, ordinarily, is a person who gets walked on all the time, people take advantage of the rescuer. They’re always helping, and giving people another chance and then another chance and then a third chance, and… But they can switch that negative rescuing to positive rescuing. They can love themselves and they can actually help themselves and help others. And the victim, instead of being the negative role of always needy, always helpless, never, never learning anything that they need to learn, then they can switch that into the vulnerable role, that they’re actually open to helping themselves and hearing other people and changing themselves. So all three roles can be either way. But one day, I developed what I called the compassion triangle, which I could go into more if you want to.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, let’s do that.
Stephen Karpman: Okay. The compassion triangle is, I put that altogether and realize that people are actually in all three roles at once. There’s a primary role that everyone sees, but then there’s two hidden roles. So, using an example of a boss picking on the secretary would be seen as the persecutor, and people wouldn’t like the boss, but secretly, if you want another way of looking at the boss or helping the boss, the boss is also a rescuer. The boss is rescuing the secretary who can’t do it right, who can’t learn fast enough, so by criticizing the secretary or being a helicopter mom to the secretary, they’re really trying to impart information that would help the person. And in a way, they’re also helping their own job, because if people don’t get their job done, then the boss could get fired. So the boss would also be a victim and say, “Oh my gosh, I’m running ship that’s going aground and people aren’t doing their job right.” So then, it’s all three roles at once.
Stephen Karpman: And originally, that actually goes back to evolutionary days in which there’s, which I called the drama triangle, which is another subject but that’s… In evolutionary days, you have to trigger all three roles at once, immediately, in order to save the offspring to go on to another generation. So I’ve digressed at that into a situation I saw on TV on a Discovery Channel.
Neil Sattin: Okay.
Stephen Karpman: Where a tiger was approaching a baby elephant and the bigger elephants circled the baby. So the way they’re a rescuer, they were rescuing the baby. They were also persecutor ’cause they could chase off of the tiger, and then they’re also victim because they saw their own family being threatened, and with empathy, they could feel the threat to the baby elephant. So all three had to be triggered and going through different situations in evolution, all three of those actually started out of instincts. So in a stress situation, all three of those are fired off at once.
Neil Sattin: Interesting and why… So why did you end up calling this the compassion triangle?
Stephen Karpman: Well, compassion triangle was… I picked that name, somewhat for its appeal, but also because it helps you have compassion for each person. So instead of saying the persecutor is evil and critical and narcissistic, you’d have compassion for the person also being a rescuer and a victim in what they were doing. And same, you’d have compassion for the rescuer, it could be criticized and say, “Oh you’re a rescuer. Maybe a therapist is letting their patient call in the middle hours of the night or something, and not paying their bills. They could say, instead of being critical a person who’s a rescuer, you could see them as also a persecutor which is keeping someone in the dependent position, and they’re also a victim, ’cause they don’t know how to get out of the situation because they get so many strokes and purpose out of rescuing people.
Stephen Karpman: And the victim, instead of seeing them as, “Oh, you’re a victim, you’re playing a manipulation game, you’re a professional victim,” you could see them as also a persecutor that they’re keeping other people involved in their game, and they’re also a rescuer. They’re giving other people what they want, they’re giving other people a victim to pick on, so they don’t need to look at their own lives. So, It goes on from there. In my book, A Game-Free Life, the first half of the book deals with all the different drama triangles in different situations like the identified patient and all sorts of situations. And the second half of the book is all about open intimate communication and listening and accountability and how to get out of the games.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and so I think that the danger is to start to get confused like, “Alright, well, if the persecutor is also the victim and also the rescuer, then how do those distinctions even matter?” And I think what you’re saying is that, thinking about it this way is a good way to stretch you outside of the boundaries of the game thinking, where you’re stuck in a particular role or where the other person is stuck in a particular role to develop a little bit more flexibility in how you’re thinking about it.
Stephen Karpman: Yeah, the word compassion could get people drawn into forgiving other people for their game playing, like forgiving a persecutor, not actually realizing what they’re actually doing with all their criticism. So you don’t want to get soft, you need to know the games and you need to know the roles and you don’t want to first get into forgiving everybody, because that will be a rescue and will keep you the game, but the compassion triangle is used mostly to understand why the games are played. If you want to do that, the most people just deal with the drama triangle with the roles. I’m in this role, that role. And sometimes they get into the switches, which is what the triangle role change was, the drama of changing roles and getting other people to line up as persecutors, rescuers and victims and getting lots of other people involved.
Stephen Karpman: So that’s the drama and the switching. But if you want to understand the reasons why a person gets into the game, the compassion gives you three ways of talking to that person, like that boss, you could say, “I know you’re trying to rescue a person help them by the criticism, but maybe it’s not working.” And also the boss saying, telling the boss how they’re a victim, you know, you could be victimized, you could get fired, if these people don’t learn their job or…
Stephen Karpman: So, it’s when you want to get into understanding the roles is when you use a compassion triangle, and usually, if you go on the internet to the different blogs and the other books written about the Drama Triangle, they mostly just describe the roles and how people get into the roles and what to do to empower yourself to get out of the role. They don’t often get into the switches, which gets into dysfunctional family games. And I have a list in my book of all dysfunctional family games, but they don’t go the next step which is to actually understand why people are doing it, ’cause that would get them too soft and they would tend to stay in the game, if they are two sympathetic to the other people.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, so when you’re, say, working with a couple and let’s just choose a typical example, which is like, one person is always complaining, let’s say. So one person always has complaint and the other person probably has the story of like I can, it’ll never be enough. What I do will never be enough for my partner. How could you help them use the compassion triangle as a way to get out of that dynamic?
Stephen Karpman: Well, we look at the three motivations behind each other’s point. And I would do an exercise where each one would talk to the other person. One person would say, let’s say, the complainer would say to the other person. I know I’m complaining as a victim, but I’m also persecutor and to keeping you feeling guilty about my complaints and I’m also rescuer because I’m turning up the energy between us and giving you what you need in order to feel superior. And then they would do the triangle for the other person. Like I know you’re coming on as persecutor, which isn’t working ’cause I’ll fight it, but I know you’re also the rescuer ’cause you’re trying to help, and I know you’re also victim because you feel this is intolerable, and you’re afraid of what the next step would be. So I will do the compassion triangle exercise and I would have both people do it.
Stephen Karpman: So the victim would go through their three roles and the persecutor’s three roles and then the persecutor would have to tell the other one, here’s the roles and here are your three roles. This compassion triangle exercise is very, very moving, and it’s being adopted in many many treatment centers. And I just wish more people would know about it, and use it, of course, wishing would be hoping and be a victim positions. So I’ll back off that one.
Neil Sattin: Well, here we are taking action that hopefully, many of you will go out and grab A Game-Free Life. It’s on Amazon, and there’s a lot of information in there, there’s a lot to absorb and even in just the description of the Drama Triangle, and the compassion triangle. And then, as you mentioned, Steven, you move on to talking about intimacy building and communication and building trust, and obviously, that’s a lot of what we’re talking about here on my show, Relationship Alive, because those are the building blocks of successful relationships.
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Stephen Karpman: Okay. So, the second half of the book starts with the three rules of openness. It starts with the idea of how to set up communication, and the three rules of openness are: Bring it up, talk it up, wrap it up. And I’ve put a whole lot in there: How to bring up your points so that people listen to it, or how you can bring it up so they won’t listen to it. And to talk it up, I talk about all the different games that go on, all the listening problems that go on, all the different blocks that occur to keep someone from listening to your point. And then, the wrap it up, I have a whole different series of how, rather than talk a point to death, you can wrap it up and that would be the goal. And the talk it up, I do a lot about listening, and I have a… A lot of different theoretical ideas I’ve written through, but they’re all practical. And then the example you previously mentioned about the complainer. I have a person learn how to listen to the point the other person made.
Stephen Karpman: Now, I have this thing called the listeners loop, which is the four things that ideally a good listener, would do, and it’s… I put them on a loop because they’re all connected. So it’s the letters S-E-V-F. S is for strokes. You give the person strokes for what… For who they are. And then the E stands for encouragement. You give them encouragement. “You can keep talking. You can bring this up to me any time.” And that preserves the channel of communication. And the next letter is V for validation. You validate whatever is true that the other person says. And I do have a 10 percent rule, that 10 percent of everything you say is correct and 10 percent of everything you say is incorrect, and 10 percent of the population would agree.
Stephen Karpman: And that I use in couples to make sure someone hears at least something that the other person says. And then, so that validates the point. And then, the final is the F for follow through. That validates the purpose of the communication, that you show some results. After the communication, you show some tangible results of the discussion. That, I call that the listeners loop.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, it’s…
Stephen Karpman: There’s also…
Neil Sattin: Go ahead.
Stephen Karpman: There’s also a loop of how you block people from ever getting their point across. So I could mention that if you want.
Neil Sattin: Sure, let’s see that. And just to be clear, we’re in the “talk it up” section of your work?
Stephen Karpman: Yeah. So there’s three letters… Four letters there. In that loop, C-A-S-E, these are the four ways that you can block a person from being effective in their communication. The first C is condescending. I guess, maybe the listeners or you could imagine a situation in which you’re really earnestly trying to get through to another person, and that person, in return, first, is condescending, they’re looking down on everything you’re doing, they’re saying, “Oh, this is just your symptom of… You’ve been talking to the wrong people. You’re just the fool. Nothing you say is correct.” So they would be condescending and look down on you. The next block would be abrupt. They’re just suddenly cut off… Suddenly cut off the communication, “Stop. I’ve had enough. Stop it.” And then, they would walk out the room or hang up the phone or something.
Stephen Karpman: That would be intimidating, and that would stop a communication. The next on the loop is S is for secretive. They would withhold all the information that you need in order to hear their point of view, and they would withhold all the information that supports that you heard them. So they keep secretive, and you can’t… You don’t know where you stand with the person who doesn’t give you enough information. But that’s an information block, by not giving enough information to let the communication proceed further.
Stephen Karpman: And the last block would be the person that you’re talking to is evasive. They would talk fast, they would change the subject quickly, they would lead you astray into another subject that’s actually more interesting, and you would forget your original point. So that C-A-S-E, or CASE block would keep you from being effective. But if you know the four different blocks, maybe you can address one of them and break it down. If you can break down one of the blocks, then you can… The person will be open to listening to you. And according to the transaction analysis, positive-negative rules, there’s also positive C-A-S-E that, instead of condescending, you’d be caring for C; Instead of A, Abrupt, you’d be approachable. Sure, it’d be nice to talk to someone who’s carrying an approachable.
Stephen Karpman: And instead of S for secretive, the person would be sharing. “Oh, great. This person is sharing information with me. Now, we can move forward.” And instead of E for being evasive, you’d say, they’re engaged. “Oh, they stay engaged on the subject. We can have enough time to talk it all the way through, rather than suddenly stopping the subject after 30 seconds or five seconds.” So, there’s a positive loop. And in the workshops that I do, and I do workshops all over the world, workshop… We have that exercise being done. A person practices each of those four negatives, and then the other one deals with them, and then you switch sides. And so, on all these different information and communication blocks, people can practice them. And in couples therapy, you can get them to actually practice the negative C-A-S-E and then switch it to a positive C-A-S-E. And all those can…
Stephen Karpman: All those things in the back half of the book and are… Can be practiced. And as social skills. I could mention that originally in Games People Play, the games were spelled out. Eric Berne listed over 100 games and it was a wildly, wildly popular book. But he didn’t have a way of getting out of the games. He had something he called an antithesis. Like maybe one sentence or two for about four or five of the games that you could say that would just stop the game right there. But he didn’t take it further. I was the only one in transaction analysis field that actually took that further. And my entire book is… It’s about what to do about it. Social skills training and relationship building, training, and intimacy building, training, that you can go beyond games with.
Neil Sattin: Great. So, let’s pull out a few more of those because there are so many in there that are really… Well, what I like about it is that it… In the way that you quantify these ways of being, it makes it really clear in ways that that I wouldn’t have thought about before. Before we dive into one of them, there are two important things that I think we should mention. One is, I’m wondering if you, we’ve mentioned transactional analysis several times, it’s been your field. Can you give us just like the 10,000-foot view for people listening, if you don’t know what transactional analysis is, this is what it is?
Stephen Karpman: Sure. Originally, the psychotherapy field was in the area of what Freud discovered. Freud was a hypnotist and he was a psychiatrist, and he would… With his mind as a hypnotist, he figured that if you could take people all way back to childhood and unleash all the traumas and all the repressed energies of childhood, that this freed up energy would then allow them to be freer in their lives. So this was called the psychodynamic approach or this… Or on a higher professional level, it’s a psychoanalytic approach. And all you have to do was going back into childhood and understanding things. Eric Berne came along in a very revolutionary times in 1960s, in San Francisco, very revolutionary times where everything was being rethought and he said, “Why do you have to go back in childhood only? Let’s look at what’s actually happening on the social level. What’s actually happening between people in the here and now that they have to deal with?”
Stephen Karpman: Like, you can talk about your childhood all you want, but what if you’re getting divorced or what if the boss has demoted you and put your desk in the hallway or something when you were on vacation, or some game you had to deal with? So he brought up the games and he gave very catchy names to them like, “I’m only trying to help you,” or “now I’ve got you, you SOB” or a game of Kick Me. So he came… So the book, of course was wildly popular, of course, people read it to figure out the games other people were playing [chuckle] and weren’t necessarily using it to figure out their games. But he brought up the whole level of, of social level. So then transactional analysis had a social level, TA it’s called, TA for transactional analysis. And then a psychological level. Psychological level’s when you go into the depth, into childhood which is now called scripting, how people write their life scripts when they’re young, and then they play out their life scripts as if they’re plays.
Stephen Karpman: And transaction analysis has a lot about script analysis. And I have a, maybe the middle section of my book is all about script analysis. How you find out what your position is in life? Like, maybe you have an, “I’m okay, you’re not okay,” position in life or “I’m not okay, you’re okay,” which was written in Tom Harris’s book, I’m Okay You’re Okay, which was the other big best-seller back in the ’60s and ’70s. So transactional analysis became a major force in psychology and psychiatry and it’s taught all over the world. We have training centers in 30 or 40 countries and conferences all over the world, so it’s a major field in psychology. But because of the dominance of the psychoanalytic approach, some schools actually won’t teach it.
Stephen Karpman: So that’s one of the games people play of being, of protecting your turf. But it gets more and more popular and my book sells, I’m probably selling about 10 a week or so. And there’s transactional analysis books and conferences all over the world all the time. So it’s gotten pretty popular and more people are looking at what goes on between people, rather than just what went on in your childhood.
Neil Sattin: Right, and so the idea is that you’re analyzing what is actually happening between two people in the present moment as…
Stephen Karpman: Right. And the only precedent to that was back in the early 1960s in the Bay Area, that they started family therapy, and they actually began to have names for what people were doing back and forth in the family therapy circle. Like, people who… There were dyads and triads and certain things like that. But Eric Berne just jumped in way into the future by actually naming the games that each individual person was playing and he brought it up in many different levels. Some of these games, he wrote up about six or seven different levels of why people are playing it. And that appealed to the more depth-oriented people who realized, there’s a lot of depths in…
Stephen Karpman: There is many depths in what people are doing with each other as they were in what they were doing in their childhood, which I guess psycho-dynamically was like, there’s a dozen defense mechanisms that people would employ that was pretty deep, but in TA, you have just as many or even more social defense mechanisms, how you keep people from getting intimate, how you keep people from making their point, how you keep people one-down. So that, sort of TA, primarily, my book, went more in that direction.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I think that is definitely one of the valuable things is, as soon as you see that you’re in a particular game, you talk about the title that could be kind of on the front of someone’s sweatshirt like, “This is the game that I’m playing with you,” that it gives you a clue of like, “Oh, I’m actually not really connecting with this person. We’re just doing this dance that actually prevents us from connecting with each other.”
Stephen Karpman: Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that. The sweatshirt was an idea that Eric Berne used to talk about in our seminars, and I trained with Eric Berne for, in his weekly seminars in San Francisco for almost six years. And he used to talk about the sweatshirt jokingly, but I’ve taken it a lot further. It actually tells you what game a person’s playing. Imagine you’re trying to get through to somebody and you look at their sweatshirt and it says, “I don’t care about you or what you’re saying,” and all of a sudden, you say, “My gosh, look at that.” I figured there’s a couple…
Stephen Karpman: I boiled that down to two sweatshirts. One is the let’s pretend sweatshirt, is let’s pretend I care about what you’re saying. And the other was try and… Try and… Try and make me listen to you. So the “let’s pretend” and the “try and” sweatshirt, you’re served none. Breaks a game-wide open. Sometimes you don’t realize until after you’ve left and you think, “My gosh, that person had a sweatshirt of I don’t care what you say, or I’m never going to listen to anybody,” and then you realize, “Wow, that’s a game.” And so the whole core of a game can be wrapped up in their sweatshirt. And there’s a lot of work in TA about intuition, the use of intuition and reading what people are doing, and then also ways of checking out your intuition.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, so if I had… Let’s say I was with someone, and I thought their sweatshirt was, “Let’s pretend that we’re… That we’re going to work on our problems together,” maybe that would be a good one. How do I know if that person is actually just playing the game with me because on the back of their sweatshirt, it would be actually, I’m the one in charge here, or something like that.
Stephen Karpman: Well, that was the original sweatshirt of Eric Berne, there’s the front of the sweatshirt and what you see and the back is after the switch. The switch is very important in games, like you think you see something and then you get a switch, and all of a sudden, you say, “Oh my God, that’s what happened.” So that sweatshirt could be an alcoholic wearing a sweatshirt “let’s pretend I’m going to stop drinking this time”, or “let’s pretend that your insights get through to me.” And then the rescuer or the co-dependent could say, “Let’s pretend I’m going to be effective right now, and you’re listening to me,” or “Let’s pretend we’re all going to live happily ever after.” But it’s an intuition that you might not be able to think of in the heat of the game, but when you walk away the game, you say, “My God, I’m talking to a sweatshirt that says ‘I don’t care about you,’ and I never will,” on the back.”
Neil Sattin: Yeah, how would you test that out? How would you know if… Because I think it can be easy to step back from a person and just say, “Oh okay, I have the story about this person, which is that, they’re never going to care about me or they’re actually not interested in me.” Actually, that might be a good one I’m thinking about going out on a first date with someone and trying to navigate the awkwardness of that and maybe coming away from that thinking like, “Yeah, this person, they just don’t care about me.” How would you find out if that sort of thing was actually true?
Stephen Karpman: Well, probably in time, it’ll come out or say… You mention there is this… That if the guy thinks the… Sees the girl’s sweatshirt and says, “I’m not a man, I’m not romantically attracted to you,” well, then he moves differently. He talks to her in a different way rather than assuming, “I’m a hottie and you’re my man,” thinking that that’s what’s going on. So it’s a way sort of catching on to what’s going on, what’s the game that’s… Is there a game and what are the real positions? Now, it’s okay to be hoping and to wishing and maybe this is going to work out, this is going to be fine, but it’s only when there’s the game and one way of finding out what the game is to see the sweatshirt and then you go from there, you can bring it up.
Stephen Karpman: There’s a new type of therapy called relational therapy, in which the therapist shares their feelings with their client and they could actually say to the client, “I feel you’re not interested in anything I say,” and that could open up a conversation, but it’s fine to express your feelings of what you think is going on as long as there’s an openness contract… Contract to be open and share with each other without games.
Neil Sattin: Oh my goodness, you’re just reminding me of so many things that are in your book. Okay, so before we dive in there, just going back to the case, the blocks to communication that you were talking about, C for being condescending, A for abrupt, S for secretive, E for evasive. If I sense one of those things happening in my partner, or the person that I’m talking to, what’s a strategy that you’ve seen be effective in… ’cause you mentioned, sometimes you can take on one of those blocks and break it down, and then you get through and then you’re back to communicating with that person.
Stephen Karpman: Well, the first step in learning the games people play, and learning intimacy communication and so forth, is to identify it. So, if you identify the person as condescending, you would say, “Wait a minute, I need a little more respect from what I’m saying here are my points.” So you could go for that. If you heard the person’s abrupt you’d say it up in advance, “I need at least five minutes to talk to you. Will you give me five minutes?” So then you have a way of dealing with that. For the secretive block you’d say, “I need you to tell me why you’re doing this and I’ll tell you why I’m doing it so you set up a sharing substitute for the S.”
Stephen Karpman: And then for… For the E, the evasive, you say, “I don’t want to start changing the subjects,” or as soon as they change the subject, you say, “Wait, you’re changing the subject on me, you’re not here, or you’re not hearing me, or let’s stay on this one point, it’s important.” So knowing what the blocks are, you can actually address each one and it’d be more effective than than if you just threw up your hands and say, “Well, you’re impossible. I can’t talk to you.”
Neil Sattin: Right.
Stephen Karpman: Which might work also.
Neil Sattin: Right, well, it would work in a different way, I guess, of keeping things the way they are. I’m curious. You mentioned earlier very briefly, I think you call, they’re called the ego states, the critical parent, the nurturing parent, the adult, the free child, the adoptive child, I think I’m remembering those right. And the way that each of those gives us some flexibility and how we interact with other people, and maybe also how we get stuck in one way or another mode. Can we talk about that for just a little bit and then what I’d love to do is kind of bridge that into your map of intimacy and how people can think about the level of intimacy, the intimacy scale between them and another person.
Stephen Karpman: Okay. So the ego states was Berne’s way of externalizing Freud’s super ego, ego and id, which is three factors of the internal mind, a person has a super ego that’s critical of themselves or they have an ego which deals with the world, or they have an id which is powerful forces. So, Freudian dynamics was based on that, Well, Eric Berne took it out into the real world and said in the real world, there are people out there you see as your parent, as your adult, or as a child, and that gave you a way of looking at people. So that was the starting point. Now, each ego state, it gets subdivided a little bit, and they can be in a positive or negative way. Like the parent is sort of subdivided into the matrons and patrons, I guess, is the father and the mother, you know, different kinds of systems around the world.
Stephen Karpman: So the critical parent would, would be the authoritative one that maintains the rules of society and correctness and ethics. But the negative critical parent would be the one who would just domain and criticize people endlessly. So all the ego states have positive and negative side. Now the flexible person is one who stays in contact flexibly with all of the ego states. They can move in and out easily. And one of Eric Berne’s dozen books, half dozen books, it’s called The Moving Self. At times. In your talk to someone. If you need to go to the… Okay, critical parent, you say, “Wait a minute, you’re breaking our rules.” Or you need to go to the rebel child, you might say, “Oh, come on, well, let’s have some fun. This is silly.” So you need to be able to move around or you can move into the adult and say, “Wait a minute. I’m not sure what’s going on. Let’s look at the process. And let’s see where we’re going with the information.” So you need to be able to move around all the ego states. And so that’s the flexible person.
Stephen Karpman: A person who gets locked in, they could get locked into critical parent, locked into only free child, they’re only negative free child where they’re just silly all the time and you can’t ever talk to them. Or it could get locked into the negative nurturing parent that just only wants to rescue victims, all they care about in the world is victims and everything you do is a symptom of something. So you could get locked into a certain ego state yourself. And you can be talked to someone else who’s locked into one ego state only, and that’s called the excluded ego state. So there’s a lot about ego states that Eric Berne writes about in his early books. It’s a good way…
Neil Sattin: And…
Stephen Karpman: Ego states it’s a good way of identifying who you’re talking to. There’s the excellent idea by Dr. Dusey called the egogram and you look at someone and you see this vertical bar graph of how much critical parent are showing, how much nurturing parent is their, nurturing parent, adult reach out, adopted child, and you get an idea of who they are. We’re talking to real tough person, a person whose critical parent could be first on the bar graph, their adult could be second, and maybe your free child or they’re vulnerable, they have a child that’s very low. Or it could be talk with a very flexible, easily manipulated person, they may be all in their child and all either playful or sorrowful or hurtful and they have no parent, no strength that they can rely on.
Stephen Karpman: So there’s a lot in TA about the ego states and I go into that in my books too, ’cause I have one variant of this option, this article I called, called options, and showing you how you can switch among your different ego states in order to handle the situation with somebody else.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, so what would be what would be an example of that?
Stephen Karpman: Hmm?
Neil Sattin: So if I wanted to, let’s say, I was trying to assess if, where someone was at and I like how you brought that up in terms of like looking at them and seeing where they show up on the bar graph, are they high in one dimension or low in another? Do you have suggestions for how you elicit different states from other people?
Stephen Karpman: Well, there’s two ways. I have a summary of the Options article in my book, A Game Free Life. And then, in my latest book, Collected Papers and Transactional Analysis, I have a copy of the original options article, which gives you all the examples. That’s different from the egogram, which is an intuition reading of the other person in which you can tell how much ego state energy is in the other person that you’re dealing with. So it’s an intuition exercise, intuition reading like the sweatshirt, or just would be the egogram and the sweatshirt would be ways of reading a person that you’re talking to.
Neil Sattin: Got it. Got it. Okay, let’s, if we can… In our last few minutes here. One thing that I think you describe really beautifully in your book are the ways that we construct intimacy in relation to another person, and the two concepts that come to mind here for me are the trust contracts that we create with others. And then the intimacy. I think you call it the intimacy scale, which helps you see where you’re at in terms of your levels of intimacy with another person. So yeah, let’s dive in there.
Stephen Karpman: Okay, thank you for mentioning this. Over the years, I pretty much I’ve developed a lot of different ideas. I had an older sister who used to teach, have one new idea every year or one new project that you master. She would say, well, one year, you master bowling, another year, you master handcraft. So I set upon myself that each year, I wanted to create a new theory. So both of those are new theories.
Stephen Karpman: The five trust contracts for couples are… Might turn out be one of the most popular ideas I’ve done. And that is, you draw two sets of ego states facing each other, and the trust contract between the okay critical parent, and the okay critical parent, the other person, is the no collapse contract. You agreed to the contracts you’ve made, you don’t suddenly stop working. You don’t suddenly stop your hygiene, you don’t suddenly break all the rules, you don’t… So the no trust contract is between the critical parents, between the two nurturing parents.
Neil Sattin: Right. That’s also like you don’t threaten to leave the other person, or…
Stephen Karpman: And between the two nurturing parents, the couple agrees on the protection contract that it’s in your mind to protect the other person from putting them to too much stress. Between the adults is the openness contract. Bring it up, talk it up, wrap it up, at a good timing, not just anytime. And then between the free child. It’s the enjoyment contract that you really want to give the other person lots of pleasure and whatever you can and the other in their lives, and the two of you.
Stephen Karpman: And between the adapted child is the flexibility contract that you agree to give in. You don’t have to win 51% of all the arguments. And so this is an ideal that they live by. Each person needs to live by it themselves, and they also look to it being maintained in the other person, but they can all break down very quickly. I had one example of an alcoholic who went out and got drunk, and a restaurant and was screaming. Right away, he broke the no collapse contract. He just broke down and threw a scene. He broke the nurturing, the protection contract. Everyone got embarrassed, everyone’s child got embarrassed, and so that was broken, and the openness contract was broken because you couldn’t talk things over with him, he was in a don’t think mentality.
Stephen Karpman: And then the free child, the enjoyment contract, there was nothing enjoyable about that dinner in the restaurant, when he threw a scene with the restaurant that even Jack Nicholson would have been happy with in one of his books, movies. And then between the adopted child, the flexibility contract. There’s no flexibility there. He wouldn’t yield to people telling him to please stop or anything. So, all contract can be broken. And when a marriage relationship or a long-term relationship is breaking down, sometimes one by one, the contracts are broken. Maybe the enjoyment contact is broken first. They just talk too much about issues, and drag themselves down. Or maybe a no collapse contract is broken. They go out and have a partner somewhere else, so one-by-one, the contracts can be built up but they also can be broken down. And then you also mentioned was it the intimacy scale?
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Stephen Karpman: Okay, I cataloged there the subjects that people talk about. I’ve never seen anyone do that. I go on five levels 20%, 40%, 60% up to 100%. And these are the actual topics that people talk about. Some of the topics can bring people closer, which is on the right of the scale at 100% or they can distance people. Eric Berne once used the example of a very awkward first date. Guy looks around and looks at the room and says, “My, aren’t the walls perpendicular tonight?” That doesn’t take things very far. So at the first level, at the 20% level, it’s silence. Pretty much nothing is said but it could be an okay silence, a break in time, just a breather.
Neil Sattin: You could be staring into each other’s eyes in silence, which might actually feel very intimate.
Stephen Karpman: Yeah, right. But that’s a topic of conversation would be no topic but silence. You’re not sure what’s going on. So it doesn’t really build intimacy, maybe it might. The next level will be 40% which is, things objects and places, which is the guy is saying, “My, aren’t the walls perpendicular tonight,” or people can just talk about the restaurants in town, sort of awkwardly trying to come up with one after another, until the conversation runs down, or he could hear at a diner, the truck drivers talking about the different stop lights and the police… That doesn’t develop intimacy. It doesn’t get people into who they are and what they believe in, but that comes at the 60% level. And I have several different PI people. You talk about people and ideas or philosophy and issues or psychology, you talk about what people think about and believe in things and they get to get into themselves and that gets a little more closeness going.
Stephen Karpman: Now, at the 80%, I have it divided with an M, Y, me or you. You actually interview the other person, find out a whole lot about who they are, what their beliefs are, what their hobbies are, their family is, and they talk about their self a lot. It gets uneven if one person only talks about themselves or they interview the other person, so the other person only talks about themselves. But that gets close when you learn a lot about the person, but it’s not the same as 100%. At a 100% level, there is a you, us, talk about us. What do we feel about each other? What happened when we first met each other? What are the things that we are going to do together? What’s going on between us? And you talk about at the us level, and you share your feelings about each other and the two of you.
Stephen Karpman: So that all can be practiced in workshops or between couples. You can practice each one of the different levels. So you get an idea of conversations. It’s mostly useful when people first meet each other when conversations can go dead or they can go right. I mean, some party can jump too fast, a person… A guy at a first date could jump all way over to me and you and us and proposition her or someone could… And then she could bring it back to things, like wallpaper decorations or something. [chuckle] So, it gives an idea of the different topics of people talk about, whether it brings them closer or it brings… Takes them further apart.
Neil Sattin: Yeah and I could see that been instructive just like as you’re with another person, like, oh, are they in their critical parent? Are they in their adult? Are they in their free child? You could just as easily be like, alright, what are we talking about and what is that, if I want to build more closeness with this person, then I might take this to trying to figure out their philosophies and ideas and interests and eventually, get into our deepest beliefs, what they believe, what I believe, and that actually helps bring you closer in a situation where you’re feeling a little distant from either someone you’ve been with for a long time or someone you’re just meeting.
Stephen Karpman: Right. Yeah, and by the way, none of this should be called manipulative, but like, “Okay, now I’m going to go to the 20% level, now I’m going to go to 60%.” It’s actually people are just identifying what good conversations are. Now, of course, a salesman could learn it immediately and go right over to all way up to 100%, and con you into thinking that the new vacuum cleaning device is what brings them… Two of them together. But all these things, you know, options, how to switch ego states, or the different levels of communication, all these things are things that you learn and eventually become part of you. ‘Cause there are people out there who automatically know all these things, so it’s okay to go to school and learn your social skills if that’s what you need when you go into therapy, or you read a book on relationship building, which is my Game Free Life book.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, so I want to let you know listening that, even though we’ve covered so much in this conversation today, it’s not even half of what’s [chuckle] in this book. And it… I really was struck with every several pages, like, wow, there’s another valuable resource, wow, there’s another way to think about this and to extract kind of the core of what’s happening in every… In a particular given situation to get to something meaningful. So again, Stephen Karpman, he created the Drama Triangle. His book, A Game Free Life, which talks about the drama triangle, the compassion triangle, and then all of these tools for building intimacy and dealing with communication issues. Because this isn’t a book that’s just for couples, it’s about how you navigate the world and stay game free as much as possible. So it’s really, really valuable stuff in there.
Stephen Karpman: I should put in a plug that it’s available on Amazon.
Neil Sattin: Yes, yeah. I think I mentioned that earlier and we’ll make sure that we have links to all of that in the show notes and transcript for today’s episode, which, as a reminder, you can get if you visit neilsattin.com/triangle, as in the Drama Triangle. Or you can text the word passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. And Stephen, what’s a good way if people want to find out more about your work, other than grabbing the book on Amazon, what’s your website?
Stephen Karpman: Okay. I do have about 30 papers I’ve written, which go into much more detail of the ideas that are in A Game Free line. I just recently came out with that. It’s called collected papers in transactional analysis, about 280 pages. I sell it from my website, all you have to do is type in my name on Google, and you’ll go to my website. And eventually, Amazon’s going to have it. But I really appreciate you inviting me Neil and sharing some of these ideas, and I would like people to have A Game Free Life, and that’s what I’ve been working on, and I really appreciate the time you’ve spent, and the time we’ve worked on together to make this interview happen, so I really want to thank you very much and thank your viewers who are listening.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, my pleasure. It’s been so great to have you, and this is stuff you’ve been working on for decades. So, what a treat to one that you were able to put so much of it into your book, and also that we’ve been able to meet and chat about it for the people today who are just finding out about your work. I do have one last quick question for you, if that would be okay?
Stephen Karpman: No, I’m okay.
Neil Sattin: Okay.
Stephen Karpman: Thank you.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. So when we were talking about the trust contracts, I’m just wondering, if I were listening to that and thinking, “Okay, I’m hearing the contracts that I’ve navigated really well with my partner, let’s say, but I can see that… ” Here’s a contract. Like the enjoyment contract that I’ve just let fall apart completely or even that I feel like my partner is sliding on one of those contracts. What would you suggest as a good first step for people to have the “us” conversation that allows them to repair around a broken contract?
Stephen Karpman: Well, generally, it would be communication, again, and stating what the problem is and your feelings, and if there’s an actual issue or situation, you could do the compassion triangle, and your motivations for that situation, and their motivations. So, it primarily is just identifying the issue and working at what you can do and what you can’t do. But primarily, the five trust contract, you should apply to yourself that… And the enjoyment contract that you really won’t keep it in your heart, that you want the other person to be happy. And any kind of flexibility you can do on the flexibility contract would be fine. But there’s some things you cannot do and you can’t be expected to, and there’s some things you can do that maybe you might do.
Stephen Karpman: But you could be getting more in touch with your free child, a more playful side, self. Or if the other person has trouble getting into their free child and their playfulness, you could stroke them and when they do get into the free child, tell them how much you enjoy that. And I don’t have an actual situation to talk about. These are pretty general for people on any of the five trust contracts is it’s something to talk about, to talk about it with all the rules of sharing and communication and… You know, I mentioned this: The listening loop. And also, there’s a information iceberg I did mention. There’s four levels of how you can get your point across, get your… Maybe it’s too late in the interview just to go through it, but…
Neil Sattin: No, go for it.
Stephen Karpman: One is a… One, you get your point across, and then underneath the water of the iceberg, it’s the first ice information. You want to give all the information behind your point to support it, and you want to get a chance to get that information out there before the person cuts off the conversation. And then, the next… I… On the iceberg, is importance. You want to be able to get across the importance of your idea, why it’s important to be listened to. Like, if you’re talking at a board meeting, you want to be able to get across the importance of why your idea needs to be taken up by the business, or with someone you’re talking to, why it’s important that this conversation is heard.
Stephen Karpman: And then, the last I at the… I at the very bottom, is actually a trauma triangle for the bottom of the iceberg, is the intent. You want to make sure you know… People know that your intent is not persecute or rescue a victim, but it’s to share information, to move the relationship on in the five trust contracts.
Neil Sattin: And you actually made me think of just revisiting briefly a question that we touched on at the very beginning, which is, I’m curious about, in your experience, how do you know when someone is just kinda stuck in the game? And you try all these things and… Is there a point at which you think one can say like, “All right, I think I’ve given this what I can give it and it’s time to move on to a… ” You know, “This person is stuck no matter what I do.”
Stephen Karpman: It takes a while to get stuck. If you’re a rescuer and you’re persistent, you’ll stay in there. If you have the drivers that say, “Try hard and please them and be perfect in how you please them,” the drivers can keep you stuck in the relationship a long time. Now, you could, maybe not even be in the game, and you meet somebody for the first time and you just say, “That’s it,” you just don’t want to go further. You may give it a couple of tries, and then it’s over. So it’s… Getting into the triangle takes a while to get in there, because then it gets complicated because all three roles are beginning to emerge as motivations in each person, and that complicates it, the… But it takes a while to get to the point where we realize, “Hey, we’re stuck.” And then you could talk about the idea of being stuck.
Stephen Karpman: Maybe from the compassion triangle, you could settle on a particular issue, and once you got the issue settled on, then you talk about your three motivations for hanging on to this issue. But, yeah, defining an issue is usually a point to decide whether you can move on or not.
Neil Sattin: Got it. Yeah. And you do a good job, at one point in the book, of talking about, it was, I think, in a work situation with two people who are having… It’s impossible for them to get along and where one of them simply is willing to listen, and the other one actually does the whole compassion triangle for themselves and for the other person out loud as a way of helping build a bridge of understanding between the two of them.
Stephen Karpman: Well, if it’s a work situation, you wouldn’t necessarily do it out loud with everyone listening, ’cause the boss could lose face or something like that, but it’d probably be in a closed room where people would cheer. Let’s look… Is it okay… Well, first, you get the contact… A contract to talk. “Is it okay if we talk about this?” That avoids a rescue victim situation. The person say, “Yes. It’s okay. Let’s set aside five minutes to talk.” Then you say, “Well, I would like to go through what I feel is going on and what I feel is going on with you, and then you can correct me or tell me what is going on with you.” But then you share an awful lot of feelings. You can share your persecutor, rescuer and victim, and what you think is theirs. That fix right there. And then they share their persecutor, rescuer and victims of what they think their motivation is. And then there…
Stephen Karpman: They got their three, and then there are three about you. So there’s actually 12 feelings to get shared. I mean, it can be a huge sense of relief when the compassion triangle exercise is done, but first, you gotta get a contract, an agreement that, “Let’s go through it,” and how much time to be set aside, and maybe even an agreement of what to do if a communication goes wrong.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. Well, Stephen Karpman, again, thank you so much for being here with us today. And you’ve shared so much valuable information, and I’m excited to see what unfolds for our listeners who take this and run with it. So, thanks so much for giving us more of a perspective on how to apply the drama triangle, the compassion triangle, and all these other great ways of building trust and intimacy.
Stephen Karpman: Great. Thanks, Neil, and to all your listeners for listening, and we’ll talk more later.
Neil Sattin: Awesome. Thank you.
Stephen Karpman: Again, thank you.