Friday, January 29, 2021

American political culture through the lens of the Kardman Bully Triangle

The Kardman drama triangle, while originating in the “transactional analysis” period of family therapy, with Eric Berne as the prominent theorist,  may have some considerable relevance to the American psycho-drama that is playing out across the United States, and threatens to immolate the political system. Doubtless, the political class more than defers to anything “psycho-babble” sounding, in fact so demonizes the professional practice and its relevance to their political careers as well as to their personal lives. However, it is precisely those “specters” we are determined to ignore, deny, defy and bury, as outside the purview of our personal world view that have the potential to wreak the most havoc. It is not that they are more virulent and toxic that other aspects of our psychological profile, but that in their being locked into a vault of the unconscious, they somehow manage to take on overtones, accretions and pulsations that eventually splurt forth seemingly out of nowhere, when we least expect such eruptions.

The political class, including the reporters, analysts, practitioners and even the historians, tend to focus on the daily events, tweets, photos, and words as the first draft of how the political tides are moving. Occasionally, a theoretical framework might be useful in  at least offering a different light, and contextual and cognitive ethos in which and from which to investigate the potential for the daily news to move in a more detectable direction, if not an actual destination.

Right now, the Karpman drama triangle offers a lens into the three principal leads in what we are calling the American psycho-drama. The three ‘characters,’ if we were examining a specific family structure are: victim, persecutor and rescuer.

The Victim: whether or not this archetype (beyond a single individual person, in this case a group) represents those who feels or acts like a victim. Feeling victimized, oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless, ashamed, unable to make decisions, unable to solve problems, unable to take pleasure in life, or to achieve insight. If this victim is not actually being persecuted, will seek out both a persecutor and also a rescuer. Both additional archetypes are necessarily to sustain the victim’s negative emotions, perceptions, and underlying beliefs.

The Rescuer: “I alone can fix it for you!” is the stereotypical rescuer’s line. The rescuer is a classic enabler who feels guilty if they do not ‘go to the rescue’. The negative impact of their efforts, however, keep the victims dependent and prevents the victim from failing and experiencing the consequences of their choices. The rescuer’s primary interest is in avoiding their own problems in their well-developed disguise as concern for the victim’s needs.

The Persecutor (the villain): controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritarian, rigid and superior are all words to describe this ‘character’.

Energy to initiate the drama depending on which perspective we are looking at, comes from the villain or the persecutor. As soon as a victim experiences what s/he calls persecution, s/he feels also a need to recruit others into the conflict. When a rescuer is brought into the drama, all three roles are now engaged and quite possibly, roles can be reversed, if for example, the victim turns on the rescuer who then reverts to persecutor.

It is, however, the meeting of the immediate, often unconscious psychological needs of each, without actually realizing or acknowledging the harm that is inevitable from the dysfunction. Each is acting on selfish needs rather than acting in a responsible way that would include consideration for the other(s). The rescuer’s complex motives might well include a desire to resolve the conflict, but also may have a midden motive to fail to succeed or at least to succeed in a way by which they benefit. Boosting self-esteem, or respective rescue status, or the deep enjoyment of having another depend(ent) on them, there is a clear potential to continue to play on the victim to perpetuate the payoff. The victim is potentially co-dependent, by engaging in a process in which their needs are met through the rescuer’s care.

The process of depriving each participant of the payoff they need or desire or demand or require, as a way out of the cycle, is much more easily stated than achieved.

If we, for our purposes here, extrapolate and assign roles to the three dominant actors in the American psycho-drama, the victim applies coherently to the trump cult.

The persecutor (in the eyes of the victim) is clearly the Democrats, The Gang, the Socialists, all of them operating as a cabal of child molesters.

And the rescuer, in this space, is, and has been, the former president who, while pontificating about how he alone is making America great (again), is profiting (allegedly) both financially and potentially politically, while also potentially falling to the various arms of the American justice system and its official and legal prosecutors.

Triangulation in family therapy is a process in which a two-party relationship that is experiencing conflict and tension will inevitably and naturally involve a third party ‘to reduce tension.’ One researcher’s insight seems especially cogent in analyzing the U.S. dilemma: that drama-based leaders can instill a culture of drama, in an organization, family, and (it says here) a nation. Persecutors are often in leadership, and a culture of persecution fits hand-in-glove with a culture of cut-throat competition, fear, blaming, manipulation and high risk of law suits. Certainly, the language, decorum, behaviour and inflammatory ethos of the American political theatre qualifies as one of cut-throat competition, fear, blaming, manipulation and high risk law suits.

Persecution seems to exemplify the psychic state of the trump cult, fed by the long-standing menu and diet of lies, distortions, manipulations and prevarications of the ex-president. “They are coming to take your guns!” “There is a Muslim invasion in Washington and across the country!” “Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings of young children and teenagers respectively were “flag events” staged to enhance the anti-gun lobby!” “Pizzagate was real and trump is coming to save us from these child molesters!”….are just some of the wanton, exaggerated and flagrantly untrue lies and manipulations being spread virally with the co-dependent compliance of the social media companies.  In a nation in which ‘hate speech’ is protected (Supreme Court in Matal v Tam, 2017, reaffirmed that there is effectively no hate speech exception to the free speech rights protected by the First Amendment and that the U.S. government may not discriminate against speech on the basis of the speaker’s viewpoint.) Additionally, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 1996, says an ‘interactive computer service’ can’t be treated as the publisher or speaker of third-party content. This protects websites from lawsuits if a user posts something illegal…Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Chris Cox, (R-CA)crafter section 230 so website owners could moderate sites without worrying about legal liability. (from

·        So….

·        if the wild west has been and continues to be re-enacted throughout the universe of the internet, without worry or even consideration of the potential for liability, on the part of the platform corporations, and

·        if the political psycho-drama is and has been so hot that ‘the show’ has actually shoved the potential for legislation off the table of the elected officials in Congress, and

·        if the arguments for obstruction, evasion, manipulation and narcissism now include and depend on a total disregard for what once qualified as an agreed body of facts, and

·        if the dysfunctional family model, in which and by which immature, self-centered, self-serving individuals regarded in many quarters as role models, heroes, wealthy magnates of influence and social status, and

·        if the political theatre/culture has morphed into little more than another reality television show, in which the stereotypes (archetypes) of victim, persecutor/rescuer play out, with all actors relying on a zero-sum game, in which and by which every win must include a loser, without compromise and

·        if the media buys into the psycho-drama as a reliable vehicle for both ratings and advertising revenue and

·        if the American ‘business model’ places profit and winning at all costs as the one to emulate in all aspects of the national culture and

·        if desperation is the scarcity the defines all three participants (actors, archetypes) in the American psycho-drama, then the cycle of national dysfunction will continue to play out regardless of the placebo vocabulary of the Biden administration and the army of politically and intellectually accomplished minions and

·        if there is no shift in the attitudes, the emotions, the psychic framework of those who perceive themselves (and their 74 million voters) as victims, and

·        if those victims are frozen into their self-designed, and self-applied, self-sabotage, without evincing a willingness to shift their perspective,

Then the multiple tasks on the Democrat agenda for unity, to build-back-better, to resolve racial inequities, to nurture trust among world powers, to combat climate change, to stem the tide of the pandemic….will all fall victim to the Kardman triangle.

In order to confront the implications of the Kardman bully triangle, one based in anxiety and problem-focus, where each role is fearful of owning their own experience, so they focus outward, the first step is for each ‘actor’ to recognize their role. In order to do that, each has to turn attention ‘inwards’ and take an inventory of the needs each is attempting to have met through the dysfunctional role they have adopted. And then, each needs to acknowledge the reality of their needs, take responsibility for addressing those needs, and ‘step into an already available and accessible power resource of your own. Its is not a huge step from victim to ‘vulnerable’ where powerlessness morphs into struggling. Nor is it a monstrous step from  rescuing to caring…instead of taking power away from others, empathize with others and allow them to cope however they deem necessary. From persecuting, instead of threatening punishment to control others, persecutors can move to assertiveness, by which you meet your own legitimate needs. (Reference: Jenn Getts, May 27, 2020 in Calgary Institute of

Now, given that there does not appear to be an objective, outside, professional trained, highly experienced and even more highly intuitive national psycho-therapist playing a public and prominent public role, through the media, (although Mary Trump has tried!), it behooves both political parties, the White House, and the various respected thought leaders from both parties, and diverging political ideologies, theologies, ethnicities and social and economic backgrounds to, first, reflect on the current conditions, including the truth of each actor’s co-dependence and reliance on dysfunction to meet needs. And then, to begin informal discussions within each ‘tribe’ about how to shift the internal dialogue, not only within each practitioner but also within the culture of the tribe, and then to start to free the freshness of a new foundational approach that is based not on  scarcity but on plenty, including the energy, creativity and support all who are triangulated to stand up both to reality and the truth and to meet needs without harming others in the process.

A mature, health, self-respecting American nation would be a welcome invite to the international party which we all have to ‘entertain’ if we are going to shift our planet and our access to legitimate opportunities and needs, in a shared, collaborative and committed new world order. 

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