Toxic Drama 101: Drama Overview

In Toxic Drama 101 you will learn about…

What is toxic drama?

Most people are unaware that their lives are filled with toxic drama. While non-toxic drama, such as the dramatic and literary arts, is entertaining and educational, providing important life lessons, toxic drama is entertaining in the way that gossip, watching soap opera, blood sports, or war is entertaining. It makes life interesting, exciting, and meaningful in ways that block intimacy, authenticity, respect, and empathy.  Toxic drama reinforces self-indulgent feelings of attack, vicarious greed, imbalanced sexuality, fear, sadness, or insecurity. It keeps us stuck in comfortable but dysfunctional life scripts and serves almost no educational purpose. Toxic drama also keeps us stuck in all three pernicious life roles of Persecutor, Victim, and Rescuer. An unhealthy, scripted, persecuting life position involves self-righteous, persecuting self-inflation: “I’m OK, You’re not OK,” or “I am superior to me; you are inferior to me”; or, “I know better than you do”; or, “Listen to me; I know how you should live your life.” This may also be the position of a toxic parent that rescues instead of helping. Toxic drama can support and reinforce a helpless, powerless, victimized life position:  “I am not OK.” “Maybe you’re OK – better than me.” Or, maybe you’re not OK too, in which case I can’t trust you.”   When we help others out of our own neediness or to gain self-validation we lock ourselves into the Rescuer version of toxic drama.  In all three of these roles, toxic drama reinforces dysfunctional life scripts, script messages and psychological games that block authenticity and intimacy.  A good overview of toxic drama, in the form of the three roles of the Drama Triangle, can be found in the videos for each Unit in this Module. 

When and how do we develop toxic drama?

We learn toxic drama from our parents, family environment, and peers as part of our childhood scripting. When our parents, siblings, and peers take one of these three roles we are taught to take a complementary role. In such an environment it is unrealistic to expect anyone would be scripted to stay out of toxic drama. Because our parents didn’t recognize how they were stuck in toxic drama, or didn’t know how to change it, they passed it onto us, despite their best intentions.

Why is recognizing how you are stuck in toxic drama and learning how to escape it important?

If you don’t learn to recognize how you are stuck in toxic drama and how to change it, you will pass it on to those you love, including future generations. Toxic drama will undermine and possibly destroy any chance for authentic or intimate relationships. Those relationships you have that ARE authentic and intimate will be undermined by toxic drama. 

Why is understanding and escaping toxic drama important to IDL?

Toxic drama keeps you stuck in your life scripting. You can learn all the concepts of IDL, but if you do not put them into practice in your relationships, thinking, and dreaming, your knowledge will remain cognitive and superficial instead of reflected in healthy, balanced, and transformational relationships with others, yourself, and your intrasocial Sangha.  You won’t understand how dysfunctional thinking keeps you stuck in toxic drama or how it keeps you from setting realistic, “SMARTER” goals unless you find examples in your life and apply what you have learned to them. You won’t learn to be assertive. Because toxic drama is both passive and aggressive, it will block your ability to learn to be assertive. Your ability to solve your life problems will be limited by a lack of authenticity and intimacy. When pursued from within the Drama Triangle, your interviewing will serve the purpose of validating your life scripting instead of freeing yourself from it. Without recognizing how toxic drama shows up in your thoughts, meditation is likely to be escapist, accessing states that detach you from drama by detaching you from life. Similarly, without an understanding of toxic drama, pranayama is likely to be a transformational practice unrelated to the challenges and problems of your everyday life. The intentions you set are less likely to address the conditions that keep you stuck in self-sabotage. 

How important is recognizing and escaping toxic drama? 

If you don’t recognize when and how you stay stuck in toxic drama it will control and limit your destiny. For example, you will second-guess your progress and problem solving in a form of self-persecution or you will “help” others primarily in order to validate your own self-worth. You will be more likely to view yourself as a victim of circumstances. Here is a personal example. I grew up taking the statements and behavior of others personally. This put them in the role of Persecutor and myself in the role of Victim. As a result, I sought out things and people to rescue me – meditation, dreamwork, an interest in the realm of the psychic, a study of the lives of great people. While these were on the whole positive forms of self-rescuing, in that they supported me, my motivation kept me locked in toxic drama because my interests grew out of a sense of inadequacy and fear of failure. It was only when I learned how these motivations kept me stuck in toxic drama that I was able to challenge the reality of my sense of inadequacy and my fear of failure.  I could then begin to pursue things like dreamwork, meditation, and relationships from perspectives that did not perpetuate dysfunctional elements of my life scripting.  

Why is it difficult to outgrow toxic drama?

Things that are exciting, pleasurable, positively reinforcing, habitual, and even addictive, like gossip and arguing to “prove our point,” easily become entrenched in our behavior and our sense of stability in our life. We do not easily outgrow them; they do not go quietly into the night, because they generate a sense of comfort and self-validation, even if it is unbalanced and unhealthy. This is because toxic drama has adaptive value that gives life meaning and interest. Anyone who does not recognize the benefits, called “secondary gains,” that accompany ongoing self-abuse is unlikely to outgrow it. It’s exciting to gamble. Financial or sexual conquests are interesting, fun, challenging, and have intense and real physical and emotional payoffs. As with scripting, expect resistance to giving up the emotional comfort of your unrealistic hopes, your self-indulgent and self-validating fears, self-doubts, impulsivity, procrastination, and addictions.  It took me quite some years to recognize that, as a psychotherapist, I was a professional rescuer, in that part of the reason I became a mental health professional was to gain self-validation by “proving” what a helpful person I was. Ha ha. Of course, being helpful is honorable and necessary; we simply need to look at our motives for doing so. 

How do you change your investment in toxic drama?

One of the reasons why IDL focuses on interviewing as a central yogic and transpersonal practice is that through it we access, in both others and ourselves, emerging potentials that are relatively free of toxic drama. Even those interviewed characters that are locked in toxic drama, such as genuinely malicious or abusive perspectives, demonstrate an authenticity that helps us to surface and understand our investment in maintaining toxic drama. A good first step toward outgrowing your investment in toxic drama is understanding the three roles of Persecutor, Victim, and Rescuer in the Drama Triangle and how they show up in your life and the lives of your family members and clients. The  concept of the Drama Triangle was first espoused by a student of Transactional Analysis and Eric Berne, psychiatrist Stephen Karpman, in 1968. The Drama Triangle is fundamentally about identification with emotions that generate self-validating patterns of manipulative thought and behavior. It emphasizes how those patterns generate dysfunctional “games” that poison relationships. In 2010 I broadened the concept of the Drama Triangle beyond relationships to include consideration of its role in patterns of toxic thinking and dreaming. 

What is the relationship between IDL interviewing and toxic drama?

Uncovering, understanding, and exiting toxic drama is one of the major reasons why we do interviewing of ourselves and others, of dream characters and personifications of life issues, throughout the IDL curriculum. Interviewed perspectives are not stuck in toxic drama where and how we are; as we identify with them we objectify our immersion in it which allows us to make better decisions and organically outgrow addictions to toxic drama. We become more aware of invitations to “play” and decline the offer.   

What is the relationship of toxic drama to the various modules of the IDL curriculum?

As noted above, when and how we take the three roles in the Drama Triangle is strongly influenced by our scripting. Understanding how and when we get caught up in these three roles helps us break out of dysfunctional aspects of our scripting. Cognitive behavioral therapy has demonstrated how our thoughts generate how we feel and how, by changing how we think, we can change what we feel. As we recognize thoughts that put us into Persecutor, Victim, and Rescuer role and work to eliminate them while substituting healthy thoughts, we outgrow toxic drama. Goal setting is undermined by toxic drama. For instance, when it is in operation we can easily experience our goals as persecuting demands on our time and freedom, sources of victimization, and motivators to rescue ourselves by losing ourselves in non-goal related activities. Toxic drama also undercuts the life balance that learning assertiveness generates. The dysfunctional but real and intense feelings associated with toxic drama, combined with the toxic thinking it generates blocks problem solving by attributing false motives and filtering information through unproductive feelings and delusional assumptions. Toxic drama gets in the way of interviewing and applying reasonable, realistic, helpful recommendations that we instinctively feel are beneficial. The more invested we are in toxic drama the more difficult it will be for us to meditate, develop objectivity, or find peace of mind. Toxic drama distracts us from experiencing our lives as centered in each breath. It generates life intentions that block authenticity, intimacy, and the serenity and meaning that comes from living a life in harmony with the priorities of our life compass.

Assignments and Homework 


Under “Essays and Interviews,”  read: How You Keep Yourself Stuck in Drama and How to Get Out How the Drama Triangle in Your Dreams Affects Your Health Escaping the Drama in Your Life (An Interview):


In the IDL video curricula, watch: The Drama Triangle: Why it is Used By Integral Deep Listening The Drama Triangle, consisting of the three roles of Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer, is a powerful concept for understanding how and why we are individually, culturally, and socially stuck as individuals and as collectives. This immersion in dysfunctional drama disrupts development, peace of mind, and transpersonal access not only in our waking relationships, but in our thoughts and night time dreams. Therefore, a clear understanding of this important concept as well as learning ways to avoid the Drama Triangle is fundamental to learning to listen in a deep and integral way not only to each other, but to ourselves. Why the Drama Triangle is Important for Your Life There is no aspect of life that is not contaminated by the Drama Triangle. When we learn to recognize it in our personal, work, religious, political, and spiritual realms, as well as our thoughts and dreams, we gain an ability to make healthier choices that we did not possess when we were unaware of it and its pervasive influence in our lives. We can also learn to differentiate between those who offer solutions that simply switch us from one role to another as opposed to solutions that authentically move us out of the Drama Triangle.


Check for study questions and/or create some of your own.


How does toxic drama show up in your dreams? In your life issue interviews? There is YOUR drama in your dreams and life issues, then there is the drama – or lack of it – of the characters in your dreams and of the characters that you interview. Think about their relationship to drama as it shows up in the dreams, life issues, and interviews you do.

At a minimum, do one interview a week, getting experience with both dream and life issue protocols. One week, interview yourself. One week, interview a subject. It can be a fellow team member, a family member, friend, or client. One week, be interviewed by someone else.  Focus on thinking about if your life issues and dreams reflect your enmeshment in toxic drama and if so, how. Consider how the feedback and recommendations made by your interviewed characters impacts your ability to understand and extract yourself from toxic drama. Ques

  1. Write down your answers to the following questions. 
  2. Share your answers with your other study team members.
  3. Discuss.
  4. Submit your written answers.

In what life situations are you most likely to find yourself in the role of Victim? In what life situations are you most likely to find yourself in the role of Persecutor? In what life situations are you most likely to find yourself in the role of Rescuer? Sometimes it is easier to recognize these roles in those around us – our family members, friends, work associates, government representatives. Think of some examples and write them down.  What are your current strategies for staying out of toxic drama in your relationships?  What are your current strategies for staying out of toxic drama in your thinking?  What are your current strategies for staying out of toxic drama in your dreams?  How would you rate the usefulness of this unit 0-10? Why? How can it be improved?

Setting Intent:

What do you want to take away from this unit to improve your life?

How would you like it to influence your dreams tonight?

How can you format that as a statement of intention to read over to remind yourself, before you go to sleep, to incubate in your dreams tonight?

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