Helping leaders emerge


Drama Triangle: A Radical Responsibility Model

The Drama Triangle is a normal human dynamic where we triangulate among three different mindsets or roles: the victim, persecutor, or rescuer. These roles are a fear–based effort to meet our needs, regain a sense of control and avoid feelings of uncertainty, vulnerability, and powerlessness. While we may have a preferred role that we play or evoke from others, we can also shift among the three different mind states.

The Drama Triangle is a useful model for understanding, taking ownership of, and reducing negative drama in our lives because it helps us become aware of what role we (and others) may be stuck in and how to extricate ourselves.

The model, based on teachings of Fleet Maull, PhD (and his book Radical Responsibility) and Vita Pires-Crisp, E.D. from Engaged Mindfulness Institute and Stephen Karpman’s drama model, reflects normal adult human behavior and are not relevant for children or someone who is truly victimized.

The Three Mindsets: Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer


  • A role where the person is unhappy with the way their life is going and believes the cause of their unhappiness lives somewhere outside of themselves – another person or situation.
  • For example, I will be happy or unhappy until that external circumstances (the person or situation that I have no control over) changes.
  • This is a mindset of limitations, feeling powerless and helpless, one of problems and can be used to control or manipulate others.
  • Context: “poor me”
  • Actions: complaining, blaming, attention seeking, tantrum throwing, manipulating
  • Orientation: problems, complaints
  • Mode: reactive, blaming
  • Feelings: helpless, powerless, anxious, afraid, hurt, hopeless, depressed


  • Like the victim, the persecutor attributes the causation of what they are feeling to an external circumstance.
  • This role is triggered by a fear–based strategy where the person feels out of control and powerless so they put themselves in charge to gain some control.
  • Context: “I’m right”
  • Actions: criticizing, judging, blaming, controlling, dominating, attacking, abusing
  • Orientation: problems, complaints
  • Mode: reactive, attacking
  • Feelings: anxious, fearful, angry, superior, righteous, defensive
  • Underlying position: victim


  • A role where the person is playing the expert, hero, and fixer, going around saving people from themselves. The rescuer needs a victim.
  • This is not a genuine role of helping but rather the person moves into the rescuer role to meet one’s own ego needs in order to feel needed or powerful.
  • Can treat the others as childlike and unable to take care of themselves.
  • Context: “I know”
  • Actions: rescuing, saving, fixing, enabling, colluding, disempowering
  • Orientation: problems and fixes, savior–martyr
  • Mode: reactive, fixing
  • Feelings: smug, superior, self–righteous, heroic, unappreciated, overwhelmed
  • Underlying position: victim

How do I get out of or off the drama triangle?

  • Step One: Recognize that you are in a drama triangle. Recognize the physiological signs of drama activation, become mindful of your emotional reactions and triggers, and identify what role you could become or are already caught in. For the victim role, warning signs include upset emotions (hurt, anxiety, anger, etc.), physical sensations (shallow breathing, constricted chest, sweaty palms, tension in the neck and shoulders), and thoughts (captivating stories of powerlessness, injustice, etc.). For persecutor and rescuer roles, signs of drama activation may manifest in language, tone of voice, posture, and actions towards others.
  • Step Two: Don’t Act When Triggered. Your primary job is to self-regulate and not make the situation any worse. Make a commitment to yourself to not act when triggered. There’s a saying, “The blood has left your brain, now is not a good time to make a decision!”
  • Step Three: Take Space and Shift Your State. The next step is to state shift and engage in a self–management strategy to consciously release yourself from the trigger (fight or flight response) so that you can gain access to the rational decision–making capacity of your brain’s executive function. Self-management strategies include taking deep breaths to the count of ten, straw breathing, meditation, taking a walk, listening to soothing music, going for a walk or run, doing yoga or other movement exercise, speaking with a friend, getting out in nature, or journaling.
  • Step Four: Own Your Feelings. This means getting in touch with your own emotional state and rather than using blaming, projective language, choose “empowering, reflective I” statements, like, “I’m angry, hurt, or sad” (versus “You’re always doing this to me.”)
  • Step Five: Identify Your Needs and Communicate Them Clearly (When Appropriate). Take some time to reflect on what underlying needs you perceive aren’t being met and if it’s appropriate, communicate them to the other person as information or as a request, but not a demand. Some examples of needs include love, respect, trusting relationship, autonomy, self–worth, creative expression, security, sense of purpose, and a connection to something larger than self.
  • Step Six: Make A Boundary When Necessary. By establishing proper boundaries, we reduce chaos and suffering for ourselves and others. Boundaries about knowing when to say yes and when to say no, both to ourselves and others. Boundaries generate a type of presence and protective energy. When you have clear boundaries, people sense it, and anyone looking to create drama will typically steer clear of you and go elsewhere.

Humility: A Quiet Key to Collaboration and Our Collective Health by Ari Weinzweig

Our family was lucky enough to meet the very humble yet famous Ari Weinzweig during a visit to Michigan while dining at Zingerman’s Roadhouse (Ari was the water boy, refilling our glasses summer of 2018). Usually, my husband Brad refuses to dine at a restaurant two nights in a row, but we enjoyed our visit so much we found ourselves dining at Zingerman’s for two consecutive nights!

Since then, we have gotten to know Ari and become inspired by his community values, compassionate leadership style, and business success. And as we continue to live in uncertain times, I find it refreshing to have resilient leaders like Ari to turn to during this pandemic for inspiration – leaders who show up in deep service and commitment to others, their staff, communities, and customers. Thank you Ari!

And so with Ari’s permission, thrilled to share ….

Humility: A Quiet Key to Collaboration and Our Collective Health by Ari Weinzweig

When I was asked to speak at a University of Michigan symposium on the subject of humility I honestly knew little or nothing about it.  Beyond a general understanding of what the word meant, and that it was probably a good thing to have, I wouldn’t have had much to say about why it would matter. In the intervening months of inquiry, I’ve learned a lot. I can see now, very clearly, how humility can help us in so many ways—at work, in society, at home—to make our lives more rewarding and our work more effective. I realize, too, how a lack of humility is behind so many of the problems with which we struggle.

Humility, I’ve learned, works quietly. But please, don’t confuse humility’s calm discretion with passive ineffectiveness. Humility, I now strongly believe, has power; the power to heal, the power to help. The power to restore health. While the news seems to get louder and ever more frenetic, humility is waiting for us to let it contribute to the conversation.  If humility was a guest professor, the assignment it might give us would be to turn off the news, take a couple of deep breaths, cock our ears, look inward, and pay close attention to what comes up in the quiet. What at first, to the casual observer, could sound like nothing at all, just might turn out to be a wonderful whispering source of strength and wisdom. In the inflammatory state of current national discourse, humility is a soft but still effective voice leading us away from ego, and in the direction of much needed doses of dignity, compassion, kindness, inclusion, reflection, and respect. (To paraphrase folk singer and spoken word performer, Utah Phillips, we might want to consider adding “rant control” to our list of programs going forward.) As Wendell Berry writes: “It is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.”

Does the subtle, gentle presence of humility have much value when the country is in crisis? On its own, we know, humility won’t cure Coronavirus. But having learned what I’ve learned over the last few years, I’ll answer with an adamant yes. Why? Because rather than shutting out what others (with whom we may not agree) have to say, humility leads us to be more open to the input and help of those who know more than we do. It makes it easier to meaningfully say, “I don’t know.” It increases the likelihood that we will own our responsibility for our errors. It improves the odds we will take the advice of experts seriously, even while still making our own decisions. Humility makes it more difficult to be curt and dismissive. More difficult to be curtly dismissed. And harder to say, “I don’t care.”

Will humility have an impact on our other recovery? The rebuilding of social trust and mutual respect? I will answer, adamantly, in the affirmative. Humility, I believe, is incompatible with racism, hierarchy, and hatred. Twentieth-century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “To the end of history, social orders will probably destroy themselves in an effort to prove they are indestructible.” Humility, by definition, could help us steer clear of that tragic fate. If we have humility we accept that we are all imperfect, all fallible, all interdependent. This past spring, I began to think of 2020 as a “marathon through a minefield.”  Humility, I’ve come to realize, is one of the keys to successfully getting through. When you don’t need to be “the best,” “the biggest,” or “first to the finish line,” the odds of successfully getting to the other side of the minefield—without losing our minds, our lives, or our livelihoods—increase significantly.

I would suggest that when we approach the world from a place of humility, it makes it much more likely that we will:

  • own our own part in creating the problem with which we’re confronted
  • acknowledge our shortfalls and ask for help
  • understand that none of us have all the answers
  • treat everyone with whom we interact with dignity
  • be much more open to outside perspectives and creative insights

What became clear to me as I pursued my studies on the subject, is that to stay meaningfully humble is a multi-layered, complex piece of work that continues on for our whole life. As we do that work, we all impact, and are impacted by, each other. None of us can do it alone. Maybe we could consider authoring a Declaration of Interdependence that references Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Humbleness? We are all, whether we like it or not, ultimately in this together.

Adapted from the newly-released pamphlet, Humility; A Humble, Anarchistic Inquiry.” Published with permission; Zingerman’s Press, 2020.

This essay was featured in the October 11, 2020 edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper publishes News and Views that Rise Above the Noise and Inspires Hearts and Minds. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.

Ari Weinzweig is CEO and co-founding partner of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, which includes Zingerman’s Delicatessen, Bakehouse, Creamery, Catering, Mail Order, ZingTrain, Coffee Company, Roadhouse, Candy Manufactory, Events at Cornman Farms, Miss Kim and Zingerman’s Food Tours. Ari was recognized as one of the “Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America” by the 2006 James Beard Foundation and has awarded a Bon Appetit Lifetime Achievement Award among many recognitions. Ari is the author of a number of articles and books, including Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon (Zingerman’s Press), Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great ServiceZingerman’s Guide to Good Eating (Houghton Mifflin), Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 1: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business, and Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 2: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader, and many others. 


Say Yes to Anger!

I remember when my son Ari was a toddler. After his bedtime, he would leave his room, walk downstairs, and stand in the corner of the family room with his eyes closed. My husband and I quickly realized that Ari thought, “If I close my eyes 🙈, I bet my parents won’t see me.”

Anger, and other strong emotions like fear, doubt, and worry can be like that. Sometimes we think that if we close our eyes to anger and pretend it isn’t there, it will magically disappear. But that is simply not true. Until we acknowledge anger – see it, feel it, and manage it – it remains in the background, causing us to act out in unhealthy ways.

I see the same thing in my clients, friends, family, and self. Because there is a lot of confusion around anger, it is one of the emotions we struggle with the most. As a result, we often avoid dealing with our anger, and if we do, we may act it out in aggressive ways toward ourselves and others.

Ten Steps to Managing Anger

1. Say YES to Anger. Say yes to anger because it is trying to tell you something: danger is imminent, or someone has crossed a line. Accept it and allow the strong emotion to be present. You might even try saying “I feel angry” or “anger is here.”

2. Feel Anger in the Body. Allow yourself to feel how anger presents itself in the body. Physical symptoms can include increased heartbeat, rapid breathing, racing thoughts, a change in body temperature (sweaty palms and feeling hot in the neck and face), a feeling of agitation, and headaches.

3. Hit the Pause Button and Take a Break. Before you take action, wait. Try saying the phrase “The blood has left my brain, now is not a good time to make a decision.” Any strong emotion creates a physiological response in the body (a trigger) so you need to allow time for the emotion to settle and for the thinking brain to come back online. If possible, take a coffee break, and wait before responding. Click here for more information.

4. Connect to Your Body. Ground into your body by bringing attention to a neutral body sensation like your feet touching the floor or your hands resting in your lap. Or try a body scan. Click here to learn more about the body scan (and how it can also help you sleep better).

5. Breathe. Activate your rest and digest system by matching your breath to the count of ten, or by using the straw breathing technique. Click here to learn more.

6. Move. Give the emotion a way to move through and out of the body by trying an exercise like walking, running, yoga, or dancing.

7. Get Clear. Ask yourself, “What’s eating me? How might one of my values be violated? “

8. Be Wise. Ask yourself, “Is this something I need to work out with myself by taking some space and time to reflect or is this something I need to work through with someone else because they’ve crossed a line.”

9. Say Thank You. It may sound counterintuitive but have gratitude and recognize that any strong emotion is simply the body’s way of trying to protect you. Try saying something like, “Thank you anger. Thank you for trying to protect me.”

10. Take Appropriate Action. When you are no longer triggered, you are ready to take the right action, which often includes setting a boundary. Click here for more information on setting boundaries.

Additional Tools

  • Click here to read a recent Ten Percent Happier newsletter Making Anger Your Teacher by Zen priest, poet, and spiritual director of Everyday Zen Foundation Norman Fisher.
  • For NYT’s subscribers, click here to read How to Have a Disagreement Like an Adult by Deepak Chopra.
  • Click here to listen to the meditation RAIN: Mindfulness of Emotions by Jeff Warren (a meditation community favorite!)
  • Click here to learn why emotions matter in school and to learn about RULER, an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

In closing, keep in mind the mantra: This too shall pass. Keep reminding yourself that anger is a state of mind. If you take the time to accept it, feel it, see it, and allow the mind and body to settle – you will not only be able to take appropriate action steps but also build the skill of resilience.

And if you would like to join my free weekly community mindfulness meditation practice 🙏 via Zoom on Mondays at 7p EST, please email to learn more and sign up!

And as always, please email and let me know how you are doing and what tips you have for managing anger.

Stay healthy and well 😎