The Drama Triangle

The Drama Triangle
by Michelle Shelton

One of the concepts we teach in our courses is the Drama Triangle. The Drama Triangle is a model of dysfunctional social interaction created by psychotherapist Stephen Karpman. There are three points on a triangle and each of these points represents an ineffective response to conflict. Rather than end disharmony in relationships, this ineffective response prolongs disharmony.

The Drama Triangle has an inverted point with the low point being victim. The interesting thing is each point is really a form of victim.

The Drama TriangleWhat is The Drama Triangle?

People that participate in the drama triangle may or may not be aware of their role in the drama triangle. They create misery for themselves and others.  It is a mind game of drama that takes on the role of Victim, Rescuer or Persecutor.

People have a gate or entry point in the triangle. It is important to understand that every point on the triangle is ultimately operating from victim and people rotate around the triangle and leave their gate or entry to fill other Victim roles.

  • Victims are helpless and hopeless. They deny choice and responsibility for their negative circumstances. They are powerless and have poor if any forward moving results in their life. They deny possession of the power to change circumstances.
  • Rescuers are constantly applying short-term repairs to a Victim’s problems, while neglecting their own needs. They look for others to fix. They jump in without being asked to “help” the Victim.
  • Persecutors blame the Victims and criticize the enabling behavior of Rescuers. They always see the problem and withhold guidance or blame the Victim and Rescuers for not listening to them. They rarely provide guidance, assistance or a solution to the underlying problem.

Players of this head game alternate roles during the course of a game. For example, a Rescuer pushed too far by a Persecutor will switch to the role of Victim or counter-Persecutor.

Every point of the drama triangle supports and moderates the other two.  Victims depend on a savior, Rescuers yearn for a basket case and Persecutors need someone to blame and judge.

While a healthy person will perform in each of these roles occasionally, pathological role-players actively avoid leaving the familiar and comfortable environment of the game. This means if there is no misfortune, event or circumstances that are harmful or there is no misfortune on them or their loved ones, they will create one. Victims suffer a series of “accidents” and Rescuers engage in noble self-sacrifice, while Persecutors are just “keeping it real, calling it like it is, telling the truth“.

In each case, the drama triangle is an instrument of destruction.

Avoid the Corners

The emotional co-dependence exhibited by the three roles of the drama triangle can be broken by simply refusing to support to your attacker, forcing them to choose between retreat and collapse. This is also known as tough love. Love has natural boundaries.

The strategy can be summarized as follows:

  1. Move into the center. Resist the temptation to play an exaggerated and complementary role to a Victim, Rescuer or Persecutor. You do not want to stabilize an unpleasant situation. Instead, find and hold the center position, thereby marginalizing your adversary and eliminating their power base.
    The center of the drama triangle contains elements of each corner. It is a combination of sensitivity, compassion, and responsibility.
  2. Refuse to accept your opponent’s force. Do not struggle with them, or yield to them; instead, allow your opponent to move into an indefensible position.
    If you have successfully taken the center, your adversary will halt their attacks, rather than risk unmasking themselves and exposing the game.

Although the drama triangle is a form of passive aggression, you may nevertheless object to casting a loved one as your opponent. Instead, take their bad habits and unskillful means as your enemy, and destroy them with awareness and enlightened action.

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