Understanding The Drama Triangle
The Drama Triangle refers to a dysfunctional model of human interaction originally described by Stephen Karpman, practitioner and teacher of Transactional Analysis (TA). The model is used widely in psychotherapy and psychology due to its practical application to a wide variety of social situations.
The Drama Triangle shows the three roles that Karpman identified as being acted out by people in daily life. These are Persecutor, Rescuer and Victim.
You will see that both the Persecutor and Rescuer roles appear at the top level of the triangle. The intention of this placement is that these roles assume a “one-up” position over others: Persecutors and Rescuers relate to others from the position that they are ‘more sorted’, better, or cleverer.
We all have a position on the triangle which is most familiar to us, and with which we most identify. In TA terms this is known as our ‘Starting Gate Position’ (SG) and it is thought that we learn our SG position within the family. However, once we’re on the triangle, we move around the triangle through each position. This movement can happen in a matter of minutes or seconds, many times in a day and despite our Starting Gate Position, victim is where we end up.
Characteristics of each role, and moving on from the triangle
Further information for each specific role is detailed below. ‘Moving on’ essentially means ‘getting off the triangle’. Lynne Forrest, author of ‘The Three Faces of Victim’ explains: ‘Ironically, a main exit way off the triangle is through the persecutor position. This does not mean we become persecutors. It does mean however, that once we decide to get off the triangle, there most likely will be those who see us as persecutors. (”How can you do this to me?”) Once we decide to take self-responsibility and tell our truth, those still on the triangle are likely to accuse us of victimizing them. "How dare you refuse to take care of me," a Victim might cry. Or "What do you mean you don't need my help?" a primary enabler storms when their victim decides to become accountable. In other words, to escape the victim grid, we must be willing to be perceived as the "bad guy." This doesn't make it so, but we must be willing to sit with the discomfort of being perceived as such’.
Rescuers see themselves as ‘helpers’. In order to fulfil this role, they are reliant on someone to rescue (victim). It's difficult for Starting Gate Rescuers to recognise themselves as ever being in a victim position - they’re the ones with the answers after all. A Rescuer will help another person whether help is asked for or not, and will feel guilty if they don’t help. By acting in this manner, they keep the person being rescued in the Victim role.
Moving on advice for Rescuers
As with Persecutor, self awareness and accountability is the way to move forward. Acknowledge and accept your tendency to rescue others and understand that by rescuing, you are meeting your own needs rather than genuinely helping others. Be aware that changing your position on the triangle does not mean you cannot be loving, generous and kind: it is possible to be supportive without rescuing.
Persecutors blame and criticise others. They may be in complete denial about their tactics, and may argue that their behaviour is warranted and necessary for self protection. They take a rigid, authoritative stance and, like Rescuers, keep Victims in that role.
Moving on advice for Persecutors
Self-accountability is the only way off The Drama Triangle. When we stop looking to blame or criticise others and we take self-responsibility for everything in our lives we become free. Unfortunately there usually has to be some kind of breakthrough for them to own their part and because of their great reluctance to do so, it may have to come in the form of crisis.
The Victim lives their life feeling oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless, and ashamed. This dejected approach will prevent them from taking responsibility for themselves, their circumstances, and actions. They are often on the lookout for a Rescuer to ‘hook’, who will ultimately compound their negative feelings about themselves.
Moving on advice for Victims
Victims must learn to take responsibility for themselves, rather than look for someone to do it for them. They must learn to overcome the belief that they can't take care of themselves by seeing themselves as resourceful, powerful and able to solve problems. There is only a small handful of individuals within society who are truly unable to look after themselves.
The good news is that it is possible to break free of The Drama Triangle. Firstly become aware of your position in the triangle. Next take responsibility for why up to now you have chosen to stay in the role you have adopted. Then examine what you would gain by leaving the triangle and finally take action.