The Drama Triangle theory is a fascinating insight into why we act the way we do with others. Psychiatrist and teacher of Transactional Analysis Stephen Karpman developed the fascinating idea of ‘The Drama Triangle’.
The Drama Triangle is now known as one of the most common dysfunctional patterns of relating (to ourselves and others). This unconscious pattern keeps us disempowered, confused and trapped. As with most forms of healing, awareness is the key to transformation and empowerment. Awareness of our hidden pattern of relating is one of the quickest ways to heal our relationships.
Do you want greater emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being? Check out The Drama Triangle below. See if or how this pattern affects the relationships in your life, past or present. When I first discovered The Drama Triangle a light switched on in my mind. Aha! Suddenly answers I’d been searching for about many relationships became crystal clear. I realised I’ve played each role at various times in my life. You too can break the drama triangle once you see your part in it!
The Drama Triangle – basics
The way it works is this: Each person in the drama triangle takes the role that’s most familiar to them. This is usually role they were assigned in their family of origin. As each person get hooked in to the dynamic of the drama triangle, the players rotate roles.
From the image above, you’ll notice the Persecutor and Rescuer are on the upper end of the drama triangle. They assume a ‘one-up’, better, stronger, cleverer or more-together position over the Victim.
Sooner or later the Victim, who is at the bottom of the triangle, begins to feel looked down upon. Their resentment builds and they retaliate, seemlessly moving into the Persecutor role.
Do you identify with any of the roles in the drama triangle?
Are you a Victim?
Lynne Forrest describes the victim archtype as a wounded shadow of our inner child. It’s the part that is innocent, vulnerable and needy. It is natural for our inner child to need attention and support on occasion.
Victims however believe they cannot take care of themselves and that life is too much for them. Because they have not been given enough positive mirroring by caregivers growing up, their self image is warped. They identify with the child-part of themselves that was helpless and believe themselves to be intrinsically frail, powerless, damaged and incapable. They deny their inherrent problem solving abilities and their potential for empowerment.
Ironically in The Drama Triangle Victims often withhold validation and appreciation from their Rescuers. Victims secretly resent the help given by Rescuers as it only reminds them of their own deficiencies. Instead Victims try to find ways to feel equal. This usually takes then form of passive aggressive outbursts and self-sabotaging behaviour. For example, victims rely on the sentence “Yes, but...” when confronted with the Rescuer’s helpful suggestions or advice.
The bottom line is the Victim has no interest in becoming more empowered. They feel worthless deep down and think their ‘neediness’ is the only thing that keeps their loved ones close. Highly manipulative, they can seduce Rescuers who are close to giving up on them with flattery and phrases like “You’re the only one who can help me” or “Without your help I won’t survive“.
Despite their lack of esteem, victims maintain their power over others – and often whole families – in this clever unconscious way!
Or a Rescuer?
Lynne Forrest describes The Rescuer as a shadow aspect of the mother archetype (nurturing, supportive, protecive). The Rescuer tends to smother, control and manipulate others ‘for their own good.’ Rescuer has an unconscious need to feel valued and worthwhile. What better way to feel valued and important than in the role of self-sacrificing saviour!
Rescuers are often enablers. An enabler is a person who makes it easier for someone to continue their self-destructive behaviour (usually addiction). Acting out of a sincere sense of love, loyalty and concern, Enablers step in to protect, cover up for, make excuses for and/or become more responsible for the person they love. Thus the addict is infantilised and continues his/her self-destructive path without facing consequences.
It’s a psychological proven fact that people treat themselves the way they were treated as children. Most Rescuers have grown up in an environment where their emotional needs were negated or neglected. They’ve never had permission to take care of themselves, so their own needs go underground. They turn instead to taking care of others.
Many, many people drawn to the caring professions: healing, counselling, etc. and ‘light workers here to serve‘ are classic rescuers. Many have problems setting boundaries, saying no and are plagued with guilt that prevents them putting their own needs first.
But because Rescuers are empty when not looking after others, they are classic co-dependents. Behind their action is an unconscious hope: “If I take care of them long enough, then, sooner or later, they will take care of me too.” But this rarely happens. When we rescue the needy, we can’t expect anything back, because they usually have nothing to give!
They sink into a deep depression, turning into martyrs in the Victim role. Rescuers fail to see that they have got themselves into a victim role because of their own enabling and disabling responses. Common martyr phrases are: “After all I’ve done for you, this is the thanks I get?” or “No matter how much I do, it’s never enough” or “If you loved me, you wouldn’t treat me like this!” or “Poor me! I’m so good to everyone and this is what I get in return!” You get the drift…
The Rescuers’ also fear that they will end up alone. Their abandonment fears unconsciously encourage dependency because they believe “If you need me, you won’t leave me.” They try to make themselves indispensable. They are oblivious to the crippling dependency they foster in those they ‘love’. They are unaware of their disabling and undermining behaviour.
Or a Persecutor?
The Persecutor role is a shadow aspect of the father archetype (protective, powerful). Mostly this role taken on by someone who received mental and/or physical abuse during childhood. They are secretly seething and feeling worthless inside.
To prevent further abuse Persecutors learnt to hide their pain behind a façade of uncaring detachment. Despite their daunting grandoise and superior outward demeanur, inside they feel helplessness and deeply shameful. Their shame-based wrath runs their lives – and ruins their relationships.
Their early experiences result in their belief that “The world is hard and mean … only the ruthless survive. I’ll be one of those.” Often they end up emulating their primary childhood abuser(s), whom they saw as having power and strength. It’s a way for them avoid feeling like the ‘loser at the bottom of life’s pile‘.
Instead they ‘protect’ themselves using authoritarian, dominating, controlling, critical and punishing methods. They discipline others into submission using manipulation or outright brute force.
Persecutors find it hard to take responsibility for the way they treat others. In their mind, they have to constantly fight for survival in a hostile world. Their methods include bullying, preaching, threatening, blaming, lecturing, interrogating and outright attack. Bottom line: they must always be right!
Copyright Amy Garner 2016 ©.
For more support with these issues, contact counsellor Lynne Forrest: http://www.lynneforrest.com