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The Drama Triangle And Its Relationship with Conflict

What is the Drama Triangle?


It is a psychological model first introduced by Stephen Karpman in the 1960s.  It explains how people get caught up in three roles: the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Rescuer.  These roles often lead to conflict and dysfunction in relationships. 


As you read this, you may feel that all three roles apply to you.  We may play different roles in different situations and with different people. 


Introduction to the Roles


The Victim – can feel powerless or helpless.  Their belief is that other people are responsible for their problems. They can be manipulative and may seek sympathy from those around without taking responsibility for their role in the situation.  They may also complain a lot.  They don’t value themselves.


The Persecutor – The Persecutor blames and criticises others.  They may behave in a bullying or aggressive way, looking to exert power over the others or to assert their own superiority.  They can be scornful and judgemental. They don’t respect or value other people’s views. Persecutors often target Victims, but they may also target Rescuers.


The Rescuer – The Rescuer will try and intervene to “save” the Victim from their problems or from the Persecutor’s attacks by offering help with their advice or support. They will help and save others in order to be needed. They don’t recognise or value other people’s capacity to solve their own problems.

What has this got to do with conflicts?


The Drama Triangle can keep conflicts alive by creating a cycle of blame, victimisation, and rescue.  For example, while one person may be playing the victim, another may rush to their defence as the rescuer and the third one might be cast as the persecutor and so the cycle continues with everybody jumping on the bandwagon at certain points and playing different roles.  This is equally relevant to family and professional life.


How to break the Pattern of the Drama Triangle?


Perhaps this is the million-dollar question.  It’s important to realise can’t control how other people behave.  It’s about how you react to things and your behaviour that counts.  Open your eyes and reflect on what is happening.  Be honest with yourself.

·      What roles in the drama triangle do you play most frequently? 

·      When you were a child, do you remember what roles you played? 

·      Can you see what roles other people take on and how that affects you?  

Moving forward


Recognising these roles and patterns are crucial for addressing and resolving these conflicts. In an ideal world, you can work towards breaking the cycle by engaging in open communication, empathy and cooperation and looking for constructive solutions that encourage reconciliation. 


However, if all else fails, you can move forward by being aware of what is happening and taking responsibility for your own role in these conflicts and learn how to react differently.


For example, if you are in the classic role of persecutor, you may be telling the victim that it is all their fault and bullying them.  If you were to take a step back, what would it be like to ask yourself what your anger is about and look at what your needs are in this situation.  What is the benefit to you from trying to control the narrative?


If you are in the traditional role of victim, you may be thinking “oh woe is me” and feeling very sorry for yourself as you complain to all those around you, without taking a moment to think about what control you can actually have over the situation. What would happen if you said “no”, to try and advocate for yourself?


Finally, if you are playing the rescuer, you may be getting a sense of satisfaction in helping the victim to “fix” their problems without reflecting on a) whether the victim might benefit from being left to resolve their own issues without external help to solve them or b) what would it feel like if you weren’t needed in this situation?


Some questions to ask yourself if you are stuck in the drama triangle


·      Am I taking responsibility for my actions and choices?

·      Am I blaming others for what has happened instead of actively seeking solutions?

·      How am I contributing to the conflict or drama?

·      Am I enabling unhealthy behaviours by rescuing them from facing consequences?

·      Do I feel a need to control other people’s behaviour?

·      Have I communicated my boundaries?  Can I advocate my needs?

·      Am I seeking approval/validation rather than asserting my own worth?

·      What patterns from the past might influence my behaviour and reactions?

·      How can I step out of this drama triangle?


Wrapping Up The Drama


Reflecting on these questions can help you to recognise your role and empower you to make healthier choices in your relationships and communication.


Lucy is a psychotherapist working worldwide via zoom

+44 7787 283895


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