What’s the Drama Triangle ?

Victim_Persecutor_Rescuer Addiction Drama Triangle

What is the Drama Triangle & Victim Consciousness?

The drama triangle is an interpersonal communication dynamic (basically it’s a system we use to communication with others).  It’s embedded in our human consciousness and social interactions. It’s ultimately a dysfunctional social game.  

The term “Drama Triangle” came from a psychiatrist named Stephen Karpman. He practiced Transactional Analysis (TA), which is a game of social interactions with a series of transactions. This involves rotating roles which move toward an expected outcome.  People who play on the drama triangle go either one up or one down in their relationships.

What does the drama triangle involve? 

There are three rotating roles. Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer.

What drives it?

Our hidden and unhealed childhood trauma.

What is the purpose of the “Persecutor” role?

This is the bad guy role in the drama triangle. Usually avoided unless they need to vent justified negative feelings e.g. anger. They find an excuse to feel justified so they can express their feelings.  They then dump these feelings on someone else and make them “bad”. The payoff is to feel righteous, to put others down by using guilt or shame. Usually blame and criticise others, provokes conflict and drama and acts and sounds like a critical parent.

What is the purpose of the “Rescuer” role?

The rescuer is the good guy.  They look for opportunities to get their ego needs met. It makes them look important and competent and to feel superior.  They usually portray self-sacrifice and act like a martyr “It’s out of my way but I’ll do that for you”. This then makes the “victim” feel obligated in some way.  These attempts by the Rescuer usually fail in some way, this then gives the Victim permission to feel angry.

This is how the roles can switch. The Victim then moves into the Persecutor role, and attacks the Rescuer.  The Rescuer then moves to the Victim role, saying “I was only trying to help”.  Usually Rescuers act in this way to get their unmet needs fulfilled from their past, they want to be rescued. The payoff is to look good, strong and capable and be one-up. They get to become the victim when their attempts to help people fail.

What is the purpose of the “Victim” role?

The Victim role is the key in the triangle.  Everyone is competing for this role.  It’s the only role whereby they can get their needs met without having to ask for it.  They don’t need to take responsibility for their behaviour or feelings, they just blame whatever isn’t working on someone or something else.

There are two types of victims, The Pathetic Victim who plays “one-down” games e.g. poor me facial expressions and language and the Angry Victim. The Angry Victim acts powerful by using guilt and shame to get others to feel sorry for them.  The motive is to get revenge. Both Victims want someone to blame for their feelings and issues.  They are usually looking for a Rescuer who will take care of them.

What did we learn?

If you’ve lived in a home that experienced trauma, usually if addiction is present then you probably learnt that it wasn’t OK to ask to get your needs met. Instead you would use manipulation and being indirect as a way to get what you needed.

How does it affect us as adults?

It interferes with our efforts as adults to take responsibility for getting our needs met.

What keeps the game going?

The competition for the “Victim” role

What is one up and one down in the Drama Triangle?

The roles can switch between one up and one down positions. The Rescuer and Persecutor are “one up” positions and the Victim is a “one down” position.  It’s a series of power and control games that help players get different needs met without having to ask for it directly.

Asking directly for what you want is taboo in the game. Either you learn to do without something or you have to figure out an indirect way to get it. This is the core of the Drama Triangle, an indirect way to get something that is thought to be scarce.

The Drama Triangle

Victim_Persecutor_Rescuer Addiction Drama Triangle

  • The Persecutor and Victim interact
  • The Rescuer and Victim interact
  • The Persecutor and Rescuer do not interact

Which role(s) do you identify with in the drama triangle?, would love to hear your comments. I’ll be sharing more on techniques to help you overcome being part of the drama triangle and victim consciousness. Be sure to follow me on social media and my blog for more.


2 thoughts on “What’s the Drama Triangle ?

    • johuey says:

      Yes, often we don’t even recognise those needs so how can we ask for them to be met. On the surface it may seem like one thing but really it’s another.

      Sitting with feelings, knowing they’ll pass is a good technique. Often we try to distract, bury or avoid feelings. If you start to pay attention to the feelings, then start to say those feelings out loud, even if only to yourself, then you can start to say to someone else about those feelings.

      Then comes working out what you need and asking for it. Or doing something yourself that gets those needs met. e.g. hug yourself.

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