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Looking at our relationships with others

The Drama Triangle

The Drama Triangle explains how sometimes we can subconsciously take on roles that may not always be helpful to ourselves and to others. The psychiatrist, Stephen Karpman, talked about how a person’s life script (the subconscious development of our life positions and beliefs developed in childhood and carried into adult life) can appear in our relationships with others, in other words, we play certain roles in situations of conflict.

Each corner of the triangle represents a role that a person might take on: Persecutor, Rescuer or Victim. A person may adopt one role, or move between the three. We need to try not to be drawn into or trapped in the Drama Triangle, so by knowing what our script is and identifying the psychological game that is being played, we can leave the triangle and change our relationship with that person.

The Persecutor Role

The persecutor is controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritative, rigid and superior. They perceive others as being not OK and therefore discount them in different ways.

The Rescuer /Saviour Role

The rescuer experiences guilt if they do not come to the rescue. Rescuing the victim has negative effects on them as they remain dependent and are allowed to fail. Whereas, the rescuer is rewarded and diverts attention away from themselves by projecting their energies onto others. In this way, they can ignore their own needs and anxieties. The rescuer’s defense mechanism is avoiding their own problems by hiding them in their supposed worry about the needs of the victim.

The Victim Role

The victim role is when a person feels victimised, oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless and ashamed. They find it hard to make decisions or to solve problems. They find it hard to enjoy life and are unable to have insight into how they can help themselves. The victim looks for a persecutor to increase their feelings of uselessness and will also look for a rescuer to save them.

The triangle in the therapy process

In sessions, if the client learns about this triangle and how it may affect their interactions with others, they may, with time and practice, be able to understand their own situation better and find ways to avoid such negative communication. This may change their long-term relationships with some or all people in their lives, and allow them to live a more autonomous life, being true to themselves and increasing their self-esteem.

The empowerment triangle

According to David Emerald, Donna Zajonc and Dr Parlee, in the empowerment triangle the person decides to change their role for their own good. It’s a positive alternative to the drama triangle. The new roles connect us to our hopes and dreams. Moving towards these objectives requires a change in our way of thinking and we realise that we have more options in our interactions.

The victim becomes the creator.

The rescuer becomes the facilitator / coach.

The persecutor becomes the challenger.

In my experience, people begin to understand the concept but without being able to apply it to themselves. However, with time, they learn how to change their behaviour so that they can create healthier relationships in their interactions. 

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