One of the main reasons why people struggle to resolve conflicts in their relationships is because they are stuck in what Stephen Karpman calls a Drama Triangle. This triangle is used to display what might be happening between two people when they are in an unhealthy and manipulative relationships.
The three roles on the Drama Triangle are Persecutor, Rescuer and Victim. These three roles are placed on an inverted triangle, with Persecutor and Rescuer being on the upper end of the triangle, while the Victim is being ‘looked down upon’.
People enter the Drama Triangle unconsciously and once they’re on the triangle they automatically rotate through all three positions.
Rescuers grew up in families where their needs were ignored and because of that they learned to negate their own needs and consider them not important. They have a strong need to feel valued and they need to have someone in their lives who they can look after. They need victims.
Consequently, their biggest fear is that one day they will end up alone. They won’t be needed anymore. To prevent that from happening they keep replacing the victims who started taking responsibility for themselves with the ones who need to be ‘saved’. The constant rescuing not only helps them feel needed and in control, it also helps them direct their focus on someone else’s problems and diminishes the existence of their own problems.
Persecutors learned early on that when they get scared they must get tough. Persecutors are controlling, blaming, critical and angry. They use bullying, threatening, blaming and other methods to keep others in place and to overcome their feelings of helplessness.
What they have in common with the Rescuers is that they need someone in their lives to satisfy their needs. However, while the Rescuers need someone to fix, Persecutors need someone to blame. They need a victim who they perceive as weak to feel powerful and in control.
Victims believe that they cannot take care of themselves because they are weak and not smart enough. They need someone else to help them handle the struggles of life and they often blame others for their actions or lack of action. As soon as one Rescuer leaves their lives, he/she is replaced by another one who takes over and helps them feel better.
However, Victims in this Drama Triangle are not actual victims; they act like victims. They manipulate Rescuers into taking care of them and they often spend their lives on the look-out for another Rescuer to ‘save’ them as they sincerely feel helpless and powerless.
Nevertheless, it does not matter what your position is in the Drama Triangle as there are no winners. Everyone will end up hurt at some point.
Furthermore, everyone gets to move along all the roles. When the Rescuers get tired of doing it all by themselves they get resentful and angry and they shift over to the Persecutor role. At that point the Victim gets scared and moves up to the Rescuer position and tries to calm the Persecutor down. Once they both stabilize they go back to their original roles.
So how do people get off this triangle? The most essential thing they have to do is to recognize they’re on it. Once they make it conscious, they will be able to start noticing their interactions with other people. Realizing that they are repeating a certain pattern of behaviour will help them challenge it and consequently they will be able to choose how they respond to others. Moreover, they will be able to start taking responsibilities for how they act.
Nevertheless, it can be quite difficult for people to admit, for instance, that they are manipulating others in order to get what they want. Mainly because they might be worried that they will be judged by others. However, how other people see them should not be their concern. Only how they see themselves will help them change and choose less harmful ways of dealing with life’s challenges and conflicts.