The Drama Triangle

Do you and your partner find yourselves recycling the same old arguments and disagreements over and over again. Almost without exception, couples I see are stuck in this repetitious dynamic and  are totally unaware of how corrosive it is to their love and their relationship.

Stephen Karpman, a student of Eric Berne’s developed the model of the Drama Triangle to explain how people in relationships interact with each other. They tend to take up one of three positions :-

Victim or Long Suffering Martyr

Victims, also known as long suffering martyrs, are usually feeling helpless, hopeless and powerless, and in need of help. Their position is that someone else is to blame for their unhappy situation, and they are blameless.

One of the easiest ways to spot when someone is in this position is from their tone of voice. It will tend to have a whiny edge to it, and the underlying message is either “Poor me” or “After all I did for ….” Or “I did nothing to create this situation and I am helpless to change it.

People who take up the Victim position need to have a Persecutor or Villain and a Rescuer to help them.

Persecutor or Villain

Persecutors are always putting other people down, it’s all their fault for being so inadequate, stupid, or otherwise not up to scratch.

The Persecutor blames, discounts, criticises and accuses the Victim and believes all their problems are due to the personality flaws of the Victim.

The Persecutor also sees him/herself as blameless.

Persecutor/Villains also tend to have control issues and believe that things wouldn’t get done properly if they didn’t do it themselves.


People who take up this position tend to see themselves in a one up position, seeing others as helpless and hopeless, and in need of their help.

The Rescuer discounts both the Persecutor and the Victim as not OK.

Rescuers always become Victims. Victims become Persecutors, and Persecutors become Victims. The roles keep changing until someone decides to opt out of the Game

How do we get into this?

Mostly we will have learned these roles from our parents, and they are reinforced by the soap operas and films we watch.

In years gone by we lived in a hierarchical, patriarchal society, (some would say we still do!), which was based on men/women, white/black etc being considered superior/inferior. Men tended to dominate women, and women took up the role of long suffering martyrs.

Fortunately we live in more enlightened times and relationships are now based on equality. Unfortunately, at an unconscious level we continue to operate on the constructs we took on from our parents when we were children.

It is vitally important to make this conscious.

How do you get out of the Triangle?

To get out of the Triangle you need to be ready to grow up, become more self –aware, and take responsibility for your life.

Anytime you are feeling uncomfortable in a relationship consider if you may be playing one of the three roles.

Reflect on how your situation may be playing out what you learned from your same sex parent.

Once you gain this awareness and rectify your behaviour towards the other players, the Game is over. However, because there is an unspoken agreement to play out these roles, the other players will attempt to draw you back into the Game, mainly because of their conditioning.

In couple relationships, both parties need to make how they both play out the roles of the Triangle a matter for serious discussion; not to place fault or blame, but rather to accept responsibility for their own contribution to their difficulties.

Both parties need to understand that they have a choice. A Persecutor can’t force you to be a Victim.

Instead of blaming and complaining, people need to get clear about what they want and practice making grown up Adult to Adult requests, and where there is a conflict, learn to negotiate and reach win-win solutions.

Opting out of the Drama Triangle at work and in your relationships generally can literally transform your life!


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