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The Drama Triangle

Do you find yourself surrounded by drama even when you haven’t asked for it? Are there people in your life that sap your energy? Do you walk away from interactions feeling frustrated?

The drama triangle is a framework which can allow you to understand situations and the roles you and others around you adopt. Stephen Karpman developed this concept to explain human interactions where there is a victim, a prosecutor and a rescuer within the triangle. When someone chooses to play the victim, you can be pulled into this drama by automatically adopting the role of prosecutor or rescuer.

Let’s understand these roles first! As I go through these, you may note situations where this has played out for you.

~ Victim: is the person who often says “poor me”. They feel sorry for themselves, they want to blame others and feel powerless, helpless, defeated and ashamed. They may be super sensitive and deny any responsibility over their circumstances – life is happening to them. As they feel they have no control, they want someone to save them. Which is where the rescuer comes in!

~ Rescuer: is the person who wants to save or enable the victim. They will say things like “you poor thing” “let me help you”, “I feel bad for you” or “don’t worry, I’ll fix it”. This may actually sound really caring and compassionate, maybe even noble. However, the rescuer is driven by their need to always be saving someone so will continue to enable to the victim. They will be so involved in saving everyone and in everyone else’s’ business that that they neglect their own. When the victim no longer needs saving, they can feel rejected as they’re no longer important or needed.

~Persecutor: is the person who criticizes and blames the victim. They often say things like “it’s all your fault”, “why did you do that?” “what were you thinking?”, “pull your socks up and get on with it”. They can be controlling, rigid, authoritative and tend to be seen as the bully in the drama triangle.

During the drama triangle, you and others can transition between these roles in any situation. Let’s play out a situation between three friends (Fiona, Jessica and Lola) who are meeting for a coffee..

Lola friend is running late and when she arrives, Fiona says “why are you always late” (persecutor), Lola starts listing all the reasons why she is running late “I didn’t get a good sleep last night as it’s been a really busy week, my alarm didn’t go off and then the traffic was bad, I couldn’t find a parking spot..” (victim). Jessica pipes up “Oh that’s ok, you have a lot going on, I feel really bad for you” (rescuer). Fiona responds “I have had a terrible week too” (victim) and Lola response “yes, but you are always busy, you do it to yourself” (persecuter). Jessica responds “Oh I know you’re both have a lot going on, what can I do to help” (rescuer).

This is the drama triangle in full spin! First of all, you may be reading this and already feel your frustration rise or your energy drain. This is what drama does in our life. You may be thinking… I don’t want to always be in the drama triangle and I hear you! Don’t worry, there is a way out! David Emerald created TED = The Empowerment Dynamic.

“Drama does not just walk into your life. Either you create it, invite it, or associate with it.” - unknown

You can transition a victim to a learner/creator by adopting the role of coach or challenger. This triangle is empowering for all involved and the victim transitions to someone who has choices and can solve their own problems. So how can you make this happen?

~ Awareness: The first step is to be aware that this is playing out in your life and understand the roles you adopt frequently. If you notice that you play the victim feeling like “poor me”, then send yourself compassion and decide to start taking responsibility for your role in the situation. Instead of rescuing, you may adopt the role of the coach, allowing the individual to discover their own solutions to the problem rather than taking over and enabling. Instead of prosecuting, you could decide to challenge, by stating your needs in the situation rather than blaming.

“It’s always easy to blame. You can spend your entire life blaming the world, but your successes or failures are entirely your own” Paulo Coelho
  • Breathe: remember that there is a period of time between the trigger where you can choose a response rather than react (in the role you frequently choose). It may be useful to move your body at this time to let go of the built-up emotions in the situation and reset. Then return in a position to respond

  • Ask What questions: this will allow the victim to start reflecting and taking a role in their solutions. The moment we ask a why question, the victim will start to defend and feel persecuted.

When you replace, “Why is this happening to me?” with “What is this trying to teach me?” Everything changes. Law of Attraction Tribe
  • Healthy boundaries: what can you control in this situation? All you can control is your response. This may be asserting your boundary and stating you will listen to their problem for a period of time but you will not be making their problems your own. At the end of listening, provide a choice: are you ready to talk about it from a space of finding a solution or would you like to do this at a time when you’re ready? If they continue being the victim, you may need to restate your boundary and express that you will not be engaging in this conversation.

Throughout the process of shifting to the empowering triangle, remember to have:

  • Love for self and others.

  • Have the empathy to understand our own and others roles up until this point.

  • Trust that as humans we are all creators or our experiences and own our role in our life.

  • Gratitude to enable us to be thankful for what we already have learnt and provides us with resilience in the process as we grow!

This can be challenging at first as people are used to you adopting your usual role in the drama triangle as rescuer or persecutor. Continue to practice! Remember as you continue to be aware and grow, this will allow others to do the same OR may allow you to accept that the relationship is built on drama. At that point, you get to decide whether you are wanting to continue with that connection or if you’re ready to let it go.


This was a topic we explored in the Wholehearted Circle recently! On the second Tuesday of every month we connect online to share in a topic (like this one). These topics can be a catalyst to start making change in your life. Please see the link below to join us in next month!

Maybe you have realised that you are adopting victim tendencies? Remember to be kind to yourself and then act – shift to an empowering dynamic. If you are finding you are needing more support, I have walked alongside many client’s through this journey and seen huge changes in their life! So please reach out!

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