· By Case Kenny
How do you respond to drama?
How do you respond to drama in life?
Have you ever heard of something called The Drama Triangle? Stephen Karpman is a psychiatrist and the creator of what he calls The Drama Triangle. It’s basically an inverted triangle that outlines three people - the rescuer, the persecutor and the victim - and each one of those are roles that describe how people respond to conflict in life.
It’s similar to attachment styles - how we’ve been conditioned to exist and be in a relationship - avoidant, anxious, dismissive, etc. - but these roles are specific to conflict.
They describe our conditioning in childhood and how we take that conditioning into conflict.
The rescuer wants to help others. They serve themselves by trying to fix others. And they often neglect their own needs by trying to focus on others’ needs.
A lot of the time the rescuer starts with good intentions to help but it can lead to a desire to control and manipulate and can lead to a subconscious need to feel validated and valued by helping others.
This role is really fascinating because oftentimes this person has their own life issues that need attention but they prioritize helping others as an escape from their own problems. They exhaust themselves by doing this and they feel guilty if they’re not helping. I’m sure you can see how this appears in relationships - taking on someone’s problems as your own, not being happy unless they’re healed and fixed.
The Rescuer’s desire to help others reflects a deep seeded desire to belong. A rescuer tends to avoid their own feelings by focusing on others. They use conflict, drama, and a need for resolution to connect with others.
Much like attachment styles, this conflict role is born during childhood and upbringing.
According to this theory, a rescuer usually inherits this need as a result of being smothered by their parents, not given any leeway to lean into their own selfcare, not given independence or an ability to love themselves.
Are you distracting yourself from your own issues by throwing all your worth and value into fixing someone else? Or someone in your life? Are they avoiding their own issues by constantly trying to fix and change you? You are not responsible for someone else to change. You can and should empower them, give them help and be perceptive for them… but you don’t need to rescue them.
So ask yourself… WHY do I need to be the rescuer? Instead of rescuing, how can I simply help?
The Persecutor is defined by blaming someone else and by saying someone else is the cause of the conflict and the drama. The persecutor protects themselves by putting others down.
This is also born in childhood by helicopter or overly strict parents who were always right and ruled with absolute authority. It’s also a product of abuse in childhood where in adulthood you’re always on the defensive, always being attacked in some way.
And the result of that subconscious defense mode is you’re always looking for evidence that you need to defend yourself. And much like the example set for you, you become critical of others, you cast blame, find fault and try to control others.
Ultimately this response comes from a lack of worth. A persecutor defends themselves by using the thing they never had growing up - authority and control. And they rationalize it as a way to strike back against those who they perceive hurt them.
The rescuer is a fixer, the persecutor is a blamer and much like a rescuer is using fixing to distract themselves, a persecutor is also doing the same. They don't want to address feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy so they use authority to overpower others to establish themselves.
Can you relate to this yourself? Or have you ever been with someone this way?
Someone who needs to be in control? Someone who tries to project a sense of superiority as a defense mechanism? Someone who judges others harshly? Someone who’s a bit self righteous? Someone who’s incapable of being honest with themselves and their true vulnerability?
Maybe this is you in some instances? Maybe you become the persecutor at work or in a relationship?
Either way, escaping this side of the triangle comes down to challenging the behavior. It comes down to taking responsibility, being self aware and not gut reacting by blaming others.
For there to be a persecutor or a rescuer, there has to be a victim. There has to be someone who feels powerless and unable to change the outcome. The interesting thing about this role is that the victim can then become the persecutor or the rescuer in response to being the victim.
The victim has a mentality of "poor me" but then transcends that by blaming others for their pain (the persecutor) or the rescuer by escaping their own victimhood by helping others.
The victim feels helpless. They feel lost, unable to change anything about their circumstances. A victim might be attracted to a rescuer so they can be saved. Or they might stay a victim as a result of being blamed by a persecutor.
Much like the other two roles, a victim neglects self arrest and self love. They distract themselves from their own abilities by assuming they are unfixable. They don’t stand up for themselves, they believe the past is an indicator of the future and they feel their needs are not real.
The purpose of this pyramid of course is to help us categorize behavior so that we can better identify it when it’s happening and then challenge it.
Which are you entering? Why are you being drawn to it? What in your upbringing conditioned this response? How can you better cope instead of resorting to that learned behavior?
And when you’re on the receiving end of someone filling a role, how can you challenge them?
How can you empower them to better cope?
If you resort to being a rescuer, address your problems first. Take time to heal. Try journaling. Go to therapy. Talk about your childhood. Learn what triggers you. Challenge yourself to stop rationalizing giving and giving and giving until you’ve given to yourself.
And on the receiving end, don’t be pulled into a mentality of owing someone if they’re a rescuer. That's controlling behavior in relationships and it stops when you become aware of it and challenge that behavior. Encourage them to do the same as I just outlined - address your own problems. Don’t give into codependency.
Find a way to empower them to find self esteem outside of being a rescuer.
If you resort to being a persecutor, you have to challenge yourself to stop blaming others. Stop looking outside before looking within.
This role in particular is all about self awareness.
WHY are you avoiding being vulnerable with yourself? Why do you feel the need to be right? Why do you feel threatened? And if you’re on the receiving end, it’s the same thought process. You deserve to be with someone who can take responsibility in their life. Who owns up to their behavior. Who doesn’t feel the need to always be right, to control, or to feel powerful.
And lastly, the victim. Learn to go within. Show yourself that you are not powerful.
Challenge the assumptions you’ve made about yourself. Poor me? Is it really poor or do you just assume it is? Address the conditioning or trauma that makes you feel powerless. Don't self blame and find a way to be proud of yourself in some form.
And the same is true for a partner who plays the victim role. How can you empower them?
How can you show them their own power in their life? At the end of the day, removing yourself from the drama triangle is about awareness first and then understanding second. Forgive yourself for having these inclinations, forgive yourself for accepting them in others and draw a new line in the sand.
That's a new boundary that challenges your own knee jerk reactions in yourself and in others.