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Something about the drama triangle

by Luna Lee Bear 3 months ago in advice / humanity
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and how to hack it’s power

Something about the drama triangle
Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

I don't know if Stephen B. Karpman knew just what a wonderful concept he was bringing to the world when he introduced the drama triangle.

Just understanding this can get you started on the correct inner work on your relationships, because it goes beyond mindset. It allows you to viscerally feel the role that you have played in your life and in the life of others.

Let's dive right in.

The starting point is that many of us unconsciously choose a role in life as either:

- Victim

- Rescuer

- Persecutor (villain)

We sometimes switch, but it's typical to hold one position because it is the most familiar one.

The most compelling characteristic of this dynamic is that it feeds on itself continuously. In choosing one of these positions, the rest of the world has no choice but to fit into the other two.

If you feel like a Victim, there has to be a Persecutor to fit the story, and there has to be someone who rescues you, at least in your hopes and dreams.

If you feel like a Rescuer, the world is full of people in need and bad guys, and it feels like your job to fix this situation.

If you chose to be a Villain, you may have decided that others are just below you and you observe these helpless idiots interact with each other. Even if you care about someone, you know in your core that you would hurt them.

graphic by @homeofthewildhag

I will give a few examples.

Imagine a family where one or both parents embody the role of the Villain, putting everyone else down and being very forceful and violent in their communication. The child will often embody the role of the Victim because, for a number of years, they had no choice but to be one.

Even when they are out of the family, unless they are very self-aware, their body and mindset will be regulated to that level and they will keep feeling helpless and in danger, desiring someone or something to take them out of their misery. But even when the relief comes, there are more Villains in the world and there are more Rescuers. Some people go on feeling like they can't get a break for their whole existence.

Now, I have to clarify something here. In the healing of trauma, admitting that we have been victims and that we need help is often a sign of healing. It's important to not jump to the conclusion that every time we feel that we have entered the drama triangle.

I think the use of the past tense is crucial here. If you feel like you "have been" a victim, and you are now at least working towards taking care of yourself, that is generative (see below).

If you feel like you are constantly the Victim (or the Rescuer, or the Villain), and that whatever you do you tend to fit into different nuances of your role, that is something to pay close attention to.

An example on a larger scale is activism, which is a wonderful thing in itself, but it is not nearly as effective as it could be because of this dynamic.

Many activists (on all levels of impact) live their life in Rescuer mode. They believe that the reason why they are constantly obsessed about all the poor people and endangered species that they need to save, is that they are compassionate and kind.

What is really happening though, is that rescuing is such a deep part of their personality that, if there were no more Victims and no more Villains to fight, they wouldn't know what to do with their life. And this, in the words of Bo Burnham, "brings the movement down".

At a subconscious level there is never a search for a definitive solution, because the solution would be the death of that personality. What remains is a constant battle of egos and subconscious fears.

Lastly, an honourable mention to all men who were raised by a mother who had deep trauma towards males.

These humans are often raised with the intrinsic knowledge that they are wrong, simply because of their gender. I have observed this in clients, friends and boyfriends so frequently that I don't understand why it is swept under the carpet so much.

They can start behaving like a-holes because all they have been told is that men are that way.

Those who become self-aware enough to express what is happening to them are often shut down with a "that's just a mysoginistic excuse", or they live in deep fear that their “wrongness” will come up in sneaky ways.

They will often embody the Villain, and there will always be Victims, and there will always be people who get self-righteous about them in the name of the Rescuer.

I strongly believe in being accountable for one's actions, but this is not what I am discussing here. I am talking about the damage we make when we stick someone in a box (or ourselves) with no possibility of redemption.

If you don't know how to hold someone accountable without judging them or giving them a role, that is a good place to start.

To help with that, Karpman gave us a view of how to flip those dramatic roles.

graphic by @homeofthewildhag

The Victim becomes the Creator. They may not always have the solution, they still get to experience the full spectrum of human emotions, but they feel empowered to sort their situation out and to ask for help without waiting to be rescued.

The Rescuer becomes the Coach. Imagine that you're learning how to fish: the rescuer would eventually take the fishing rod out of your hands, impatiently, and fish for you. You may eat fish that night, but you won't know how to do it for yourself.

The Coach sits with you, no matter how many times you have to try, they encourage you and point out what you can improve (if you ask). They will never tell you that you should give up and, sure enough, you'll eventually master the craft on your own.

The Persecutor becomes the Challenger, holding others accountable with love and being a strong model for people who are looking to get out of a hairy situation, because they have done it many times. The Challenger offers the sacred triggers that make us question if we could go further, without shaming or belittling ourselves.

As you can see, these three new roles are not codependent. They only need themselves to exist, so they don't have to compel the people around them to fit into the "right" box.

The more we can free ourselves from the drama triangle and alchemize our roles into more generative ones, the better we can help our loved ones, and society, to move towards healthier times.

Karpman's official website:

Graphics are mine but they represent the information you find on the website.


About the author

Luna Lee Bear

Eclectic healer and all-around weird person, guiding people through big life changes, dark nights of the Soul and spiritual awakenings. I draw connections, highlight patterns, and write about life from unusual points of view.

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Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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Comments (4)

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  • Rick Henry3 months ago

    Interesting concept. Thank you for sharing.

  • Colleen Millsteed3 months ago

    An important article. Thank you for writing this piece.

  • Interesting concept and an excellent read

  • This was a very interesting read! I've never heard of the drama triangle before. In my life, I'm the Victim but I tend not to show it when it comes to other people's life. To them, I'm the Rescuer. But being a Victim myself, it's truly exhausting to be a Rescuer for others but I cannot just sit back and not rescue people. I'll go mad. So now I'm kinda learning to be my own Rescuer. So I think that means I'm learning to step into the Creator role. I hope I got the concept right

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