How to break out of the Drama Triangle

Have you ever felt like you keep repeating the same patterns over and over again? Do you seem to get stuck in the same kind of toxic relationships, dramas and unhealthy habits, which although painful, may feel subtly reassuring? If so, you’re probably caught up in a psychological game called the Drama Triangle.

The Drama Triangle could be called the ‘here we go again’ game. It consists of three psychological roles: the Rescuer, the Victim and the Persecutor. The roles will shift and vary depending on a person’s context and company.

What all three roles have in common is that each player gets to avoid their deeper feelings. Instead their needs are met by interacting with the other players. This helps them to feel better about themselves.

The Persecutor puts others down and is full self-righteous anger and blame. Their behaviour is controlling, angry, rigid and they have a false sense of superiority. They use critical language, sometimes setting strict limits unnecessarily.

They capitalise on the fact that the Victim agrees to play the weaker role, which opens the door for them to bully, control and manipulate. They get easily frustrated and use anger to deal with these uncomfortable feelings. Deep down they are fearful and vulnerable.

They desperately need to be right, even making others wrong when they know they’re not.

The Rescuer tries to ‘fix’ the Victim. At first glance it looks like they are trying to solve a problem by generously giving advice, but they are doing so in order to feel superior. Deep down, the Rescuer is terrified of not being needed. They discount other people’s ability to think for themselves or behave independently. Rescuers may seem like selfless beings, but they create a false sense of superiority by putting Victims down.

They often turn angry or miserable when others don’t take up their offer of help.

The Victim plays the martyr and allows themselves to be rescued. They often feel overwhelmed and disempowered by other people and events. Even acting independently, they let the Rescuer ‘save’ them. They typically invite Rescuers by playing the ‘poor me’ or ‘I’m a failure’ card. Deep down, they feel they deserve their tragic place in the world. The Victim ultimately victimises themselves because they will seek out a Persecutor and Rescuer to perpetuate their negative feelings.

Here’s an example of how the Drama Triangle plays out in a conversation:

A: ‘I really need to lose weight. I just can’t seem to do it. I’m so stressed at work, it’s hard to focus on other things.’ (Victim)

B: ‘Why don’t you try that new weight-loss plan? I know someone who lost three stone and feels great.’ (Rescuer)

A: ‘Yes, but I’m just so busy. It’s too much of a commitment.’ (Still Victim)

B: ‘Why don’t you try joining the gym? A few of us go to a spin class together, it’s fun.’ (Still Rescuer)

A: ‘Yes, but I don’t really like gyms at all. They’re boring and I feel too self-conscious.’ (Still Victim)

B: ‘Why don’t you try cutting down on bread then?’ (Still Rescuer)

A: ‘Yes but I hardly eat a thing as it is. You don’t understand, it’s all right for you naturally slim people!’ (Victim becomes Persecutor)

Stepping out of the Drama Triangle means having the courage to be authentic. Disengaging is particularly important for addicts because if they carry on blindly playing their old games, they will never be free of their addictive cycles. Nobody in the Drama Triangle is taking responsibility for their own life. Rising above the roles means being mindful.

Mindfulness is noticing what is happening, rather than reacting to it. It means placing yourself amongst positive people who don’t have the need to play the roles of the Drama Triangle.