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The Internal Drama Triangle: Let's All Get On the Merry-Go-Round

Image of merry go round. Photo © Katherine Broadway, Raleigh Psychotherapy, Counseling

The Drama Triangle is a model of dysfunctional interactions, created by Steven Karpman. It happens both with internal thoughts, and in external relationships. Each point of the triangle represents a common and ineffective way to communicate and solve problems. This is a way of looking at how we talk to ourselves when there is an Internal Harsh Critic.


The Triangle includes three roles: Rescuer, Persecutor, Victim. When enacted internally, different aspects of our personality assume one of the roles. The cycle usually begins when difficult feelings bring out the rescuer response.


The rescuer is that part of us that tries to “save” us from our situation. This is the voice that says, “I cannot stand the feelings I am having or the situation I am in.” The Rescuer seizes upon our internal messages of being “not good enough” and “bad,” and develops a quick fix.

The plan the Rescuer formulates does not take into account the needs, strengths and abilities we have. It is formed in isolation and with no support. It creates a situation where there is secrecy. It gives us a temporary feeling of being powerful and good, but does not equip us to face the hard feelings and hard situations.

This plan is doomed to fail from the beginning. When it does, the end result is giving ourselves an indirect message that we are incompetent.


The Rescuer feels powerful and good for a moment, and then gets mad. The “fix” does not work as quickly as we hoped, if at all. The victim is not grateful. We have put ourselves in a position in which we did not want to be , and all the good feelings are gone. We are mad at ourselves.

Here, the Persecutor takes over. The Persecutor is the aspect of ourselves that contains our critical messages and uses them to blame, shame, criticize and punish us. Where the Rescuer leaves an indirect message of incompetence, the Persecutor is very direct in pointing out our shortcomings.


Now the focus goes to the Victim. Once again the Victim’s position is reinforced: “I am hopeless, helpless, and powerless. There is no reason to try because nothing ever works for me. My best efforts don’t work. I am a failure. I will forever be unhappy and depressed.”

This is the part of us that ultimately does not want to change. The victim believes it is not safe to change. It is dependent, needy and passive. The Victim is the aspect of ourselves that will sabotage any efforts we make. We want to hold onto our old pain and self-image because it is what we have had all our lives. It is known. It comforts us.

This cycle can take seconds, hours, days and years. It leaves us stuck in the past. It impedes our ability to grow and change. Growing up, many of us were deprived, mistreated, even victimized. We carry with us an unconscious victim mentality and self-image. We have a template that reinforces this belief.

********This internal process can change********

Do you struggle with and internal Drama Triangle? If so call me at: 919-407-8812.


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