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Internal Drama Triangle: Getting Off the Merry-Go-Round

Image of carousel. Photo © Katherine Broadway and Raleigh Psychotherapy help you end the drama

Each of us has created an Internal Drama Triangle in our lives. It happens on an unconscious level to help us survive difficult situations. When we were children, it served us well in a time of need. Unfortunately, because it is an unconscious, it continues far beyond its usefulness and we don’t see it. This is a cycle designed to keep us from feeling our true feelings.


The way to break this cycle is to develop a new relationship with ourselves; relationships where we are awake, aware and curious. We must listen to our internal conversations and develop internal boundaries, so that we can begin to say no to ourselves. We must develop the ability to soothe ourselves so we can tolerate difficult feelings. We can begin to break the cycle by becoming aware of the emotions and messages that we receive from each point of the Triangle.

The Rescuer needs to transform unconscious message of “I can’t stand it” to an acknowledgement of “I can face my feelings. My feelings and my memories will not kill me.” The Rescuer needs to develop a message inside that says, “I have the power and strength to feel what I feel, and know what I know. I have the resources both internally and externally to grow”.

The Persecutor needs to learn that the critical messages internalized years ago are no longer helpful in current adult life. These messages were developed at a young age to create the illusion that the unmanageable could be managed. New messages of compassion and hope need to be created.

The Victim needs to learn that living in pain and helplessness does not offer protection. No one is going to step in and save the proverbial “damsel in distress.” Inaction and ineffectual action does nothing but keep the victim paralyzed in the current situation, and that is neither safe nor healthy. It keeps them stuck in a never ending cycle of pain and victimization, waiting for the rescue that never comes. This part needs to take responsibility and learn they have the power to change and manage life.


Stay awake and aware. Be curious.

When you begin to feel difficult or overwhelming feelings: pause and remind yourself your feelings will not kill you. Are the feelings true for your current situation or something from your past?

Ask yourself why you feel the way you do. What was the trigger?

Don’t believe all the messages in your head. Many of them were developed when you were very young. Your circumstances are very different now.

Refocus. Don’t dwell on what is going on in your head. Find someone with whom you can talk. Find something to do. If nothing else use, the “broken record” technique and remind yourself this uncomfortable feeling will go away.

Learn to recognize an internal rescue. We all have ways we rescue ourselves from feelings and situations. Take responsibility for yourself and learn to say no to yourself.

Develop positive self-talk. A good place to start is to ask yourself, “What I would say right now to a friend or a child in this situation?” We are usually kinder to others than ourselves. Learn to play.


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