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Relationships and Triangles

Image of Ferris wheel in old town plaza. Raleigh Psychotherapy, Katherine Broadway, counseling, drama triangle

Chris, Andy and Liam have been friends for years. Andy borrowed Chris’s car and had a fender bender. The following week when the three of them got together for dinner, Chris began to criticize Andy’s careless driving. Liam spoke up and began to defend Andy’s driving record. Chris was so angry, he told Andy to mind his own business. Liam then turned to Chris and told him to quit being a jerk. The dinner ended with everyone being angry.

In this example, you have a classic example of a drama triangle. Chris started as the persecutor, Andy was the victim and Liam stepped in to rescue the situation. Chris again acting as the persecutor, turned on Liam making him the victim, Andy stepped in as the rescuer trying to save Liam, making Chris the victim. Each person changed positions on the drama triangle

Sound confusing? It is.

It is easy to get tangled in a drama triangle. In the last few weeks, I have heard several stories where people had unwittingly gotten caught in a situation that led to a drama triangle. Although, I have previously written an article about this, I think it would be helpful to publish this information again.

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. When we caught in one of these interactions we go around and around until we find a way to stop the cycle.

Raleigh Psychotherapy, Katherine Broadway, counseling, drama triangle


The Triangle includes three roles: Rescuer, Persecutor, Victim. These are roles people unconsciously play. As the situation unfolds the players will rotate positions on the triangle. 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

The rescuer is the role that wants to save another person from their situation. The rescuer finds someone who they believe needs help. They feel pity for that person, feel guilty about the person, anxious about them or feels extremely responsible for another. The rescuer thinks that this person is incompetent or helpless and cannot take care of him or herself, cannot handle their feelings, cannot make there right decision without help.

The rescuer cannot say no because they are afraid the other person cannot handle the pain of being told no and will get angry and go away. The rescuer is afraid of their own feelings of hurt and anger.

The rescuer feels bad about themselves therefore, they need to “rescue” to make themselves feel worthwhile. “I rescue therefore I have a right to exist”. What kind of person would I be if I said no? Isn’t it my duty as a good friend, husband, wife, Christian or helper to do good? No, it is not.

The rescuer develops a quick fix.The plan the Rescuer formulates does not take into account the needs, strengths and abilities the other person has. It is formed in isolation and with no support. It creates a situation where there is secrecy. It does not equip the person to face the hard feelings and hard situations. It gives the indirect message of incompetence.

Guaranteed Failure

This plan is doomed to fail from the beginning. When it does, the end result is giving the message that the rescuer is incompetent.

This kind of help becomes a compulsion and is necessary to have that “hit” of self-worth for our low self-esteem.

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.

This Leads To...

The Persecutor takes over. The roles are not switched the rescuer becomes the persecutor. The Persecutor is the aspect of ourselves that contains critical messages and uses them to blame, shame, criticize and punish. The Persecutor is very direct in pointing out shortcomings and tells the person we were trying to help that they are a failure.

The Victim: 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. It is dependent, needy and passive. The Victim is the aspect of ourselves that will sabotage any efforts we make. Because it is what we have had all our lives, we need and want to hold onto our old pain and self-image. It is known. It comforts us. It is our internal parent and family.

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.

This can pattern can change.

Need help getting out of a relationship triangle? Call me I can help. (919)881-2001.

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