The drama triangle is the name of a psychological and social game that involves indirect and dysfunctional communication. The term, “Drama Triangle,” was first identified in 1968 by Stephen Karpman, an MD who practiced Transational Analysis. The Drama Triangle is now used in psychology and psychotherapy to describe a rotating series of dysfunctional behavioral roles that people use when they are in conflict.

Drama.Triangle.Cover.smHow To Break Free of the Drama Triangle and Victim Consciousness is the title of our new e-book available at Amazon. Click the link above to purchase this book.

This book pulls together all the clinical experience we have had helping clients learn how to break free of the Drama Triangle and Victim Consciousness. It you have encountered the negative effects of this dysfunctional game and want to know how to avoid it in the future, then this book is a must read.

What Keeps The Game Going

What keeps the game going is competition for the Victim role. Everybody secretly wants to get his/her needs met without having to ask directly to get them met. The game allows you to manipulate others to get them to meet your needs without you having to ask them directly. The only role where this is possible is the Victim role.

People will complain, whine, bitch, or otherwise look and sound needy to let others know they need to be Rescued. Then they wait for the Rescuer to do something for them without having to ask for it. This usually does not satisfy the need because they know they manipulated someone to meet it. The Rescuer ultimately feels ripped off or is blamed by the Victim (now the Persecutor) and ends up also feeling like a Victim (“But I was only trying to help.”)

The Need/Obligate System

The Need-Obligate system, which is at the core of co-dependency is also used to keep the Drama Triangle game going. It’s behind the “good old boy” and “good old girl” networks in organizations and corporations. Here is how it works:

  1. Someone does something for you without first asking you or you asking them to do it.
  2. Then they expect you to be grateful for what they’ve done for you, and
  3. To return the favor without them having to ask for it.

The implicit agreement (never spoken) is that “I did this favor for you, now you are obligated to return it.” This means you’ve been set up to Rescue someone. In this game, you must figure out what this other person needs and give it without he or she ever having to ask for it. That’s why it’s called the need-obligate system.

If you don’t repay the other person’s favor in just the right way, you run the risk of them persecuting you. Your failure will then allow them to feel justifiably angry about your selfishness or stinginess. So if you accept their Rescue and then don’t repay the favor, the Rescuer then feels cheated and now becomes the Victim. This game is so prevalent in organizations that it permeates all their day-to-day operations. It’s also the source of most organizational conflicts, gossip and rumors. It is also what happens in Washington every day between lawmakers, their staffs and lobbyists.

Drama Triangle Roles

Each role has specific thought and behavioral patterns that serve to keep the roles rotating between the “game players.” Slide1 The Persecutor Role: “It’s All Your Fault”

  • Sets strict limits unnecessarily.
  • Blames
  • Criticizes
  • Keeps Victim oppressed
  • Is mobilized by anger
  • Rigid, authoritative stance
  • Acts like a “critical” Parent
  • “I’m good, you’re bad.”
  • Payoff: get to be “right” and release intense negative emotions

The Rescuer Role:“I’m Only Trying To Help You”

  • Does something for someone else when he or she really doesn’t want to.
  • Feels guilty if doesn’t rescue others
  • Keeps victim dependent.
  • Does something for someone that the person didn’t ask for
  • Expects to fail in his or her own attempt to Rescue the Victim.
  • Often a “marshmallow” parent
  • “I’m good, you’re not so good.”
  • Payoff: Get to look strong, capable and be “one-up”

The Victim Role:“Poor Me”

  • Feels victimized, oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless, ashamed
  • Looks for a Rescuer that will perpetuate their negative feelings.
  • Used Victim role to avoid making decisions, solving problems and taking responsibility.
  • Has a slouched “dejected” stance.
  • “I’m bad, you’re good.”
  • Payoff: I get what I want and need without asking.

How To Break Free of the Drama Triangle

breaking freeThe first step in learning how to break free of the drama triangle is to stop thinking and behaving like a victim. Taking this step mean you must be willing to ask for what you want and need from others 100% of the time. We say “willing to ask” . . . which doesn’t mean that you will actually HAVE to ask, only that you are strong enough that you can and will ask if it becomes necessary. The bad news is that you will probably alienate some who are closest to you in your effort to break free of the Drama Triangle.

Once you decide to stop being a Victim and start asking directly for what you want, you must disengage from (dysfunctional) unconscious relational games. When you stop playing these games, some close to you may interpret your refusal to play the game as a personal rejection. They will likely feel like Victims!! They will say they are very hurt, and even get depressed when you decide to stop playing this dysfunctional game.

Others may become very angry and attack you. They will become Persecutors and may try to turn others whom you care about against you by spreading rumors or even telling lies about you. While this won’t get them what they want (being close to you), it will suck others in to play on the triangle and get them some Victim payoffs. As the roles change, you’ll see the “merry-go-round” aspect of the game. The person in the Persecutor role often switches to the Rescuer role, the Victim switches to the Persecutor role and the Rescuer to the Victim role. It’s CRAZY!!

Breaking Free of the Drama Triangle Requires Courage & Strength

It isn’t easy enduring the barbs thrown at you by the other game-players for “abandoning” them. Here are some of the keys on how to break free of the Drama Triangle.

1. Reflect back their feelings when they complain or accuse you. This lets them know that you are listening and that you care about them.
2. Then ask them, “What do you want from me?” This is a real “drama-stopper!”
a. Making people ask for what they want forces them to stop whining and complaining.
b. They must think about what they want from you. Often, they don’t even know.
3. If they don’t know what they want from you, say, “Well, think about what you need. When you know, ask me for what you need.” Once they do know what they do want or need, they must ask you for it directly.

We can guarantee you that following these steps will bring the Drama Triangle dynamics to a screeching halt! Our new book contains many more strategies you can use to break free of the Drama Triangle.

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3 Responses to The Drama Triangle & Victim Consciousness

  1. Good stuff as per usual, thanks. I do hope this kind of thing gets more exposure.

  2. Martin Castaneda says:

    Hello there. Good article!
    I am researching a bit for my thesis, and find this very helpful. I´m looking for what has already been done on “Dramatic structure for interpersonal and community conflict analysis and resolution”.
    I just started so maybe the topic will be shortened in time. Maybe you could give a tip on some authors about this? I need to build a bibliography for my thesis. Thanks in advance!

  3. Diane says:

    An excellent book called ‘ When helping You Hurts me’ has an analysis of adult child sex offenders who are caught up in the drama triangle as a result of being child victims – a very interesting read on this topic.

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