Breaking unhelpful relationship patterns
Some of my clients really enjoy learning some bits of psychological theory and seeing how it applies to them and so I thought I’d write a post introducing one of my favourite psychological concepts, “The Drama Triangle”. If psychological theory doesn’t hold much interest for you, then obviously don’t read on – I’ll write about more a general topic next time!
The Drama Triangle
The Drama Triangle[i] is brilliant in my opinion, because it is very simple, extremely insightful and is universally applicable. It explains how our relationships and interactions with others can sometimes go wrong and what we might be able to do differently in order to have more harmonious and more rewarding relationships. As illustrated in the diagram below, there are 3 positions on the Drama Triangle: Victim, Rescuer and Persecutor and the theory goes that each of us will have a natural disposition towards one of them (no one is exempt!).
Which role can you most relate to?
Unfortunately, the titles of the roles on The Drama Triangle aren’t very flattering (!), but try to ignore the language and think about which of them you can most relate to personally. It’s important to stress that these are all psychological roles, not actual roles, and also that people move in and out of them – they are not fixed personality types.
Most of us will have experience of people who will sometimes take on the role of ‘Victim’, whereby they seem to end up feeling downtrodden or taken advantage of more easily than others, and also seem to overlook or underestimate anything they could do to make things better for themselves.
We will most likely also have experience of people who are quick to criticise and seem to think they are always right. People taking on the role of ‘Persecutor’ may become hostile or angry quickly and seem to want to put others down.
The ‘Rescuer’ position might sound less negative than the others, due to the word ‘rescue’, but in this instance it refers to when we try to help others or fix their problems, driven by a need within us to do so, as opposed to them actually asking for our help.
How this all plays out
The bottom line is that relationships will experience stress when anyone takes on any of the roles in the Drama Triangle. The minute I move into the position of Victim, Persecutor or Rescuer and start interacting with another person, there are going to be difficulties because, unconsciously, I am inviting the other person to take on one of the other roles.
For instance, if I am feeling like a ‘Victim’ and start complaining about my problems and overlooking what I could do personally to solve them, I am unconsciously inviting the other person to either:
a) start trying to fix my problems for me and thereby move into the Rescuer position; or
b) get frustrated and even annoyed with me and move into the Persecutor position.
And that’s not where it ends. If I’m in the Victim position, and you try to Rescue me, I might well get annoyed with you and snap at you, thereby moving myself into the Persecutor position. Once I’ve addressed you from the role of Persecutor, you may well then move into the role of Victim. In this way, people can move around and around the Drama Triangle in a single conversation.
WALK AWAY FROM THE DRAMA TRIANGLE!!!
The reality is that, taking on any of the roles of Victim, Persecutor or Rescuer is going to be unhelpful to your relationships and the quality of your life. Put very simply, if you find yourself being pulled into one of the 3 positions, then your best bet is to disengage with the conversation as quickly as you can.
Using theory in therapy
As I said at the start of this post, I will sometimes explain theory, such as The Drama Triangle, to clients who like to think that way and find it helpful. We might use some of our time together to explore how the theory applies to that individual and what it might tell them about themselves. We might also work on what the individual can do with this new information in order to improve their lives and their relationships and, ultimately, to feel better. Obviously, many clients aren’t interested in learning about theory and that is completely fine too – theory is simply one of the many tools that can be used in therapy to help people to better understand themselves and make positive change.
About the author
Hi, I’m Andrea Sevenoaks and I’m a Psychotherapeutic Counsellor specializing in helping people with anxiety and / or depression. I am based in Tenterden in Kent and I work with individuals aged 16 and over. For a confidential chat or to arrange a free phone consultation, please feel free to contact me on 07871 314030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
[i] The Drama Triangle was developed by Stephen Karpman in 1968 and is frequently used in Transactional Analysis psychotherapy