The Drama Triangle – Part 1

Discover the 3 roles of the Drama Triangle

If you want to understand why you sometimes feel bad after an interaction with someone, then the Drama Triangle holds the key to the mystery!

This happens a lot to my clients … be it with their children, wife or husband, parents, co-workers or boss, students, friends or mother-in-law – and to be honest, it has also happened a lot to me in the past!
By repeating the same behaviors we get the same disagreeable results. And each time, we feel uncomfortable, discouraged, or powerless.

Has it ever happened to you as well?

In the 5 blog posts on the Drama Triangle, I explain this damaging relationship dynamic and how to disengage from it.
Nevertheless, many of us will need to ask for help if we want to break free from this deeply rooted pattern.
Be brave and contact me. I can help and I am happy to support you during the coaching sessions.

But first, keep reading!

  • Introduction
  • The Drama Triangle
  • The three roles



Let’s start with this example of a banal conversation between John, the husband, who wants to go to a party with his wife Sophie:

– On Saturday we are invited to Patrick’s birthday party. There will be a meal and then we will go dancing. It is going to be fun. 
– I don’t know what to do with the children. 
– Your niece could babysit…
Yes, but she works late on Saturday night and I never know what time she’s available. We can’t rely on her.
– Well, you could ask your mum to come over until we get back home.
– Yes, but my mother doesn’t like going out after eight o’clock in the evening. She prefers to stay home watching TV.
– Why don’t we call a babysitter?
But are you out of your mind? It will be too expensive and besides, I don’t trust these girls. We don’t know who we’re dealing with… What a crazy idea!


Both end up irritated by the turn of events and feel upset:
– one because he tries to help, but apparently cannot come up with any suitable solution
– the other because she rejects the suggestions, doesn’t appreciate the proposed solutions and even gets angry.

Does that ring a bell?

Although intensity and severity may vary, this type of conversation is following a pattern, which is explained by the Drama Triangle.


The model

The magical tool to figure this pattern out is called the Drama Triangle. Stephen Karpman created the model in 1968 within the framework of Transactional Analysis. Thanks to this tool we can analyze clearly what is happening in the relationships since the Drama Triangle sheds light on the automatic and dysfunctional interaction between 2 (or more) people.

In a relationship within the Drama Triangle, there are 2 main characters (male or female) who shift from one role to another:

  • The Rescuer
  • The Persecutor
  • The Victim.


What do the roles entail? 



Rescuers get involved in other people’s lives eagerly waiting for recognition and approval. By making assumptions on other people’s needs they are stepping in to help before anyone has asked them for anything and create a debt of gratitude. They believe that others need them and they impose their solution. In doing so they prevent others from solving their problems themselves. At the same time they manifest their moral superiority.

Feeling responsible for others

Since Rescuers feel responsible for the happiness and well-being of others, they immediately strive to comfort, pacify or calm people down so that these people don’t get to feel their disagreeable emotions like pain, anger, disappointment or sadness. Rescuers also want to have good relationships with everyone, as they like harmony. That is why they avoid conflicts or standing their ground at all costs, even if they end up wasting their time, money or energy. They have a tendency to please people in order to avoid criticism and rejection. After all, they aspire to feel accepted and loved by everyone.

Emotionally disconnected

For all these reasons they are disconnected from their own emotions. Therefore, it is difficult, if not impossible, to have emotional intimacy in a relationship with them. They will flee in “doing”, they are busy at all times … the evidence is their diary: they don’t have a minute.

Codependent relationships

Despite having good intentions, they need Victims to be Rescuers. As a result their behavior encourages the Victim’s dependence and lack of autonomy. Rescuers will continue to be involved in codependent relationships (as with addicts, for example) that are harming them because they do not realize how damaging they are for them. 

Saying no is difficult

Rescuers have an imperative need to feel useful to cover up their anxiety and low self-esteem … in short, to give their life meaning. They never stop giving; basically because they don’t know how to say no. However, if they dare to say no, they will feel guilty and label themselves as selfish or stingy. They prioritize others’ needs ignoring their own, because they project on others their own unmet needs. Most of all they have difficulties in identifying their needs and desires.

Am I just nice or too nice? 

In short, they sacrifice themselves because they want to prove that they are good, generous and selfless people, who deserve love and recognition. And when someone tells them: “You are too nice”, they feel accordingly offended.

But Rescuing creates resentment and anger in themselves and in the Victims, not recognition, nor gratitude or respect. Whereupon Rescuers confirm their belief that Victims are ungrateful and take advantage of them.

Benefice of the coaching sessions for the Rescuer

When Rescuers attend coaching sessions, working on boundaries and the Drama Triangle guarantees favorable results. Once they have understood the detrimental dynamics and know what their needs are, they are able to control their eagerness to rescue and consequently to change their behavior.




Am I right  or … am I totally right? 

Persecutors know everything and are always right. Those who are wrong are the others. Therefore they pretend to know what is best for other people. They characteristically see everything either in black or in white; Grey does not exist. Their motto is: either you are with me or you are against me.

Like Rescuers, they feel morally superior and need Victims in order to play their role as a Persecutor.

Discounting others 

They ignore not only other people’s feelings but also their value. That is why they criticize, find fault, persecute, blackmail and abuse their power. In particular they use shame and guilt to manipulate. They can even punish (if only with their moodiness or their silence) so that Victims feel anxious and inferior. Persecutors always find a culprit or an enemy: the other. Thus there is no way to resolve a conflict with them since in each conversation you have to tread carefully and not contradict them. They use threats to get what they want because they have a sense of entitlement. And what they want is for others not only to learn their lesson and to agree with them, but also to change and do things the Persecutor’s way.

Relationships based on power and control

Persecutors feel a lot of anger and righteous indignation, which they vent on “innocent” Victims with gusto. They do not consider themselves as abusive or aggressive though because they believe that the Victims deserve their lot.
In order to feel safe Persecutors want to be in control and they fight for the power in the relationship. They impose their point of view to establish a Winner-Loser relationship that allows them to cover up their inferiority complexes, their insecurity and their vulnerability that they don’t recognize. Moreover they confuse having needs with being needy. Consequently they won’t accept any help or will refuse even to consider that someone can do something for them.

Others are to blame 

But there will always be somebody to blame, somebody who doesn’t meet their expectations. When something goes wrong, Persecutors hold others accountable for what happens to avoid blaming themselves. With that attitude it seems unlikely that they will attend coaching sessions since the person responsible or the culprit is always the other. They project on others (outside of themselves) what they don’t want to see in themselves. In effect, they would call others arrogant because they are not able to recognize and accept their own arrogance.

Childhood trauma 

As they have often suffered some kind of abuse in childhood, they always get defensive. They reproduce the behavior of the abuser because they hope that by dominating others they will preventively protect themselves from abuse or contempt.




Discounting themselves

Victims feel powerless, incompetent, stuck and sometimes desperate. They discount their skills and their resources. They don’t recognize their own ability to change things or to influence their destiny either. Besides, precisely because life happens to them, they often suffer from depression. And if by miracle something good happens, they attribute it to luck.

Not owning it 

According to Victims they can’t be blamed for anything because they are not responsible. What’s happening is not their fault. They are convinced that life is very hard, that nobody understands them and that no matter what they do they will be unable to change their lot. They always find excuses that justify their situation.

Avoiding responsibilities 

Victims take any opportunity to complain; even their usual tone of voice is querulous. They are the eternal victims of life itself and manage to get sick, have ailments and attract misfortunes. As soon as they get stressed, which happens very easily, they make a mountain out of a molehill. They simply avoid responsibilities and don’t want to make decisions for fear of being wrong.

In addition, you can recognize Victims by their usual way of apologizing for everything and nothing. You can often hear them say “Sorry!”, “Excuse me!”, “I beg your pardon!”.

“A Victim  is someone who is waiting for something bad to happen … and it usually does.” (Barry K. Weinhold)

Not only do they live in an illusory world composed of all the things they imagine or assume (dire consequences, negative emotions or adverse reactions of others, …), they also make assumptions without relying on reality, without having sound evidence that would justify their beliefs.


Of course Victims adopt a passive behavior: they don’t take action, they don’t make any effort to get out of the pothole. They are experts in manipulating others to get what they need without getting too involved in the result. They usually sabotage the help they receive and secretly rejoice in their failures. No matter how often they attend coaching sessions, their passivity and lack of commitment may cause the attempt to fail, so that they can blame the coach for the lack of results and prove them incompetent.

Two types of Victims 

Victims attract either Rescuers or Persecutors. On the one hand, Victims create codependence – an excessive emotional or psychological dependence on the Rescuer. This attitude encourages a passive behavior that prevents them from developing fully their abilities. On the other hand, Victims confirm their belief that life is hard and unfair when they are abused by Persecutors.

Therefore, to play their role as Victims they need Rescuers or Persecutors … or both.


Now let’s go back to the example of the introduction.
Could you tell which role each woman plays?

What roles do John and Sophie adopt?

  • John offers solutions although Sophie has not explicitly asked for them. There is no clear request. John therefore starts the game in the Rescuer’s role by taking the bait set by Sophie unconsciously.
  • Sophie starts in the Victim’s role because she complains without specifically mentioning what she needs. She unconsciously asks John to solve the problem. But she discards all the options John offers (“Yes, but…” – “Yes, but…” is a telling clue). She then enters into the Persecutor’s role (“But are you out of your mind? … What a crazy idea!”).
  • Finally John ends up in the Victim’s role.

To sum up…

Jean starts in Rescuer ending up in Victim.
Sophie starts in Victim ending up in Persecutor.

At the beginning each person embodies one of the 3 matching roles: Rescuer, Persecutor or Victim. At the end of the interaction each person ends up in another role and that’s where the Drama begins.

This example illustrates how people take on a role that changes as the conversation progresses. The end result of the Drama Triangle is invariably negative, whether with conflicts, bad vibes, anger, guilt, resentment, including suffering, abuse or tragedy in the worst cases. In 100% of the cases the games end up badly and nobody wins.

So, why do we play in the Drama Triangle?

  • Why do we play?
  • How does it start?
  • Different situations

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