Managing the Instinctual Drama Triangle
Written by: Ashlee Wong, MA
When I was younger, I had dreams of being an actor. Not that I had any real talent to speak of, but I used to imagine myself in the movies or TV shows I watched and thought that I could be a successful actor living a wonderful, glamorous life in Hollywood. I very quickly realized that I don’t have the personality that would support a career with any real longevity. And yet, my thoughts of being an actor were never fully inaccurate; I just didn’t know that there was a real-life production in which I was already playing a starring role.
Stephan Karpman came up with the Drama Triangle which explains that conflict is a production that we create as we take on one of three roles and subsequently seek out the other two players to complete the stage for our drama. The first of the roles in the triangle is the victim. The victim is someone who perceives him or herself in life situation as helpless, powerless, oppressed, and unable to solve their problems on their own. This is often the most common role that is present before the rest of the players are added to our drama. The second common role that will set off the Drama Triangle is the persecutor. Their main message is that it’s all the victim’s fault and in order to assert this position, they are often controlling, critical, oppressive, and rigid. The third component to the triangle is the rescuer. This person often feels guilty if they do not intervene when they observe a victim and persecutor interacting. However, often the role of the rescuer is negative in that it often forces the victim to remain dependent on someone else to solve their problems while also allowing the rescuer to be distracted from doing their own internal work to solve their own anxieties. It is important to note that we are capable of being any of the three points on the triangle depending on the situation. However, because these are based on needs we may or may not be aware of, we typically gravitate towards one more than the others.
Even though these roles are instinctual and often out of our awareness, we are not doomed to unintentionally engage in Drama Triangles wherever there is conflict. Instead, we must work to identify our default position and study its complimentary position on the Winner’s Triangle which has been attributed to Acey Choy as a way of introducing choice into an otherwise choiceless situation. The victim’s counterpart is the creator because they are able to focus on the situation at hand and believe in their own capacity to find solutions for change. The persecutor’s compliment is the challenger. The hope is that the challenger can clarify for the creator, areas of improvement and help them towards overall growth by illuminating problem areas. A rescuer’s opposite is the coach and believes that the creator is capable of making their own choices and deciphering wants or needs but also asks questions which allows the creator time to think about how to achieve their goals.
Written by: ASHLEE WONG, MA, Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist 103135. Supervised by Dr. Joselyn Josephine Ayala-Encalada Psy.D., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 96987