Even the most confident person can have an Achilles heel. Even very powerful people can be reduced to a mumbling wreck in the presence of their mother or an older sibling, their wife or girlfriend. Perhaps it’s your boss you fear or the Managing Director? In some situations even people with high self-esteem can find themselves at a disadvantage because they put themselves unwittingly perhaps in the role of victim in a drama triangle. Perhaps you are the person always ready and willing to help out, the one there with the box of tissues and the cup of tea? Or are you sometimes the persecutor, blaming others, hiding your feelings and manipulating people around you? None of us take these roles constantly but move around the triangle taking different roles as the drama unfolds. Here’s how it works.
A drama triangle occurs when there are three people taking the roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer. As the drama unfolds the roles change as they move round the triangle.
When you look for someone to blame, feel needy and vulnerable and believe you can’t do anything yourself then you have taken the victim role. You look for someone to help you, show you what to do and listen to your troubles. At first you are grateful for the rescuer’s help but after a while you end up feeling resentful and undermined. You then have three options
FIGHT – you become the persecutor
FLIGHT – you head off in search of another rescuer
FREEZE – numb the pain through work, food, drink
Let’s move on to the Rescuer orientation because this is not all it would appear. The rescuer, sometimes called “Poor you”, steps in between the victim and the persecutor, ostensibly ‘to help’ and what is wrong with that, you might ask. But, the rescuer is preventing the victim from solving the problem themselves and gaining the self-esteem from achieving this by snatching it away from them because ‘they can’t do it for themselves’.
The rescuer could be a person but it can also be alcohol, work, food, drugs etc. The rescuer actually gets their self-esteem from fixing the problem and having people dependent on them. Their positive intention is to gain self-esteem by being important and helping rather than having a genuine desire to help. They seek out people weaker than themselves, more needy more dependent and they keep the victim in this dependent state by taking care of them (resulting in addictive behaviour re drink, drugs, food etc.) . They consciously seek to find someone to rescue in order to feel important, they believe they have all the answers and they feel superior so long as the victim can’t manage without them. They volunteer for everything but then eventually when they don’t feel appreciated they become resentful and ‘put upon’ and frequently switch to persecutor role.
The rescuer enjoys manipulating people into feeling guilty and dependent on them. They will say whatever needs to be said to keep everyone happy and avoid any negative attention on them. Do you ever say or think like this?
Let’s move on to the persecutor role, “win at any cost”. So how do we recognise the persecutor? It is whatever or whoever the victim is blaming for their victim state.
They themselves often start out as victims feeling out of control and lacking self-esteem. No-one is listening to them because they are not expressing their needs clearly and assertively. They don’t believe that what they have to say is important and give responsibility to those around them rather than taking it on for themselves. They take out their frustration on others, blaming and criticising. These are people who separate themselves even temporarily from their emotions and distance themselves. They blame everyone else for the situation they are in and when you ask them what’s the matter they say “nothing”. In persecutor role they are angry, either overtly or passively aggressive. They fear loss of control where the rescuer fears a loss of purpose.
Persecutors want to control and do this by nagging, putting others down and humiliating people. We’ve probably all done this at one time or another. Have you?
Something to be aware of in the victim role is that the co-dependency tends to lead to addictive behaviour and unhealthy relationships. When you are in the victim role you feel out of control and the more out of control you feel the more one drinks, smokes or eats. You are more likely to be ill because of this and because you aren’t taking control of your health. Many workaholics are victims addicted to work.
Many fairy stories are based on this triangle. For example, in Cinderella the Fairy Godmother is the rescuer, Cinderella is the victim and the stepmother and step sisters are persecutors. Who are you?! There is usually a Knight in shining armour on a white charger who comes to rescue the victim from the wicked witch or stepmother and many women search in vain for their Knight when by stepping out of the triangle they would find that they don’t need to be rescued at all.
Here are the steps to breaking out of this triangle.
- Be aware that you are in it by recognising the patterns. What are the triggers? What happens before? Is the trigger visual, auditory or kinaesthetic? How do you set up the trigger? Do you consciously or unconsciously manipulate the situation?
- STOP IT! Decide now to break free of this Drama Triangle, step outside it.
- Imagine you could float above the Triangle and observe what’s happening, who is saying and doing what. This is disassociating and allows you to emotionally distance yourself from what is going on.
- From this place outside the triangle recognise your key role in it.
- What is your positive intention? What do you really want? What is your compelling outcome for yourself?
- Internally reference by asking yourself ‘what are my values?’ what are my qualities?’ ‘what makes me a worthwhile human being?’ Align yourself.
- Accept that you can change and take responsibility for yourself.
- Live in the moment and express yourself and your needs openly and honestly.
- Be curious about how you can live differently and be open to change, observing how others respond to you when you are outside of the triangle.
- Be prepared to make a few mistakes along the way – there is no failure only feedback.