What is a “Drama Triangle” ?

Let me make it clear right away: this is not a m√©nage √† trois. Although… maybe you’ve played it before ?

This is a situation regularly depicted during coaching sessions: a three-way game in which communication is biased by the position adopted by each participant.
The actors ? A Victim, a Persecutor and a Rescuer. We are not describing people here, but roles that each of us can take on at some point… or not.
The basic principles ? Experience an intense satisfaction in the role you play.

An example ?

V :I can’t organize the project meeting. I took it upon myself and my time to do it – although I’m already overloaded – but no one is interested and no one keeps me informed. That’s not fair. I feel like a loser and exploited.

P :You do not volunteer to perform a task when you are unable to do so. Now you have to handle it. Start by attending meetings, this is a minimum if you don’t want to be excluded from the project.

R :It’s not fair what happens to you. P. is really exaggerating and you’re not that bad. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it for you.

Who is the winner ? No one, of course. Everyone is slipping into their own role and the situation can only move in circles, at best.

This “game”, called the Drama Triangle or Karpman’s Triangle, named after Dr. Stephen B. Karpman who described it in 1968, is a figure of psychological manipulation that involves 3 actors who seek to satisfy their own interests and that can be summarized as follows :

Drama Triangle
Victime du Triangle Dramatique

The Victim

  • is in a state of pain, or presents itself as such
  • acts as if it has no way out
  • seeks to attract the attention of a Savior who will justify his incompetence and will avoid him from taking his responsibilities
  • seeks to attract the attention of a Persecutor who will justify his status as a victim and thus allow him to complain

His favorite phrases :

  • “I always do everything right, even more, and nobody’s ever happy.”
  • “it’s not fair, I’m never lucky”
  • “no one loves me”
Le Persécuteur du Triangle Dramatique

The Persecutor

  • imposes his will, in part through punishment
  • needs a victim, whom he will not respect, to feel strong
  • is not necessarily a person, but may possibly be an element that justifies the Victim’s role : illness, alcohol, drugs…

His favorite phrases :

  • “you never do anything right, thank God I’m here !”
  • “you still haven’t learned to … !”
  • “you’ll go home when you’re done doing your job !”
Le Sauveur du Triangle Dramatique

The Rescuer

  • values the Victim’s dependent relationship, because without it he does not exist
  • relieves the Victim of his or her responsibility by taking on the task of thinking and acting in his or her place
  • has no real interest in the Victim getting out of it on her own

His favorite phrases :

  • “don’t worry, I’ll take care of it, even if I don’t have that much time”
  • “I’ll help you : I’ll do it”
Le Public du Triangle Dramatique

The Audience

Often forgotten, the Audience can also play an important role, as each of the actors may feel the need for public recognition of their respective roles.

The Victim may need it to show that it can do nothing about the situation, that it is forced to play this game, and thus gain the support from other potential rescuers.

The Persecutor to demonstrate that he is the strong man / strong woman of the situation

and the Rescuer because he/she is convinced to play the gentle role and wants us to know it.

Le Ma√ģtre du Jeu du Triangle de Karpman

The Master of the game

So everyone needs the other to exist in this game. But there is one role that predominates, the one that plays the role of the Game Master.

Do you have any idea who it might be ?

Let’s return to the Triangle diagram (Stephen Karpman’s original presented here). The Persecutor and the Rescuer are in a higher position and dominate the Victim whom they consider inferior. But at the base of the Triangle, where the base of the game is located, is the Victim. Without it the Persecutor and the Savior have no role to play and the game does not exist or no longer exists.

It’ s the Victim who is the true Master of the game.

*    *    *

It is noteworthy that the roles are interchangeable over time. A Victim can become the Persecutor of a Rescuer if he / she does not feel she has been properly saved, and the Rescuer will become a Victim himself and therefore the new master of the game. And so on and so forth.

Getting out of it

The Drama Triangle draws actors into an infernal spiral. The awareness of its existence is therefore essential to be able to get out of it, or better, not to enter it.

A few simple questions, among many others, can help you avoid rushing into it.

Se sortir du Triangle de Karpman

The Victim : Do I really need help ? How can I make my request rationally and without denigrating myself ? Who is the best person to contact ?

The Rescuer : Did I really receive a clearly formulated request for help ? Am I the best person to answer it ? How can I respond to the request without denigrating the requester ?

The Persecutor : Have I really been given the authority to act in this matter ? Do I actually have to act in an authoritative manner ? Will I receive appropriate recognition for my action

 *    *    *

In any case, the main point is to be aware of what is happening and to avoid already experienced situations.

A dose of shared humor is also a good way to relax the situation.

And if there is an Audience, the best is to find a way to exclude it from the game. Having a private conversation with the other players often effectively defuses the spiral.

Do you remember the last time you participated in a drama Triangle,
voluntarily or involuntarily ?

How did you feel ?

How did you get out of there ?

Get in touch with me
I will be delighted to receive your comments and answer your questions

Illustrations credits: personal compositions and pixabay.com

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