How to escape the drama triangle

In this article, I will teach you how to escape the drama triangle and how to stop conflict in relationships. I will explain the Karpman’s triangle, how it works and what to do to step out of it.

The drama triangle is a relational science tool that models dysfunctional social interaction. Each point of the triangle presents a common and ineffective response to conflict. The response is more likely to prolong disharmony than to end it.

The Karpman triangle is manifesting in relationships where partners have not reached a level where they are psychologically mature and self-sufficient.

When people play psychological games they step into one of the 3 positions: the prosecutor, the victim or the rescuer. For the cycle to continue, there must always be a victim to be prosecuted or rescued. Without a victim, the triangle ceases to exist. Moreover, no matter where you start in the drama triangle, you will always end up assuming the role of the victim, feeling powerless and helpless.

The drama triangle is characterized by blame, fear and the desire to be right. Although you learn how to play these roles in childhood as a survival mechanism, they affect your relationships even later in life.

Below is a graphic of the drama triangle and the roles characters play:

 

The characteristics of each character in the drama triangle

The prosecutor belittles and puts other people down, blames and criticizes others and assumes no responsibilities for their own actions. They are controlling, angry and rigid in their interactions with others. They blame and criticize themselves in the same manner they do with other people. They are frustrated with others and they tell themselves ‘They are wrong and I am right, they need to do what I say’.

The rescuer, like the prosecutor, sees other people down and not okay, but assumes a different role. The rescuer believes they have to help other people. Rescuers neglect their own needs and as a consequence, use guilt to control their victims and keep them dependent. They don’t know who they really are and define themselves through others.

The rescuer does not deal with the core issue, instead seek temporary relief to make themselves and others feel good. They look at others and tell themselves: ‘Look at that person, I need to help them’, if that person does what I say, they will be happy’. They concentrate on others in order to avoid their own problems and fix their own issues.

The victim sees themselves as powerless, victimized, helpless and hopeless. They deny responsibility for their negative circumstances and the power to change them. They often look for a rescuer to save them. The victim is at the effect of; life is happening to them. A person, circumstance or condition is doing or not doing something that is causing them to be the way they are. They tell themselves things like ‘This always happens to me’, what have I done to deserve this?’.

These roles move between each other in a conflict situation. Each partner can play all of the three roles at different times, depending on the situation they are finding themselves in and on the other person’s reaction. However, most people have a predominant role that they play.

Here is a simple example of how Karpman’s triangle works : The father disciplines the child (the prosecutor), the child cries (the victim) and the mum comforts him (the rescuer).

And here is an example of how the roles can change whilst playing the game: The wife is angry with her husband for being late (the prosecutor). The husband apologizes (the victim). The wife goes on to criticize the husband (the prosecutor). The husband responds by criticizing the wife’s constant nagging (husband becomes prosecutor). The wife apologies for her outburst (The wife becomes the victim).

Regardless of the initial role adopted, each individual can move from one position in the triangle to another very quickly. The reason why individuals move around the drama triangle is the same as the reason they initially decided to play games: they want to get their needs met, but they are too scared to ask what they want directly so they play games in an attempt to manipulate other into giving them what they want.

It is important to recognize that individuals are assuming and playing their roles on an unconscious level, therefore are not aware of the role they are playing in the drama triangle.

What each role discounts of others?

The rescuer discounts the ability of others to think and act for themselves.

The victim discounts themselves and their own ability to think, solve a problem or initiate change.

The prosecutor discounts other’s feelings and their values.

 

How do we step out of the drama triangle?

The victims know they are going through difficult times, but they stop discounting their own ability to think, feel, change and work out how to get their needs to be met appropriately. They don’t discount their ability to problem-solve. They change their perception about themselves from victim to survivor.

They asked themselves what do they want and they take the necessary steps to achieve that regardless of the circumstances. They start reflecting on the good things they are happening in their life. They start asking themselves : ‘what did I achieve today?’ , ‘What I am grateful for?’.

The rescuers respect the ability of others to think, feel and act. They take responsibility for their own feelings and needs and let the other to take responsibility for theirs. They listen to others without solving their problems for them. They support and encourage others to identify solutions and solve their problems. They shift their energy towards themselves and their own lives.

The prosecutors ask for what they want without putting other down or punishing them. They use their energy to solve problems and not to shame, belittle or punish others. They become firm but fair in the approach to people.They set boundaries and learn to spend their energy on themselves, not others.

In orders to step off the drama triangle you need to consciously watching your behavior and reflect on each role you take. You need to be present in the moment and aware of what you think, feel and behave.

It only takes one person opting out the drama triangle to end the cycle. When you choose to opt out of the drama triangle, you are leaving the others with no options and you are teaching them to do the same.

This will result in more effective relationships, decision-making, productivity and well-being. You will stop feeling drained and powerless and you will channel your energy towards your well-being and happiness.

 

Final thoughts

I hope this article has taught you how to escape the drama triangle by providing an efficient way to replace the negative thoughts, emotions and actions of each role with positive and healthy alternatives.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them below and I will be more that happy to answer them.

All the best,

Yoana,

lovenote-4u.com

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12 thoughts on “How to escape the drama triangle”

  1. Your article is very illuminating.  When I think about it, it is easy to slip into one of these roles in difficult times or when something new and expected is happening in a relationship.  These three attitudes seem obvious when you write about them, but they aren’t that easy to spot as you live them.  It also seems to me that certain situations might cause use to fall back into a certain role that we might not be in the rest of the time.  Thank you so much for this article.  In this difficult time when it seems so hard to control anything, you have helped us work on our relationships.

    Reply
    • Hi Anastazja,

      Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right, as easy to spot these roles in the drama triangle might seem, we find it difficult to do it when we encounter difficult situations in our relationships. The key is to be aware of these roles and challenge our own behaviour.

      Kind regards,

      Yoana

      Reply
  2. Very well explained what the Karpman triangle is with a detailed description of these three roles.
    Thanks for the great article How to escape the drama triangle. It would be very helpful for me to read it a few years ago when I was caught myself in one such relationship.
    I hope it will be read by as many people as possible who are trapped in such a drama triangle because you have great tips.
    Friendly greeting,
    Nina

    Reply
    • Hi Nina,

      Thank you for your comment. I am happy to see that you enjoyed reading my article and find the tips useful. Please share with family and friends that might be trapped in a drama triangle.

      Kind regards,
      Yoana

      Reply
  3. Hi Yoana,

    I must admit, this is one of the first articles I have came across that is as detailed and informative in solving conflict and drama in a relationship. I have had my fair share of dramas in relationships in the past, and I haven’t always handled them the best. So, I could do with a few lessons in this and that is why I am glad I have came across your article.

    I also have a friend who is going through a tough time right now with his wife. With the pandemic and how things have been with jobs etc, it really is adding strain to their relationship. I think you could help them.

    I am going to subtly introduce them to your article, I don’t want to be in their face with it or make it look like I am making a joke. I think I will start with my friend Paul first, and see what he thinks.

    I will update you on how they’re getting on and how they found your article in the new year.

    Thank you for sharing and all the best,

    Tom

    Reply
    • Hi Tom,

      Thank you for your comment. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed reading my article. Thank you for sharing my article with your friends that are going through difficult times. I hope they will benefit from the advice here (I’ve found it very useful to apply these techniques in my own relationship).

      Kind regards,
      Yoana

      Reply
  4. Hi and thanks for a great article. You are 100% correct when you talk about “stepping out” of the cycle. It is easy to get carried away and become the persecutor. Even after many years of really happy marriage it can only take one bad moment to get the drama triangle up and running.By thinking before you speak and seeing other peoples views can save all the pain of a drama triangle. Thank you for explaining it so well.

    Reply
    • Hi David,

      Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right, it only takes a few seconds to bring the drama triangle up. Although it is not easy to step out of the drama triangle, with work and perseverance it is definitely possible. 

      Kind regards,

      Yoana

      Reply
  5. I think I’ve played all three roles in my long life. We all find ourselves in one or more of these roles, depending upon  who the other player is. If it’s the spouse or significant other, you probably take the same role all the time. In fact, think we sometimes interchange roles in the same game. A wife can be the victim and she can suddenly turn prosecutor.

    I used to watch my mother and grandmother do this all the time. My mother always took the “you always loved my brother more than me” position. My grandmother always took the “I just don’t understand you, you’re always upset about something”  position. I think I always took the rescuer side.  In any conflict, I think I still do. It is the desire to calm everything down. “It’s all right, everything will work out.”   My desire to keep the peace. 

    Barb 

    Reply
    • Hi Barbara, 

      Thank you for your comment. We can play all the roles in the triangle, even during a certain argument, but we tend to have a predominant role we play, especially when it comes to the same person. 

      Thank you for sharing your experience with the drama triangle. 

      Kind regards,

      Yoana

      Reply
  6. Hi Yoana, Thanks for this article I like the way how you explain things clearly. I wish I could see this post couple of years ago when I was dealing with some communication dramas in a past relationship. Do you think it’s possible that one person can play the victim and the prosecutor at the same time?

    Reply
    • Hi Ola,

      Thank you for your comment. I am happy you enjoyed reading my article. If by ‘in the same time’ you mean during the same argument, the answer is yes, absolutely. You can start an argument as the prosecutor and end it up being the victim. You can also be a prosecutor and a victim in the same time by saying things like: ‘I am so hopeless because of you’ , both accusing the other person and taking no responsibility for the circumstances you are in. I hope this helps.

      Kind regards,
      Yoana

      Reply

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