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The drama triangle

The drama triangle is especially common in Russia. When Russians love, then with all our might, turning ourselves inside out! It is all very dramatic!


But I see the drama triangle quite often plays in the life of my British clients too. Actually, the series Poldark is a good example. The whole plot of the first three seasons is about few drama triangles happening at the same time, and that's what keeps us on our toes, watching, trying to guess who loves whom. She loves him to the point of breaking her heart; he has an affair, she can't forgive him. He is living with one but loves another; then he realises that his wife is his true love! and so on ....


So what is Karpman triangle? - This is a relationship in which there are three roles: victim, persecutor and rescuer. It doesn't mean that there should necessarily be three people.


For example, let's take an imaginary family. He takes a victim position, feels that life is too hard, can't work out, needs her help to deal with day to day activities, tasks, house chores.


She is happy to help and take a leadership position. She is happy to give him what he needs, emotional support, financial support, and day-to-day support.


In this case, persecutors could be her parents, who feel that she married the wrong person. It could be someone from his work or a shop assistant or even a friend that looked at him "wrong".


The key point is that those roles are comfortable for everyone. Even more - the victim can live comfortable life blaming others for any unhappiness. The rescuer feels good about herself, as she feels better from helping someone; it gives her a purpose to live and feel; that's how she likes and validates herself. And persecutor is happy to blame someone and lash out in the emotions they are unable to hold; for them, it's not about the victim; it's about not accenting themselves or suppressing emotions.


So here we go, everyone is happy in their roles, until someone realises, "Hang on, this, not my life! I want something else". That's when the real drama starts!


Everyone has a starting position in the Drama Triangle, and normally it is the role a person mostly defines themselves, a strong part of their identity. Each starting position has its particular way of seeing and reacting to the world. Our primary (starting) roles are usually established in childhood.


The Rescuer is usually the one who wants to "fix" things, life.

Rescuing comes from an unconscious need to feel important or establish oneself as the saviour. Taking care of others is the only way a Rescuer knows how to connect or feel worthy. As children, Rescuers often had to deny their own needs taking care of someone in the family.

Deep down, Rescuers want to be taken care of, and when that doesn't happen, they can fall into depression. As a result, you might hear such words as "After all these years, this is how you pay me back" or "After all that I have done for you...". A Rescuer's greatest fear is that there will be nobody there for them. A rescuer needs someone to save a Victim.


A Rescuer parent normally raises a Victim—for example, an overprotective parent doing everything for a child, who adopts an attitude of "I can't do it". For a child, there is an idea of someone more capable to solve their problems. At the same time, The Victim is not always grateful for being saved. Often they get fed up in the lower position, then rebel and show aggressive or passive-aggressive behaviour. That's how they move into a Persecutor position. The game they play is "Yes... but"... familiar? :)


The Persecutor role is carried on by someone who has learned to meet their needs through power, control and aggression. They dominate and over-power others. The Persecutor needs someone to blame and deny their weakness.

The main issue in the triangle is that all these roles are played out unconsciously. Each role is unconsciously powered by shame and a desire for unconditional love and acceptance. The problem is if you can’t accept yourself, no one else can and will. So living life in the Drama Triangle creates suffering, anxiety and unhappiness. Because no roles can be fulfilled, they repeatedly relive scenarios and still do not get acceptance and love.


How to get out of it?


1. Firstly, it will be helpful to realise what role do you normally play. Please keep in mind that the roles and interchangeable.


2. Then you could try to take responsibility for your own actions, thoughts and behaviours. It will not be easy, as those feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety will come straight to the surface.


3. Of course, other members of the triangle will try to keep you in your role. They won't do it consciously; for them, it might feel as their world is shaken up.


4. The next step is to create healthy boundaries with yourself and others.


Let me know if you have any questions and would like to discuss further.


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