Have you ever found yourself in a relationship thinking that you are always cast in the role of the ‘bad one’? Or perhaps you feel that your partner doesn’t take responsibility, waits for something to happen and then complains when it does.
If these patterns are familiar, you might find that you are caught up in the Drama Triangle. The Drama Triangle was developed by Psychiatrist Steven Karpman in the 1970s and explains the roles that we often play in our relationships.
The problem is, when you are stuck in the triangle it can become a very damaging and destructive relationship pattern.
What’s Your Role in the Drama Triangle: The Cast
The Persecutor or Villain:
The Persecutor likes to be in control. This is the person who criticises their partner and does whatever it takes to make sure that the dynamic is maintained in a certain way.
This is the one who is looked after and often feels helpless in the relationship. They feel they have little control or influence as to what happens to them or their relationship.
The Rescuer or Hero:
This is the one who likes to make things better all the time. They avoid conflict and feel uncomfortable with their partner’s distress, so they move in to help and sort the problem out. Although, they appear helpful the flip side is that they can be very controlling.
Everything is going just fine; everyone knows their lines, and everyone is in a role. Then suddenly the Victim gets fed up. They start to change. They join a gym, get fit, start meeting new people and perhaps explore getting a new job to earn more money.
All of this means changes for the relationship. If the other partner has adopted the Rescuer role, they now don’t know what to do as they are no longer needed to sort out problems for this new independent person.
This is an unfamiliar and scary situation. To maintain the status quo, at first, the Rescuer may nicely try to persuade their partner why all this change is not such a good idea.
If that doesn’t work, they may become angry and aggressive and move into the Persecutor position. And if that doesn’t work, they may then switch roles again and become the Victim to manipulate the situation. They may become sick, depressed, have an accident or find themselves having a difficult time at work. They now need to be taken care of.
After a while, things settle down. The gym membership is dropped, the idea of a new job is forgotten, and both partners go back to their familiar roles within the relationship. However, for one this old familiarity with the relationship might eventually mean it becomes boring and stale.
So What’s The Real Story?
Although the roles are interchangeable, you tend to adopt one of the roles most of the time. And much like being typecast, you can get fed up with playing the same old role. This is because it’s likely that the role you’re playing in your relationship is unconsciously reactivating painful childhood experiences. The principle role that you adopt reminds you automatically of childhood wounding longing to be healed.
The Persecutor is likely underneath to be feeling like a victim, vulnerable, overwhelmed, unable to trust, scared of being abandoned and powerless. Putting their partner down helps them escape their inner sense of low self-worth and makes them feel powerful.
The Rescuer is likely to have adopted a personality that recognised that to be seen or get their needs met that they had to do something for the other person; otherwise, they will just simply be ignored. They become ‘Mummy’s little helper’. As a result, the Rescuer is utterly terrified that if they are seen to let someone down, they will be abandoned. This is the person who often cannot articulate their needs.
The Victim is likely to have grown up in a situation where the world didn’t feel safe. They may have had anxious parents and did not develop a sense of being an independent self. Consequently, Victims aren’t necessarily actual victims of neglect or abuse. They might have been given the message they won’t be able to cope and feel that somebody else will always sort things out.
Writing a New Story
That’s not to say you’re being typecast forever. You can create something different. This is how:
- First of all, it’s important to see what’s happening and work out which roles you and your partner play in the relationship.
- Be curious and try to see what’s underneath the position that your partner is taking, i.e. the child who felt ignored and second best. Ask each other about your younger years and experiences. In my experience of working with couples, a deeper understanding of the childhood story is fundamental to understanding difficulties in the present. Counselling is a powerful way to facilitate this.
- Show yourself and your partner compassion. Imagine a young child sitting next to you right now telling you about their current experience which just so happens to be the same as your own or your partner’s childhood. What would you say?
- Finally, take responsibility. Notice when you are in role and experiment with stepping out.
- The Rescuer does not take so much responsibility for their partner and begins to recognise and articulate their needs.
- The Victim lets go of the expectation that their partner’s function is to make them feel good and starts to build up their self-confidence.
- The Persecutor learns to let go of control and anger and connects with their vulnerability.
If you are in a relationship where the triangle is emotionally or physically abusive seek help. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline 24 hours a day. Working with a counsellor with experience of working with domestic violence may also be a valuable source of support.
Over to You
What role do you play? What do you need to do to step outside of the triangle have a different experience? If you want to explore the Drama Triangle in your relationship get in touch and book your FREE 15-minute phone consultation to discuss your situation and how I can help.
Or call me today on 07535 864836.
Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.
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© Sandra Harewood
Soul Centred couples counsellor Sandra Harewood specialises in working with couples and single women with childhood wounding that impacts their adult relationships. Sandra provides a soulful space for her clients to explore and discover creative solutions to their difficulties and create great relationships.