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Are You Stuck in a Drama Triangle?

drama triangle

Think about the last time you dealt with interpersonal conflict? How did you react? How did you feel? What role did you play in the conflict?

The “Drama Triangle” is a concept from Dr Stephen Karpman. It outlines three unhealthy roles people either unconsciously play out or perhaps consciously use to manipulate others when in conflict. By understanding these roles and relating them to our own behaviour, we are able to understand what role we play and what elements of our behaviour we need to examine.

The Roles of The Drama Triangle


  • Victims are not fully in touch with their own needs, therefore they do not voice them assertively
  • As such, the victim role is associated with feeling powerless, depressed, oppressed, ashamed, hopeless, victimised, dependent, sad, or angry
  • These feelings may be used to guilt-trip others
  • Often they will look for a rescuer (see below), someone to save them from their circumstances/victimhood
  • They may also unconsciously look for a Persecutor (see below) to validate their own victimhood
  • Due to their feelings of helplessness, they will often struggle to make hard decisions or take action to solve their own problems
  • Victims find their power in their belief that they are blameless


  • The persecutor places all of the blame onto others, failing to take responsibility for their own feelings, needs and actions
  • Due to this belief, they can be controlling, authoritative, angry, critical, rigid, and aggressive
  • They will often fear becoming a victim, which restricts them from being vulnerable
  • Persecutors find their power by tearing others down and proving themselves correct


  • The rescuer is the “White Knight” who saves the victim and tries to resolve their problems
  • Some rescuers can feel like it is their responsibility to solve other’s problems. This could stem from anxiety, guilt, low self-esteem, or a fear of not being needed
  • Rescuers may neglect their own needs, in order to resolve the problems of others
  • They are often seen to “enable” the victim, not allowing for the victim to solve their own problems. They may also rely on victims being disempowered, due to their psychological need to ‘save’ others

Ten Tips to Break Out of the Drama Triangle

  1. Realise that you have been triggered and are repeating a pattern. Step back and observe your pattern. Once you are aware of your part in the drama, stand back. Identify your own needs. Do something different. Take a contrary action. Set boundaries.
  2. Don’t become defensive. Breathe deep and take a neutral attitude. Even though you will feel defensive, do not act from that emotional state. Use a non-reactive, non-emotional tone. Make statements to deescalate the conflict, such as, “Perhaps you’re right.” “There might be truth in that.” “Interesting point.” “Nevertheless…” And tell yourself “Relax. Don’t get hooked”.
  3. If you find yourself feeling like a victim, take responsibility for yourself instead of blaming others for how your life is going. Even if you truly are a victim, do not conclude that you are powerless to act. Take the energy you feel about being victimised and transform it into determination. Resolve that you will figure out how to better manage your problems. Be tenacious. This will help you develop your own personal power.
  4. If you find yourself taking on too much responsibility, back off, and allow others to take responsibility, even allowing others to fail if need be. Sometimes others need to face the consequences of their own decisions. Remind yourself that you are NOT responsible for others’ choices – even if that person is your son or daughter. It can be healthier for a parent to let children learn the hard way than to jump in and fix everything for them. This goes for other types of relationships too. Allow others the dignity to manage their own lives.
  5. Remember that when you rescue others, you are sending them the message that they are not competent to deal with it themselves.
  6. Refrain from the following: threatening, blaming, criticising, accusing, lecturing, scolding, monitoring, preaching, obsessing, ghosting, and over-reacting. Instead, focus on being neutral. Ask yourself, “How can I be a soothing presence right now?” If the other person is unwilling or unable to participate in a healthy interaction, figure out a way to remove yourself from the encounter until a better time.
  7. Remember the acronym FOG. FOG stands for Fear, Obligation, Guilt. If you feel any of those feelings, consistently, in a relationship, you are most likely dealing with a manipulator. You need to get out of the FOG.
  8. On the other hand, if you are trying to make another person feel Fearful, Obligated, or Guilty, you are the manipulator and are not operating with integrity. Be direct, honest, and seek help to communicate differently.
  9. Realise that when a person is living in active addiction or abuse, you will not be able to have a healthy relationship with the person until they are in true recovery. If the person is a recovering addict, they need to be sober and working a program. If the person is a recovering abuser, they will be seeking help to be accountable and will be introspective and thoughtful. If your loved one is not healthy, you cannot have a healthy relationship with that person. The best thing you can do is focus on your own emotional growth.
  10. Remember that help, personal growth and recovery are always for those who want it, not for those who need it.

Struggling with your conflict style? North Brisbane Psychologists can help. Book an appointment today!

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