The Drama Triangle by Stephen Karpman, M.D

I am doing a lot of studying to address the problems in my life.  I have some wonderful guidance on this journey so it isn’t always a solitary path I am taking.  This week my counselor suggested that I explore Karpman’s Drama Triangle.  I found this had some important sign posts for my journey.



As a survivor of sexual abuse and torture I have spent my life refusing to consider myself as a victim.  I refused to be seen as pathetic or angry.  I simply denied what happened, even to myself, beyond a very superficial acknowledgement.   Part of that denial was to throw myself into being a rescuer, in part because I like helping people and in doing so I was able to ignore my own problems, in focusing on theirs.  In truth, it was not fair to either of us.

Since exploring this theory, I have found endless examples of where I have attempted rescue, no matter the cost to myself. Leading to increased risk to my own mental health. I was able to say I was a good person because of the rescuing because I saw or felt no goodness in myself.  I needed to be needed, even if it was only the length of the time that the other person needed me.  I asked for nothing for myself.

I have a new friend in my life, who adamantly will not be rescued by me (and he doesn’t actually need it).  He traded my helping him with his helping me and that made one of my first equitable friendships in a long time.  He will also not rescue me nor let me “play” the victim.  He just stands by me, lets me cry and gently guides my thinking when he realizes I might be drowning.  But he also lets me makes mistakes, only attempting to minimize the fallout but realising that I sometimes need to learn from this.

I could never be the persecutor for any prolonged period of time but it is naive to say it is not a role I could have.  Anyone who has been abused can seek to assign blame to someone else and then punish them for it, often they persecute themselves.  I think for me this role is slightly different than may have been defined in the theory.  I have a definite persecutor, in the person that chose to rape and torture me because he could. But the worst was that after I thought I was free of him I still carried the tendrils of his poison but instead of him doing it to me I was.  It sounds so dumb but it is simple fleeting things I had’t noticed like if I failed at something an echo of his telling me I was nothing but a failure.  I essentially took over from him and began destroying my own life, continuing where he stopped.

Guilt is one of the strongest motivators in my life.  Up until now I did anything to avoid feeling guilty including putting myself at personal risk.  That has stopped.  I now take the time to think about what I am doing and why, to ensure no unconscious past driven responses occur prior to a rationed decision.  It might be slower but it is a lot safer.  This is all relatively new and these healthier habits will take time to reside in my consciousness as easily as the unhealthy ones have but I work at it every day.

So which role are you habitually in?  A victim, a rescuer or a persecutor?  In a relationship you can be all three at different times.  The way to step out of the triangle is to simply be in the middle.  Accepting responsibility to only that which is yours and not assuming you can control anything else.  I like something else I read today:  Response – ability – the ability to respond but making a choice to do so or not, rather than responsibility that can often bear the taint of blame.  I need to make better choices and clearly know my rationale for making them.


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