Are you stuck in a Drama Triangle?

Feel like you're always the one being attacked, blamed or stepped on?

Always have a need to rescue others?

You might be stuck in a Drama Triangle.

First introduced by Steven Karpman, The Drama Triangle is a model used in the Transactional Analysis approach to psychotherapy.

According to the model, we are constantly enmeshed in drama triangles, playing one of these three roles: the victim, the persecutor or the rescuer.

The Three Roles in the Drama Triangle:

The Victim

They have the perception that they are always being persecuted (by the persecutor) and need saving. Can be accusatory and blaming. Feels powerless.

Their motto: Why does this always happen to me?

The Rescuer

They feel an overwhelming urge to save the victim - we see this all the time in romantic comedies (hello, Bollywood!) but actually, this is an unhealthy dynamic. In constantly rescuing, they can leave the victim feeling even more powerless, along with neglecting their own needs.

Their motto: I can be your hero, baby!

The Persecutor

They may have rigid views that they push onto others and can come across as bullying, condescending and arrogant. The persecutor often thinks of themselves as the victim.

Their motto: It's all YOUR fault!

Primarily we spend our time in one of the three roles. You might naturally jump into the victim role, or feel inclined to rescue others. But your role does change. A person often fluctuates between playing a victim and a perpetrator, for example.

So What?

Being unconsciously stuck in a drama triangle can have drastic consequences on our personal growth and relationships.

The victim craves to be taken care of and doesn't see the many opportunities to grow and thrive by developing their own set of problem-solving skills.

The rescuer's sense of self-worth depends on their ability to fix other peoples' problems.

And the persecutor is often escaping their childhood trauma - they dominate and overpower others in order to avoid their biggest fear: vulnerability.

So how do we escape this dysfunctional dynamic?

The first step to escaping a drama triangle is to become aware of the drama triangle.

Think of a situation in your life in which you play one of these roles. Identify the role you play. And then challenge yourself. Remind yourself of the following:

You are not here to solve other people's problems.

By giving people advice and solutions, you instantly disempower them. You may think you're being helpful, but you're denying them the ability to learn and develop resilience.

Be a guide - coach them to their own solutions. Ask questions like 'what would you like the situation to look like?' and 'how can you move one step closer to your goals?' Be sure to prioritise your own emotional health.

You are not powerless.

There may have been situations where you felt like you were, and you internalised this perception. But now, today, you have power. You can make choices about which boundaries to draw, how you interpret another person's actions, what to take personally and how to react to a situation.

Yes, we all need a little help and support sometimes. But if we constantly depend on someone else to come to our defense, we become powerless. Take back this power by shifting your frame of reference from the victim position to one where you are a powerful, self-reliant creator.

You are responsible for your actions.

Other people's behaviour may impact your feelings, and it's necessary to give those feelings space. But you have a choice about how you respond to them, how you communicate and how you break the perpetual cycle of victimhood and persecution.

The more self-awareness you build through personal growth, therapy and psychoeducation, the easier it becomes to recognise your patterns, identify and avoid becoming trapped in the drama triangle.

Lauren Kress, the Business Scientist, offers a helpful video explanation of the Drama Triangle here:


Karpman, Stephen. Karpman Drama Triangle the official website of Dr. Stephen Karpman’s Drama Triangle

Kress, Lauren. The Drama Triangle | Transactional Analysis Games