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  • Writer's pictureJenni Schierman


With all the reality TV and dating shows that have become popular over the last handful of years it is probably no surprise that drama can be addicting. Even the daily news can feel like it is leaning towards a dramatic edge in order to keep our attention. Some days it doesn’t even seem like they are trying to hide the fact that they are intentionally doing this. Why do we continue to pay attention to these types of things?


Growing up I remember reading stories about a princess, a prince and often some villain. Many of you either read the same stories or watched the same Disney movies.

In these stories the princess often played a victim type role. She was a bit helpless or powerless on her own. She needed someone to come along and save her from her situation in order to improve whatever dire state she was placed in.

Similarly, the prince was often just waiting in the wings to come along and rescue the poor princess. He might have a kingdom to be running on his own, but he would stop what he was doing to go find the princess and rescue her immediately. Anything for true love!

Finally, there was the villain. In the fairy tales this was often an exaggerated persona dressed in all black or other dark and ominous colors. It made it easy for us to know they were “bad” and not to be trusted. They were critical of the princess and often had very strict limits that they had set for their behavior. Threats, some name calling, and bullying were the norm.

We all knew the princess would be rescued in the end and cheered for the villain to be defeated. Some of us though also identified a bit with that villain.


If you’ve studied psychology or done a good amount of therapy, at some point you’ve heard of the drama triangle. If not, no worries. We are going to cover it today and how it relates to the fairy tale scenario above.

The Drama Triangle was introduced by Dr. Stephen Karpman in the 1960’s.

Karpman identified three main roles that we tend to default into during times when we feel the most fear and anxiety in our relationships with others. This is generally during a heated conversation or when something has caused us to become triggered in some way. We use these roles to cope.

The three roles we default to are, Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor. Let’s take a look at the three in more detail:

Victim: This is the central role and is placed at the bottom “point” of the triangle. As I described above, victims feel a loss of their power and are often at the mercy of whatever is happening TO them. They will often avoid taking any responsibility for their own actions, words, etc. and will as a result blame other people (usually the persecutor) for the situation that they find themselves in.

Rescuer: The rescuer is often looking for the Victim to jump in and save them. They often do this without thinking about it and without asking. Victims are usually receptive because they feel powerless already, but it creates a vicious loop. The victim continues to feel powerless and the rescuer feels that they are needed.

Persecutor: A persecutor can be a person, but it can also be a non-living thing like a health condition or natural disaster. People that are persecutors are often afraid of becoming the victim and therefore they wish to remain in control at all costs. They are most concerned with how to “win” each situation.


Now that you have a bit of background on the Drama Triangle let's briefly look at a few strategies to avoid falling into these same patterns.

1. Recognize Your Defaults – realize which role you default into with key members of your family and friend group. Are you consistently a victim? Do you always rescue people? Busy playing the persecutor? Look for patterns in your relationships. You are likely going to default into one or two on a consistent basis.

2. Take Small Action – depending on which role you identify as; your action item may look different. For victims, you will need to learn to start accepting responsibility for yourself and stop looking to be saved. This will take time and hard work. For rescuers, you need to learn how to empower without encouraging further dependency. Showing someone how to do something so the next time they can do it themselves. For persecutors, this is often the hardest as you need to hold yourself accountable. If your need to persecute is based in past trauma, they may need to seek help from a licensed professional.

3. Don’t Take The Bait – when you feel yourself being drawn into a conversation that you know is going to cause you to fall into familiar patterns, choose to take a step back and ask if you can table it for a later time. If this is not possible, do your best to not get drawn in by others that want to pull you back into the Drama Triangle.


There are a lot of great books on the Drama Triangle and ways to manage difficult relationship dynamics. A helpful one I picked up recently that you might like is called The Power of TED: The Empowerment Dynamic by David Emerald. It discusses an empowerment triangle response to the Drama Triangle.

As always, if I can be a resource please don’t hesitate to reach out. I offer a complimentary consultation to potential clients. Click here to schedule yours now.

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