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Sunday, 29 May 2011

Get off the Drama Triangle!!

My clients and patients tell me that one of the most valuable things they have learnt in psychotherapy is in relation to themselves and the concept of the Drama Triangle. In my clinical practice I like to share my learning for the benefit of others. The theory of the Drama Triangle is one theory taken from Transactional Analysis and is something that many of us have either been involved in or have been an observer of. This is my take on this concept.

Are you a Rescuer, a Victim or a Persecutor? Do you feel like you want to be rescued? Do you feel like you want to give up and be a victim? Do you feel like you're being persecuted? If you feel any of these things then you are on the Drama Triangle. Frankly, not a good place to be.

So are any of the above roles healthy? In a word, no! It seems most people fall into the rescuer category. This is easy to do isn't it? A friend comes around and tells you she's had the most dreadful time and before you know it you find yourself offering to do 'anything' to help. Being sympathetic and empathic is supportive but offering to do things isn't always the answer. Let me explain.

If we offer to do things for others all of the time we can become resentful. Nine times out of ten this offer to help is not a reciprocal arrangement. It's usually what you do for others but not what others do for you. Here we see how the resentment builds. Resentment can turn into anger and anger can transform into depression so go carefully. Do not go around offering to rescue others at a cost to your own health and well-being.

The second part to this relates to how others behave when they are being rescued. Imagine if you have been available to rescue someone all of the time and then suddenly for reasons beyond your control you are unable to rescue. Well let me tell you what happens, you are suddenly the worst friend or relative in the world. The person you've been consistently rescuing has become infantilized - that is unable to do things for themselves. You have encouraged this by taking responsibility for doing things for them - rescuing them. And in your absence they now 'hate' the fact that for what ever reason you are unable to help (aka rescue) this time. You will then be persecuted by the person you have been rescuing. They are likely to whinge and moan about how unreliable you are and what a rubbish friend or relative you are, usually behind your back. Can you see how this transpires.

If you feel you are involved in the Drama Triangle there is ONLY one way to get off. Keep your boundaries. If you a rescuing type this is what I advise. In being presented with the 'awful' news from a friend or relative just simply offer sympathy and make empathic noises. For example "Oh I'm so sorry to hear your news, this must be very difficult for you." FULL STOP. You do not need to do what you usually do and say "Is there anything I can do to help?" or even worse "Right I'll do this and that and the other." It's not your job to offer to this, that and the other. You must support people to ask for what they need and try and support them to secure their needs in their own way.

I think we'll focus more on the role of the persecutor next time. We'll also look at changing the negative roles of persecutor, rescuer and victim to more positive ones!

Please leave a comment, thank you.


  1. Greetings Vivien,

    I enjoy your perspective. I think you may want to check out David Emerald's book, The Power of TED*. His roles of The Empowerment Dynamic actually provide an escape to the drama triangle roles.

    His website has a lot of information,

    Let me know what you think.


  2. There is something incredibly challenging about suspending one's memory, thoughts and impulses and allowing the struggling person to assert themselves. That is to say that too much unsolicitied advice often follows painful disclosures. When help is requested it makes it much easier to share knowing that we are not imposing our will or biases on another. Yet, perhaps the greatest lesson is as you suggest, dodging all together and supporting the beauty of their personal struggle for growth.

  3. Hi Bryon
    Thanks for your comment here. I appreciate your thoughts and perspective. I suppose I feel empowering others to secure their needs is the most powerful in the longterm but can be difficult for many in the short term.I look forward to more contact with you. Warmest Vivien

  4. Hi Kathy
    Thanks for your comment. I will endeavour to look at the Power of Ted website. I'll get back to you when I have. Warmest Vivien