The Drama Triangle was originally developed in 1968 by Stephen Karpman, a Transactional Analysis trainer, as a way of graphically displaying the dance that occurs whenever we make someone else responsible for how we feel. According to Karpman, any time we don’t take responsibility for our feelings we are acting in a part of the Drama Triangle. The Drama Triangle can be a a simple yet powerful mechanism for understanding the relationships around a depressed person.
The roles of the drama triangle are: Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer. Karpman shows the relationship between these three roles by putting them on an upside down triangle. This shows the Persecutor and Rescuer in the one-up position that they take to the Victim.

  • A Persecutor is someone who puts other people down and therefore goes one-up. They can act actively or be passive in response to the Victim.
  • A Rescuer also goes one-up. They do more than their share and do they things they don’t really want to do.
  • Victims don’t take responsibility for themselves. They will often feel overwhelmed with their feelings or even numb to them. They go one-down.

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The arrows on the triangle indicate the direction of the transactions, but the drama in the Triangle comes from the switching of roles. As the drama triangle is played out, people change roles or tactics. Others in the triangle will then switch to match this. Sooner or later the Victim, sick of the one-down position, turns on the Rescuer. Or the Rescuer becomes fed up with a lack response or any appreciation of their efforts, becomes persecuting.
The Drama Triangle role names are part of our everyday language. Most people who are in relationship with depressed person will be familiar with being called a Rescuer when they are perceived as helping too much. A depressed person can also be labeled a Victim. While the Drama Triangle illustrates the problem quite clearly, its not always that easy to get out when you are in the middle of the drama. Thats why I like the Winner’s Triangle.
The Drama Triangle has been around long enough for there to be many derivatives and modifications. The Winner’s Triangle uses the same structure as the Drama Triangle but uses adult roles to replace the parent/child roles of the Drama Triangle. I first came across the Winner’s Triangle in a paper presented to the 1984 TA Conference by Acey Choy, she says she didn’t invent it and doesn’t know who did!

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The roles of the Drama Triangle each have their equivalent role in the Winner’s Triangle. Each of the three roles in the Winner’s Triangle is an ‘OK’ role and requires the development of a different set of skills (see table below).

Drama
Triangle Role
Winners
Triangle Role
Skill
to be Developed
Victim Vulnerable Problem solving
Rescuer Caring Listening
Persecutor Assertive Assertiveness

Any technique that the Vulnerable person can use to get themselves thinking about options and consequences is valuable. In the Caring role the development of listening skills that involve emphathising with the Vulnerable person is required. Listening is frequently the only Caring response needed. Assertiveness is about getting your needs met without punishing. Self awareness is essential in all three roles.

Links

Stephen Karpman’s own site

The Drama Triangle’s wikipedia entry

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