What is the Drama Triangle Theory of interactions?

The Karpman drama triangle is a theory of human interaction to explain and understand destructive interpersonal relationship patterns. It is based on the interplay of three psychological characters: Persecutor (villain), Rescuer (hero), and Victim (damsel in distress). The “drama” occurs from the emotional repressions of assuming or switching through these roles which serve the purpose of avoiding authentic intimacy. Thus, to break the cycle, it is crucial for people to become self aware of their position in the drama triangle during interpersonal interactions. Let’s look at each of three roles in detail:

  • Persecutors: They are aggressive, critical, and tend to blame others for their own adversities. They hold a sense of superiority, believe they are always right, and often point fingers at others during conflicts. Persecutors perpetuate toxic behaviors by antagonizing and oppressing those they perceive as the cause of their frustrations. They often experience and express feelings of anger, irritation, and rage towards others. They may use statements like “It’s all your fault”, “I’m right!” and “I must / am obliged to punish (revenge)”.
  • Rescuers: Rescuers have a strong desire to help others and see themselves as peacemakers, saints, or martyrs. They go to great lengths to assist individuals whom they believe are too weak to handle their own issues, investing excessive time and effort in trying to control or change others’ behaviors. Rescuers often offer unsolicited advice, convinced that they know what’s best for others. They experience emotions of euphoria, self-importance, and excitement when helping others. They may say things like “Let me give you some advice” or “Do it this way.”
  • Victims: Victims express helplessness and oppression, believing that undesirable events are beyond their control. They feel unable to make decisions, struggle with problem-solving, and perceive themselves as powerless against others. Victims often experience negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, hopelessness, and sadness. Victims may use phrases like “It’s not my fault,” “Why me?” or “I can’t control the circumstances.”

In the dynamic of the drama triangle, the Victim receives blame from the Persecutor and help from the Rescuer. It’s important to note that these roles are not fixed; individuals can switch between them in different situations. Recognizing one’s position in the drama triangle is vital for personal growth and healthier relationships.

Now that we’ve looked at the theory, let’s look at how the drama triangle plays out in certain situations. For example, in a home, a mother and her young son are arguing about the state of his room. The father comes home from work and says, ‘He’s had a long day at school. Let him off’. In this case, the mother is the Persecutor, the son is the Victim and the father is the Rescuer. What follows can either be a continuation of those roles, or possibly a change of roles where the father turns on the mother and becomes the Persecutor. Consequently, the mother becomes the Victim and the son will then take up the Rescuer role.

Similarly, we can even see the drama triangle playing out in the famous fairytale Little Red Riding Hood. Little Red Riding Hood can be seen as the victim in this story. She is initially innocent and unaware of the dangers around her. She falls into the victim role when she encounters the wolf, who takes advantage of her naivety and tricks her. The big bad wolf represents the persecutor in this story. He assumes the role of the antagonist, preying on Little Red Riding Hood’s vulnerability. The wolf manipulates and deceives her, ultimately posing a threat to her and her grandmother. The woodsman who comes to Little Red Riding Hood’s rescue can be seen as the rescuer. He intervenes in the story just in time to save her and her grandmother from the wolf’s clutches. The woodsman takes on the role of the hero who resolves the conflict and brings safety and protection.

Finally, this triangle can be applied to the film ‘Titanic’ as well. Rose DeWitt Bukater can be seen as the victim in this story. She is a young woman from a wealthy family who feels trapped by the expectations and constraints of her social status. She is engaged to Cal Hockley but feels unhappy and stifled in her relationship and her life. Cal Hockley, Rose’s fiancé, can be seen as the persecutor. He represents the controlling and oppressive forces in Rose’s life. Cal is possessive, manipulative, and uses his power and wealth to assert dominance over Rose. He expects her to conform to societal norms and acts as a controlling figure in her life. Jack Dawson, a third-class passenger and artist, can be seen as the rescuer. He enters Rose’s life and provides an escape from her oppressive circumstances. Jack offers Rose freedom, adventure, and genuine love. He encourages her to pursue her passions and breaks through the limitations imposed by Cal and her social class.

If you are interested in knowing more about this, follow us on instagram @faculty.minds To know more about yourself and improve your relationships, get in touch with us today!

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