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The drama triangle

How to spot it and why you absolutely must avoid it.

stressed out parents

Welcome to the Child Behaviour Blog.

Do you feel like there’s too much drama in your life? 

If that’s the case, you have probably been caught in the Drama Triangle. 

If you've never heard of the Drama Triangle, be prepared because you'll start seeing it everywhere.

Today you'll learn how to spot it and why you must avoid it to be a positive parent with healthy, happy relationships with your children.

When I came across the drama triangle, it was another light bulb moment for me, making children's behaviour and my own easier to understand.

I wish I had known about it years ago, and once you learn about it, I think you will you too.

Dr Stephen Karpman, the creator of the Drama Triangle, considered it a dysfunctional pattern of behaviour because it perpetuates conflict and prevents individuals from taking responsibility for their emotions and actions.

He explained that we assume one of three roles in a conflict.

Victim, Persecutor, or Rescuer.

The key here is that it is a role we play. It is not who we are; it is the behaviour we adopt. In the drama triangle, a victim is a person who feels powerless, helpless, and dependent on others for their well-being.

The victim may perceive themselves as being at the mercy of others or external circumstances and often feels like they are being mistreated or taken advantage of by others. They may feel like they have no control over their lives or the situations they find themselves in.

In the drama triangle, the victim tends to attract the attention and involvement of two other roles: the persecutor and the rescuer. The persecutor is seen as causing harm, blame or criticism towards the victim, while the rescuer tries to help and protect the victim.

The victim often relies on the rescuer to solve their problems or provide them with comfort while also resenting the persecutor for their mistreatment. However, this pattern perpetuates the drama triangle and can lead to a cycle of dysfunction and codependency.

It's important to note that the drama triangle is a model and does not accurately reflect all human interactions. It's also possible for a person to move between roles in the drama triangle depending on the situation and their behaviour.

While it is easy to recognise these behaviours in others, it may not be so easy to see them in ourselves, but by identifying them, we can avoid conflict and strive to set the tone for a healthy, happy, conflict-free home.


The victim role

The victim believes they are being unfairly treated or controlled, feel sorry for themselves, blame others for their problems, and seek attention and sympathy from others.

Here are some examples of victim behaviour:

Helplessness and passive: 

Victims often feel helpless and powerless in their situation and believe that there is nothing they can do to change it. They may give up trying to solve their problems or take action to improve their situation because they believe that their efforts will be futile. Instead, they may wait for someone else to rescue them.

Self-pity and blaming others: 

Victims tend to focus on their suffering and hardships, often feeling sorry for themselves. They may blame others for their problems and resent those they see as responsible for their predicament. This blaming behaviour can lead to a sense of victimhood that is difficult to break out of.

Avoiding responsibility: 

Victims may avoid taking responsibility for their actions and decisions, instead placing blame on others or external circumstances and not want to face the consequences of their choices or be held accountable for their behaviour.

Seeking attention and validation: 

Victims may seek attention and validation from others to feel better about themselves or their situation. They may use their victimhood to elicit sympathy or support from others or to manipulate others into doing what they want.


Victims may also take on a martyr role, sacrificing their own needs and desires for the sake of others and they may believe they are being selfless or noble by putting others first, but this behaviour can also be a way of avoiding taking responsibility for their own lives.

It's important to note that not everyone who displays some of these behaviours is necessarily a victim in the drama triangle. Additionally, identifying with the victim's role can be a temporary response to a specific situation such as grief and trauma. People can learn to take a more proactive approach to their problems and take responsibility for their lives.

The persecutor

The Persecutor actively or passively causes harm to others and may use threats, criticism, or aggression to maintain control and dominance. They may blame the victim for their problems and see them as weak or deserving punishment, rather like an authoritarian parent.

Here are some examples of the Persecutor role: 

Blaming and criticising others: 

Persecutors tend to blame and criticise others for their problems and frustrations. They may see others as incompetent or deserving of punishment and feel angry, resentful, or frustrated and take out their feelings on others.

Controlling behaviour: 

Persecutors often try to control others through intimidation, coercion, or manipulation. They may be verbally or physically aggressive to make someone submissive. They may use their power or authority to force others to do what they want and control their behaviour as a discipline strategy.


Persecutors may see themselves as superior to others and believe they have the right to judge and punish others. They may feel justified in their behaviour and that others deserve to be treated harshly.

Refusal to listen or compromise: 

Persecutors may be unwilling to listen to others' perspectives or ideas. They may see compromise as a sign of weakness and refuse to consider other viewpoints or solutions. This can lead to a cycle of conflict and escalation that perpetuates a cycle of abuse.

Justifying their behaviour: 

Persecutors may justify their behaviour by blaming others or claiming they act in the group's best interests. They may believe their aggressive behaviour is necessary to show disapproval or maintain control but struggle with behaviour management in the long run because they lack problem-solving skills.

The Rescuer

The rescuer is someone who intervenes in the situation to help the victim but may do so in a way that perpetuates the drama and reinforces the victim's sense of helplessness. They may feel a sense of moral superiority or obligation to help but ultimately enable the victim to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions.

Here are some examples of the rescuer role:

Taking responsibility for others: 

Rescuers tend to take on the responsibility for solving other people's problems, even when it's not their job or responsibility. They may feel obligated to help others and may put their needs and priorities aside.


Rescuers may become overly involved in other people's lives and problems. They may try to control or micromanage others, leading to resentment and conflict.

Lack of boundaries: 

Rescuers may have difficulty setting and enforcing boundaries with others. They may have trouble saying no or standing up for themselves, leading to burnout and exhaustion.

Need for validation: 

Rescuers may derive a sense of self-worth and validation from helping others. They may feel a sense of importance or superiority by being the one who saves the day.

Enabling behaviour: 

Rescuers may inadvertently enable others to continue their dysfunctional behaviour by not allowing them to take responsibility for their own lives. 

Constantly rescuing others may prevent them from learning and growing from their mistakes.

If you resonate with the drama triangle, you may agree it can help you better understand and deal with conflict in your home.

I am sure you agree that the drama triangle is dysfunctional and unhealthy and causes a disconnect between parents and children. 

When parents are caught in it, they often focus on their own emotional needs rather than their children's and have problems emotionally regulating themselves.

They may be preoccupied with their emotions or problems and lack empathy and understanding of their children's needs.

When a parent takes on a role such as a persecutor, the child may be forced into the victim role and feel unsupported or neglected, leading to a further disconnection between parent and child.

To make relationships healthy and functional, we must emotionally connect with children and attune to children's emotional needs.

We tend to move between roles depending on the situation and behaviour; by identifying them, we can avoid conflict and set the tone for a healthy, happy, and conflict-free home.

Being aware of unhealthy behaviour patterns can help us stop them and break a dysfunctional cycle of interacting with others. I hope you find it helpful and that you take some time to step back and see if this is happening in your home.

The following blog will look at the anti-dote to the drama triangle -  if you want to be the first to receive it, please sign up for the newsletter below. 

All the best, 


Stephen Karpman GAME FREE LIFE  The definitive book on the Drama Triangle
Eric Berne GAMES PEOPLE PLAY The psychology of human relationships

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