The drama triangle is a psychological and social model of human interaction in transactional analysis first described by Stephen Karpman, which has become widely acknowledged in psychology and psychotherapy. The model posits three habitual psychological roles which people often take in a situation:
- The person who is treated as, or accepts the role of, a victim
- The person who pressures, coerces or persecutes the victim, and
- The rescuer, who intervenes out of an ostensible wish to help the situation or the underdog.
(Note that the rescuer role is one of a mixed or covert motive, not an honest rescuer in an emergency; see below)
As the drama plays out, people may suddenly switch roles, or change tactics, and others will often switch unconsciously to match this. For example, the victim turns on the rescuer, or the rescuer switches to persecuting.
The covert purpose for each ‘player’ is to get their unspoken psychological wishes met in a manner they feel justified, without having to acknowledge the broader dysfunction or harm done in the situation as a whole. As such, each player is acting upon their own selfish ‘needs’, rather than acting in a genuinely adult, responsible or altruistic manner.
Persecutors may set strict limits when they are not necessary, show rigidity, express excessive anger, blame, criticize, and oppress others. The antidote for persecution role behaviors is to challenge issues of privilege and develop clarity in boundaries recognizing that one has the right to think, feel, and do as they choose.
Victims are often filled with shame, maintain themselves in oppressive relationships, feel hopeless and helpless, perceive themselves as powerless, and demonstrate shame when none is deserved. They often are seeking rescuing behavior from others. They find it difficult to make decisions, solve problems and enjoy pleasurable activities. There may be massive denial in regard to their pattern of self-victimization. Problem-solving is the antidote to the victim role.
The rescuer focuses on the needs of others rather than themselves and may feel guilty when they are taking care of their own needs primarily. They often help when it may not be requested and when they would rather be doing “something else,” thus building up resentment for their continued helpfulness. They subtly may give permission to others to fail or to continue destructive behaviors.
(adapted from wikipedia)