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How to avoid the victim role and enjoy better relations

Do you feel helpless in your relationships and end up feeling sorry for yourself? Do you often wonder “why me?” and believe that other people are generally luckier and happier? Do you constantly find yourself blaming others? If these questions resonate then it may be that you are behaving in victim mode in your relationship dynamics and could be locked in a “drama triangle” in your relations with other people.

The good news is that once you identify the victim state of mind, and that way of being in the world, you can start the process of shifting the negative psychic energy so that you can enjoy healthier and happier relations. The victim mentality is learned behaviour and it is possible to unlearn negative formative messages received from family, schooling or peer group.

The “drama triangle” is a term first coined by Stephen Karpman, who used triangles to map conflicted or drama-intense relationships. Borrowing from Berne’s Transactional Analysis, the Karpman drama triangle, as it is known, involves three people unconsciously playing out three roles that mirror their attitudes and behaviour which ultimately can lead them to becoming co-dependent. Co-dependent relationships involve one person enabling another’s laziness, addiction, recklessness, emotional immaturity or irresponsibility.

The drama triangle involves one playing out the role of persecutor, one playing the role of victim and another being the rescuer.

Persecutor

It is easy to spot the role of persecutor as the behaviour is controlling, angry and authoritative. The language consists of “shoulds” and “musts”, or "it's all your fault." This role mirrors the parent ego state in Transactional Analysis. The persecutor can often be an authority figure but not necessarily so.

Victim

The victim role mirrors the child ego state in Transactional Analysis. We are in a state of victim consciousness when we habitually blame others for our own mistakes, and are less likely to learn from our own or the mistakes of other people. The victim feels oppressed, helpless and hopeless and does not take responsibility for their dilemmas. The language of the victim is typically "poor me" or “why me?”

Rescuer

The rescuer will feel guilty if they don’t attend to the emotional needs of the victim. They will defend the victim and become the enabler thereby keeping the victim dependent. The pay-off for the rescuer is that they can ignore their own anxiety and neglect their own issues. A rescuer will use words like "Let me help you."

The drama triangle exists because although often conflictual and unhappy for those involved, each “player” gets their underlying psychological wishes and needs met. Playing like this can lead to unhappiness as there are rarely any solutions and can be a subtle form of emotional abuse. 

Participants tend to have a primary or habitual role when they enter into drama triangles. This may be due to their position and experience in the family, which is the blueprint for how we behave in groups in adult life. However, once on the triangle, participants can rotate through all the positions, going completely around the triangle. For example, you may start off rescuing someone but then start to control them and then play the victim when they don’t do what you want them to do. The language then becomes “After all I’ve done for you, you end up treating me like this.”

Counselling and psychotherapy can facilitate a greater understanding of your mental scripts so that you can bring more awareness to your way of relating in the world. There can be great benefit from bringing greater insight to your way of operating in your triangles. Once you start to recognise the roles, and your tendency to trigger the characteristics of each role, the process of transformation can begin so that your relations can be transformed. It can be enlightening to acquire the knowledge which can help you change the way you behave in the world. You can find the courage to change and choose to break out of the comfort zone.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP

Noel Bell is a UKCP accredited clinical psychotherapist in London who has spent over 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. Noel is an integrative therapist and draws upon the most effective tools and techniques from the psychodynamic, CBT, humanist, existential and transpersonal schools.… Read more

Written by Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP

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