The drama triangle vs the winner's triangle

The drama triangle represents the unconscious roles people are drawn into during conflicts. Usually, one role is the most familiar and comfortable one to operate from but as things unfold there will be movement between the positions. These dynamics are often repeating patterns from childhood and they show up in relationships and the workplace. In order to shift these behavioural patterns, the first step is to break down what each role looks like.


What are the roles in the drama triangle?


This is a role which seems to offer less negative connotations than the others as at first glance it appears altruistic. However, the helpee is not permitted their own agency and autonomy. The rescuer tries to control the narrative to be seen as a good person by constantly stepping in to fix problems. Unfortunately, this is often at the expense of their own needs and desires which can lead them to move to victim, “How could you not appreciate me?” or persecutor “I’ve done everything to help you, why are you still behaving this way?” 


They see themselves as helpless and powerless to address their challenges depending on others to be able to fix their situations. They have not yet developed faith and trust in their own abilities to problem solve. An over-attentive rescuer can unknowingly maintain them in this position of victimhood. 


They, like the rescuer, seek control, but at the expense of others. They seek power by aggressively pursuing their own needs without offering respect and dignity to those around them. They will use blame and criticism as a response to their own insecurities and low self-esteem

How does this play out?

Each person in the drama triangle is looking to get their needs met but is struggling to do this from an adult position. The result is heated and never boring interactions, which accounts for the unconscious seeking out of ‘toxic relationships’ to replay familiar dynamics. Once there is more awareness of the primary position an individual has unconsciously taken there can be a movement towards an integrated adult approach to conflict. The calmness of this may feel slightly boring after previously being locked in emotional turmoil, but ultimately this is a healthier position for mind, body and spirit.

The winner’s triangle

This is the antidote to the drama triangle. The three roles shift into healthier adult versions, allowing happier relationships at home and in the workplace. 

Rescuer to caring/coaching

There is still an opportunity to nurture and offer empathy but this is done while actively respecting the other’s autonomy. If the helpee is an adult they can be offered emotional support along with the space to take responsibility for their own feelings.

Victim to vulnerable

This involves expressing feelings, fears and insecurities and staying accountable to them. Feedback can be accepted and there is a movement towards empowerment and creating one’s own solutions. Help and support can be requested. However, the other person’s boundaries can be tolerated if help is refused, rather than internalising this as a sign of not meeting the approval of others. 

Perpetrator to assertive/challenger

This involves learning to state needs and desires in a boundaried way and understanding that everyone else’s needs are also valid and important. Solutions can be found to issues without using blame or at the expense of another’s feelings. 

Winner’s triangle in action 

This scenario outlines how shifting roles can break a negative cycle in conflict:

Married couple Bea and Rose. Bea is frustrated when Rose leaves dishes unwashed. It causes tension and arguments as Bea feels overwhelmed by the mess and Rose feels attacked by Bea. 

Drama triangle dynamics:

Initially, Bea tries to resolve the situation herself by repeatedly cleaning up the mess. She is in the role of rescuer but then becomes resentful as Rose has not taken any responsibility/adjusted her behaviour. Bea berates her for being lazy and thoughtless causing strain in the relationship. She has now moved to persecutor. 

Shifting to winner’s triangle: 

Bea adopts the caring/coaching position where she sits down with Rose at a mutually convenient time and expresses what she feels (overwhelmed) and what she needs (collaboration).

She suggests creating a schedule together that will also include Rose’s needs. This is assertive now rather than the persecutor's role. She is encouraging Rose to take responsibility. This latter way of communicating is open and mutually respectful. It allows practical solutions to be created and helps foster and maintain harmonious relationships. 

Empowerment and accountability:

The drama triangle and the winner’s triangle are helpful in allowing us to examine the dynamics that play out under the surface, in every aspect of our lives. Using them as part of our therapeutic tool kit can help us think about how to improve our communication, survive conflict and recognise our own agency in our lives.

Working through past unhelpful patterns and moving towards healthier interpersonal dynamics ultimately leads to more satisfying relationships and improvement in our overall well-being.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Twickenham TW2 & Richmond TW10
Written by Dr Anjum Siddique, BA (Hons) Integrative Relational Counselling MBACP
Twickenham TW2 & Richmond TW10

I am a London based therapist with a passion for exploring interpersonal dynamics and conflict resolution, I am committed to helping others navigate the complexities of human interaction with compassion, insight and practical wisdom. I believe in the potential for positive transformation through self-awareness and intentional communication.

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