How to Step Out of the Triangle of Drama and Find Real Peace

Posted by on June 5, 2018 in Conscious Evolution, Conscious Living with 0 Comments

By Amaya Pryce | Tiny Buddha

“Keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly your own concern, and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours.” ~Epictetus

 Are you addicted to drama? I was, but I didn’t know it. I thought I was just responding to life, to what was happening. I really didn’t think I had a choice! The drama triangle is so pervasive, and can be so subtle, that it just seems normal. But it’s not, and there’s a much saner way to live, I found.


Dr. Stephen Karpman first described the drama triangle in the 1960’s.

All three of the roles—Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor—are very fluid and can morph easily into one another. We all have a favorite (usually the role we assumed most often in childhood), but most of us are pretty good at all three of them, depending on the situation.

My personal favorite was Rescuer, although I also did a very credible Victim from time to time. I was a Rescuer in my family of origin (middle children often are). I felt virtuous, strong, and necessary when other people turned to me for help or depended on me to take care of things.

But there’s always a downside. Being a perpetual Rescuer led to chronic stress, as I constantly monitored how everyone else was doing and was never available to take care of my own needs.

That’s when I’d slip into the Victim role: I’d feel sorry for myself, since no one seemed to appreciate how hard I was working to take care of them. Which made me feel angry and resentful, and before I knew it I’d find myself picking a fight with my husband or fuming at some unwitting clerk. (Yep, there’s the Persecutor.)


See how the drama cycles from role to role? They all have their payoffs too. It feels good to be a Victim, at least for a while. We get a lot of attention. We don’t need to take responsibility for our actions and their consequences, because we can always find someone else to blame for them. Often people will help us (those nice Rescuers).

And being the Persecutor can feel powerful, especially for someone who has never learned the skill of asking directly for their needs to be met. We get to “blow off steam.” We might even get to have our way for a while—but at what cost?

It’s an exhausting way to live. All of the roles are driven by anxiety and the ways we have learned to “control” it in our lives. The drama keeps us absorbed, and it keeps us enmeshed (unhealthily) with others, but it leaves very little room for real peace and joy. And no room at all for a truly healthy relationship to form.

But how do we step away from the drama triangle, when almost everyone we know is still playing the game?

The first step is simply to be aware of the game, how it works, and what roles you play most frequently. What role did you play as a child? Can you identify the roles that others in your family played? Are they still playing them?

The role of Rescuer may be the easiest to admit to, since it actually sounds praiseworthy or noble on the surface. This is not genuine philanthropy, however—it’s really about control and being in someone else’s business, thus neglecting your own.

If you’re accustomed to being a Victim, on the other hand, you’ll find yourself often looking for someone or something outside of yourself to blame. (In fact, the hallmark of all the roles is that your attention is usually directed outward.)

Finally, although no one likes to admit to being a Persecutor, if anger is your go-to emotion when things go wrong, you’re probably operating in that role. In reality, the anger is just a mask for underlying fear, shame, and powerlessness. Sadly, adult Persecutors were often Victims as children. In the drama triangle there are no good guys and bad guys—everyone loses.

Once you’ve become aware of your patterns, it becomes much easier to recognize the game and, eventually, step out of it. Since the drama triangle is all about being in other people’s business, stepping out of it requires you to remain firmly in your own!

What helped me with this was a concept I call the “zone of integrity.” Imagine a circle around yourself; this represents your business (your true responsibility). In the zone of integrity, you are responsible for being 100 percent honest, both with yourself and with others. This means acknowledging and honoring your own feelings and needs, and allowing others to be responsible for theirs.

It also means taking responsibility for your own actions and their consequences, and letting others do the same. This might require some “tough love,” both toward yourself and others. You might not be the most popular person at the dance for a while. Codependence (which is essentially what the drama triangle describes) is a system. It requires multiple players to function, so people will probably be upset when you opt out. In fact, you can count on it.

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