This is my version of the Drama Triangle which is a model invented by Stephen Karpman. You can research it online and find lots of articles and diagrams.
I hope this version makes sense. To be honest it makes more and more sense to me, and is more and more useful, the more I work with it – on myself and clients.
This is often put forward in quite a CBT style approach.
The model is: If we are addressing unwelcome behaviour that is automatic – unconscious in a shallow sense – then becoming aware of it can lead to change.
My experience is that this can be very effective. It can significantly moderate our behaviour. And that is very worthwhile.
Most people using the model stop there. However if we find the behaviour is not simply habitual but is compulsive, then it is coming from somewhere deeper, somewhere genuinely unconscious. If that is the case I suggest we have to use psychodynamic techniques and uncover the formative experiences that are being acted out in the behaviours.
I would be interested to hear if this makes sense and is useful to you.
It is really helpful to explore these roles in detail. It’s not a case that an individual is always one or the other. We can Rescue to the extent we become Victims i.e martyrs. We can be a Victim and use it to Persecute people around us. And it’s worth noting for those of us who identify mainly with the Rescuer, that being a compulsive Rescuer means we come from a place of our needs and may make us insensitive and unskilful.
The moderate, healthy version with increased awareness can be:
It is certainly possible to move to some degree from the unhealthy version to the healthy version by awareness and challenging our habitual behaviour.
However we may find that it goes deeper and in fact the behaviour is not changed much by willpower. We may find the behaviour is really powerful, almost irresistible. In which case we need to go deeper and try and resolve or at least address the root cause.
My experience and understanding is that the behaviour is the acting out of our own history of having been a victim in childhood – not necessarily of gross abuse or trauma but of a range of adverse childhood experiences which have been ignored, kept secret or normalised and therefore never processed.
Indeed the adverse childhood experience may in fact be so much within the normal range that it is not actually seen as adverse or is minimised: Parents who are in conflict or who may separate. Sibling conflict and bullying. Parents who do not give the necessary attention because of mental or emotional health issue like depression and anxiety or addictions like alcohol or workaholism. Indeed workaholism is applauded and the impact on parental availability is often unseen.
That discussion is is very challenging because if we have had those experiences, we will tend to think about ourselves either as simply having had a happy childhood with no questions necessary or, if we see the adverse experiences, we can see ourselves as courageous Survivors. It is not at all obvious that it requires extra courage and clarity to see and accept the reality that we were also Victims and we retain that feeling deep within us.
It may be a question of moving from feeling generally angry and aggressive or anxious, depressed and sorry for ourselves, to feeling anger and sorrow for the child that we were and in some senses still are. And having those feelings does not necessarily mean either a dramatic or noisy cathartic or a blaming experience.
It can mean gradually letting the anger and the sorrow come up; articulate, ventilate; saying the previously unsaid, possibly the unsayable. We can then in time achieve a calm, matter-of-fact attitude to our histories and then be able to act more in line with the healthy roles described above.
(Being more radical again, I suggest that the Nuclear Family, which is so valued as being the ideal in our culture is in fact innately unhealthy. The well known and wise saying “It takes a village to raise a child” highlights the healthiness of a child being raised by a wider group, including older children who are siblings or cousins or friends as well as wider range of adults. These are people who can socialise the child; check them, give them boundaries as well as examples to imitate. This idea is explored elsewhere in this website. See “Our culture of permanent adolescence – anger, stress and other addictions.”)