No one wins in a drama triangle.
This unhealthy communication pattern can turn a seemingly happy home into a toxic environment full of animosity, guilt, shame, and anger. To resolve this common issue, it is best to first identify and assess each person’s role as either the Persecutor, the Victim, or the Rescuer.
Once the roles are identified, the family can begin to move out of the triangle. Replacing the roles of the Persecutor, the Victim, and the Rescuer with the roles of the Challenger, the Thriver, and the Coach respectively will help to restore healthy communication.
The three roles in the triangle are outlined below accompanied by techniques to transition to the new, positive role.
Role #1: The Persecutor
The Persecutor, bossy, critical and dominant, can take on the role of the Challenger in three structured steps.
Step one is to actively listen to the Victim, and perhaps the Rescuer as well, without immediately trying to problem solve. This is often very difficult for parents and we usually just want to clean up a mess and make a plan.
Step two is to set clear expectations. This involves using very clear and concise language, which can prevent future drama from arising. An example would be, “You must clean your room, before you can go play basketball. I want you to commit to doing this.”
Step three is to provide choices. When you set expectations, you may encounter pushback from the Victim and the Rescuer. If possible, offer choices that will remedy the problem at hand.
Role # 2: The Victim
The Victim is the “helpless” or “persecuted” one in the triangle. Often in families the Victim is the child, although it’s possible for the parent to also be the Victim. The Victim can transition to the role of the Thriver by gaining power and no longer relying on the Rescuer.
For the Victim to become the Thriver, the Victim should acknowledge personal strengths by taking an inventory of what is going right relationships.
The Thriver states what he or she wants, which serves to recapture power using his or her voice. Remaining calm and using respectful language is important. Furthermore, the Thriver should make decisions and keep agreements by working with others to problem-solve and make changes to prevent future conflict.
Role #3: The Rescuer
The Rescuer often has good intentions and a soft heart. If the Rescuer is able to step back from the dependency relationship with the Victim, he/she can shift into the role of Coach. In this new role, the individual is able to provide support without encouraging the Victim’s helplessness.
To become the Coach, the individual should provide encouragement to instill in the victim that they are capable of healthy communication through focusing on the positives of the situation.
In the role of Coach, firm boundaries should be set to simultaneously provide support and a shoulder to lean on without taking on the problem on as one’s own. Limits such as “we can talk for 20 minutes” or “I will help you work through this, but I will not engage with the Persecutor for you” are examples.
Next, provide options to empower the Victim. Options could include asking the Victim if he or she would like to discuss a problem now or in a few hours after the situation has “cooled off” or passed.