How to Make the Dynamic Shift from Victim to Empowerment

Part 4 of 5: What Victim Mentality Is and How to Overcome It

Issue 45. October 20, 2023 ✨ Higher Power Coaching & Consulting

The Drama Triangle is sometimes also referred to as the Victim Triangle. It’s a model of dysfunctional interaction first delineated by Stephen Karpman in 1968. It includes the roles of Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer.

When I first learned of it, it explained so much of the dynamics of my life – within all of my relationships. If you’ve had dysfunctional relationships at any point, it will be familiar to you in terms of how it works, if not by name.

That said, healthy people participate in this dynamic from time to time too. They just don’t live in it all the time. I’ll explain these dynamics in more detail below.
The Drama Triangle is a dysfunctional pattern of interaction that perpetuates dysfunction rather than changing it. In the Drama Triangle, the three roles, Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor, represent ways we interact with others. When engaged in this dysfunctional pattern, we typically bounce around from one of these roles to the other taking on the behaviors of each role as we move in and out of them. This can occur in one conversation.

Even though we may alternate between the three roles regularly, most of us have a favored role. That is, you might tend to mostly be a Rescuer, a Victim, or a Persecutor. My favored position is Rescuer, but it was spotting my stance as a Victim that was the biggest paradigm shift of my 12-step recovery.

Luckily for us, in 2006 David Emerald came up with the antidote to the drama triangle which he calls The Empowerment Dynamic or TED. It’s described in his book by the same name. It’s written in the form of a parable, so it’s an easy read. I’ll share briefly about that below as well.

When participating in the Drama Triangle dynamic, we create misery for ourselves and others. We end up creating a lose-lose situation. The trick is to notice this dynamic, and then transform it into a more positive outcome for everyone. This is where Emerald’s TED model comes in.

I’ll now briefly introduce the three roles, then give a sample conversation that most of us will easily identify with, and I’ll point out how each participant in the conversation is moving around the Drama Triangle.

The Victim
When in this role, we see ourselves as helpless and deny any responsibility for our negative consequences. For example, we may believe we’re responsible for all of the good things in our romantic relationships but believe “if only my partner would change everything would be great” (i.e., they are responsible for all the “bad” things in the relationship). This may not be a conscious belief.  It’s classic victim mentality to think you have no responsibility for anything negative in your relationships. Here’s the detrimental part – if you think you have no responsibility for something, then you won’t do anything to change it!

The Rescuer
When in this role, we focus our attention on the Victim. We neglect our own needs, working hard to help other people. When we embody this role, we’re often exhausted, depleted, and perhaps resentful. We constantly apply short-term repairs to the Victim’s problems.

Sometimes we use guilt to get our way, perhaps saying things like, “After all I’ve done for you, how could you…” We see the Victim as hopeless and helpless and in need of our assistance.

The Persecutor
When we inhabit this role, we blame the Victim and criticize the Rescuer for enabling the Victim. However, we don’t typically provide any guidance or solutions to the underlying problem. We’re usually pretty critical or unpleasant when in this role, and we’re good at pointing the finger and finding fault.

Underneath all of this, we may feel inadequate. Therefore, we exhibit controlling behaviors like threats, being rigid, and sometimes being a bully.

This dynamic keeps these roles in place because the Victim depends on a Rescuer who yearns for someone to take care of. Persecutors need a scapegoat, and so the dynamic continues. Keep in mind that healthy people will perform these roles occasionally. However, pathological role players actively avoid leaving the familiar and comfortable environment of this “game.” The only way to escape the Drama Triangle is to not participate in the “game,” which is where Emerald’s TED comes in.

An illustration of moving around the roles of the Drama Triangle

Here’s an example of parents Jose and Tawanna and how they both move from one role to the other within one brief conversation.

Jose says, “I can’t believe you burnt dinner. That’s the third time this month.” [Persecutor]

Tawanna replies, “Little Antonio fell and skinned his knee, it burned while I was busy getting him a bandage.” [Rescuer]

If Jose then says, “You baby that boy too much” he’s Persecuting Tawanna for taking care of him. Then perhaps Tawanna jumps into the Victim role and says, “You wouldn’t want him to get an infection, would you? I’d end up taking care of him while he was sick.”

If Jose jumps back into the Persecutor role he might say, “He’s big enough to get his own bandage” to which Tawanna might reply, “I just didn’t want him bleeding all over the carpet.” [Rescuer].

If Jose says, “That’s the problem with these kids, they expect you to do everything.” [Persecutor] then Tawanna may say, “That’s only natural honey, they’re young.” [Rescuer].

Perhaps then Jose might say, “I work hard all day at my job…’ [Persecutor]

That snippet of conversation should have given you enough of a taste of what bouncing around the Drama Triangle might look like within one conversation. Now let’s talk about how to get out of it. Using TED, we learn to shift from reacting to life’s events to choosing our response to life events (which I call Living on Purpose).

In TED, instead of taking on the role of Victim, you become a Creator. Instead of being a Rescuer, you become a Coach (which explains why I became a Coach, given the well-worn groove of being a Rescuer). Instead of being a Persecutor, you become a Challenger.

Victim >>> Creator
To shift from being the Victim to becoming a Creator, you shift from reacting to choosing Creator behaviors like taking action toward your desired outcomes. You become okay with taking baby steps to get there. You take responsibility and make choices.

To get out of the role of Rescuer or hero and shift into the role of Coach, instead of telling people what to do, ask what they want or what they think about something. Use curiosity and inquiry to help others develop their own clarity and vision. This is more likely to empower and develop them so they can acquire skills rather than doing things for them. When they stumble you might say things like, “I know you can do it.”

The way to shift from the Persecutor or villain role to becoming a Challenger is you shift from putting down to building up. Challengers inspire others to take action (which is what Creators do, they take action).

The point of The Empowerment Dynamic is to get everyone to see themselves as a Creator, and to become Creators ourselves.

That’s what it looks like to go from enacting the Drama Triangle to enacting The Empowerment Dynamic. If you’d like a copy of a handout about moving from The Drama Triangle to The Empowerment Dynamic, email me here with the subject “Drama Triangle handout” and I’ll send it to you. 

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