How to Escape the Drama Triangle

Is it you who are victims, persecutors, or rescuers? There will likely be situations in which you view yourself, or are seen by others, as each of these roles. It can be difficult for coaches to determine which client role is more challenging. This is a dangerous dynamic. There is an effective antidote.

Psychologists use the drama triangle, first described by Stephen Karpman 1961, to describe how we disguise ourselves as “victims”, “persecutors”, and “rescuers”. All three roles are not true to our true selves, but we can all be caught up in a vicious cycle.

The Victim sees their life as a series of events and feels powerless to make a difference. Victims blame the Persecutor who can be either a person or a circumstance. The victim, who is powerless, seeks out a rescuer to fix the problem. Victims have a sneaky desire to validate their problem as unsolvable.

While the Rescuer appears to want to help the victim, in reality, he or she is acting in a manner that is geared towards the rescuer’s needs. It is important to note that we don’t mean a firefighter. They are dealing with an actual emergency in an honest way. In the Drama Triangle, a rescuer is someone who appears to want to help a victim but actually does it in a way that benefits the rescuer more than the victim.

This mind game is anxiety-based and focuses on problems. It is self-perpetuating, designed to make the victim powerless and create a rollercoaster of tension and relief.

It was widely accepted for years that the best way to manage the ‘Dreaded Drama Triangle’ was to be aware of it, and to have a lot of willpower over the roles played. In 2005, David Emerald Womeldorff, a Coach and Medical Doctor, published a new model that is being widely adopted to promote teamwork and productivity in organisations around the globe.

TED (The Empowerment Dynamics) is not focused on problems, unlike The Dreaded Drama Triangle. TED is focused on your passions. It is very focused on outcomes and goals. TED is a story about self-leadership. Its principles and frameworks are based upon Wolmerdorff’s own research on collaboration with a broad range of people and organizations. It is a valuable antidote for the drama triangle.

In TED (The Empowerment Dynamic Wolfdorff) a new triangle is created:


The victim transforms into Creator


The Persecutor assumes the role of Challenger


The Rescuer takes on the dynamic role of Coach

Each of these changes requires imagination and courage. It can be difficult for someone who has been a victim to see themselves as a creator and think creatively about their long-term goals or vision. Creators focus on the outcomes and not on the problems. While there will always be problems, TED encourages us not to view these as obstacles that hinder us from achieving our goals.

As creators, Womeldorff refers to “baby steps” as a way to get clearer on the results we want in our lives.

Coach is the final role in the triangle. A coach is not merely expected to rescue someone. Instead, they ask questions to assist the person in making informed decisions. A coach and a rescuer are different in that they see the individual as capable and capable of solving their own problems. The coach sees the client as creative, resourceful, and whole.

You may find yourself playing the victim, rescuer, or oppressor role. I would love to encourage you to take on the more powerful, passion-based roles as coach, creator, or challenger.

As a reformed rescuer who is now a professional coach, I see victims as creators waiting to be born and I meet them as equals.

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