Letting Go of Suffering- Week 8: Getting Off of the Drama Triangle


Suffering is often the result of having participated in a transactional “game” identified by Stephen Karpman as the Drama Triangle. The Drama Triangle contains three roles- 1) The Persecutor (P) who blames and criticizes, 2) The Rescuer (R) who thinks for others, helps when they have not been asked to help, does things they don’t want to do, and does things for others that they could do for themselves and 3) The Victim (V) who feels oppressed, blamed, unloved, hopeless and/or helpless. The Victim often is immersed in “Poor Me” energy.

Although it is possible to play the “game” totally within oneself, it is almost always played out between two people. Once the “game” begins, both players generally spend some time in all three roles.


Person A:  Gives unasked for advice (R)

Person B: Feels irritated and makes a belittling comment. (P)

Person A: Feels unappreciated and blamed. (V)

Person A: Angrily blames Person B for being unappreciative (P)

Person B:  Feels depressed because it seems like she can’t do anything right. (V)

Person B:  Over-adapts and does what Person A suggested even though she doesn’t want to. (R)

Drama Triangle Home

There is usually one part of the Triangle that is more familiar to us than the other parts. When we are involved in the “game,” what I call our “home” is the place where we usually spend the most time.


Identify two times in the recent past when you have been on the Drama Triangle. Think of situations that occurred 1) at work with supervisors, employees or peers, 2) with friends, 3) with family, or 4) with any other individuals in your life. It could be a sales person, a barista, or anyone else who has crossed your path.

If you can’t think of anything that happened recently, then use two situations from the past. Describe how you and the other person moved through the Drama Triangle process. What caused the game to end? Was the problem that started the game ever solved? How?


Getting Off of the Drama Triangle

At first, you might not recognize that you are on the Drama Triangle until you are fully involved in the “game”. Over time, you will begin to notice feelings, thoughts and body sensations that will alert you that you are on the Triangle. Eventually, you will recognize when other people invite you onto the Triangle and will be able to prevent the game from even starting.

The most important step in getting off the Drama Triangle is to decide that you are not willing to play the game. If one person refuses to engage in the process, the other person will soon give up.

When you decide you are not going to engage in the Drama Triangle process, picture yourself stepping off of the triangle. Here are some tips:

If you have been in PERSECUTOR:

a) See yourself stepping off of the Drama Triangle.

b) Take a time out so that you can cool down. Constructive problem solving is not likely to occur when you are in the heat of anger.

c) Do work to release your anger. (Examples: Write lists of the things you are mad about; write a poison pen letter letting out the rage, and then destroy the letter; twist a towel putting your anger into the towel; and/or tear up a phone book.)

d) When the amount of anger you have has decreased, engage with other person. Work with them in solving the problem. Set boundaries as needed.

If you have been in RESCUER:

a) See yourself stepping off of the Drama Triangle.

b) Take a time out if you need it.

c) Let the other person know that you love, support and care about them.

d) Acknowledge to yourself, and to them, that you have been rescuing and that in the future you will wait until they ask for what they need, or you will ask them if they want help from you.

e) Ask yourself if you have been rescuing others because there is a need of yours that needs to be met. If there is, then think of how you can meet that need. It may be YOU that needs to ask for help.

If you have been in VICTIM:

a) See yourself stepping off of the Drama Triangle.

b) Take a time out if you need it.

c) Write lists of what you are mad, sad and scared about.

d) Give yourself affirmations for your ability to think and solve problems.

e) Ask others to give you affirmations for your ability to think and solve problems.

f) List all of the solutions you can think of for solving the problem.

g) Start doing the items on your list. Continue until the problem is solved.

For the rest of this week record what happens when you realize you are on the Drama Triangle. Record small examples as well as big ones. Also record ways you avoided getting onto the Triangle in the first place. (Add more pages to this document if your list is long)


See you next Monday for the ninth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

Letting Go of Suffering- Week 7: Stopping Passive Behavior


A major predecessor of suffering is passive behavior. Many years ago one of my mentors, Elaine Childs Gowell, taught me that we are being passive when we are aware that there is a problem and we:

a. Do nothing and hope the problem goes away.

b. Overadapt and do what other people want us to do.

c. Agitate by doing repetitive behaviors that aren’t directed towards solving the problem, e.g. tapping  fingers, swinging legs, playing with hair, mopping the floor at 2:00 a.m., etc. Addictive behaviors may be forms of agitation, e.g. over-working, over-eating, alcohol, drugs, and over-thinking.

d. Incapacitate through headaches, backaches, stomach aches, depression.

e. Escalate by behaviors such as throwing things, screaming and hitting.


Situation: Your 12 year old daughter received two D’s on her report card.

a. Do Nothing: Tell yourself she will do better the next time and just ignore the situation.

b. Overadapt: Decide not to talk to her teachers because your daughter doesn’t want you to.

c. Agitate: Grumble under your breath and clean the house late into the night.

d. Incapacitate: Develop a headache

e. Escalate: Scream at your daughter and then slap her when she sasses you.

Eliminating passivity from your life takes time and effort. First, you have to recognize when you are being passive, or are considering being passive, and then commit to doing something to solve the problem instead.


This week, record each time you realized you were being passive, or had the opportunity to be passive. Then write down what you did to solve the problem.

When you choose to solve the problem instead of being passive, brag about it to yourself and to a friend. Receiving acknowledgement can be very helpful in changing self-sabotaging behaviors.


See you next Monday for the eighth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

Why Do We Behave the Way We Do?


In the mid 80’s, I met Pam Levin, a therapist who was to become one of my mentors. One of the tools I learned from her is called the Think Structure. I have used it in my personal life and with the clients in my therapy practice.  I have found it to be a helpful way for myself and others to gain insight into why we behave the way we do. Continue reading “Why Do We Behave the Way We Do?”