Remember the Drama Triangle? It’s composed of 3 roles, the rescuer, the victim, and the perpetrator. Once you’ve taken on one of those roles you’re stuck in the DT, like that woman in the box. If you need to review the basics and what each role is about, go to this post, and then come on back here and I’m going to show you how the triangle works and how easy it is to find yourself stuck there.
Let’s start with the rescuer position since that seems to be a common role that women end up in. We’re trained to get our worth by caring for others, right? So, it makes sense that the rescuer’s corner is often female.
The rescuer, with her kind compassionate heart, seeks those in the victim position. Initially it’s a match made in heaven. Angels sing, the sky parts, rainbows and unicorns appear! While it’s not a conscious connection, the DT rescuer and victim roles recognize each other right away. The rescuer is soooo happy to have someone who needs her; someone who she can nurture and take care of. This makes the rescuer feel worthy and needed (since the rescuer feels like she is not worthy enough all on her own).
The victim is also now happy and content – someone to take care of things, yay! It’s all a lovely relationship until things start to go south.
And south generally begins with the rescuer becoming resentful, usually in one of two ways. She begins to notice that her relationship with the victim is not mutual. She wonders, ‘how come I’ll do that for you, but you won’t do it for me?’ She wonders why she always says yes to the victim’s requests, while the victim rarely says yes to hers.
Resentment can also build for the rescuer when she notices that the victim will not follow her good advice. She can see what potential the victim has. She can imagine how much better life would be for the victim, if only he/she would follow her wise counsel! She does not see herself as controlling.
At this point, the rescuer abandons the rescuer role and becomes the victim. As a victim she sees herself as being wronged. She sees her efforts to control as helpful, and has the belief that others should act like her. She bemoans that the victim won’t do the things for her that she will do for the victim. Then she gets mad and becomes the perpetrator.
As a perpetrator she sees the original victim as being wrong and bad. ‘What’s wrong with him/her?’ is a likely statement. She can become blaming and arrogant in her position that she knows better than her former victim how to run his/her life. Her resentment burns brightly as she blames the victim for not living up to her expectations. Likely at this point the former rescuer turned perpetrator is bad mouthing the victim, or continuing to do as the victim wants, but with a passive aggressive jagged edge.
What’s happening with our initial victim? Well, most often when the rescuer begins to turn towards the perpetrator corner, so does the victim. The victim/perpetrator highly resents that the rescuer/perpetrator has changed the game; she is bad or wrong for having done so. How dare she!
And the unraveling continues.
I think an example might help, right?
Marcia is the rescuer and she meets Jenny who is the victim. They are neighbors and have kids around the same age and so bond quickly over shared stories of diapers, school lunches, and sugar highs and crashes. When Jenny asks Marcia to watch her two kids one day while she goes to an appointment, Marcia is happy to help. She has to change her own plans to help Jenny, but friends do that for each other, right?
As time goes on Marcia begins to notice that Jenny is super lax with her kids, which she thinks is the source of their bad behavior. Since Marcia is a believer in discipline, and considers herself a very good parent, this really begins to bug her. And now that she’s watching Jenny’s kids several times a week, she feels like she has a stake in their behavior.
It’s now about a month into their BFF relationship and Marcia needs a favor. She asks Jenny to watch her kids because she has a doctor’s appointment to go to. Jenny says she can’t because she was up late the night before and is very tired. Marcia thinks, ‘I’m tired all the time too, but I watch your kids.’ She gets a babysitter.
The following week Jenny and Marcia are having coffee and Marcia mentions that if Jenny’s discipline was a little stronger and more consistent, she would have less tantrums from her toddler. Marcia points to her own toddler’s mild behavior as an example. Jenny is offended and leaves.
Marcia continues to watch Jenny’s kids while Jenny gets her nails done, runs errands, and sometimes takes a nap. Marcia asks Jenny to watch her kids periodically, and while Jenny said yes once, she always seems to have an excuse as to why she can’t do it. Marcia thinks, ‘gosh it sure would be nice for ME to do my errands kid free sometime!’
Since Marcia seems to have Jenny’s kids as much as her own, she has started to use her own discipline methods on Jenny’s kids. It seems to be working too, since the toddler is having less tantrums with Marcia. Marcia gives Jenny the parenting book that she uses and highlights the parts about tantrums.
Every time she goes to Jenny’s house she notices that parenting book sitting in the same place she left it.
Marcia’s starting to simmer. She begins to rant about Jenny to her husband. ‘What’s wrong with her. I’ll change my plans to watch her kids, why won’t she do the same for me?! That’s how friends do it!’ She also has begun to gossip about Jenny with the other neighbors. She tells stories of the toddler’s tantrums and how Jenny’s parenting is making them worse.
Do you see the Drama Triangle at work?
Who’s problem is this? Maybe you say Jenny since she is not necessarily behaving in a respectful way. But, honestly, the problem is Marcia’s. Marcia is the one expecting Jenny to be different and trying hard to get Jenny to be like her. Marcia is the one putting Jenny first and herself second.
Marcia might be right – about parenting, about helping friends, about a lot of things – but how she’s relating to Jenny is the problem. Marcia needs to get off the Drama Triangle.
And, that’s coming up in the next post.
What role do you play on the DT? Do you find yourself changing your life to meet someone else’s needs? Are you a boiling pot of resentment when someone doesn’t do it your way? Are you a Marcia or Jenny?