Drama Triangle

27 Jul

When i talk about the drama triangle, i always have to draw it first:

Here’s the triangle…

Now, on the triangle (and i usually put this one on the top) there is always a victim.  And (this one goes on the right angle) there’s always a persecutor.  And (yes, on the left angle) there’s a rescuer.

 So now the triangle looks like this:

Only it’s not in pretty color when I draw it…

Here’s how it words.

Johnny gets a bad grade in school.  He tells his mother “That teacher just hates me, she never calls on me.  She just calls on the girls.  She likes them better.  She never tells us when the test is.  And when I try to ask her a question, she tells me to sit down and be quiet.”

Clearly, he’s the victim, the teacher’s the persecutor, and he’s inviting Mom to jump on the triangle with them.

If Mom says, “That’s awful, she can’t treat my baby like that,” then she’s accepted the invitation to rescue.  And that’s the basic formation.

So Mom storms down to school to question the teacher and tell her how mean and unfair she is.  The teacher is startled – she feels like she’s being attacked.  In fact, she may start to feel like she’s the victim.  And Mom’s the persecutor.  The teacher may start looking for a rescuer.

The teacher could invite the principal in to rescue.  So the principal says, “How dare you come talk to my teacher like that?”  And pretty soon, Mom’s feeling attacked.  Like she’s become the victim.  And now the principal’s the persecutor.

And they can keep on, in countless ways, trading places on the triangle.  Dancing on the triangle, I call it.

The important thing to remember is that as long as you’re on the triangle, nothing changes.  Nothing.  Johnny still has a bad grade.  His relationship with the teacher is worse, and they’re not even talking about his grades, much less whether or not he’s learning anything.  Little Johnny is off the hook.

i need to be really clear now – the drama triangle is NOT when people are actually being victimized.  If you get mugged on the street, you are a victim.  You need the police, you could need an ambulance, you may need help getting somewhere, getting your money back, calling in credit cards.   You have been victimized.

But if the person who mugged you was your son and you won’t call the police because it’s not his fault because he’s on drugs and you weren’t there for him when he was little, and so on – you have still been victimized, but now you’re on the drama triangle too.  It’s still not “your fault” it happened ~ that’s more drama triangle stuff ~ but now there’s drama on top of having been victimized.

So – the other night, when my feelings were hurt because the young woman was saving the seat i thought was going to be mine ~~ we could have created some drama triangle.  Imagine if Ms. Constance ~ or anyone ~ had said felt the need to “rescue” me.  She could have said,

“Excuse me, what do you mean that seat’s saved?  That’s ridiculous.  You should let aisha sit there.”

And Seat Saving Woman could have said,” No way!  I’m saving that seat for my best friend in the world, I haven’t seen her in two years, she’s been away in the military and I promised her I’d save her that seat!  You’re being childish!  My friend’s been serving in Afghanistan, I don’t care what you say, I’m not giving up her chair.”  {Or some such thing.}

Which puts her friend in the victim spot, Ms. Constance (and me) as the evil persecutors, trying to take the war hero’s chair, and SSG gets to be rescuer.

So I can jump in and say, “Hey, don’t you talk to Ms. Constance like that!  She was just trying to help! ” trying to move myself to rescuer position.

And Ms. Constance can (theoretically – i’m sure she wouldn’t do this) but she could  turn on me and say, “Don’t talk to her like that –  you started this!  Her friend’s been sacrificing for us, the least we can do is give them the chair,” moving herself away from persecutor role, but keeping me firmly there.

Do you see what i’m saying?   We could dance on the triangle all day.  And with all the drama ~ i still don’t have anywhere to sit.

Instead, Ms. Constance and Drew helped me out for real, without any drama, which, of course, is the best way.

i’ve never tried to describe the drama triangle in writing, so i hope it’s clear.  Usually, by this point people are saying, “O, yeah, i get it!” and thinking of their own examples.  Then they want to know:

“Ok, but how do I get OFF the drama triangle?” which is the million dollar question.

The answer is, “You take a step back, decide where you stand, and then you stand there.”  Drama triangle is all emotional mind.  So you have to think first.

The Mom needs to recognize she’s only hearing one side of the story, and try to gather some facts.  She needs to decide what her goal is, and how she’s going to move towards it.  Maybe she’ll need to come observe the class.  Maybe she needs to monitor Johnny’s homework.  Maybe a million things… but

If defending Johnny’s her main goal, well, the drama triangle works for that, i guess.  But if Johnny doing well in school is the goal, she needs a different approach.

The “me and the seat” story {which i’m never mentioning again after this} ~ the key is that i’m not really a victim.  My feelings were hurt, but that happens.  If i step back from the triangle ~ from the feelings ~ it’s clear that i don’t need to be “rescued” in that sense.  

What happened, of course, was perfect and a kind of rescue, but without the drama.

Make sense?

We can talk about it more, or i can stop here, yourall’s choice.  i think theBDSM lifestyle factor might give it some different twists, and i might have to write about that tomorrow, or sometime.  

But watch for it today – all the “drama triangles” unfolding out there.  Notice where you are on the triangle, what pulls you on to it.  Once you’re aware of it, it’s fun to watch.  Well, maybe not fun exactly.  Interesting though. 

21 Responses to “Drama Triangle”

  1. thesubmissivebf July 27, 2011 at 6:57 am #

    My head hurts, lol
    To much information for so early in the morning.
    But I do get it and have been that mom on the triangle on more than one occasion.
    I like to think that now that I am older and a little wiser I am able to step back more and think before acting.
    Thanks 🙂

    PS Major?

    • aisha July 27, 2011 at 8:44 pm #


      laughing… it is a lot to absorb in the morning. i wrote most of it last night…

      It does get easier as we get older not to jump into the middle of things, thank goodness.

      The Major will return, probably tomorrow – He says thanks for asking ’bout Him.


  2. sin July 27, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    Yep, you can imagine me nodding, and saying “oh yeah, I get it” and thinking of my own examples. In vanilla/mommy/work life and in D/s life too.

    Thanks for the explanation.

    • aisha July 27, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

      My pleasure, Sin, glad you liked it. And yes, I can totally see you jumping in as rescuer. Actually, I think most of us prefer to jump on there, but I know you’d be a tenacious and steadfast rescuer… Even I ever need one for real, I’ll be looking for you!


  3. sin July 27, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    Oh, and you know how some people are always the victim? And some are usually the bully. I’m probably usually (too often?) in the rescuer spot. Maybe creating more drama than needs to be created!

  4. Faithful July 27, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    Great post as I start my workday and I am determined to NOT be part of it.. at least for one day! lol

    • aisha July 27, 2011 at 8:46 pm #

      Thanks, Faithful – Hope that worked out well!


  5. perfectlips July 27, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    Like. Do you know about transistors? Three terminal electronic components with three terminals. You use them as amplifiers.

    Every time a new triangle is added to the system the drama is amplified, no?

    Can a triangle split itself off from the system and start creating a new one? e.g., victimised teacher goes home and yells at her partner, partner goes out drinking with friend, …

    • aisha July 27, 2011 at 8:48 pm #


      Yes! I absolutely think that happens! And it can keep going forever, rippling out. I think that’s part of why I like to talk about it – it helps slow down the growth through the universe, ya know?


  6. greengirl July 27, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    In your example it seems that the rescuer is the easiest/most common point to step back and put an end to the drama: the persecutor may or may not be aware they are perceived as such, and the victim could but that’s sometimes very hard to do. The whole construct seems very useful though – makes me stop and think about when i feel like a victim and when others may perceive me as a persecutor.

    • aisha July 27, 2011 at 8:53 pm #


      Yes, I think you’re right, at least in this example. But “rescuer” is a highly coveted role, and sometimes it’s hard for people to give up the opportunity to enjoy the role. Glad you like the concept.


  7. Giggling Bunny July 27, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    Very nice post. I hadn’t thought about it quite that way before. We probably enter into these things with every conflict we encounter. Taking a step and thinking about it before acting makes a lot of sense…sometimes we let emotions rule us.

    • aisha July 27, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

      Dear Giggling,

      Thank you, I’m glad you liked it. No doubt we jump on the triangle more often than we realize – I think some people probably do respond that way almost all the time, but they’re the ones who tend to think that one person has to be right and the other one wrong, rather than seeing the grey.

      And yes, we often act from just emotion… or we ignore the emotional piece altogether.


  8. Naida July 27, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    So nice, and so neat, very easy to understand. Thank you for the information, it makes it easier to stay off the drama triangle once you know about it 😀

    • aisha July 27, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

      Thanks, Naida, I’m glad you thought it was helpful! aisha

  9. vanillamom July 27, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    i’ve avoided commenting on this simply to let this percolate in my head today.

    And it has. I can honestly say that i’ve done a lot of work to avoid the drama triangle in my day to day life. Not *perfect* coz, yanno, i’m not. But such a great improvement over the emotional rulings of my 20’s and 30’s…when i was PMS’ing so badly that i might have killed someone somedays…and it was never “my” fault…

    And i had a few questions that grew from my thinking…and now time is short for me and darned if i can remember them with clarity.

    when i have time to write more, i shall. i’m very overtired today, and my mind always closes in the afternoon when its time for vanilla life to get busy with dinner and cranky and needy kiddo’s…*smilng*

    This was an awesome post, and i def. see it happen in my own extended family…interesting and insightful!


    • aisha July 27, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

      Dear ‘Nilla,

      I’m glad you liked it enough to think about during your day – which is super busy, I know.

      Hope you get some rest and feel fabulous in the a.m.

      (You know it’s getting close to my bedtime right now, so my mind’s not on full functioning either…)



  10. Andi July 27, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    Thank you for posting this, it’s amusing seeing and noting when I’ve been in certain parts of the triangle. Now I “support from the outside” I try not to jump in anywhere. But the info is enlightening.

    • aisha July 27, 2011 at 9:04 pm #

      Thanks, Andi,

      Glad you liked it! I like the phrase “support from the outside,” – I might have to steal that!



  11. Lady P July 30, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    Dear Aisha
    Very nice and enlightening post.
    I’ll definitely have it in the back of my head both privately and in my work.

    Thank you


    • aisha July 30, 2011 at 7:08 am #

      Dear Lady P,

      Thank you – I’m glad you liked it!



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