Transactional Analysis: Getting Off The Drama Triangle Part 1

Posted at 12:42pm on 20th January 2010

In any dysfunctional relationship - such as that of the Drama Triangle - knowing and naming the disorder is immensely helpful. In fact, it's often the biggest step in making the changes necessary for personal growth and peace of mind! The first base of Alcoholics Anonymous is introducing yourself: "Hello! My name's Druncan and I'm an alcoholic."


I was speaking to a medical doctor a few weeks ago and she confirmed that the resolution of conflict begins by recognising the problem.

"Patients come to see you feeling terribly unwell: in despair," she said. "But the moment you name their condition you can see a heavy load lifted from them. Even if what they have is serious, not knowing what's wrong is worse than knowing."

So we can conclude that knowing and naming a problem may be the starting point for change.

The same is true for those who find themselves constantly locked in conflict.

  • You feel 'terribly unwell': out of sorts with life, yourself and everyone around you.
  • You can't understand how you got into this cycle of constant discord.
  • Each time conflict occurs in your relationships you swear you'll never let it happen again.
  • But because you have no handle on which to hang the malaise, you haven't a clue how to untangle the mess you're in.

Like the alcoholic at his meeting, or the patient in the doctor's surgery, you need to be able to name the problem so that you can apply the appropriate treatment.


In my article titled: Conflict Resolution: Relationship Psychology - And Creating Fictional Characters I've outlined the theory of transactional analysis; the way most of us behave in our ordinary, everyday interpersonal relationships; and the way in which an understanding of this behaviour may be used by authors when creating fictional characters. The Drama Triangle & The Games People Play takes this a step further by showing - by example - how we respond to conflict.

It's important to stress here that although the aggressive behaviour is outward, the conflict is, actually, internal!

Let me explain. If I have a character defect which makes me feel inadequate, or I was brought up by my parents to believe that I'm worthless, I may spend the rest of my life locked in an internal battle. On one side will be the person I perceive myself to be. On the other, will be the person I would like to be.

Throughout my life this poor self-image will manifest itself in two ways. My internal life (my thought processes) will be a persistent inner argument between these two perceptions of myself. And my outer life (my behaviour - i.e. the way I respond in my relationships) will be like that described by the Drama Triangle. My inner and outer life will shift between these three roles.

  • Victim: someone who sees themselves as a no-hoper, feels inadequate and is unable to take responsibility for themselves. They take pleasure from the attention they receive from those who feel sorry for them; those who feel obliged to 'rescue' them; those who admire them for their 'fortitude'.
  • Rescuer: someone who has low self-worth and consequently runs around looking for other people's problems - which are sometimes non-existent - so that they can find 'solutions' and thus bolster their own sense of self-esteem and importance.
  • Persecutor: someone who, having been brought up within a culture of blame, displaces their anger by turning it on others, accusing Victims of being hapless, and Rescuers of being hopeless. Persecutors rarely have valid solutions to replace those they deride.

None of these roles recognise what's happening. They are unable to trace the threads back to themselves. They don't understand that it is their behaviour which is affecting their relationships. Nor that it is their own need which is affecting their behaviour. Consequently, they take no responsibility for what is occurring. Without clarification, they are, therefore, unable to make the necessary changes. I'll say that again:

Victims, Rescuers and Persecutors have one intention: to make themselves feel better, without recognising or tackling the underlying problem within themselves.

It's a little like the obese 'comfort-eating'; the alcoholic 'drowning their sorrows'; the delinquent smashing things up.

  • The Victim feeds on the comfort of self-pity and the sympathy, or admiration, of others.
  • The Rescuer drowns his sorrows by going to the pub to buy everyone another drink to make himself feel better because he's 'helping' others.
  • The Persecutor smashes other people's reputations and self-esteem in order to build up his own.


Let me give you an example. When my first marriage showed signs of falling apart and my husband began to have affairs, I went to the Marriage Guidance Counsel. To me, marriage was for life and if he wasn't going to do anything about it, then I had to. The counsellor advised me that I was a 'doormat' and that doormats must expect to have feet wiped on them.

I didn't know it then, but I now know that I was living on the Drama Triangle, running from corner to corner.

My husband's behaviour hovered between Victim and Persecutor. Clearly, he was convincing other women in his life that he was 'misunderstood' - i.e. a Victim. However, on each occasion that I tried to talk to him about our problems he would turn Persecutor, telling me I could either put up with it or leave.

My behaviour equated to that of Victim (I was the doormat who felt that everything was my fault); and the Rescuer (I was the people-pleaser trying to find solutions by changing myself to become what I thought my husband wanted me to be). Much of that I now know was laid down in my childhood. By the time I married I had become a natural Rescuer.

Taking myself to see someone with a counselling degree and hearing what she had to say was probably a Rescuer response initially - I was trying to 'rescue' my marriage - but it was also the first step in getting off the Drama Triangle.

The process took years!

I had a faith and was able to forgive my husband - again and again! I also had a very supportive church and friends. With their encouragement I began to carve out a life for myself which was independent from my husband. Evening classes. Cinema trips with friends. A temporary part-time job.

Without realising it, in a small way I had taken myself out of the Drama Triangle. Consequently, my husband moved to Victim mode with me. He began to tell me how trapped he'd felt with the other women who had 'come on' to him. What he said was balm to my hurt feelings. I also felt genuinely sorry for him. Automatically, I switched to Rescuer again. I, in effect, became his 'other woman'. And I lapped it up!

Naturally, it didn't last!

With no understanding of what was occurring and why it was occurring, we went through this cycle for years. The more I tried to please, the more my husband's new-found admiration for me began to diminish again. Until eventually, when the last affair began to affect our daughters, I realised that the only way out was to grant my husband the divorce he wanted.


Sadly, because they don't understand what's happening and cannot, therefore, seek the appropriate help, for many people divorce is often the only way out. If you suspect that persistent disagreement in one or more of your relationships is due to an internal battle taking place in your own mind, there are solutions. Or you may find yourself in an ongoing battle because of someone else's behaviour; someone who is coercing you to join them on the Drama Triangle.

Either way, take action NOW!

  • Name your condition.
  • Now admit it to someone you trust: My name is Victim / Rescuer / Persecutor.
  • I live within the parameters of the Drama Triangle because . . . (of my upbringing / past events in my life / current relationships / the expectations of others).
  • My husband / wife / child / parent / boss has a persistent role in the Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer triangle, and drags me in.
  • Make up your mind to forgive yourself and others, where necessary.
  • Make a promise to yourself that you will learn to substitute existing roles for new ones - we'll look at those next time.

You don't have to live with dysfunctional relationships. You have the power to make changes. You owe it to yourself and others to do so!

This article may be reproduced on any non-commercial website or blog on condition that it appears unaltered, in its entirety, and that the following copyright line and bio are prominently displayed beneath it.


Author of a number of books, one a No 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV. This article, in its original form, may be found at:

Your Comments:

12th December 2014
at 5:18am
Thank you so much for these words. They are very timely as my husband and I are struggling to hold the marriage together. You have describes us in this article (except that there is no adultery - but there are similar trends). I'm wondering if you have any more wisdom to add to the above. I am hungry to learn how do be better (I am currently in your role and my husband as your husband is.)
Mel Menzies
9th January 2015
at 10:10am
Thank you for sharing your problems, Anna. I'm so glad to know that my article has been helpful. You should be able to find other similar articles if you look at the bottom of my Home page (the little blue Home under the tag MyBooks will take you there). Or you may find my book, Time to Shine, is of help to you. It's available to buy here, or at Amazon. I do hope you and your husband resolve your differences and find unity and love in your marriage.

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