Do you have healthy boundaries? Where are you playing the victim/rescuer in your life?

In an earlier blog, I talked about the psychological model of communication between adults, parents, and children, coined as Transactional Analysis by Eric Berne in the 1950’s. Berne suggested that each of us play “games” which are unconsciously motivated behavioural interactions, driven by our unconscious belief system. These games cause situations, or lead us to perceive a situation, as a familiar negative feeling, which then gives us more ammunition as to why our limiting beliefs about ourselves, the world and others are true.

Steven Karpman used this model of communication to create his own model which he called the Karpman Drama Triangle.



Karpman talks about the connection between responsibility, power, and their relationship to boundaries. It was originally created as a therapeutic tool, but if we observe the nature of our communication with others, then you can see it all around you.

Here’s an example:

Rather than staying in one role, we often flit between the different roles, especially during an argument. Once the game begins, a series of communication transactions continue (like a tennis match) as long as it suits the people communicating.

You see this often when couple’s break up but the communication keeps going, for example:

I miss you so much! I can’t bear life without you” {victim}

. no answer

Why won’t you answer me! You’re such a @#$%^&*, my friends warned me about you!!” {persecutor}

.. no answer

I’m hoping that your silence means you’re struggling as much as I am to get over our break up… please talk to me, I want to know if you’re ok???” {rescuer}

Some people just looooooove the drama of staying stuck in this triangle and some even make a long lasting relationship out of this kind of communication, but more often than not someone gets sick of it and pulls the plug. Things then usually fall apart pretty quickly and they find themselves whizzing around the triangle like the Tasmanian devil! The rescuer then usually becomes the victim, and the victim often switches to the persecutor role.

It is also possible to feel one role inside (e.g. victim), while outside observers assign you to a different role (persecutor).

Definition of roles

The Rescuer

  • Doesn’t own their own vulnerability and instead actively seeks out others to “rescue” based on their perception of them being vulnerable
  • They do more than 50% of the work
  • They may offer to “help” when not asked to rather than find out if the person really wants to help
  • What they agree to do may not be what they really want to do so they often feel hard done by, resentful, used or unappreciated
  • Doesn’t take responsibility for themselves, but takes responsibility for the perceived victim that they are rescuing
  • Will always end up feeling like the victim, but may sometimes be perceived by others as the persecutor

The Victim

  • Usually feels overwhelmed by their own sense of vulnerability, powerlessness or inadequacy
  • Doesn’t take responsibility for themselves or their own power and so looks to be rescued by someone else
  • May feel let down by the rescuer at times, or maybe overwhelmed or persecuted by them. This is when the victim moves to the persecutor position and may also enlist another rescuer to persecute the previous rescuer

The Persecutor

  • Discount their own power as they are unaware of it
  • The power used is negative and destructive
  • Any player in the “game” can be perceived as the persecutor at times but their own internal perception is that they are the ones being persecuted and that they are the victim

It is important to note that usually these roles are taken very unconsciously and we aren’t even aware of the “game” we are playing. Each of these positions are taken up unconsciously as a result of an issue of being discounted or disowned.

To rectify these roles, the rescuer needs to take responsibility for themselves, connect with their power and acknowledge their vulnerability. The victim needs to own their vulnerability and take responsibility for themselves, and also recognise that they have power and are able to use it appropriately. The persecutor needs to first of all own their power, rather than to be afraid of using it or using it covertly as a strategy.

Can you think of a situation in your own life where you have played the role of victim, rescuer or persecutor? You might even have been all three in the same scenario!

Thinking about that situation, ask yourself:

  • What am I not doing?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Who am I taking responsibility for?
  • Am I allowing the other person to take responsibility for themselves and their actions or am I enabling their behaviour?
  • Who has the power in this situation?
  • Have I agreed to doing more than I want to do?
  • Am I doing more than half the work?
  • Am I owning my power and my actions?
  • Am I using my power to set appropriate boundaries?
  • What boundaries do I need to set up for this to be more healthy?
  • Am I taking care of myself properly?
  • What am I feeling about this situation, and what would I like to feel?
  • What action can I take to ensure I deal with this in the best possible way so it has the best possible outcome?

Situations where you are stuck in the drama triangle aren’t easy to deal with – believe me, I know! As a recovering rescuer, I cringe when I look back on times where I have enabled someone’s behaviour to continue by diving in to rescue them (often unasked), and taking their power away to help themselves. I then would get resentful that they weren’t changing, and I’d feel really unappreciated for all the hard work I had been doing to help them change. In the end I would walk away feeling like a victim, really burnt out.

Where is this happening in your own life, and what can you do about it?

I’d love to hear your comments about what’s going on for you and how you think you can change your actions to manage it better.

If you’re struggling to cope with a situation like this right now, then you’ll want to check out my online program, From Surviving To Thriving. I created this program born out of a desire for others not have to struggle through shitty situations like I did, where I had to figure out on my own how to stop struggling and start thriving. I have packaged everything I know about how to get out of the struggle in this program.

Check it out here.

Catcha on the flip side,








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