the triangle maps destructive interaction that can occur among people in conflict

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We are going through a great crowd derangement. In public and in private, both online and off, people are behaving in ways that are increasingly irrational, feverish, herd-like and simply unpleasant. The daily news cycle is filled with the consequences. Yet while we see the symptoms everywhere, we do not see the causes. (Loc.20)1

In recent years earning disparities between racial groups have consistently been weaponized. While it is often cited that the median income of Hispanic Americans is less than that of black Americans, and the earnings of black Americans lower than that of white Americans, there is never as much focus on the group which out-earns everybody.22 The median income of Asian men in America is consistently higher than any other group, including white Americans. Should there be some attempt to level this figure out by bringing Asian men down a few earning percentiles? Perhaps we could get out of this mania by treating people as individuals based on their abilities and not trying to impose equity quotas on every company and institution? (Loc.4572)1

Because the most extreme claims keep getting heard, there is a tendency for people to believe them and their worst-case scenarios. For example, a poll carried out in 2018 for Sky found that most British people (seven in ten) believed that women are paid less than men for performing exactly the same job. The ‘gender pay gap’ that does exist is between average earnings across a lifespan, taking into account differences in career, child-rearing and lifestyle choices made by men and women. But ‘the pay gap’ has become such a staple of discussion on the news and on social media that most people have interpreted it as evidence of a gap that does not exist as they have been led to believe it does. It has been illegal to pay women less for performing the same task as a man since 1970 in the UK, and since 1963 in the US. Just one result of this confusion is that even though seven in ten people in the poll thought women were paid less than men for performing precisely the same job, almost exactly the same percentage of the public (67 per cent) thought that feminism had either gone too far or as far as it should go.23 This finding might epitomize the confusion of our time. We see oppression where it doesn’t exist and have no idea how to respond to it. (Loc.4590)1

It would not go straight to the hardest part of the claim and insist it is true and that everyone else must believe it is true too. That is not what you do if you are trying to build a coalition or a movement. It is what you do if you do not want to create a consensus. It is what you do if you are seeking to cause division. Once you notice this counter-intuitive play you can see it going on with each issue. For instance, a number of wage gaps exist. There is, for example, as Jordan Peterson has pointed out, a pay gap that exists between people who are agreeable and people who are disagreeable. But this is a gap that exists across both men and women. A disagreeable woman will have a pay advantage over an agreeable man. And vice versa. So if anyone is worried about pay gaps why would that one not be something to linger on? Why would there not be an endless and retributive campaign calling for agreeable people to be paid more in the workplace and for disagreeable people to step back? Because that wouldn’t fit the aim, which is not to advance women’s rights or women’s pay situation, but to use women as a wedge to do something else. (Loc.4672)1

The Victim is not always right, or nice, deserves no praise – and may not be a victim

In his biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt (2000), H. W. Brands makes a passing point about the 32nd president’s polio. Men of Roosevelt’s generation, he writes, ‘were expected to meet misfortune with a stiff upper lip. Fate was more capricious then. When everyone was a victim at one point or another, no one won sympathy by wearing victimhood as a badge.’36 Such reflections suggest the possibility that the extraordinary number of victimhood claims of recent years may not in fact indicate what the intersectionalists and social justice proponents think that they do. Rather than demonstrating an excess of oppression in our societies, the abundance of such claims may in fact be revealing a great shortage of it. If people were so oppressed would they have the time or inclination to listen to every person who felt the need to publicize that a talk by a novelist at a literary festival had upset them, or that it was intolerable to be sold a burrito by someone of the wrong ethnicity? Victimhood rather than stoicism or heroism has become something eagerly publicized, even sought after, in our culture. To be a victim is in some way to have won, or at least to have got a head start in the great oppression race of life. At the root of this curious development is one of the most important and mistaken judgements of the social justice movements: that oppressed people (or people who can claim to be oppressed) are in some way better than others, that there is some decency, purity or goodness which comes from being part of such a group. In fact, suffering in and of itself does not make someone a better person. (Loc.4757).1

Depoliticize our lives

The aim of identity politics would appear to be to politicize absolutely everything. To turn every aspect of human interaction into a matter of politics. To interpret every action and relationship in our lives along lines which are alleged to have been carved out by political actions. The calls to spend our time working out our own place and the places of others in the oppression hierarchy are invitations not just to an era of navel-gazing, but to turn every human relationship into a political power calibration. The new metaphysics includes a call to find meaning in this game: to struggle, and fight and campaign and ‘ally’ ourselves with people in order to reach the promised land. In an era without purpose, and in a universe without clear meaning, this call to politicize everything and then fight for it has an undoubted attraction. It fills life with meaning, of a kind.

But of all the ways in which people can find meaning in their lives, politics – let alone politics on such a scale – is one of the unhappiest. Politics may be an important aspect of our lives, but as a source of personal meaning it is disastrous. Not just because the ambitions it strives after nearly always go unachieved, but because finding purpose in politics laces politics with a passion – including a rage – that perverts the whole enterprise. If two people are in disagreement about something important, they may disagree as amicably as they like if it is just a matter of getting to the truth or the most amenable option. But if one party finds their whole purpose in life to reside in some aspect of that disagreement, then the chances of amicability fade fast and the likelihood of reaching any truth recedes.

One of the ways to distance ourselves from the madnesses of our times is to retain an interest in politics but not to rely on it as a source of meaning. The call should be for people to simplify their lives and not to mislead themselves by devoting their lives to a theory that answers no questions, makes no predictions and is easily falsifiable. Meaning can be found in all sorts of places. For most individuals it is found in the love of the people and places around them: in friends, family and loved ones, in culture, place and wonder. A sense of purpose is found in working out what is meaningful in our lives and then orientating ourselves over time as closely as possible to those centres of meaning. Using ourselves up on identity politics, social justice (in this manifestation) and intersectionality is a waste of a life.

We may certainly aim to live in a society in which nobody should be held back from what they can do because of some personal characteristic allotted to them by chance. If somebody has the competency to do something, and the desire to do something, then nothing about their race, sex or sexual orientation should hold them back. But minimizing difference is not the same as pretending difference does not exist. To assume that sex, sexuality and skin colour mean nothing would be ridiculous. But to assume that they mean everything will be fatal. (Loc.4858)1

I found it revealing, as the paragraphs suggest, to decouple victimhood from virtuosity. Not all victims are right, nor are they all agreeable people or well-intentioned. There is nothing good about being a victim. These thoughts took me to another book and how we can misunderstand victimhood and the setup it brings. (EZM)

Down and Out, which was published in January 1933, is most important as a transitional work for Orwell, part of his search for himself as a writer and observer. It is a little uncertain, shaky in tone, especially in its opening third. Like many young writers, he was susceptible to the lure of the easy shock, as with the rape scene. Another passage early in the book suggests that he is a poverty tourist, not locked into that world. It comes as he is hungry and sees an insect fall into his glass of milk. His immediate conclusion is, “There is nothing for it but to throw the milk away and go foodless.” Someone genuinely suffering prolonged hunger, rather than making an excursion into it, likely would pluck out the bug and drink up. The poor are accustomed to the company of insects. (Pg.34)2

The drama triangle is a social model of human interaction – the triangle maps a type of destructive interaction that can occur among people in conflict. The drama triangle model is a tool used in psychotherapy, specifically transactional analysis.Wikipedia

What is the triangle of victimization?Pat says it’s important to avoid what she calls “the triangle of victimization.” It includes a perpetrator, a victim and opportunity. “If one of those pieces is missing, you can’t become a victim,” said Pat.

Don’t fall in. (EZM)


Stephen Karpman, M.D., developed his “drama triangle” – victim, rescuer, persecutor – almost 40 years ago, and I find it’s just as relevant – and just as new to many people – as it was 40 years ago.

Even if you don’t spend much time yourself playing any of these three roles – you probably deal on a daily basis with people who do.

Knowing how to put our “big girl” or “big boy” pants on and get out of the triangle is essential when dealing with people who want to pull us in. Using our own wise mind to recognize when we’ve regressed into one of these roles ourselves (usually because of the usual culprit, needing to play those roles early in our family of origin conditioning) is also essential to make wise conscious choices in our intimate and social interactions with others.

May the reflections and exercises offered below save you much grief and help you enjoy healthy, game-free relationships.


The drama triangle is a dynamic model of social interaction and conflict developed by Dr. Karpman when he was a student of Eric Berne, M.D. father of transactional analysis.[Karpman and other clinicians point out that “victim, rescuer, and persecutor” refer to roles people unconsciously play, or try to manipulate other people to play, not the actual circumstances in someone’s life. There can be real victims of crime or racism or abuse, etc.]

The three roles of the drama triangle are archetypal and easily recognizable in their extreme versions.


The stance of the victim is “poor me!” Victims see themselves as victimized, oppressed, powerless, helpless, hopeless, dejected, and ashamed, and come across as “super-sensitive,” wanting kid glove treatment from others. They can deny any responsibility for their negative circumstances and deny possession of the power to change those circumstances.

A person in the victim role will look for a rescuer, a savior, to save them (and if someone refuses or fails to do that, can quickly perceive them now as a persecutor.)

In terms of derailing resilience, victims have real difficulties making decisions, solving problems, finding much pleasure in life, or understanding their self-perpetuating behaviors.


The stance of the rescuer is “Let me help you!” Rescuers work hard to help and caretake other people, and even need to help other people to feel good about themselves, while neglecting their own needs or not taking responsibility for meeting their own needs.

Rescuers are classically co-dependent and enablers. They need victims to help and often can’t allow the victim to succeed or get better. They can use guilt o keep their victims dependent and feel guilty themselves if they are not rescuing somebody.

In terms of derailing resilience, rescuers are frequently harried, overworked, tired, caught in a martyr style while resentment festers underneath.


The stance of the persecutor is “It’s all your fault!” Persecutors criticize and blame the victim, set strict limits, can be controlling, rigid, authoritative, angry and unpleasant. They keep the victim feeling oppressed through threats and bullying.

In terms of resilience, persecutors can’t bend, can’t be flexible, can’t be vulnerable, can’t be human; they fear the risk of being a victim themselves. Persecutors yell and criticize but they don’t actually solve any problems or help anyone else solve the problem.

These are the most extreme versions of these three roles, but we can encounter people playing milder versions of these roles on a pretty regular basis.

Because Dr. Karpman was a student of transactional analysis at the time he identified these three roles on the drama triangle, there is a resemblance to the critical parent (persecutor) marshmallow parent (rescuers) and the wounded inner child (victim) Eric Berne described in Games People Play.

What gives the drama triangle much of its power and significance is the recognition that people will switch roles and cycle through all three roles without ever getting out of the triangle. Victims depend on a savior; rescuers yearn for a basket case; persecutors need a scapegoat.

The trap is, people are acting out these roles to meet personal (often unconscious) needs rather than being able to see the picture as a whole and take responsibility for their part in keeping the triangle going.

An example from “The Three Faces of Victim – An Overview of the Drama Triangle” by Lynne Forrest:

Dad comes home from work to find Mom and Junior engaged in a battle. “Clean up your room or else,” (persecutor) Mom threatens. Dad immediately comes to Junior’s rescue. “Mom,” he might say, “give the boy a break. He’s been at school all day.”

Any one of several possibilities might follow. Perhaps (persecutor) Mom, feeling victimized by Dad, will turn her wrath on him. In that case, she moves Dad from rescuer to victim. They then might do a few quick trips around the triangle with Junior on the sidelines.

Or maybe Junior joins Dad in a persecutory “Let’s gang up on Mom” approach, or then again, maybe Junior will turn on Dad, rescuing Mom with “Mind your own business, Dad. I don’t need your help!” So it goes, with endless variations, but nonetheless, pinging from corner to corner on the triangle. For many families, it’s the only way they know to interact.

What’s needed is for anyone on the triangle to “wake up” to the roles they are playing repeatedly. One person shifting out of role can catalyze the others to shift out of roles and behaviors. What’s especially helpful is for the victim to begin to “grow up” and take responsibility for their own empowerment and resourcing themselves to meet their own needs.[See Exercises to Practice below]

Each role on the drama triangle has its own payoffs. Victims get to be take care of. Rescuers get to feel good by caretaking. Persecutors get to remain feeling superior to both victim and rescuer.

But the cost is to perpetuate a dysfunctional social dynamic and to miss out on the possibilities (and responsibilities) of healthy, resonant, resilient relationships.

WE&P by: EZorrilla

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