Introduction to the Drama Triangle in Transformational Coaching: Understanding Roles and Relationships

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This blog post explores the Drama Triangle in the context of transformational coaching, highlighting the roles of Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. It explains how individuals can shift between these roles, often perpetuating cycles of conflict and dependency. The post offers insights into recognising these patterns in coaching relationships and emphasises the importance of fostering awareness and empowerment to break free from limiting dynamics.

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The Karpman or Drama Triangle helps to illuminate potential hidden patterns of relationship, conflict and disempowerment that can get in the way of personal growth for our clients (or ourselves!) 

This article explores some of the foundational concepts in the Drama Triangle together with how an understanding of the processes that underpin it support transformational coaching.

The Drama Triangle is a framework that we explore on the Level 1 Diploma in Integrative Coaching as we believe that understanding its components truly supports coaches in developing the way they relate to their clients.

Introduction to the Drama Triangle
At the heart of the Drama Triangle lie 3 roles: the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Rescuer. These roles, though seemingly distinct, often interweave and interchange in relational dynamics, and can perpetuate cycles of conflict, blame, and dependency.

Let’s look at each of these roles briefly:

The Victim: the Victim is usually caught in a narrative of powerlessness and despair. In the Victim state we perceive ourselves as at the mercy of external forces, often relinquishing agency and responsibility for own circumstances. The Victim feels powerless and helpless, believing that external forces control their life. They often give up control and responsibility for their own situation.

The Persecutor: Opposing the Victim stands the Persecutor, wielding judgment, criticism, or aggression as a means of asserting dominance or deflecting  insecurities. In this state we may externalise blame onto others. Often, the Persecutor uses these mechanisms to hide their own insecurities. They often place blame on others for problems.

The Rescuer: Amidst the chaos of conflict, the Rescuer emerges as a hope for support, offering assistance. However, in this state we may inadvertently perpetuate cycles of dependency and disempowerment, reinforcing the Victim’s sense of helplessness. So, whilst the Rescuer offers help and support they can unintentionally create dependency and keep the Victim feeling helpless. By always stepping in to solve problems, the Rescuer prevents the Victim from gaining their own strength.

Continue reading below about the ways that the Drama Triangle impacts Coaching Relationships.

 
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Remember that in our interactions, we often shift between the three roles of the Drama Triangle—Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer—depending on the situation and our emotional state. These roles are not fixed; rather, they are fluid and dynamic, changing as we navigate different contexts and relationships. For instance, we might feel like a Victim in one scenario, overwhelmed by challenges and relinquishing control, while in another situation, we might become the Persecutor, criticising others to assert ourselves or deflect our insecurities. Recognising this shifting nature helps us understand our behaviours and motivations, allowing us to break free from these patterns and foster healthier interactions. Similarly supporting our clients understand this dynamic will support them in their relationships outside of the coaching session.

The Drama Triangle in Coaching
Within coaching the Drama Triangle manifests in a number of ways, presenting both challenges and opportunities for growth and exploration. Let’s take a look at some examples:

Client Dynamics: In coaching sessions, clients may shift between roles within the Drama Triangle, shifting from the Victim’s plea for rescue to the Persecutor’s blame. By shedding light on these patterns, we can facilitate deeper awareness and insight, empowering clients to go beyond limiting narratives and reclaim agency over their lives.

Coach Engagement: As facilitators of transformation we navigate our own relationship to the Drama Triangle, resisting the temptation to assume the role of the Rescuer or Persecutor (sometimes with the client). By fostering an environment of empathy, empowerment, and accountability, we can develop an adult to adult relationship for change, enabling clients’ self-discovery. The goal here is to stay out of the triangle rather than get caught up in the drama.

Example Coaching Scenario: Consider a coaching session wherein a client, grappling with feelings of loss in their professional life, recounts a series of setbacks and challenges. Through empathetic listening and insightful questioning, the coach helps the client recognise recurring patterns of self-sabotage and disempowerment (being in the Victim role). Together, they explore alternative perspectives and strategies, supporting the client reframe their narrative from one of victimhood to one of resilience and possibility (so moving outside of the Triangle). However notice how we can get in the Drama Triangle ourselves – if we take on too much of a Mentor role we start to be viewed as the Rescuer by the client. Or similarly if we are not able to build trust and transparency, the client might view us as the Persecutor.

Reflective Activity: 

Take a moment to reflect on your interactions with your coach or supervisor. Have you noticed yourself falling into the roles of the Victim, Persecutor, or Rescuer at different times? 

Recognise Patterns: Think back to recent interactions. Can you identify instances where you felt powerless and adopted the Victim role, blaming external factors for your situation? Have there been times when you acted as the Persecutor, criticising or blaming your coach or supervisor to assert dominance or hide your own insecurities? Or perhaps you found yourself in the Rescuer role, stepping in to offer unsolicited help or solutions, thereby inadvertently fostering dependency?

Identify Triggers: What triggers these shifts for you? Is it a particular type of feedback, a stressful situation, or a certain dynamic in the relationship?

Reflect on Consequences: How do these roles affect your relationship with your coach or supervisor? Do they hinder your growth or create unnecessary tension?

Personal Insights: Write down any patterns you notice. Do you tend to engage more frequently in one role than the others? Understanding these tendencies can help you develop strategies to stay out of the Drama Triangle and foster a more balanced, adult-to-adult relationship.

By recognising and reflecting on these patterns, you can gain deeper insight into your behaviour and client work to progress towards more constructive and empowering interactions.

If you’re interested in training as an ICF Accredited Coach feel free to explore our Level 1 and 2 ICF Coaching Certifications in Integrative Coaching.

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