The Three Faces of Victim — An Overview of the Drama Triangle

By Lynne Forrest

Whether we know it, or not, most of us react to life as vic­tims. When­ever we refuse to take respon­si­bil­ity for our­selves, we are uncon­sciously choos­ing to react as vic­tim. This inevitably cre­ates feel­ings of anger, fear, guilt or inad­e­quacy and leaves us feel­ing betrayed, or taken advan­tage of by others.

Victim-hood can be defined by the three posi­tions beau­ti­fully out­lined in a dia­gram devel­oped by a well respected psy­chi­a­trist, and teacher of Trans­ac­tional Analy­sis, named Stephen Karp­man. He calls it the “drama tri­an­gle,” I refer to it as the vic­tim tri­an­gle. Hav­ing dis­cov­ered this resource some thirty years ago, it has become one of the more impor­tant tools in my per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life. The more I teach and apply the vic­tim tri­an­gle to rela­tion­ship the deeper my appre­ci­a­tion grows for this sim­ple, pow­er­fully accu­rate instrument.

I’ve some­times referred to the vic­tim tri­an­gle as a “shame gen­er­a­tor” because through it we uncon­sciously re-enact painful life themes that cre­ate shame. This has the effect of rein­forc­ing old, painful beliefs that keep us stuck in a lim­ited ver­sion of reality.

I believe that every dys­func­tional inter­ac­tion, in rela­tion­ship with other or self, takes place on the vic­tim tri­an­gle. But until we become con­scious of these dynam­ics, we can­not trans­form them. And unless we trans­form them, we can­not move for­ward on our jour­ney towards re-claiming emo­tional, men­tal and spir­i­tual well-being.

The three roles on the vic­tim tri­an­gle are Per­se­cu­tor, Res­cuer and Vic­tim. Karp­man placed these three roles on an inverted tri­an­gle and described them as being the three aspects, or faces of vic­tim. No mat­ter where we may start out on the tri­an­gle, vic­tim is where we end up, there­fore no mat­ter what role we’re in on the tri­an­gle, we’re in vic­tim­hood. If we’re on the tri­an­gle we’re liv­ing as vic­tims, plain and simple!

Each per­son has a pri­mary or most famil­iar role — what I call their “start­ing gate” posi­tion. This is the place from which we gen­er­ally enter, or “get hooked” onto, the tri­an­gle. We first learn our start­ing gate posi­tion in our fam­ily of ori­gin. Although we each have a role with which we most iden­tify, once we’re on the tri­an­gle, we auto­mat­i­cally rotate through all the posi­tions, going com­pletely around the tri­an­gle, some­times in a mat­ter of min­utes, or even sec­onds, many times every day.

Start­ing gate Res­cuers (SGR) see them­selves as “helpers” and “care­tak­ers.” They need some­one to res­cue (vic­tim) in order to feel vital and impor­tant. It’s dif­fi­cult for SGR’s to rec­og­nize them­selves as ever being in a vic­tim posi­tion — they’re the ones with the answers after all.

Start­ing Gate Per­se­cu­tors (SGP), on the other hand, iden­tify them­selves pri­mar­ily as vic­tims. They are usu­ally in com­plete denial about their blam­ing tac­tics. When it is pointed out to them, they argue that attack is war­ranted and nec­es­sary for self pro­tec­tion. These two — the Res­cuer and the Per­se­cu­tor — are the two oppo­site extremes of Vic­tim. But again, regard­less of where we start out on the tri­an­gle, all roles even­tu­ally end up in vic­tim. It’s inevitable.

You may notice that both the Per­se­cu­tor and Res­cuer are on the upper end of the tri­an­gle. These roles assume a “one-up” posi­tion over oth­ers, mean­ing they relate as though they are bet­ter, stronger, smarter, or more-together than the vic­tim. Sooner or later the vic­tim, who is in the one-down posi­tion at the bot­tom of the tri­an­gle, devel­ops a metaphor­i­cal “crick in the neck” from always look­ing up. Feel­ing “looked down upon” or “worth– less than” the oth­ers, the Vic­tim builds resent­ment and sooner or later, retal­i­a­tion fol­lows. A nat­ural pro­gres­sion from vic­tim to per­se­cu­tor fol­lows. This gen­er­ally moves the per­se­cu­tor or res­cuer into vic­tim. Rem­i­nis­cent of a not-so-musical game of musi­cal chairs, all play­ers sooner or later rotate positions.

Here’s an exam­ple: Dad comes home from work to find mom and Junior engaged in bat­tle. “Clean up your room or else,” mom threat­ens. Dad imme­di­ately comes to the 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 Mom, feel­ing vic­tim­ized by Dad, will turn her wrath on him. In that case, dad is moved 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 vari­a­tion, but nonethe­less, ping­ing from cor­ner to cor­ner on the tri­an­gle. For many fam­i­lies, it’s the only way they know to interact.

Our starting-gate posi­tion on the vic­tim tri­an­gle is not only where we most often enter the tri­an­gle, it is also the role through which we actu­ally define our­selves. It becomes a strong part of our iden­tity. Each starting-gate posi­tion has its own par­tic­u­lar way of see­ing and react­ing to the world. We all have uncon­scious core beliefs acquired in child­hood, derived from our inter­pre­ta­tion of early fam­ily encoun­ters. These become “life themes” that pre­dis­pose us towards the uncon­scious selec­tion of a par­tic­u­lar start­ing gate posi­tion on the tri­an­gle.
Sally’s mother was phys­i­cally dis­abled and addicted to pre­scrip­tion drugs. From Sally’s ear­li­est mem­ory she reported feel­ing ulti­mately respon­si­ble for her mother. Instead of get­ting appro­pri­ate care from a par­ent who was con­cerned for her well being, she became the “lit­tle par­ent” of a mother who played the part of a help­less child. This child­hood sce­nario set Sally up with a “life script” that pre­dis­posed her towards becom­ing a Start­ing Gate Res­cuer (SGR). Care-taking oth­ers became her pri­mary way of relat­ing to others.

SGR’s, like Sally, have an uncon­scious core belief that might go some­thing like this; “My needs are not impor­tant … I am only val­ued for what I can do for oth­ers.” Of course, believ­ing these ideas requires her to have some­one in her life who she can res­cue (a vic­tim). How else will some­one like Sally get to feel valu­able and worthwhile?

Sally would never admit to being a vic­tim because in her mind she is the one who must have the answers. Nonethe­less, she does, in fact, rotate through vic­tim on the tri­an­gle on a reg­u­lar basis. A SGR in the vic­tim role becomes a mar­tyr, com­plain­ing loudly, “After all I’ve done for you … this is the thanks I get!”

Start­ing Gate Per­se­cu­tors (SGP’s), on the other hand, see them­selves as vic­tims in need of pro­tec­tion. This is how they can so eas­ily jus­tify their venge­ful behav­ior … “They asked for it and they got what they deserved.” That’s the way they see it. Their core belief might go some­thing like this; “The world is dan­ger­ous, peo­ple can’t be trusted so I need to get them before they hurt me.” This atti­tude sets them up to think that they must strike out in order to defend against inevitable attack.

Whereas a SGR may move into the role of per­se­cu­tor by with­draw­ing their care-taking, (“That’s it — I’m not doing any­thing else for you!”) a SGP res­cues in a way that is almost as painful as when they persecute.

Bob is a doc­tor who often jus­ti­fied hurt­ing oth­ers. Attack was his pri­mary way of deal­ing with incon­ve­nience, frus­tra­tion or pain. Once, for instance, he men­tioned run­ning into a patient of his on the golf course. Our dia­logue went some­thing like this;

Lynne, can you believe that patient had the nerve to ask me to treat his bad knee, right then and there, on my only day off?”

Yeah,” I replied, “some peo­ple just don’t have appro­pri­ate bound­aries. How did you han­dle it?”

Oh, I gave him a treat­ment, all right,” he chuck­led, “I took him to my office and gave him a steroid shot he’ll never forget!

In other words Bob res­cued his incon­sid­er­ate patient but in a way that “pun­ished” him for dar­ing to be so bold. To Bob, his action seemed ratio­nal, even jus­ti­fied. His patient had infringed on his free time, there­fore, he believed, his patient deserved the rough treat­ment he got. This is a prime exam­ple of SGP think­ing. Bob didn’t real­ize that he could have just said no to his patients request for treat­ment. He did not have to feel vic­tim­ized by, nor did he need to res­cue his patient. Set­ting bound­aries never occurred to Bob as an option. In his mind he had been treated unjustly and there­fore he had the right, even the oblig­a­tion, to get even.

Vic­tims also have core beliefs that set them up for their start­ing gate posi­tion on the tri­an­gle. Start­ing Gate Victim’s (SGV’s) believe they can­not take care of them­selves. They see them­selves as con­sis­tently unable to han­dle life. They even res­cue from a one-down posi­tion, say­ing things to their poten­tial res­cuer like “You’re the only one who can help me.” These are words that any SGR longs to hear!

Start­ing gate posi­tions are gen­er­ally set-up in child­hood. For instance, if a par­ent does not ask their chil­dren to take age-appropriate respon­si­bil­ity for them­selves, they may grow up either to become adults who feel inad­e­quate at tak­ing care of them­selves (start­ing gate vic­tim) or become resent­ful adults who blame oth­ers when they don’t get taken care of in the way they think they should be. (a per­se­cu­tor role). Either way, they are set up for a life­time on the vic­tim triangle.

There are many vari­a­tions, and each case needs to be indi­vid­u­ally con­sid­ered. We not only act out these tri­an­gu­lar dis­tor­tions in our every­day rela­tions with oth­ers, but we also play out the vic­tim tri­an­gle inter­nally. We move around the tri­an­gle as rapidly inside our own minds as we do out in the world. We ensnare our­selves on the tri­an­gle with dis­hon­est and dys­func­tional inter­nal dia­logue. For exam­ple, we may come down hard on our­selves for not com­plet­ing a project. Per­haps we lam­bast our­selves as being lazy, inad­e­quate or defec­tive ℗, caus­ing us to spi­ral into feel­ings of anger and self-worthlessness. Inwardly, we cower to this per­se­cu­tory voice, fear­ing it may be right (V). Finally when we can’t bear it any­more, we take our­selves off the hook by jus­ti­fy­ing, min­i­miz­ing or indulging in some form of escape. This is how we res­cue our­selves. This could go on for min­utes, hours or days.

Some­times we res­cue our­selves and oth­ers by deny­ing what we know — sort of like; “If I look the other way and pre­tend not to notice, it will go away”. Denial or inner drama of any kind per­pet­u­ates a vicious cycle of shame and self loathing. Mov­ing around the tri­an­gle keeps the self-disparaging mes­sages running.The vic­tim tri­an­gle becomes our very own shame-making machine. It’s up to us to learn how to turn this noisy men­tal machine off.

We can’t get off the tri­an­gle until we rec­og­nize we’re on it. Once we make it con­scious, we observe our inter­ac­tions with oth­ers as a way to iden­tify our own start­ing gate posi­tion. We ask ques­tions, like, “What hooks me? From where do I enter the tri­an­gle once I’ve been hooked?” We begin to train our Inter­nal Observer to notice, with­out judg­ment, our con­ver­sa­tions with loved ones, espe­cially those more “sticky” moments (where we walk on eggshells).

It’s help­ful to learn what the costs and trade-offs are for each of the three roles. Each role has its own lan­guage, beliefs and behav­ior — it’s ben­e­fi­cial to know them. This helps us to iden­tify when we’re on the tri­an­gle. Study­ing the roles also pro­motes a quicker recog­ni­tion of when we’re being baited to play. With all that in mind, let’s exam­ine each role more carefully.


The Res­cuer might be described as a shadow aspect of the mother prin­ci­ple. Instead of an appro­pri­ate expres­sion of sup­port and nur­tur­ing, the Res­cuer tends to “smother”, con­trol and manip­u­late oth­ers — “for their own good,” of course. Theirs is a mis­guided under­stand­ing of what it is to encour­age, empower and protect.

A Start­ing Gate Res­cuer is the clas­sic, co-dependent. The SGR tends be enabling, overly pro­tec­tive — the one who wants to “fix it.” Res­cu­ing is an addic­tion that comes from an uncon­scious need to feel val­ued. There’s no bet­ter way to feel impor­tant than to be a sav­ior! Tak­ing care of oth­ers may be the Res­cuers best game plan for get­ting to feel worthwhile.

SGR’s usu­ally grow up in fam­i­lies where their depen­dency needs are not acknowl­edged. It’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal fact that we treat our­selves the way we were treated as chil­dren. The bud­ding Res­cuer grows up in an envi­ron­ment where their needs are negated and so tend to treat them­selves with the same degree of neg­li­gence that they expe­ri­enced as chil­dren. With­out per­mis­sion to take care of them­selves, their needs go under­ground and they turn instead to tak­ing care of others.

A SGR often gains great sat­is­fac­tion by iden­ti­fy­ing with their care-taking role. They are gen­er­ally proud of what “helpers” and “fix­ers” they are. Often they are socially acclaimed, even rewarded, for what can be seen as “self­less acts” of car­ing. They believe in their good­ness as chief care­tak­ers and see them­selves as heroes.

Behind it all is a mag­i­cal belief that, said out loud, might sound like, “If I take care of them long enough, then, sooner or later, they will take care of me too.” But, as we’ve already learned, this rarely hap­pens. When we res­cue the needy, we can’t expect any­thing back. They can’t even take care of them­selves — much less be there for us!

Often the result­ing dis­ap­point­ment sends the SGR spi­ral­ing into depres­sion. They fail to see that they, them­selves are head­ing straight for vic­tim through their enabling and dis­abling responses. Hav­ing denied the ill-begotten con­se­quences of res­cu­ing, these “do-gooders” find it very hard to hear them­selves referred to as a vic­tim even while they com­plain about how mis­treated they are! Mar­tyr is what a SGR turns into once they’ve moved into the vic­tim posi­tion on the triangle.

Feel­ing used, at the mercy of, betrayed, and hope­less are trade­mark feel­ings of the vic­tim phase of a Rescuer’s dance around the tri­an­gle. Com­mon phrases for the mar­tyred SGR are; “After all I’ve done for you, this is the thanks I get?” or “No mat­ter how much I do, it’s never enough”; or, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t treat me like this!”

A SGR’s great­est fear is that they will end up alone. They believe that their total value comes from how much they do for oth­ers. It’s dif­fi­cult for them to see their worth beyond what they have to offer in the way of “stuff” or “ser­vice.” SGR’s uncon­sciously encour­age depen­dency because they believe, “If you need me, you won’t leave me.” They scram­ble to make them­selves indis­pens­able in order to avoid abandonment.

SGR’s are obliv­i­ous to the crip­pling depen­dency they fos­ter. They are unaware of the dis­abling mes­sages they send through their enabling inter­ac­tion with oth­ers. The more they res­cue, the less self respon­si­bil­ity is taken by the ones they care-take … The less respon­si­bil­ity their charges takes, the more they res­cue … it’s a down­ward spi­ral that often ends in disaster.

A SGR mother of two out-of-control, teenage sons described it well. She said, “I thought my role as a good mother was to make sure my sons toed the line — I thought I was sup­posed to make sure they did the right thing. Because I believed that I was respon­si­ble for the choices they made, I told them what to do and con­stantly attempted to con­trol their behavior.”

Should she be sur­prised then that her sons blame every­one around them for the painful con­se­quences they expe­ri­ence as a result of their own poor choices? Like her, they have learned to think that their behav­ior is her respon­si­bil­ity, not their own. Her inces­sant and futile attempts to con­trol them causes con­stant bat­tle between them, mak­ing it easy for the boys to blame their mother for the prob­lems cre­ated by their own irre­spon­si­bil­ity. Out of her own need to be seen as a “good mom”, this co-dependent mother unwit­tingly taught her sons to see them­selves as hap­less vic­tims whose unhap­pi­ness was always some­body else’s fault. There’s a good pos­si­bil­ity that at least one of these boys will become a Start­ing Gate Per­se­cu­tor. Cer­tainly the set up is in place for that to happen.

This mother, as is often the case, was con­vinced that her sons were inca­pable of mak­ing good choices. She had a long list of evi­dence to back up her con­cerns. This accu­mu­lated evi­dence jus­ti­fied her “oblig­a­tion” to con­trol her sons choices. But because they were teenagers, she could no longer force their com­pli­ance like she could when they were younger. Inevitably she would end up feel­ing help­less, inad­e­quate and like a fail­ure as a mother (vic­tim posi­tion). She would either give in to their demands or “per­se­cute” them for not obey­ing. Either way, she (and they) felt bad. Then would come the guilt or remorse which would moti­vate her to try to “fix it” once again. And she finds her­self back in her orig­i­nal Start­ing Gate Res­cuer posi­tion for the cycle to start anew.

We met Sally ear­lier, who grew up see­ing her mother as weak, help­less and inef­fec­tual. From an early age, she felt a huge respon­si­bil­ity to take care of her frail, drug depen­dent par­ent. Her own well-being depended on it! As the years went by, how­ever, she could scarcely con­tain the inner rage she felt towards her mother for being so needy and weak. As a SGR, she would do all she could to bol­ster her mother, only to come away again and again, feel­ing defeated (vic­tim) because noth­ing she tried worked. Inevitably the resent­ment would take over, lead­ing her to resort to treat­ing her mother with scorn (per­se­cu­tor). This became her pri­mary inter­ac­tive pat­tern, not only with her mother, but in her other rela­tion­ships as well. By the time we met, she was emo­tion­ally, phys­i­cally and spir­i­tu­ally exhausted from hav­ing spent her life tak­ing care of one sick and depen­dent per­son after another.

It becomes the job of the Res­cuer to keep the other propped up — “for their own good,” of course. Hav­ing a Vic­tim is essen­tial in order for the SGR to main­tain the illu­sion of being one-up and need­less. This means then, that there will always be at least one per­son in every SGR’s life who is trou­bled, sick, frag­ile, inept and there­fore depen­dent upon them. If the SGR’s pri­mary vic­tim starts tak­ing respon­si­bil­ity for them­selves, the Res­cuer will either have to find a new vic­tim or address their own shadow needs.

Regard­less of the cir­cum­stances of the one a SGR feels com­pelled to res­cue — no mat­ter how “badly” the vic­tim may need help, res­cu­ing can lead only one place — vic­tim. If you are a pri­mary Res­cuer, this does not mean you can­not be lov­ing, gen­er­ous and kind. It is cer­tainly pos­si­ble to be help­ful and sup­port­ive with­out being a Res­cuer. There is a dis­tinct dif­fer­ence between being truly help­ful and rescuing.

Authen­tic helpers act with­out expec­ta­tions for rec­i­p­ro­ca­tion. They empower rather than dis­able those they serve. What they do will be done to encour­age self-responsibility, rather than pro­mote depen­dency. True Sup­port­ers believe that the other can han­dle their own busi­ness. They believe that every­one has the right to make mis­takes and learn through some­times hard con­se­quences. They trust the other has what it takes to see them­selves through times of dif­fi­culty with­out they, as Res­cuers, need­ing to “save” them.

Start­ing Gate Res­cuers, on the other hand, don’t take respon­si­bil­ity for them­selves. Instead, they do for oth­ers in an attempt to get val­i­da­tion or feel impor­tant or as a way to fos­ter depen­dency. Vic­tim is just round the bend.


Like the other roles, the Start­ing Gate Per­se­cu­tor is shame based. This role is most often taken on by some­one who received overt men­tal and/or phys­i­cal abuse dur­ing their child­hood. As a result they are often secretly seething inside from a shame based wrath that ends up run­ning their lives. SGPs, for sur­vival sake, repress deep-seated feel­ings of worth­less­ness; they hide their pain behind a façade of indig­nant wrath and uncar­ing detach­ment. They may choose to emu­late their pri­mary child­hood abuser(s), pre­fer­ring to iden­tify with those they see as hav­ing power and strength — rather than become the “picked on loser” at the bot­tom of life’s pile. SGP’s tend to adopt an atti­tude that says; “The world is hard and mean … only the ruth­less sur­vive. I’ll be one of those.” In other words, they become per­pe­tra­tors. They “pro­tect” them­selves using author­i­tar­ian, con­trol­ling and down­right pun­ish­ing methods.

In the same way that the SGR is the shadow mother prin­ci­ple, the SGP is the “shadow father prin­ci­ple.” A healthy father’s job is to pro­tect and pro­vide for his fam­ily. Rather than pro­vid­ing nur­tur­ing direc­tion, the SGP attempts to “reform” and dis­ci­pline those around him using manip­u­la­tion and brute force.

The SGP over­comes feel­ings of help­less­ness and shame by over-powering oth­ers. Dom­i­na­tion becomes their most preva­lent style of inter­ac­tion. This means they must always be right! Their meth­ods include bul­ly­ing, preach­ing, threat­en­ing, blam­ing, lec­tur­ing, inter­ro­gat­ing and out­right attack. They believe in get­ting even, very often through aggres­sive acts. Just like the Res­cuer needs some­one to fix, the Per­se­cu­tor needs some­one to blame. SGP’s deny their vul­ner­a­bil­ity in the same way Res­cuers deny their needs. Their great­est fear is pow­er­less­ness. Because they judge and deny their own inad­e­quacy, fear and vul­ner­a­bil­ity, they will need some place else to project these dis­owned feel­ings. In other words, they need a vic­tim. They need some­one they per­ceive as weak to prove to them­selves that their own destruc­tively painful story about the world is true. Both Res­cuers and Per­se­cu­tors uncon­sciously “need” a Vic­tim in order to sus­tain their idea of who they are and what the world is like.

SGP’s also tend to com­pen­sate for inner feel­ings of worth­less­ness by putting on grandiose airs. Grandios­ity inevitably comes from shame. It is a com­pen­sa­tion and cover-up for deep infe­ri­or­ity. Supe­ri­or­ity is the attempt to swing hard to the other side of “less than” in order to come across as “bet­ter than.”

It is most dif­fi­cult for some­one in Per­se­cu­tor to take respon­si­bil­ity for the way they hurt oth­ers. In their mind, oth­ers deserve what they get. These war­ring indi­vid­u­als tend to see them­selves as hav­ing to con­stantly fight for sur­vival. Theirs is a con­stant strug­gle to pro­tect them­selves in what they per­ceive as a hos­tile world.

Joseph was from a promi­nent, wealthy fam­ily. His par­ents divorced and his father was angry, remote and used his money to con­trol oth­ers. His mother was an alco­holic who brought home men who abused her and Joseph through­out his pre-adolescent and ado­les­cent years. He, early on, learned that his only chance for sur­vival was to fight. Joseph plowed through life with his head down the way a bull rages across a bull­fight­ers pen. He con­structed his life so that there was always an enemy that had to be fought.

On the out­side, Joseph exhib­ited a swash-buckling, “I don’t give a damn” per­sona — he was ever ready to gam­ble or take care­less risks with his health. But on the inside, he was bit­ter and unhappy. He shared with me how exhausted he felt from a belief that he needed to main­tain con­stant vig­i­lance; he felt a des­per­ate need to keep a watch­ful eye out for those who wanted to hurt him or his loved ones.

Joseph was con­stantly involved in court bat­tles and even out and out, phys­i­cal brawls. He was always hav­ing to get him­self out of one “scrape” after another. To his way of think­ing these occur­rences were always some­body else’s fault. He could not resist what he felt was jus­ti­fi­able retal­i­a­tion. “I can’t let them get away with it!” was his most com­mon response.

Joseph saw him­self as some­one who did not get the pro­tec­tion he deserved. This belief jus­ti­fied tak­ing mat­ters into his own hands. At least that’s how he saw it. He trusted no-one. Not even his par­ents had been reli­able, so who could he depend on? This atti­tude prompted him to be in con­stant defense mode. He had to be ready for the next attack!

Joseph is an exam­ple of a clas­sic Start­ing Gate Per­se­cu­tor. It is easy to think that Per­se­cu­tors are “bad” peo­ple. They are not. They are sim­ply wounded indi­vid­u­als who see the world as dan­ger­ous. This requires that they be ever ready to strike back. They live in con­stant defen­sive reaction.

It is always dif­fi­cult for SGP’s to per­ceive them­selves as per­se­cu­tors. It is much eas­ier to jus­tify the neces­sity for per­se­cu­tion (thereby iden­ti­fy­ing with vic­tim) than to own the oppres­sor role. The SGP cycle looks some­thing like: “I was just try­ing to help (res­cuer), and they turned on me (vic­tim), so I had to defend myself by strik­ing back (persecutor).”

It can feel very threat­en­ing for some­one stuck in Per­se­cu­tor con­scious­ness to get really hon­est with them­selves. To do so feels like blam­ing them­selves, which only inten­si­fies their inter­nal con­dem­na­tion. SGP’s need to have a sit­u­a­tion or per­son they can blame so they can stay angry. Anger, for a SGP, can act as a fuel within the psy­che to ener­gize them. It may be the only way they have of deal­ing with chronic depres­sion. SGPs often need a jolt of rage the same way other peo­ple depend on a shot of caf­feine. It jump-starts their day and pro­vides them with the energy needed to keep them on their feet.

Just as with the other roles, self-accountability is the only way off the vic­tim grid for the SGP. There has to be some kind of break­through for them to own their part. Unfor­tu­nately, because of their great reluc­tance to do so, it may have to come in the form of crisis.

Iron­i­cally, a main exit way off the tri­an­gle is through the per­se­cu­tor posi­tion. This does not mean we become per­se­cu­tors. It does mean how­ever, that once we decide to get off the tri­an­gle, there most likely will be those who see us as per­se­cu­tors. (”How can you do this to me?”) Once we decide to take self-responsibility and tell our truth, those still on the tri­an­gle are likely to accuse us of vic­tim­iz­ing them. “How dare you refuse to take care of me,” a Vic­tim might cry. Or “What do you mean you don’t need my help?” a pri­mary enabler storms when their vic­tim decides to become account­able. In other words, to escape the vic­tim grid, we must be will­ing to be per­ceived as the “bad guy.” This doesn’t make it so, but we must be will­ing to sit with the dis­com­fort of being per­ceived as such.


The role of Start­ing Gate Vic­tim is also a shadow aspect. It is the wounded shadow of our inner child; that part of us that is inno­cent, vul­ner­a­ble AND needy. This child-self does need sup­port on occa­sion — that’s nat­ural. It’s only when we become con­vinced that we can’t take care of our­selves, that we move into Vic­tim. Believ­ing that we are frail, pow­er­less or defec­tive keeps us need­ing res­cue. This rel­e­gates us to a life­time of crip­pling depen­dency on our pri­mary relationships.

A SGV has accepted a def­i­n­i­tion of them­selves that says they are intrin­si­cally dam­aged and inca­pable. SGV’s project an atti­tude of being weak, frag­ile or not smart enough; basi­cally, “I can’t do it by myself.” Their great­est fear is that they won’t make it. That anx­i­ety forces them to be always on the look­out for some­one stronger or more capa­ble to take care of them.

SGV’s deny both their prob­lem solv­ing abil­i­ties and their poten­tial for self-generated power. Instead they tend to see them­selves as inept at han­dling life. Feel­ing done in by, at the mercy of, mis­treated, intrin­si­cally defec­tive or “wrong,” they see them­selves as bro­ken and unfix­able. This doesn’t pre­vent them from feel­ing highly resent­ful towards those on who they depend. As much as they insist on being taken care of by their pri­mary res­cuers … they nonethe­less do not appre­ci­ate being reminded of their inadequacy.

The very thing a Res­cuer seeks (val­i­da­tion and appre­ci­a­tion) is the thing Vic­tims most resent giv­ing because it is a reminder to them of their own defi­cien­cies. Instead they resent the help that is given. SGV’s even­tu­ally get tired of being in the one-down posi­tion and begin to find ways to feel equal. Unfor­tu­nately this usu­ally involves some form of “get­ting even.”

For a SGV, a move to per­se­cu­tor on the tri­an­gle usu­ally means sab­o­tag­ing the efforts made to res­cue them, often through passive-aggressive behav­ior. For exam­ple, they are skilled at play­ing a game called,“Yes, but .…”

It works like this…

The SGV’s res­cuer offers a help­ful sug­ges­tion to some com­plaint or prob­lem voiced by the Vic­tim. The SGV imme­di­ately turns the sug­ges­tion on its ear with a response like; “Yes, but that won’t work because …”. The SGV then pro­ceeds to “yes, but” any and all sug­ges­tions, as the Res­cuer tries, in vain, to come up with a solu­tion. The SGV is deter­mined to prove that their prob­lem is unsolv­able, thus stump­ing the Res­cuer, leav­ing them to feel as impo­tent as the SGV innately feels. They may also resort to the per­se­cu­tor role as a way to blame or manip­u­late oth­ers into tak­ing care of them.

Con­vinced of their intrin­sic incom­pe­tence, SGV’s live in a per­pet­ual shame spi­ral, often lead­ing to self abuse. Abuse of drugs, alco­hol and food, as well as gam­bling and out of con­trol spend­ing are just a few of the self defeat­ing behav­iors prac­ticed by SGV’s. SGV’s walk around much like the Char­lie Brown char­ac­ter, Pig-Pen in his whirl­wind of dust, except Vic­tims live in a vor­tex of shame of their own mak­ing. This cloud of defec­tive­ness becomes their total identity.

Linda was the second-born in her fam­ily. Almost from birth, she had prob­lems. Linda was a child who was for­ever in trou­ble of one sort or another. She strug­gled aca­d­e­m­i­cally, was per­pet­u­ally dis­rup­tive and often sick. It came as no sur­prise to any­one when she got into drugs as a teenager. Her mother, Stella, was a die-hard Res­cuer. Con­vinced of Linda’s inep­ti­tude and think­ing she was being help­ful, Stella bailed Linda out every time she got into trou­ble. By con­stantly alle­vi­at­ing the nat­ural con­se­quences of Linda’s choices, Stella’s earnest enabling deprived Linda of the oppor­tu­nity to learn from her mis­takes. As a result, Linda came to see her­self as increas­ingly incom­pe­tent and grew more depen­dent on oth­ers. Her mother’s well-intentioned res­cu­ing sent a crip­pling mes­sage that pro­moted a life long Vic­tim stance for Linda.

Since SGV’s are often the iden­ti­fied prob­lem in their fam­ily, it’s nat­ural for them to seek out­side pro­fes­sional help first. Often they are dragged to their first coun­sel­ing ses­sion by dis­tressed fam­ily mem­bers. SGV’s tend to be ever on the look out for yet another Res­cuer, and SGR’s abound among help­ing pro­fes­sion­als. In this case, the pro­fes­sional may find them­selves inad­ver­tently hooked on the tri­an­gle with a prac­ticed, and very con­vinc­ing, vic­tim. This means the real issue never gets addressed.

Those in pri­mary Vic­tim roles must learn to assume respon­si­bil­ity for them­selves and ini­ti­ate self-care, rather than look out­side them­selves for a sav­ior. They must chal­lenge the ingrained belief that they can’t take care of them­selves if they are to escape the tri­an­gle. Instead of see­ing them­selves as pow­er­less, they must acknowl­edge their prob­lem solv­ing as well as their lead­er­ship capabilities.

For it is true that no mat­ter who may try to “save us,” as a SGV — no mat­ter how much money they give or how sin­cere our inten­tions to “do bet­ter” may be, play­ing the part of vic­tim always leads to only one place — straight back to Vic­tim. It’s an end­less cycle of feel­ing defeated and worth­less. There is no escape except to take total respon­si­bil­ity for our own feel­ings, thoughts and reactions.

Start­ing Gate Beliefs

Each start­ing gate posi­tion has a “script” made to order for their par­tic­u­lar dance around the tri­an­gle. These “scripts” con­sist of a par­tic­u­lar set of beliefs through which the world and our­selves are seen.

The Res­cuer Story

Res­cuers believe that their needs are unim­por­tant and irrel­e­vant. This means that the only way they can legit­i­mately con­nect with oth­ers, feel val­ued and have their needs met is through the back door of care-taking. Res­cuers chas­tise them­selves when they aren’t care-taking oth­ers. Their start­ing gate story is; “If I take care of oth­ers well enough and long enough, then I will be ful­filled. It’s the only way to be loved.” Unfor­tu­nately, Res­cuers are involved with life-time Vic­tims who have no idea of how to be there for them. This rein­forces the SG Rescuer’s story that says they shouldn’t be needy, which then pro­duces more shame and deeper denial sur­round­ing their own needs.

The Vic­tim Story

Guilt and shame are the dri­ving forces for the per­pet­u­a­tion of the Tri­an­gle. Guilt is often used by Vic­tims in an effort to manip­u­late their Res­cuers into tak­ing care of them: “If you don’t do it, who will?” The Vic­tims’ story says they can’t make it on their own and they prove it to them­selves over and over on the tri­an­gle. They believe that they are innately defec­tive and inca­pable and so spend their lives on the look-out for some­one to “save” them. Though this is what they feel they must have, i.e., a sav­ior, they are simul­ta­ne­ously angry at their res­cuers because they feel put down by and looked down on by their caretakers.

The Per­se­cu­tor Story

Per­se­cu­tors who believe the world is dan­ger­ous, use fear and intim­i­da­tion as tools for keep­ing oth­ers in their place. What they don’t see is how their meth­ods for pro­vid­ing “safety” end up prov­ing to them that life is indeed as dan­ger­ous as they believe it to be. Their story says that they are inno­cent bystanders in a dan­ger­ous world where oth­ers are always out to hurt them. It’s sur­vival of the fittest and their only chance is to strike first. This story keeps them in per­pet­ual defense/offense modus operandi.

Shad­ows of Victim-hood

Plac­ing the three posi­tions on a straight line with Vic­tim in the mid­dle, is a way of demon­strat­ing that Per­se­cu­tor and Res­cuer are sim­ply the two extremes, or shadow aspects, of victim-hood.

Per­se­cu­tor —— VICTIM —— Rescuer

All three roles are dis­torted expres­sions of pos­i­tive pow­ers that we, as humans pos­sess, but deny or repress when liv­ing on the tri­an­gle. Iden­ti­fy­ing what our start­ing gate posi­tion is on the tri­an­gle can help us rec­og­nize the aspects of our­selves we deny.

For instance, when we see our­selves pri­mar­ily as medi­a­tors and care­tak­ers, we deny our own power by set­ting inap­pro­pri­ate bound­aries. We occupy the Res­cuer position.

SGR’s have a nat­ural capac­ity for orga­niz­ing, as well as a won­der­ful nur­tur­ing abil­ity. But when a SGR denies her­self the ben­e­fit of these abil­i­ties — when she refuses to nur­ture or set pri­or­i­ties for her­self … then she will find her­self obsess­ing about and inter­ven­ing (or inter­fer­ing) in the lives of oth­ers — most often in unhealthy ways. She becomes some­one who takes respon­si­bil­ity for every­one but herself.

These char­ac­ter­is­tics are com­monly thought of as being pri­mar­ily fem­i­nine char­ac­ter­is­tics — so the SGR can be seen as a dis­torted expres­sion of the fem­i­nine aspect.

The Per­se­cu­tor, on the other hand, has a deep-seated sense of jus­tice. He believes in the use of power and assertive­ness. There is noth­ing innately wrong with these abil­i­ties; they are in fact, impor­tant in self care. Yet a SGP will exer­cise these gifts in twisted ways. When these essen­tially male qual­i­ties of pro­tec­tion, guid­ance and bound­ary set­ting are not fully acknowl­edged and claimed — when they are denied, they end up being expressed in uncon­scious and irre­spon­si­ble ways — thus a SGP can be seen as a dis­torted expres­sion of the mas­cu­line aspect.

Attack, for the SGP, becomes the accepted way to express these pow­ers and is then jus­ti­fied as a nec­es­sary defense. Simul­ta­ne­ously, a SGP will see them­selves only as the inno­cent vic­tim … “They hurt me — I had to pro­tect myself by retal­i­at­ing.” It’s hard for any of us to admit we mis­treat peo­ple. Per­se­cu­tors jus­tify their hurt­ful behav­ior with “good rea­sons” (“… because they did some­thing to me” or “took some­thing from me”) and this makes it okay, in their minds, to hurt “back.” This is typ­i­cal Per­se­cu­tor men­tal­ity. SGP’s have sup­pressed their car­ing, nur­tur­ing qual­i­ties, and instead, tend to prob­lem solve through anger, abuse and control.

Here’s a typ­i­cal exam­ple, that might eas­ily show up in relationship …

Don came home late for din­ner. Ann, his wife, was angry. She had pre­pared a good meal and it was still sit­ting, uneaten and cold, an hour later. Like many SGP’s, Ann’s ten­dency is to assume the worse (“He did this to me”) and attack. So instead of check­ing in with her hus­band, she imme­di­ately launches into; “You told me you would be here on time. You lied! I can never trust you to tell me the truth.” When Don tries to explain that he got stuck in traf­fic, Ann is not lis­ten­ing. Instead she jus­ti­fies her reaction,“You always have excuses! You expect me to believe you. You’re a liar … ” She con­tin­ues to hurl insults, even resort­ing to name call­ing. Later, she explained that he had hurt her and there­fore deserved the way she treated him. This is clas­sic Per­se­cu­tor reasoning.

Because Ann sees her­self as a vic­tim who doesn’t have the right to take care of her­self or set bound­aries. Instead of say­ing some­thing like, “Hi Sweet­heart, I had din­ner ready on time; when you didn’t get here, I went ahead and ate mine and left yours warm­ing on the stove,” she resorts to retal­i­a­tion. Her belief that she is at the mercy of some­one who is try­ing to hurt her keeps her strik­ing out in a dis­torted and unnec­es­sary effort to pro­tect herself.

When we have sup­pressed both sides … deny­ing both our innate abil­ity to take care of our­selves through healthy nur­tur­ing and the right to take pro­tec­tive, assertive action, we are left in Vic­tim. As a mat­ter of fact, a good def­i­n­i­tion for a SGV might be; some­one who does not know how to set pri­or­i­ties or bound­aries, nor nur­tures and pro­tects themselves.

As indi­vid­u­als grow in aware­ness and begin to alter their behav­ior, they often change their starting-gate posi­tions. Becom­ing aware of a pri­mary posi­tion, they may com­mit to get­ting off the tri­an­gle but often merely switch roles instead. Although they may be oper­at­ing from a dif­fer­ent start­ing gate, they are nonethe­less still on the tri­an­gle. This hap­pens fre­quently and may even be an essen­tial part of learn­ing the full impact of liv­ing on the triangle.

Con­se­quences of Tri­an­gu­lar Living

Liv­ing on the vic­tim tri­an­gle cre­ates mis­ery and suf­fer­ing no mat­ter what your pri­mary start­ing gate posi­tion may be. The cost is tremen­dous for all three roles and leads to emo­tional, men­tal and even phys­i­cal pain. Efforts to avoid pain, by blam­ing or look­ing for some­one to take care of us, only ends up gen­er­at­ing greater pain in the end. When we try to shield oth­ers from the truth, (res­cue) we dis­count their abil­i­ties and this cre­ates more pain. Every­one involved in tri­an­gu­lar dynam­ics ends up hurt and angry at some point; no-one wins. There are char­ac­ter­is­tics of and con­se­quences to being on the tri­an­gle that all three roles bear in com­mon. Let’s talk about a few of them.

Lack of Per­sonal Responsibility

When­ever we fail to take respon­si­bil­ity for our­selves, we end up on the tri­an­gle. Not even Res­cuers, who pride them­selves on being respon­si­ble, take respon­si­bil­ity for them­selves. They take care of every­one else, but have no idea of how to do it for them­selves. Not tak­ing respon­si­bil­ity is a key iden­ti­fy­ing fac­tor in rec­og­niz­ing when we are on the tri­an­gle. Per­se­cu­tors shift respon­si­bil­ity by blam­ing oth­ers for their mis­ery. Vic­tims look for some­one else to take respon­si­bil­ity for them. Not one of the three roles take respon­si­bil­ity for themselves.

As long as we chase our­selves and oth­ers around the tri­an­gle, we rel­e­gate our­selves to liv­ing in reac­tion. Rather than liv­ing spon­ta­neously and free through self-responsibility and per­sonal choice, we set­tle into dull and painful lives ruled by the agen­das of oth­ers and our own uncon­scious beliefs. To expe­ri­ence a ful­fill­ing life requires a con­scious will­ing­ness to get off the tri­an­gle and extend grace to those still encum­bered by their drama.

Painful Beliefs Rule

Unhealthy beliefs about our­selves and the world, instilled in child­hood, become rigid rules that may need to be vio­lated. Fam­ily dic­tums such as, “don’t talk about it”, “don’t share feel­ings”, or “it’s self­ish to take care of your­self,” are some of the old beliefs that have ruled us and must be chal­lenged if we are to find inner peace. We can expect, and even cel­e­brate, uncom­fort­able feel­ings when they come up for us, learn­ing to see them as oppor­tu­ni­ties for free­ing our­selves of the painful beliefs that keep us trapped on the triangle.

Some­times we sim­ply need to sit with an uncom­fort­able feel­ing — such as guilt, with­out act­ing on it. Guilt does not nec­es­sar­ily imply that we have behaved wrong or uneth­i­cally. Guilt is often a learned response. Some­times guilt just means that we’ve bro­ken a dys­func­tional family

I’m reminded of a story that has cir­cu­lated among ther­a­peu­tic cir­cles for years about the way to cook a ham. Per­haps you remem­ber it too. It goes like this:

A lit­tle girl noticed her mother cut­ting the butt end off the ham to cook it for the fam­ily hol­i­day din­ner and asked, “Why do you cut off the end to cook it?” The mother with­out giv­ing it a moment’s thought, replied, “Why, this is the way my mother always cooked a ham, so I know it’s the right way to do it!” Well, the lit­tle girls grand­mother hap­pened to live close by, so she vis­ited her and asked her the same ques­tion, “Grandma, why do you cut the butt end off the ham before you cook it?” Her grand­mother replied that her mother had taught her to cook a ham like that. Great granny hap­pened to be vis­it­ing for the hol­i­day so the lit­tle girl went to her and asked the same ques­tion — and this time she got the “real” answer — “Child, when I was cook­ing hams back then, I only owned one bak­ing pan and it was too small to hold a whole ham so I would cut the butt end off the ham to make it fit!”

This is how it works. We fol­low, with­out ques­tion, fam­ily dic­tums and inter­nal­ized beliefs that gen­er­ate noth­ing but misery.

Painful Feel­ings

Fre­quently we get on the tri­an­gle through the port of painful feel­ings. It seems that many of us tend to let painful feel­ings rule us. We think a thought and it trig­gers guilt or fear, which prompts us to react in a way that puts us back on the tri­an­gle. Our reac­tion is usu­ally a mis­guided attempt to con­trol or get rid of the painful feel­ing so that we can “feel better.”

For instance, we may res­cue oth­ers as a way of both keep­ing our­selves and them from feel­ing bad. We tell our­selves things like, “She can’t han­dle it” or, “It will hurt his feel­ings”, so we “han­dle it” for them. We may notice that we feel bet­ter when we are fix­ing some­one else — it gives us a false sense of being in con­trol which feels tem­porar­ily empow­er­ing. We may fail to rec­og­nize that our increased sense of power is often at the expense of the other, leav­ing them feel­ing dis­em­pow­ered and “less than.”

An Exam­ple

Sam believed his son, Paul to be inept. The words he actu­ally used to describe him were, “He’s stu­pid. He will never make it in the world.” As a result, Sam’s pri­mary relat­ing pat­tern with his son was as his pri­mary Res­cuer. Believ­ing Paul was stu­pid brought feel­ings of guilt, appre­hen­sion and duty towards his son. “He’s my son and I must pro­vide for him … I must guide and advise him and bail him out of all the scrapes he gets him­self into because he’s too stu­pid to run his own life. I will just have to do it for him.” These were some of Sam’s thoughts.

And so he did.

Mean­while, Paul had bought into the story too. He shared his father’s per­cep­tion that said he couldn’t make it on his own. Believ­ing that he was basi­cally lack­ing in fun­da­men­tal life skills cre­ated feel­ings of inad­e­quacy and fail­ure for Paul. The whole rela­tion­ship between this father and son was based on the severely lim­ited def­i­n­i­tion that they shared about Paul’s lack of abil­ity to do well in life.

So, how do you think some­one like Paul, who believes he’s truly inept, will live his life? What sorts of choices would you expect some­one to make who sees him­self as inca­pable and lack­ing? With such painful beliefs about him­self, how could Paul make any­thing but “fool­ish” choices! And every time he does, he ends up ver­i­fy­ing his father’s story about Paul.

As long as these two share such a painfully lim­it­ing story about Paul, their rela­tion­ship will remain on the tri­an­gle — Paul “screw­ing up” and Sam fix­ing it for him.

I can hear some of you ask­ing, “But Lynne, what if it’s true? What if Paul is totally incompetent?”

I only know this… it is our beliefs that make it so. We treat oth­ers accord­ing to what we believe about them. When we chal­lenge these assump­tions, our inter­ac­tion with that per­son changes.

For instance, the whole dynamic between Sam and Paul changed as Sam began to exam­ine his beliefs about his son. He began to treat his son with new respect once he was able to get hon­est with him­self about his pre­vi­ously denied need to keep Paul depen­dent. He began to let his son expe­ri­ence the nat­ural con­se­quences of his own choices instead of res­cu­ing and then berat­ing him for mak­ing “dumb deci­sions.” As a result Paul began to learn from his mis­takes. Sam’s rela­tion­ship with Paul com­pletely trans­formed sim­ply because Sam chose to take respon­si­bil­ity for his own feel­ings and beliefs. By giv­ing up play­ing Res­cuer Sam was able to move off the tri­an­gle into a more sat­is­fy­ing and authen­tic daily exchange with his son.

We may attempt to man­age the emo­tional affairs of oth­ers by keep­ing our opin­ions, feel­ings and thoughts hid­den, even from our­selves at times. This can end up cost­ing us our own well-being and inevitably cre­ates dis­tance between our­selves and the other. It is just one more way we con­tinue the dance around the triangle.

What made Sam’s move off the tri­an­gle pos­si­ble was his recog­ni­tion that his feel­ings were cre­ated by his own beliefs. He came to under­stand that his behav­ior was always deter­mined by what­ever thoughts he was believ­ing at the time.

This is key to mov­ing off the tri­an­gle. When we believe painful sto­ries about who we are, like,“I’m only loved for what I do for oth­ers” or, “I don’t mat­ter,” or when we hold dis­torted beliefs about those around us, like, “They’re try­ing to hurt me” or “They can’t take care of them­selves,” these per­sonal con­vic­tions will prompt us to act as if they are true. Our painful feel­ings orig­i­nate out of our lim­ited ideas about our­selves and oth­ers. They cause us to react in ways that end up prov­ing that what we believe is true. This is the vicious cycle of life on the triangle.


Any­time we deny our feel­ings we set our­selves up for a vic­tim per­spec­tive. Feel­ings are real. They are “energy-in-motion.” When we dis­count or under­mine our emo­tions we end up over­taken by them, becom­ing impul­sive reac­tors. We can’t take respon­si­bil­ity for our­selves when we refuse to acknowl­edge our feel­ings, which means that these dis­avowed “inner tyrants” will go on dri­ving our behav­ior from behind the scenes.

Although it is true that our feel­ings are gen­er­ated by what we believe, feel­ings are nonethe­less impor­tant. They alert us when we are think­ing unhappy thoughts; feel­ing “bad,” for instance, lets us know we are think­ing a most unhappy, pos­si­bly dis­torted, belief. Instead of deny­ing the feel­ing, we learn to fol­low the feel­ing in to the belief behind it. This is where true inter­ven­tion is pos­si­ble. The feel­ing dis­si­pates once the belief behind it is made con­scious and addressed. We learn to rec­og­nize that our feel­ings are what point us to the lim­it­ing beliefs that are keep­ing us stuck on the triangle.

Par­ents who never learned that feel­ings fol­low thought and who grew up with­out per­mis­sion to acknowl­edge or express feel­ings often deny their chil­dren the same right. They may have decided early in life that cer­tain feel­ings are wrong or bad, so they deny and repress them with­out exam­in­ing the rul­ing thoughts behind the feelings.

Telling our­selves that our feel­ings are unac­cept­able does not make them go away. As long as we con­tinue to attach belief to painful sto­ries about our­selves and oth­ers we will go on gen­er­at­ing these same neg­a­tive feel­ings. When sup­pressed, these denied emo­tions become secret pock­ets of shame within the psy­che. They only serve to alien­ate us from oth­ers and sen­tence us to a life on the triangle.

Some­times we deny feel­ings in an ill-fated attempt to avoid feel­ing bad. Per­haps we tell our­selves that we can’t han­dle our feel­ings, that they are too much for us. We may think we are at the mercy of our own mis­ery because we don’t know from where these feel­ings come or what to do with, or about them. Maybe it is bet­ter to stay away from these messy inner states under such circumstances.

But when we know that it’s our thoughts that pro­duce painful feel­ings; that indeed our unhappy feel­ings act as gate­ways into greater under­stand­ing of our­selves — then we no longer have the need to sup­press uncom­fort­able feel­ings. Until we are able rec­og­nize and grasp the impli­ca­tions of these sim­ple truths how­ever, we may go on try­ing to escape pain using var­i­ous sup­pres­sion tac­tics. These attempts at avoid­ance only keep us on the tri­an­gle where the guar­an­teed out­come is suf­fer­ing and misery.


Get­ting hon­est with our­selves is the most basic require­ment for get­ting off the tri­an­gle. Get­ting off the tri­an­gle is impos­si­ble with­out self-honesty. Telling our truth is a key way of tak­ing respon­si­bil­ity. We then must be will­ing to take nec­es­sary action for what­ever that truth reveals.

Of course, when feel­ings are denied, hon­esty is impos­si­ble. Remem­ber that denial comes out of neg­a­tive self judg­ment. If we have decided on some level that we can­not accept our thoughts, behav­ior or feel­ings than, chances are, we will not be able to admit we have them. It’s too painful to admit some­thing about our­selves that we have judged as unac­cept­able. We must prac­tice self accep­tance if we are truly going to be able to be hon­est with our­selves and others.

In order for a SG Res­cuer to get hon­est, for instance, they have to be will­ing to con­fess their pre­vi­ously uncon­scious need to keep oth­ers depen­dent on them. This means acknowl­edg­ing that being a res­cuer is what they do to get their own need for self-worth met. As long as the Res­cuer con­tin­ues to see the other as a weak, inef­fec­tual and inept vic­tim, they will con­tinue to deceive them­selves into believ­ing that they must be the fixer and care­taker. Their own needs will not be rec­og­nized or met.

In the same way, a SG Per­se­cu­tor is being dis­hon­est when they insist on blam­ing oth­ers for their mis­ery and suf­fer­ing. There is no way off the tri­an­gle for a Per­se­cu­tor as long as they insist on see­ing them­selves as blame­less, inno­cent bystanders who have been unjustly treated.

In order for a SG Vic­tim to get off the tri­an­gle, they must con­fess their invest­ment in stay­ing “lit­tle,” i.e. depen­dent and needy. This means get­ting hon­est about how they manip­u­late oth­ers, using a self-deprecating story of inept­ness, in order to get taken care of. Oth­er­wise they will fall deeper and deeper into a down­ward spi­ral of despair and unworthiness.

Liv­ing in real­ity requires truth. To tell the truth, we first must first know what it is. When we react out of denied feel­ings and uncon­scious pro­gram­ming, we can­not pos­si­bly know our per­sonal truth. This means we will not be in touch with real­ity. There will be hid­den agen­das and dis­hon­esty. This is another pri­mary trait of all play­ers on the tri­an­gle. Only by know­ing our truth, can we begin to speak from a place of per­sonal integrity. Then exit­ing the tri­an­gle becomes pos­si­ble.


We tend to deny feel­ings and beliefs that we have judged as neg­a­tive or unac­cept­able. As pre­vi­ously men­tioned, we res­cue our­selves by push­ing these unac­cept­able parts into the dark uncon­scious. They don’t nec­es­sar­ily stay there, how­ever. What­ever thoughts and feel­ings we don’t own, i.e., take respon­si­bil­ity for, will end up being pro­jected out into our world, usu­ally on some­one we “love.” As soon as we judge some thought or feel­ing within us as unac­cept­able, we will uncon­sciously look around and find some­one who has these same traits and hate them for it. This is called pro­jec­tion and it is a pro­pelling force on the tri­an­gle. Pro­jec­tion ensures that the vic­tim dance continues.

Lisa and Ted came in for cou­ples coun­sel­ing. In gath­er­ing their his­tory, I learned that Lisa had a father who raged often through­out her child­hood. She was afraid of anger as a result and did not allow her­self to feel or express her own ill-humor. She judged anger as “bad” and denied that she had any. It’s prob­a­bly no sur­prise then that Lisa’s biggest com­plaint about her hus­band was his “short fuse.” “He’s so angry all the time,” she said. “He just wants to argue about everything!”

Her hus­band, Ted came across as upfront, open, and com­mu­nica­tive. He reported that he had not felt heard in his fam­ily grow­ing up and expressed frus­tra­tion with Lisa because, “Any time I dis­agree with her, no mat­ter how calmly I express it, she accuses me of being angry and refuses to dis­cuss it. It ends up that the only way I can get heard is to blow up!”

Can you place these two on the tri­an­gle? Let’s take a look:

Let’s start with Lisa, who was on the tri­an­gle before a sin­gle word was spo­ken out loud between her and her hus­band. She started out by judg­ing her own anger (per­se­cut­ing her­self) and then deny­ing it (res­cu­ing her­self). Lisa is on the tri­an­gle with her­self. She res­cues her­self through denial. Denial is always an attempt to res­cue our­selves. Lisa has learned to shut her anger down so quickly that she does not even reg­is­ter it con­sciously. But that angry energy has got to go somewhere.

That’s where Ted enters the pic­ture. Lisa needs some­place to project her dis­owned anger. Ted is the per­fect fit. Lisa sees in Ted the angry self that she has denied. This is why she is so quick to label the slight­est dis­sent from him as “bad” anger. She then cas­ti­gates Ted for the “bad” feel­ings that she has pro­jected and pro­ceeds to crit­i­cize him harshly (per­se­cu­tor) in the same way she has uncon­sciously judged herself.

Ted, just as when he was a child, feels mis­un­der­stood and unheard at first. He is in vic­tim. But before long his anger arises and he moves into per­se­cu­tor by “blow­ing up” at Lisa. This moves Lisa into vic­tim, prompt­ing her to remem­ber the “angry dad” of her child­hood. Both Ted and Lisa are uncon­sciously val­i­dat­ing their own child­hood dra­mas by pro­ject­ing their painful beliefs and judg­ments about them­selves onto one another. These sorts of inter­ac­tions are why I call the vic­tim tri­an­gle the “play­ing field” for all dysfunction.

You may won­der where the res­cuer is in all this mêlée. Some­times a role is played “beneath the sur­face.” It may not be exter­nally evi­dent as in the case described above. Because Lisa can­not take respon­si­bil­ity for her own anger (because to see her­self as being “bad like dad” would be too painful) she res­cues her­self through denial. She takes her­self off the hook by pro­ject­ing her unwanted feel­ings onto her hus­band. This allows her to pre­tend she’s not angry (he’s the angry one, not her). On one level it feels bet­ter to believe that she’s not mean and angry like her dad was. The shadow con­se­quences, how­ever are that it sets her up to blame and per­se­cute Ted and allows her to stay uncon­scious about her own per­sonal anger. This is the nature of pro­jec­tion on the triangle.

Ego and The Story of Who We Are

We inter­act with oth­ers through old, uncon­sciously held and lim­it­ing beliefs that gen­er­ate shame. Each start­ing gate posi­tion has a dis­tinct type of core belief that dri­ves their par­tic­u­lar dance around the tri­an­gle. These core beliefs com­bine into uncon­scious sto­ries. We believe these descrip­tions of our­selves and oth­ers with­out ever ques­tion­ing them. Left to run unabated in the mind, they gen­er­ate all sorts of painful feel­ings, includ­ing worth­less­ness, inad­e­quacy and defec­tive­ness. We rein­force and per­pet­u­ate these beliefs by mov­ing around the triangle.

The ego is that part of us that man­u­fac­tures and believes these lim­it­ing sto­ries. The ego is totally iden­ti­fied with the sto­ries it tells and wants to keep us iden­ti­fied with them as well. The ego uses the tri­an­gle to strengthen these painfully, lim­ited iden­ti­ties of who we are. When I think of our rela­tion­ship with ego I often think of the nurs­ery rhyme that goes:

Peter, Peter Pump­kin Eater, had a wife and couldn’t keep her. So he put her in a pump­kin shell and there he kept her very well.”

This is a great metaphor for our rela­tion­ship with the ego. Peter Pump­kin Eater is the ego and the wife he couldn’t keep is our own Inner Fem­i­nine. She is that part of us who remem­bers who we really are. The only way Ego can con­trol this Authen­tic Essence is to keep it con­fined in the “pump­kin shell” of a lim­it­ing story. We are each held within the con­fines of such a story. The vic­tim tri­an­gle is the play­ing field that ego uses for the pur­pose of rein­forc­ing this dys­func­tional story.

We cer­tainly can see this with Ted and Lisa. They each were entrapped within a very painful story; Ted believ­ing that he will not be heard and there­fore expect­ing to have his feel­ings judged and dis­counted. He is in the role of a SG Vic­tim who inad­ver­tently acts in ways that guar­an­tee he will come away feel­ing ashamed and worth­less. Lisa is the SG Per­se­cu­tor who sees her­self as a vic­tim. She believes Ted is try­ing to hurt her with his anger which jus­ti­fies her attempts to con­trol him. Lisa pun­ishes Ted by ignor­ing him until he finally strikes out, thus ver­i­fy­ing her story about him as being “angry and cruel, just like dad.” Both have egos that are much more inter­ested in ver­i­fy­ing a lim­it­ing story than in feel­ing har­mony between them.

Failed Inti­macy

Although most of us long for a sense of con­nec­tion with oth­ers, many peo­ple are secretly ter­ri­fied of inti­macy. Allow­ing some­one to really know us can be fright­en­ing. Inti­macy requires vul­ner­a­bil­ity and hon­esty. Believ­ing at heart that we are unlov­able, defec­tive or “less than,” makes it dif­fi­cult to reveal our­selves. We want uncon­di­tional accep­tance, but when we haven’t accepted our­selves, it’s impos­si­ble to believe that any­one else could love us. Need­ing to hide our unwor­thi­ness makes dis­tance imper­a­tive. As long as we main­tain hid­den agen­das and deny our truth, inti­macy is impos­si­ble. Victim-hood is designed to insure alien­ation, not only from oth­ers, but also from our­selves. Inti­macy is not pos­si­ble on the triangle.

In Sum­mary

When we are ready to be account­able, we begin to sort through our gen­uine motives and feel­ings regard­ing our present sit­u­a­tion. We become will­ing to expe­ri­ence our own uncom­fort­able feel­ings and we allow oth­ers their uncom­fort­able feel­ings too, with­out res­cu­ing them.

If our loved ones or asso­ciates are also will­ing to par­tic­i­pate in this process of self-realization we can cul­ti­vate a health­ier rela­tion­ship together. As a result there is less and less inter­ac­tion based on guilt, fear or shame.

The good news is that whether or not our loved ones choose to get off the tri­an­gle, we can make that choice for our­selves! And that will change the whole dynamic between you and them. We are never vic­tims, except by choice.

Get­ting off means know­ing where you stand right now and being will­ing to nego­ti­ate bound­aries when nec­es­sary. Set­ting bound­aries is not about being in con­trol or manip­u­lat­ing out­comes. We some­times con­fuse the two. We learn to look closely at our motives with an atti­tude of curios­ity and the desire for deeper self-understanding. And then what­ever we do, when done from a con­nected space, even if it is to walk away, will have a bet­ter chance of being based in truth rather than drama.

Remem­ber there will be times when we may be seen as the per­se­cu­tor. Our chal­lenge is to stay in touch with our truth and allow oth­ers the right (and they do have the right) to have their story. The two ver­sions; your story and their story, do not have to match for you to be happy. That’s a com­mon, but mis­taken, idea.

In real­ity, how oth­ers see us is not our con­cern. How we see our­selves is what can bring us trans­for­ma­tion. We learn to focus on what we are believ­ing. We notice the impact in own lives of believ­ing those par­tic­u­lar, and often painful, thoughts — beliefs like, “I’m only as impor­tant as what I can do for oth­ers,” or “They’re try­ing to hurt me,” or “I’m a total fail­ure.” These are just a few of the sto­ries with which we tor­ture ourselves.

Remem­ber that just because we believe these sto­ries does not make them true. But when we do believe them, we will act in ways that make them true! This is a pro­found and sim­ple dawn­ing of con­scious­ness that holds a key to the door off the tri­an­gle. Used with sin­cere desire and rig­or­ous, self-loving truth, these steps are the process that takes us all the way, straight through to the “Off” exit. As we lib­er­ate our­selves through self-responsibility and truth telling, we trans­form our lives. We actu­al­ize our higher, “Observer Self,” thus real­iz­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that lies within each of us to live, not out of an victim-ego story, but to expand into a much big­ger and more won­der­ful expe­ri­ence of life.

Get­ting off the tri­an­gle is not some­thing we do once and for all. We get on and off all the time. Under­stand­ing tools like Stephen Karpman’s vic­tim tri­an­gle brings us a map. It shows us where we are in our rela­tional life and where we’re headed. Study­ing this map helps us find the best route for get­ting off the tri­an­gle. Again, it’s a process, not a final des­ti­na­tion. I invite you to relax into the role of curi­ous, cre­ative explorer, and will­ing student.

May your thoughts and feel­ings be teach­ers for you as you travel the route to free­dom from the triangle.”

© 2008 Lynne Forrest


  1. says

    IN the course of our jour­ney through­out life.THERE are
    often many pit­falls and tri­umphs we all face.WE can get mad as Lynne For­rest stated or we can take full charge of our lives.This is often when things change and the tide turns. When we stop blam­ing oth­ers .There is noth­ing so pow­er­ful as one tak­ing respon­si­bil­ity for what hap­pens to us cou­pled with the will to win and per­sist and over­come what­ever we may be tem­porar­ily fac­ing and I stress tem­po­ral for prob­lems are tem­po­ral and for our growth

  2. cleve prescott says

    i have watched 3 short videos of yours on utube, i love them. the way you get your point across keeps me glued there watch­ing. is there a com­plete video i can get? thank you, cleve

    • Lynne says

      Thank you Cleve, there is not a com­plete video of me “out there” yet … lots wait­ing to be edited, etc … but noth­ing ready yet. Keep watch­ing for it though … and in the mean­time, you can also watch a per­sonal video I did work­ing with my dog in train­ing as a way to illus­trate ways to redi­rect Bully (per­se­cu­tor) energy.
      Click here:

  3. Paul Lewis says

    I really enjoyed what you have writ­ten. I use the drama tri­an­gle in my ther­apy work and what you have given me is another dimen­sion for that. I got home yes­ter­day and had an excited chat with my part­ner about the broader aspects of P-R-V its helped me have a greater per­cep­tion. Thanks so much — Paul

  4. Ahleyah says

    Dear Lynne,

    I found you and your work yes­ter­day. What a bless­ing for you have given me a piece of the puz­zle I had been miss­ing. I’ve done lots of work over the years but until I can remain as awake as Eck­hard Tolle or Byron Katie I can at least get myself off the tri­an­gle and stop the drama! I love your hon­est open approach so Bless you Lynne and all your work. Ms For­rest, I believe you have helped me focus so I can begin see­ing the trees!

    Much Love & Many Blessings,


  5. Lynne says

    God-given care­giver respon­si­bil­i­ties …” that does indeed seem to me to be an impor­tant thought worth exploring.

    What DO you believe those “respon­si­bil­i­ties” are?

    Hmmm …such a phrase, blindly believed, might well lead to swampy ground, espe­cially if we believe our care­giver respon­si­bil­i­ties include stand­ing between our chil­dren and loved ones and their expe­ri­ence of life.

    The ques­tion we learn to ask our­selves, as con­scious par­ents, is this one:
    When I stand between them and life am I truly pro­tect­ing them, or am I rob­bing them of the chance to test and strengthen their own inner met­tle?
    Am I giv­ing them the chance to develop their own inner strengths, or teach­ing them to look solely to me for their pro­tec­tion? Which atti­tude do you think serves them better?

    These are the sorts of ques­tions I have found myself ask­ing many times in my inter­ac­tion with our own chil­dren. Hope they are help­ful to you too. :)

  6. OnTheBrink says

    Just wanted to thank you again, Lynne for your val­ued input. Although there are parts of me that find it hard to forego the God-given care­giver respon­si­bil­i­ties of my chil­dren, there are parts of me that under­stand what you are say­ing. If I get you cor­rectly, I have to make this about me first(putting my own oxy­gen mask on first) then it indi­rectly gives proper care to my chil­dren. The last thing I want to do is “use” or “require” my chil­dren to be the vic­tim so that I have rea­son to take action, feed­ing the assump­tion that what­ever I would need per­son­ally is “wrong”, over exag­ger­ated, weak, or here’s a big one, “self­ish”. I keep think­ing I’m “sav­ing” & being “self­less” to stay in the ongo­ing may­hem. When truth­fully with­out “self” what do I have to give?
    Pray­ing for strength to enter some very for­eign ground!! :-)
    God bless!!

  7. Lynne says

    Through the guid­ing prin­ci­ples of this work we come to trust that the path our chil­dren are on is the one they are meant to have. How else are they going to have the expe­ri­ences that ini­ti­ate them into life?

    In other words, your son’s rela­tion­ship with his father is his own. You can­not “undo” who your son’s father is, nor can you ulti­mately con­trol the dynam­ics of their rela­tion­ship. It is YOUR own best well-being that is your busi­ness, not your son’s rela­tion­ship with his dad.

    By tak­ing care of your­self, you model to your chil­dren how to take bet­ter care of them­selves in a world full of bul­lies (his dad is not the last bully he will encounter, trust me).

    My mother and father stayed together for the sake of the chil­dren. As their child, I felt respon­si­ble for their mis­ery because I knew I was the rea­son they endured each other. How could this be helpful?

    My par­ents showed me how to ignore my own well-being, how to sac­ri­fice myself for oth­ers, because that is what they did. Thru their self-negating model they demon­strated to me (not their inten­tion, I feel pretty sure) that it was self­ish for me to take care of myself. These are assump­tions I have ques­tioned and reframed over the years.

    Today, I am con­vinced that the best thing I can do for me AND my chil­dren is to model self-responsibility and self-care. It’s not the painful things we expe­ri­ence in life that dam­age us, but what we do with those hap­pen­ings in our own mind. Take care of your­self. That will allow you to be lov­ing, kind, and con­sis­tent with your­self and with your loved ones. Through your exam­ple your chil­dren will see and expe­ri­ence a model of self-care that will serve them from now on. These are some of my thoughts on your ques­tion.
    I hope they are help­ful.

  8. OnTheBrink says

    Thank you so much so your reply, Lynne! It was very help­ful, and spot on! To be hon­est, hav­ing a melancholy/phlegmatic per­son­al­ity, I had no idea what I have done inter­nally all my life was bul­ly­ing myself. I don’t rec­og­nize the dif­fer­ence between judg­ing myself & self respon­si­bil­ity, but am begin­ning to rec­og­nize in my present cir­cum­stances, what causes me to spi­ral down. I think you gave me a huge key to fur­ther help me sep­a­rate & choose when you defined self respon­si­bil­ity. Thank you.

    As for my son, who is 16, in your opin­ion, is it enough to begin to try to teach him these things in an envi­ron­ment where he is put down, crit­i­cized, con­demned, and at times called names by his dad on a daily basis(not to men­tion what he sees being mod­eled between my hus­band & I), or is it nec­es­sary to step in & remove my hus­band from his day to day life? It breaks my heart to think of what he is learn­ing as a man to take into his own future rela­tion­ships. He per­haps show more dra­matic signs of heavy entrench­ment on the tri­an­gle than myself or hus­band pos­si­bly combined…guess 1+1=2 doesn’t it? Haha! I think my con­cern is that break­ing up the home could only cause more inter­nal resentment/pain/confusion for him, tak­ing him poten­tially deeper in dys­func­tion than he already is…or is that vic­tim think­ing in itself? He him­self can see & has said my mom should have divorced my dad a long time ago(pretty insight­ful), but yet divorce is the last thing he wants to hap­pen in his home…or so he thinks. If it weren’t for my children(I have a pre­cious “spe­cial” daugh­ter as well!!) I believe our mar­riage would already have ended. But you know? You think you’re doing the best for the kids to hold the fam­ily together. But are you really???? Which is more trau­matic on their inter­nal health?

  9. Lynne says

    Thank you for shar­ing, OnThe­Brink, Your story is not an uncom­mon one, so I really appre­ci­ate your open will­ing­ness to share.

    The secret to get­ting off the tri­an­gle with oth­ers is to get off of it with our­selves first! We are on the Vic­tim Tri­an­gle inter­nally long before we get on it in our rela­tion­ship with oth­ers. We per­se­cute our­selves for not being good enough, or not doing it right; we blame our­selves, put our­selves down, and ignore and aban­don our own needs. To assume self-responsibility is to address our own inter­nal bully.

    Self-responsibility does not mean to blame, but to attend to the needs and desires of .…

    When we begin to treat our­selves more kindly, by tak­ing time to con­sider our own needs, for instance, and by being con­sis­tently kind in our deal­ings with our­selves, then we nat­u­rally estab­lish healthy bound­aries with oth­ers. This gets us off the tri­an­gle with them as well.

    Remem­ber our pri­mary relationship(s) mir­rors to us our own per­sonal rela­tion­ship with our­selves. When we change inter­nally in the way we relate to our­selves, than the exter­nal rela­tion­ship with the other will auto­mat­i­cally change for the bet­ter as well. Either that, or we will find our­selves going sep­a­rate ways.

    Read my book, Guid­ing Prin­ci­ples for Life Beyond Vic­tim Con­scious­ness to bet­ter under­stand how to apply these ideas to your daily life and ongo­ing rela­tion­ships.

  10. OnTheBrink says

    Just to clarify…my coach did not say I was play­ing the role of vic­tim by bound­aries I have set. That’s my husband’s ren­di­tion. What my coach did was make ref­er­ence in the pres­ence of my hus­band that when you come from the stand point of what some­one is doing to you, that is the role of vic­tim. My hus­band does his usual of twist­ing it into what he wants it to be, while he hides in his bub­ble of denial. And on another note, I think for years if self exam­i­na­tion I kept try­ing to hit it from the angle of an attempt on my part to project pain from child­hood with my dad onto my hus­band. But it seemed that a day finally came I had to com­pletely sep­a­rate the two, and let my bro­ken mar­riage face real­i­ties of it’s own, and rec­og­nize there were seri­ous issues in my hus­band get­ting swept under the rug. I have learned I can­not aban­don my heart any longer. These feel­ings I’m hav­ing are there for a rea­son, and I just keep try­ing to cor­rect them, think­ing they are “only” about past pain, not present!!!

  11. OnTheBrink says

    Lynne, I find your arti­cle very inter­est­ing and con­tem­pla­tive. My hus­band & I have received help from a life coach for almost 10 yrs. I was doing the pro­cess­ing hard stuff he was not. I feel like I made great growth under the coun­sel of this coach, but our mar­riage only got worse. It came to a place where I felt my coach wasn’t see­ing clearly our sit­u­a­tion, but was instead enabling my hus­band to stay the same as he was. As the years have gone on I have dis­cov­ered he’s had a drug addic­tion for most of our 22 year mar­riage, and while I was busy just try­ing to work on myself I kept try­ing to make it all about me, so as not to be the vic­tim, and to just basi­cally enmesh myself with his request to “deal with it, because he wasn’t going go change it for me”, no mat­ter if we’re talk­ing about his drugs, his uncir­cum­spect ways, his irra­tional tantrums, his name call­ing, his own judge­ments & pro­jec­tions, his harsh crit­i­cisms, his lack of pres­ence, his aban­don­ing P/A ways. But all this came to a head, & I broke. I could no longer carry the weight. I cre­ated a bound­ary for myself, to heal from the feel­ings of utter hatred I began hav­ing for him, and to respect myself. It has been an amaz­ing part of my jour­ney, as it’s brought up things on an oppo­site side I did not know existed. I grew up in a highly emo­tion­ally abu­sive home, from my dad. I had to be told this, it’s not some­thing I knew on my own. My mother has voiced for almost 30 yrs a hatred/dislike for my dad, which scared me as a child, but yet I under­stood it, because I saw how he treated her, as well as us. But as unex­plain­able feel­ings of hatred/dislike came up in my own mar­riage, I wor­ried, because I was begin­ning to sound just like my mom. What I again did not rec­og­nize or know, because all I kept doing was look­ing at me & giv­ing him restora­tion & the ben­e­fit of the doubt. As I dis­tanced myself from my hus­band, it became clearer how off his treat­ments were/are and how much bag­gage this guy is car­ry­ing. I learned the hard way there is noth­ing I will ever be able to do to con­trol or influ­ence this guy to think dif­fer­ently towards me. I have to let him have his own opin­ions, even if they are ugly, and untrue. Over time, and with the help of my coach I began to see I’m doing what my mom did…nothing. And through another totally sep­a­rate heart wrench­ing expe­ri­ence, I learned that feel­ings of hatred/dislike are very nor­mal in the face of an abuser/bully. I feel I am tak­ing steps to recover now from where I engaged in self betrayal, always putting such stock and impor­tance on the crit­i­cisms of my hus­band, and I had to come to a place where I am pain stack­ingly am hav­ing to face real­ity of my hus­bands emo­tional dis-ease(and just a side note, his treat­ment has turned phys­i­cal with both myself & my son). BUT…I get blamed and extremely scolded by him, because he heard our coach men­tion it that I am play­ing vic­tim, because of the bound­aries I have set and what I know I have to see from him before they can be lifted. How­ever, over a year has gone by, with things get­ting worse not bet­ter. Him hav­ing fits of rage when­ever he feels like it, but it gets put off in us. So, this is what I do, I still try to look for where I’m miss­ing it. I’m still open to see­ing where I could pos­si­bly still have a vic­tim mind­set. What I don’t under­stand is where the line gets drawn from avoid­ing the vic­tim mentality(something being done to you) and you wak­ing up & real­iz­ing you are the vic­tim, and if you want to sur­vive and have any life left in you you bet­ter get real!!! Your writ­ing, as well as my coach, seem to leave no room for this, can you expound? How do you know in an abu­sive sit­u­a­tion when you’re on the tri­an­gle your­self, or just deal­ing with their tri­an­gle? It seems to me the abuse puts you on the tri­an­gle by default, so how do you know you’re get­ting off in a self respect­ing way? Because in abuse, it is already dif­fi­cult for the abused to face the real­ity of abuse, because the abuser teaches them it’s them. “You need to change.” “If you weren’t the way you were none of this would be hap­pen­ing. So how does this fit in true vic­tim sit­u­a­tions? How do you know when you’re han­dling your own­er­ship of vic­tim posi­tion health­ily? I hope I made sense. :-)

  12. Lynne says

    I am glad you found my site, Home­less Res­cuer. :)

    If you’d like to join my free sub­scriber list to receive reg­u­lar tips and sug­ges­tions for rec­og­niz­ing when we are on the Vic­tim Tri­an­gle, and ways to get our­selves off, sign up here:

    For arti­cles, as well as dates for upcom­ing Events and Work­shops, place your name on our newslet­ter email list here:

    For our web­site events page, go here:

    Our sys­tem requires that you add your­self to any or all of these lists; it does not allow us to add names. To do so requires your permission.


  13. Homeless Rescuer, LCSW says

    I work with home­less Vet­er­ans and live with a histri­onic mother. While sit­ting here feel­ing angry about my mother’s recent self-imposed cri­sis, I stum­bled upon your won­der­ful arti­cle. Work­ing as a home­less Vet­eran provider, I am always in search and res­cue mode — but, I am mind­ful of pro­fes­sional bound­aries and the role of vic­ti­maza­tion in my work. To deal with one cri­sis after another at work all week and then come home and deal with an emo­tion­ally imma­ture mother who seems to live on the tri­an­gle is exhaust­ing me phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally, and spir­i­tu­ally. Thanks for giv­ing me a road map and an exit strat­egy. I found your infor­ma­tion rel­e­vant enought to the pop­u­la­tion I work with and would like to use it as teach­ing tool. I will def­i­nitely be pur­chas­ing the book.….

  14. Lynne says

    Ejc, You, my friend, sound like you are absolutely ripe for a rad­i­cal life trans­for­ma­tion! I do not mean to triv­i­al­ize, as a mat­ter of fact, my heart soft­ens in mem­ory of the raw pain I, too, have suf­fered dur­ing such times as you describe. Nor am I look­ing to “make you feel bet­ter.” I sim­ply know, from my own life walk, and hav­ing walked along­side oth­ers too, that some­times the only way life can show us our own unhappy belief sys­tem is to mir­ror it to us in dra­matic, often painful, ways.
    But we tend to spi­ral into see­ing the world as the enemy that has mis­treated us, or we tell our­selves that we failed at life and are reap­ing our painful “just” desserts; we fail to under­stand that what we are see­ing and expe­ri­enc­ing in life is the world reflect­ing to us our own belief sys­tem, and the state of our rela­tion­ship with our Self.

    The turn around hap­pens when we stop see­ing the world as being “against,” “at,” or “done to” us, and come to see the incred­i­ble way it mir­rors exactly what the state of “my rela­tion­ship with myself” is.

    We learn to ask our­selves ques­tions like, How DO I treat myself? How have I dis­tanced myself from me, and turned my back on me? What mean judg­ments do I har­bor against me and “them?” How do I feel and act when I believe those thoughts? What is the har­vest of that?

    I posted a great sum­mary of the work, that I believe, you are being invited to do (it’s always, of course, up to you …) It looks to me like you’re being given a pow­er­ful oppor­tu­nity here to trans­form your life — it was just such “gate­ways” in my own life that opened the way for me.

    Here’s my morn­ing FB post:
    All of us get caught up in our story, it’s the human thing to do! We’ve never not believed what we think so nat­u­rally we think it’s true. We mis­take it for Real­ity! We see their story, and we judge it. We for­get that their story is a reflec­tion of our own! Most espe­cially the sticky places that prompt us to ruf­fle our feath­ers in dis­taste and dis­sent. And none of this is a prob­lem. It is the path of refine­ment to get caught up in the story, to see it, to for­give it, and to let it go — again and again. Relax into it & SEE!

    I invite you to read my book,

    Many have received life-changing sup­port as sub­scribers that receive the free weekly mes­sage ( ) I write on being able to rec­og­nize and redi­rect vic­tim consciousness.

    I send you bless­ings for your hon­esty, and open-ness. These are the two essen­tial qual­i­ties required for the process to take root in us so that trans­for­ma­tion can hap­pen. That is way so often we must become bro­ken, like shat­tered glass, so that Real­ity can be glim­mered through the bro­ken shards of the iron-clad mind-set of our totally made-up story about it.

  15. says

    Hi just re read this for the 3rd time on as many days. It’s very
    Descrip­tive of the life I have lived up till now. My mar­riage
    Is all but over my rela­tion­ships with my daugh­ters
    Are stressed , one almost nonex­is­tent. My friends
    Are dis­tant to me these days and I’m alone . I don’t
    Even know where to start for heal­ing in that it all feels
    Over­whelm­ing , like a moun­tain to climb . I have had such a
    Vic­tim atti­tude , being , for so long . Learn­ing to
    Love myself thru all of this seems so dif­fi­cult
    Expeeienc­ing that I have not been good at it up till now. I am
    In such a place of self blame .

    Where to begin ?

  16. Leeanne says

    Well artic­u­lated and com­pre­hen­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion or reminder for any­one want­ing to hon­estly self reflect/introspect. I am so glad I stum­bled across this arti­cle and will share it with fam­ily mem­bers whom I hope will ben­e­fit from it as much as I did. For me it was a reminder …and a darned good one! Thank you for shar­ing it!

  17. Ben Savoie says

    Thanks for this won­der­ful piece. After mak­ing a very fast deci­sion to undue a move I just made, I knew some­thing was wrong. When I arrived home I started to have an inter­nal war full of anger and rage. I was so sure I had made a log­i­cal deci­sion to move back home to sup­port my par­ents. My deci­sion process was too smooth and easy, it had to be a pat­tern but what? I remem­bered read­ing this arti­cle last sum­mer so I looked at it with new eyes. As I reread it I was blown away at how I hooked myself in an old fam­ily script. It was a very painful expe­ri­ence, real­iz­ing what I have lost in my life by play­ing out the res­cuer. I vowed “Never Again”. In just a few days I have given up the roll of par­ent­ing my par­ents. We are all adults here. My new view point is allow­ing me to see them and myself as capa­ble adults. I will also be look­ing at all my rela­tion­ships. I am so great­ful for this insight­ful arti­cle.

  18. Connie says

    This was a great read and taught me some­thing about myself. It definit­ley has given me a wake up call and I want to get out of this tri­an­gle I’ve been liv­ing for so many years!! Thank you!!!!!

    • Lynne says

      Thank you, Con­nie. If you’re inter­ested in get­ting off the Tri­an­gle, I rec­om­mend my book, “Guid­ing Prin­ci­ples for Life Beyond Vic­tim Con­scious­ness.” ( It out­lines a step by step process for doing exactly that! And be sure and sub­scribe (by click­ing on the win­dow that appears in this arti­cle) to receive my free weekly mes­sages that are full of help­ful insights and tools for mov­ing out of vic­tim. Bless­ings to you on your journey!


  1. […] Open­minded is offline Quote Quick Reply post #82 of 82 (perma­link) Old Today, 07:54 PM Chuck71 Mem­ber Join Date: Nov 2012 Loca­tion: Where I lay my head Posts: 4,106 Re: Walk away spouse and finances.. advice? PWNC.…. all you have to do is re-read what you were told in your pre­vi­ous posts. Did you read the blog I men­tioned on post #67? Vet­eran posters on TAM see this VERY often.… This POSOM is total BSC and your W.… feeds off of that. It is very unhealthy. With no kids, GTFO now. You tried and tried and still want things to work.…. well look where your effort has got you. How do you feel? “She self-sabotaged the M because she felt like she did not deserve a healthy one.” In her mind.…. this M is going great.… it is des­tined to fail.… I might as well blow every­thing up since it can’t last for­ever. She is a defeatist. The nicer you are… the more she pulls away. She was pay­ing every­thing for POSOM.… she wanted his approval. She was plac­ing you as Plan B while YOU were giv­ing HER $$$ to ful­fill POSOM’s wants. Sit on that state­ment and tell me how you feel tomor­row. I highly rec­om­mend read­ing the thread I rec­om­mended. Also you are caught in a Drama Tri­an­gle.…. read this link The Three Faces of Vic­tim ? An Overview of the Drama Triangle […]

Leave a Reply