In this activity, provided by AILC trainer Clinton Scott-Knight, we explore our responses to challenging situations. Are you in a 'drama triangle' and stuck in 'below-the-line thinking? There is a way out.  

Drama Triangle

Healthy relationships are those in which we grow, recognise our choices, take responsibility for how we affect others and are willing to risk mistakes. However, for many of us, relationships can be challenging and puzzling as we find ourselves repeating common patterns of behaviour with other people and often not understanding why. Understanding the Drama Triangle may help to make our lives a little clearer.

The Drama Triangle is a psychological model of social interaction, created by psychotherapist Stephen Karpman for explaining specific co-dependent interaction patterns which negatively impact our lives.

What is the Drama Triangle?

The three positions on the triangle are the victim, the rescuer and the persecutor. All three roles are distorted expressions of positive powers that we, as humans possess, but deny or repress when living on the triangle. The rescuer position is a distortion of power to collaborate with and assist others, the victim position is a distortion of our power to receive from others in reciprocal relationships and the persecutor is a distortion of our power to set boundaries and know what is right for ourselves.  All three are the roles are negative.

We are more likely to find ourselves on the Drama Triangle if we:

  • Feel that we’re not good enough of compare ourselves negatively to others.
  • Feel that we are better than others or compare ourselves in an unrealistically positive way with others.
  • People-please and have difficulty or become anxious about saying “No” to others.
  • Have poor personal boundaries and feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame our own on others.
  • Are reactive to others who disagree with us by either changing our view without discussion or becoming defensive.
  • Caretaker others when we have a need to help of fix another person and even feel rejected if they don’t want our help.
  • Control others in order to feel safe ourselves. People-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate other as can telling others what they should or shouldn’t do.
  • Have dysfunctional communication. We may have trouble communicating our thoughts, feelings and needs or we may not tell our truth because we don’t want to upset someone else.
  • Have obsession’s and spend a lot of time thinking about other people or relationships, making a “mistake” or fantasising about how we want thing to be.
  • Fear being alone, rejected or abandoned even when we can function on our own.
  • Don’t face up to our problems by frequently blaming others or the situation without looking at our part in it.
  • Deny our feelings and needs by focusing what other are feeling and their needs or refusing to reach out and receive assistance.
  • Have problems being open and close with others.
  • Have recurring painful emotions such as shame, anxiety and fear.

Above the Line Thinking

By using above the line thinking we can not only get ourselves off the triangle we can influence and change the other roles.

We each have stretches of time in our lives when things are going reasonably well, and times when we feel derailed. Sometimes situations outside our control knock us sideways. Other times one aspect of our lives can be moving along beautifully, while we’re frustrated in another area. What matters more than ‘what is happening’ is how we respond to events. We can operate at a level of thinking that is either ‘above’ or ‘below’ the line.  Using victor mentality we start to think above the line.

Take a look at these responses and think about when you may have been "in the Drama Triangle" and when you've been "thinking above the line".  

In the Drama Triangle we

Off the Drama Triangle we

Create drama and chaos

Solve problems. Focus on solutions rather than problems and who is to blame

Are dishonest with ourselves

Are honest with ourselves and are willing to take necessary action about what the truth reveals

Judge and reject ourselves

Have a self-acceptance

Deflect responsibility and blame others

Take responsibility for ourselves. We are accountable for our words and our actions.

Deny or pretend

Honestly face painful situations

Hide our vulnerability

Acknowledge our vulnerability

Make ourselves and others not OK

Know that I’m OK and You’re OK

Make excuses and do not respect boundaries

Maintain boundaries to have true respect for ourselves and others

Ignore damage that has been done and pretend it has nothing to do with us

Make amends and recognise consequences

Maintain limiting beliefs about ourselves

Have the courage and recognise consequences

Maintain limiting beliefs about ourselves

Have the courage to become more self-aware

Give ourselves too much respect (narcissists) or too little respect (martyrs)

Balance both respect for others and ourselves

Let drama rule

Let personal integrity and character rule

Know what’s best for others

Acknowledge different views and different paths

Create doubt in the other person

See what truths the other person may have to teach us

Assume other are there to be an audience

Respect other people’s rights to be seen and heard

Think in simple terms of right/wrong, good/bad

Recognise diversity and complexity

Manipulate others

Are honest and negotiate with others

Misuse personal power

Recognise our power and use it appropriately. Empower ourselves and others

Try to have it both ways

Make choices, sometimes making a sacrifice

Take the easy way

Know the right thing to do is often the hard thing to do



Have short-term thinking

Maintain long-term thinking

Adhere to our limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world e.g. “you have to keep the family secret”, “put other before yourselves”, “I’m wrong”, “people will hurt me” etc.

Challenge limiting beliefs from the past

Deny feelings

Acknowledge and face feelings

Control others

Make agreements that work for all parties