Relationship drama – it takes three to tango

To have a relationship with someone does not necessarily mean it is a ‘romantic relationship’. Life is all about relationships! The relationship you have with your mother, your father, your neighbour, your work colleague..the list goes on. The depth and type of relationship however, always differs.

Some relationships are healthy while others are dysfunctional. Interfering with a toxic relationship can lead to further issues. (*Disclaimer: I am not implying that we must stop helping people; I would like to clarify why the tables can turn very quickly if you’re not cautious).

Have you ever given relationship advice to someone who seemed to really need it and suddenly they give you the silent treatment? Your messages go unanswered and the next thing you know, they are back with their ex posting happy pictures on social media. Somehow, you’re the bad one now.

Have you ever moaned about your manager to a work colleague and next thing you know, they’re sharing jokes and seem close? How is this possible – you both didn’t like him, now they’re ‘besties’.

Wait! How is this fair? You only had good intentions.

Well, there is an interesting psychological explanation on this mystery. The Karpman Triangle.

Dr Stephen Karpman explains his theory as a social model of human interaction, it was initially named as “the drama triangle”.

The triangle consists of three elements which explain the ever-changing dynamics:

Victim: “Poor me!” Victims see themselves as helpless, victimised, powerless and hopeless. They seem unable to make decisions and solve problems. Victims tend to look for a saviour to save them. However, if this somebody fails to help, they can be seen as the persecutor.

Rescuer: “Let me help you!” You may have heard of the term ‘the saviour complex’. Rescuers tend to help other people to feel good about themselves.

Persecutor: “Well, it’s your fault” The persecutor is critical of the victim. They tend to be authoritarian and usually comes across as ‘superior’ which enables the victim to continue feeling oppressed through bullying.

Sometimes it can only take two to tango. For example, a husband and wife who file for divorce. The wife sees herself as the victim of the relationship and the husband automatically becomes the bad one. Now, once the wife takes her husband to court, she becomes the persecutor while the husband becomes the victim. He may deny accusations and portray himself as the victim. Just be aware to not get too caught up with victims who actively look for a saviour, maybe you won’t be needed after you’ve helped them.

So what’s the solution? 

Often it is difficult to see clarity when you are caught up in manipulative relationship dynamics. Identifying that there is an issue is usually the first big step. If you find yourself playing certain repeated ‘roles’, keeping a neutral attitude while taking responsibility for your own contributions helps you break away from the pattern. Speaking to a therapist about your situation is of great help. Manipulative relationships cause power imbalances which exploit victims to serve their own agendas – most people don’t see it coming.

Some people actively seek victims – it’s good to be aware of your qualities and vulnerabilities. Protect yourself at all times, control isn’t love.

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