In my recent podcast about the Drama Triangle in codependent relationships, I explained how the triangle of dysfunction that includes rescuing, persecution and victim status was used to control a codependent object. Many people have made the comment after hearing the podcast that they recognised themselves, a partner or a family member using such tactics. Others have stated that it finally got through how controlling codependency can be when the emphasis in literature and social media is mainly on codependents being controlled and manipulated (this does happen, of course).
Breaking free of the drama triangle is a process that needs a change in mindset and a determination to see control as something negative, not essential. Giving up control in a relationship that includes the drama triangle means, firstly, awareness has to be sought concerning how one might be trying to fix or rescue by becoming indispensable in some way. Is the need to jump in and be everything for everybody there? Is there anxiety when healthy boundaries are set or resentment when help is actually taken? Is there hyper-vigilance around situations looking for opportunities to fix? Is there a general view that everyone is a victim who conveniently needs rescuing?
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Secondly, is there a move to persecution when fixing or rescuing doesn’t work? Codependents can be very angry people who use rage and aggression to keep their partners in a victim status in their minds. Anger and rage are often secondary emotions associated with shame. Codependents in the persecutor role can be often mistaken for narcissists by people who can’t tell the difference. This is not surprising as this stage is defined by blaming others, setting restrictive rules, using guilt and shame, provoking, criticising, venting and just about anything that will keep the victim oppressed. We have to remember that often the “victim” is only a victim in the mind of the codependent. This justifies the methods described here.
After persecution, the persecutor often becomes the victim themselves. Awareness must come concerning the following: Is there a feeling of being victimised, pressed, helpless, powerless and ashamed? Is the feeling there that the victim needs to be rescued? Is the victim looking for a rescuer? Is there an avoidance of decision-making capabilities and solving issues? Is there an attitude of self-pity and learned helplessness? Is there a need to create and embrace conflict in order to play the victim? Is body language slouched and depressed? Do the people around them supply them with their wants and needs out of pity? When this happens, it is only a matter of time before the cycle starts again.
I have, however, seen codependents who stay in victim status indefinitely or are constantly raging and provoking. Some are constant rescuers so it is very possible that the cycle never truly completes itself in some cases. Sometimes in relationships, couples are stuck in the rescuer-victim status, persecutor-victim status or even persecutor-rescuer status in a very dysfunctional dynamic.
How hard is it to break this cycle? Any cycle can be broken with willingness, awareness and action. It might be good start with Parts work or looking at the influence of the Inner Dictator in terms of avoidance. Is there an awareness of control in codependent terms? Once this is done, the aim would be to turn the drama triangle on its head somewhat by looking at the following: we may believe that the drama triangle dynamics are “not that bad” but they can be very destructive when they become the norm. No-one can honestly say they are living a genuine life or having genuine relationships while engaging in the control mechanisms associated with the drama triangle.
Some points to aim for:
- Get your needs met in a healthy way without control by asking directly for what you want. This is healthy and gives the other person clear and direct information about you. This will mean working on and giving up a victim status.
- Consciously refuse to rescue others. Tell yourself that you will only do this if you are asked or you have been given permission to do so. This will mean taking a step back and working on your Inner Dictator thoughts.
- Look at how you judge others and any projections you have. This is where an awareness of anger and self-esteem is essential. Projections often give us valuable information concerning the way we see ourselves. It could be that anger and projection were part of the family system of childhood and these issues have been adopted.
- Become aware of any developmental trauma and triggers. We can often see the presence of unhealed trauma in the drama triangle due to over-reaction and instant anger.
- Learn to express thoughts and feelings clearly in the moment rather than saving them up until an explosion happens.
- Become aware of how the drama triangle has served your needs as a codependent to enable, control and play the victim. Learn about the roots of your codependency.
- Learn the value of setting and accepting healthy boundaries in any relationship and look at the type of people you are normally drawn to.
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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner’s approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients’ internal “parts,” or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.