Everyday Encounter with God

Pastor Sylvia's Encounters with God in the Midst of Everyday Life


Reviewing the Victim Triangle

My life often intersects with people who are experts on developing drama. Whether it’s a stubbed toe or someone cut them off in traffic, they pour themselves into each situation as if the event is life-shattering. Relationship failures are the worst.  

Yesterday I spent an hour on the phone with a thirty-something woman discussing her recent break-up. Why did she call me? Frankly, few living women have as much life experience in this area as me. Before Husband entered my life I was busy.

We reviewed the “Victim Triangle” on the phone. It was developed in the 1980’s when co-dependency first became a buzzword.  

At the top of the triangle is the victim. This is the person who feels helpless and sorry for him/herself. He blames others for his problems. “If it weren’t for you I’d be happy.” “If you weren’t such a loser, I’d have more children/education/money/cars/etc.”

In the bottom left position on the triangle is the rescuer. S/He watches for people who are needy, then rescues that person so they’ll feel good about themselves.

As the victim and rescuer act out these behaviors they become more and more emotionally dependent on each other. They take turns in the third position: the persecutor. People persecute with abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, or anything else that hurts. It might be the threat of leaving, withdrawal of financial support, violent language or intimidation.

The persecutor always abuses the rescuer. Then the rescuer feels like a victim. The persecutor feels pity for the victim, and moves to rescue her. The victim resents the feeling of helplessness and moves to persecute the rescuer. Around and around they go, always moving from one position to another until the relationship becomes toxic.

My phone consultation was interesting. She always enters the triangle from the victim position, letting everyone in her life know that she needs help. She’s unhappy, lonely, broke, sick, or suffering in some way. The call goes out to friends, family, and also her ex-boyfriend. Of course he drops everything and hurries to her side so he can feel powerful.

Within minutes he begins telling her everything that is wrong with her. Expecting comfort, she gets abuse. She retaliates and persecutes, telling him what a rotten person he is. Usually these interchanges become violent and result in law enforcement intervention. They are so practiced at their roles that it usually takes less than an hour.

Most of us visit the drama triangle sometimes. 

I’m tired and feel like a martyr. Instead of just asking for help, I enter the triangle from the victim position, set my eyes on a rescuer (usually Husband) and instead of telling him what’s going on, I find little passive-aggressive ways to persecute him. Maybe it’s just closing the cupboard doors a little too loudly. Or refusing to go to bed until everything is done. Then when he offers assistance I snap because he really should have rescued me hours earlier.

That’s a lie. I should have asked for help hours earlier.

If the Victim Triangle resonates with you, remember that it doesn’t represent God’s love and mercy. There is no Jesus in any of the positions.

When someone you love tries to draw you into their drama, take a little prayer time. If their need is really that urgent, they can call 911 and get professional rescuers with professional boundaries.

Refuse to exceed your resources helping others. Get approval from healthy people who know and respect you. Release the need to feel powerful by helping others. And when you need help, ask people who won’t take advantage of you.