Conflict During the Holidays, an Idea that will Help

Drama TriangleThe holidays bring families and friends together. Along with the joy and fun these gatherings bring, they also increase the opportunities for tension and misunderstandings. Often, these issues  can be avoided if we take time now to learn more about the reactions in ourselves that can be triggered at these events, and how they snowball in our own minds.

The Drama Triangle is a model of dysfunctional interactions, created by Steven Karpman. It happens both with internal thoughts, and with external relationships.  Each point of the triangle represents a common and ineffective way to communicate and solve problems.

The Triangle includes three roles: Rescuer, Persecutor, Victim.  When enacted internally, different aspects of our personality assume one of the roles. The cycle usually begins when difficult feelings bring out the rescuer response.       

Drama Triangle


The rescuer is the role that wants to save another person from their situation. The rescuer finds someone who they believe needs help. They feel pity for that person, feel guilty about the person, anxious about them or feels extremely responsible for another. The rescuer thinks that this person is incompetent or helpless and cannot take care of him or herself, cannot handle their feelings, cannot make there right decision without help.

The rescuer cannot say no because they are afraid the other person cannot handle the pain of being told no and will get angry and go away. The rescuer is afraid of their own feelings of hurt and anger.

The rescuer feels bad about themselves therefore, they need to “rescue” to make themselves feel worthwhile. “I rescue therefore I have a right to exist”. What kind of person would I be if I said no? Isn’t it my duty as a good friend, husband, wife, Christian or helper to do good? No, it is not.

The rescuer develops a quick fix.The plan the Rescuer formulates does not take into account the needs, strengths and abilities the other person has. It is formed in isolation and with no support. It creates a situation where there is secrecy. It does not equip the person to face the hard feelings and hard situations. It gives the indirect message of incompetence.


This plan is doomed to fail from the beginning. When it does, the end result is giving the message that the rescuer is incompetent.

This kind of help becomes a compulsion and is necessary to have that “hit” of self-worth for our low self-esteem.

The Rescuer feels powerful and good for a moment, and then gets mad.  The “fix” does not work as quickly as we hoped, if at all. The victim is not grateful.  We have put ourselves in a position  in which we did not want to be, and all the good feelings are gone.

This leads to…

The Persecutor takes over. The roles are not switched the rescuer becomes the persecutor. The Persecutor is the aspect of ourselves that contains critical messages and uses them to blame, shame, criticize and punish. The Persecutor is very direct in pointing out shortcomings and tells the person we were trying to help that they are a failure.

The Victim: Now the focus goes to the Victim. Once again the Victim’s position is reinforced: “I am hopeless, helpless, and powerless. There is no reason to try because nothing ever works for me. My best efforts don’t work. I am a failure. I will forever be unhappy and depressed.”

This is the part of us that ultimately does not want to change. It is dependent, needy and passive.   The Victim is the aspect of ourselves that will sabotage any efforts we make. Because it is what we have had all our lives, we need and want to hold onto our old pain and self-image. It is known. It comforts us. It is our internal parent and family.

This cycle can take seconds, hours, days and years. It leaves us stuck in the past. It impedes our ability to grow and change. Growing up, many of us were deprived, mistreated, even victimized. We carry with us an unconscious victim mentality and self-image.

This can pattern can change.

Need help coping with the holidays? Call me I can help. (919)881-2001


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