Are You A Rescuer Or A Victim?

Are You A Rescuer Or A Victim?

How To Figure Out Which One You Are And Break The Cycle

Originally developed by Stephen Karpman, M.D., the Drama Triangle is an illustration of the roles played in dysfunctional families which keep the family energized and busy, and prevent seeing dysfunction or moving into true intimacy and cooperation.

Roles in the Drama Triangle are Persecutor, Rescuer, and Victim, and family members keep switching these roles.The drama is motivated by fear, often masquerading as anger or hopelessness.One profound way to intervene in the Drama Triangle is for family members to learn not to rescue each other.The other is to stop allowing others to rescue you.


These exercises are designed to help you learn to recognize a “rescue” while you are doing it, making your unconscious behavior conscious; to help you stop and think about what is happening and how you are rescuing so you can begin to change that behavior and to change your rescues into proposals to negotiate.

Choose a time and place when you will be uninterrupted.You will need a pencil and paper, or you can discuss these questions aloud with a friend or your partner. By doing the exercise at a time when you are not having a problem with rescuing, you can reflect on your past experience and find the clues that will alert you to the next time you are tempted to rescue.

Recognize a Rescue While You Are Participating In It: Learn to recognize that you are rescuing when you:

  • Do something that you do not want to do because you believe you have to and feel resentful later.
  • Do not ask for what you want.
  • Inappropriately parent another adult (giving unsolicited advice, giving orders, nagging, or criticizing)
  • Don’t tell your partner when there’s a problem, or when you feel resentful, ripped off, rejected, cheated, depressed, disappointed, or otherwise dissatisfied.
  • Contribute more than 50 percent of the effort to any project or activity that is supposed to be mutual, (including housework, earning income, making dates and social plans, initiating sex, carrying the conversations, giving comfort and support) without a clear agreement between you.
  • Feel your role is to fix, protect, control, feel for, worry about, ignore the expressed wants of, or manipulate your partner.
  • Habitually feel tired, anxious, fearful, responsible, overworked and/or resentful in your relationship.
  • Focus more on your partner’s feelings, problems, circumstances, performance, satisfaction or happiness than on your own.

Whenever you realize you are rescuing, tell the other person what you’re tempted to do or not do for them, (how you want to rescue them) and ask them if they would like you to do that or not. Once you’ve offered and the offer has been accepted or rejected, (even if your partner is not honest about what he or she wants, or makes a mistake) it is no longer a rescue, it is an open agreement, and can be renegotiated if necessary.

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Learn to recognize that you are being rescued if you:

  • Think you are not as capable, grown up, or self-sufficient as your partner.
  • Find that your partner is doing things for you” that you haven’t requested or acknowledged
  • Feel guilty because your partner frequently seems to work harder, do more, or want more than you do.
  • Don’t ask for what you want, because your needs are anticipated by someone, or because your partner will not say “no” if he or she doesn’t want to do it.
  • Act or feel incapable, childish, irresponsible, paralyzed, nagged, criticized, powerless, smothered, or manipulated in your relationship.
  • Act or feel demanding, greedy, selfish, out of control, overemotional, lazy, worthless, pampered, spoiled, helpless, or hopeless in your relationship.
  • Contribute less than 50 percent of the effort to any project or activity that is supposed to be mutual, (including housework, earning income, making dates and social plans, initiating sex, carrying the conversations, giving comfort and support) without a clear agreement.
  • Feel your role is to be fixed, protected, controlled, told what you feel, worried about, ignored, or manipulated by another adult.
  • Habitually feel guilty, numb, turned off, overwhelmed, irresponsible, overlooked, misunderstood and/or hopeless in your relationships.
  • Focus more on your partner’s approval, criticism, faults, anger, responsibility, and power than on your own opinion of yourself.
  • Feel controlled, used, manipulated, victimized, abused, oppressed, stifled, limited or otherwise dissatisfied by your partner.

The more familiar these feelings or actions are, the more frequently they occur, the bigger the habit you have of being rescued in your relationship. Rescuing is a habit that you learned early in life that seems “normal” and is habitual, so it is often difficult to be aware of it. Rescues depend on secrecy or ignorance.The antidote to being rescued is making an open agreement.So, if you suspect you are being rescued, suggest negotiating or talking about it, or just say thank you, if it’s truly OK with you.

How to Avoid Rescues

Recognize that what’s going on doesn’t feel good. It’s the best indicator of dysfunctional interaction.

1. Stop and Think.

2. Don’t react automatically.
If you have a dysfunctional habit pattern, you’ll need to make a different choice than your automatic behavior. Use the following checklist:

  • Does the situation feel fair?
  • Are you reluctant to say what you want?
  • Do you know what the other person wants?
  • Do you feel uncomfortable?
  • Are you resentful, angry, scared or upset?
  • Are you trying to control someone else’s reaction or feelings?
  • Does this feel similar to other interactions that ended badly?

3. Ask questions.
After you’ve taken a moment to think about whether you’re rescuing or being rescued, and what clues you are aware of, either ask for what you want or ask the other person what he or she wants.

4. Work together.
Offer to work toward a mutual decision.

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