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How We Can Stop Being Victims


If we suffered significant childhood trauma, we may consider ourselves as victims. And, by considering ourselves as such, we are likely to have experienced feelings of resentment, shame, worthlessness, anxiety, anger, and guilt (paradoxically, victims of childhood abuse often, irrationally, feel more guilty than those who actually perpetrated the abuse).

We are also likely to have felt a painful sense of having been profoundly betrayed.

In relation to the concept of victimhood, I want, in this article, to look at Karpman’s Drama Triangle of victimhood which examines different roles of the victim.

These three roles are as follows:

1) Persecutor

2) Rescuer

3) Victim

No matter which of these roles we take on at any one time, Karpman informs us, we always end up as the Victim (ie we may start off by playing the role of Persecutor or Rescuer but we will always end up as theVictim).

However, each of the three persons on the triangle has a typical, or default role which is his/her starting point. The particular default role a person has is usually connected to the predominant way s/he learned to interact with others as a child.

According to Karpman, whichever of the three positions on the triangle we start off on, we will always move through all three roles.

The person whose default position is one of Rescuer (perhaps because s/he learned this role in childhood because s/he had to look after, and act as a carer to, a parent so that s/he came to see his/her own needs as subordinate to those of others, perhaps developing a martyr complex) needs a Victim to rescue.

The person whose default position is that of the Persecutor is the opposite, s/he sees him/herself as a victim and blames/persecutes others for having made him such.

Finally, the person whose default position is that of the Victim feels weak and looked down upon; this results in him/her becoming angry so s/he metamorphosizes into a Persecutor.

Our start/default role reflects our sense of our own identity/core beliefs/particular way of seeing the world, derived, as I alluded to above, from our childhood experiences. For example, the person whose default position is that of a Perpetrator may have been abused by his/her parents during childhood and, as a result, has learned to see the world as a dangerous place and, therefore, feels constantly under threat.

The person whose default position is to see him/herself as a Victim, on the other hand, may have developed in childhood what is known as learned helplessness.



Let’s now look at the three default roles a little more closely:

Rescuer – the Rescuer is likely to be codependent, an enabler, have a deep ‘need to be needed’, and, also, have a strong desire to win social approval.

Persecutor – the Persecutor has frequently suffered overt mental and/or physical abuse during childhood and, as a consequence,  may well have become prone to feelings of rage and inadequacy. The anger he feels towards others often masks intense feelings of inner psychological pain.

The Persecutor, too, may have a tendency to overpower others which can frequently be a defense mechanism to compensate (or, more accurately, overcompensate) for deep-rooted feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy.

Such individuals are frequently terrified of others perceiving their deep inner sense of vulnerability and powerlessness as they have learned from childhood that others are a threat and thus it is imperative to protect themselves. They are likely to feel any display of weakness will make them vulnerable to the kind of abuse that they suffered during childhood.

Victim – the Victim regards him/herself as incapable of adequate self-care and therefore constantly seeks others to look after and care for him/her (click here to read my article on Pathological Care-Eliciting Behaviour‘). However, often those that s/he come to depend upon for such care start to remind him/her of their inadequacy, leading him/her to become angry and resentful about this and, thus, transform into the role of the Persecutor.



Being trapped, moving from role to role on the Triangle leads to a great deal of psychological suffering for all of those involved, irrespective of their starting/default role/position.

Indeed, each individual loses; there are no winners.

In order to escape the Triangle, we need to bring into consciousness, and understand, how what we experienced as a child led to our core beliefs which, in turn, has determined our default role/position on the Triangle.

Dysfunctional core beliefs can be effectively addressed by Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.





David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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