Tools for Coaching Mastery

This column is provided by an IAC Coaching Masteries®-Licensed School or Mentor.

Are You a Coach in a Drama Triangle?
by Doris Helge, MCC (IAC)

Drama Triangle 101

The Drama Triangle was originally discussed by authors like Stephen Karpman, Sheldon Kopp and Patrick Carnes, when writing about transactional analysis. The Triangle is based on the interaction of three primary roles that all of us sometimes play:

  • Rescuer
  • Persecutor
  • Victim

The Persecutor

A persecutor contributes to someone else’s feelings of inadequacy, shame or incompetency by criticizing the other person's actions or belittling his or her abilities to resolve challenges and live a fulfilling life. That other person becomes "the victim" in the triangle. Being critical of the actions of the victim enables a persecutor to feel superior, righteous or vindicated. Persecutors perceive themselves as more capable of handling situations than a victim could.

The Rescuer

Rescuers also discredit victims’ abilities to resolve challenges. Rescuers accept responsibility for resolving issues that victims could actually handle. Rescuers attempt to help by doing things for the victims, instead of empowering or encouraging them to accept personal responsibility for their own happiness and success.

Because rescuers believe they know what is best for other people, it’s easy for a rescuer to become a persecutor. Rescuers attempt to control the behavior of victims because they believe victims cannot survive or thrive without a rescuer. The rescuer feels valuable while validating the victim's feelings of inadequacy. Because the victim is further dis-empowered, dependency and failure escalate.

The Victim

Victims collaborate with persecutors and rescuers by degrading their own abilities, knowledge and skills. Rescuers take care of them; persecutors diminish, degrade or criticize them. The person playing the role of victim doubts their problem-solving abilities. They ask rescuers for advice or assistance. The victim avoids taking responsibility for their personal or professional growth. They continue to feel inadequate, helpless or powerless. Many also feel like martyrs and eventually become bitter or resentful.

Like the child whose parents coddle him instead of encouraging him to fly solo as soon as possible, most victims eventually develop rebelliousness. The victim then persecutes the rescuer, who becomes the next person to feel like a victim. The vicious saga continues, especially when this cycle is unconscious.

Even though the labels for roles like rescuer, persecutor and victim appear to be clearly positive or negative, you can see that a rescuer is potentially just as harmful as a persecutor. The person playing the role of victim may appear helpless and harmless. However, this person is actually the captain of their own sinking ship. They play a key role in their own victimization.

Even if victims don't yet know how to solve their problems, they can become empowered by making an effort or acting in another way that is more consistent with their abilities than throwing in the towel before the race begins.

What does this have to do with your coaching?

As coaches we may be unconscious of the roles we play. We set ourselves up for self-sabotage, conflict or failure when we don't test beliefs and assumptions regarding client relationships. Our compassionate hearts can actually get in the way when a client comes to us with a sad story or difficult challenge. It’s important to fully use logic, heart and soul.

Authentic and inauthentic relationships

Savvy coaches help their clients develop awareness regarding when they play the role of victim, rescuer and persecutor. Pause now and reflect on Drama Triangle Roles.

  • Which IAC Coaching Masteries® are most related to transforming The Drama Triangle into authentic relationships?
  • Why is the concept of The Drama Triangle so important to coaches and clients?
  • How does The Drama Triangle contribute to a lack of authenticity in personal and professional relationships?
  • Describe client or personal situations in which the key players have switched roles.

Help your clients dance away from The Drama Triangle

A Drama Triangle tends to be very stable. Although players move from one role to another, most of the actions are so unconscious that there is seldom a pause to develop a new game plan. To break the patterns in The Drama Triangle, players must choose to leave inauthentic roles behind. The coach's role is critical because our goal is to empower clients to help themselves. We help clients:

  • Elevate their self-awareness,
  • Confront their illusions of power,
  • Refuse to become responsible for another person's actions and
  • Refuse to play any of the three roles in The Drama Triangle.

Tips and reminders for the coach

  • Reinforce client self-determination and independence.
  • Co-create realistic, challenging goals that propel your clients toward owning their greatness. Appreciate the challenges of change your clients face. Recognize related fears while reminding clients of their strengths.
  • Support every effort your clients make to become more responsible and effective.
  • Walk your talk so you are trusted and your relationship with your client is authentic.
  • Refuse to support self-sabotage or an interest in playing the role of victim, persecutor or rescuer.

Doris Helge  

Doris Helge, Ph.D., MCC (IAC), author of bestselling books Transforming Pain Into Power, Joy on the Job and Conquer Your Inner Critic, is an IAC-Certified Master Coach, coach mentor and founder of the IAC-licensed training school, Confident Coach Connection ( She also created IAC's New Coach Virtual Chapter.

Scroll to Top

IAC Login