What I Learned This Week: Why You Repeatedly Get USED

Do you ever ask yourself why, when you do such nice things for others, they end up turning on you?  Well, I’m about to explain why. It is called the Karpman Drama Triangle, and it plays itself out in every dysfunctional relationship.  Once you learn it, see if you can count how many times you have been in any of these roles.

It starts out with someone sending out “I’m helpless and needy” signals, like radio waves, looking for someone who needs to help other people in order to feel worthwhile. This person sending the signals is the VICTIM.  The person who receives these signals and feels like they absolutely MUST respond is called the RESCUER.  They tell themselves that this “poor person” cannot help themselves, and out of “Christian love, it is my DUTY to help this person.”

It seems like a perfect match made in heaven – this person needs a place to live and help getting a job, and the RESCUER is just the person to do it for them.  It makes the RESCUER feel so happy and excited. “I’m going to help someone get their life together. This is going to feel soooo good!  God will be so proud of me.”  Even if they don’t let the person live with them, the RESCUER does things for the person that they believe the VICTIM is INCAPABLE of doing for himself/herself.  The VICTIM seems excited to have the RESCUER do all of these things for them.

BUT THEN comes the RESENTMENT and ANGER at the VICTIM the RESCUER has so generously helped, especially when the recipient of the gifts doesn’t start moving in the direction laid out for them.  The RESCUER starts resenting the fact that they have done something they really didn’t want to do for the long haul, that wasn’t their responsibility in the first place, and which has caused them to neglect their own needs in the meanwhile.   To make things worse, the “poor person” they were helping isn’t even grateful.  To the VICTIM, the RESCUER giving and VICTIM receiving is exactly how things are supposed to be.

The RESCUER’s feelings of compassion that made the RESCUER feel so noble are now gone, and are replaced by random outbursts of misdirected anger toward others around them. The RESCUER tries to hide the irritated feelings and still act saint-like, but eventually it comes out, and the VICTIM senses the shift of attitude. The RESCUER starts complaining to other people about the VICTIM to justify the outrage they feel.  The RESCUER now becomes the PERSECUTOR/CONTROLLER.

The VICTIM has seen this process happen before, because this is not the first RESCUER they have captured and manipulated.  He knows when his RESCUER starts losing compassion and good will and is becoming the PERSECUTOR/CONTROLLER.   As resentment rises toward the VICTIM, the VICTIM’s pride and indignation rise up before the RESCUER can discard them from their life.  The VICTIM turns on the RESCUER and becomes the PERSECUTOR/CONTROLLER.   “Who are you to tell me what to do?  You don’t have it all together. And you call yourself a Christian…”

No matter how incompetent a VICTIM appears to be, they resent being told that they are. Their resentment toward their RESCUER mounts, especially if the RESCUER becomes angry with them.  They lash out by having affairs with their spouses, stealing from them, wrecking their car, trashing their house, and abusing the RESCUER’s good reputation.  Does this sound familiar to you?

So the noble RESCUER becomes the VICTIM again, as this is not the RESCUER’s first rodeo either.   “Why has someone again trampled underfoot all of my good, Christian, self-sacrificing efforts?”  They feel helpless, hurt, ashamed, confused, and soaked in self-pity.  They have completed the cycle of the Drama Triangle, moving from RESCUER to PERSECUTOR/CONTROLLER to VICTIM.  And then they start all over again when they sense another Victim’s neediness signals in the airwaves.

If this is you, you don’t have to continue this very unhealthy cycle.  It is a pattern that stems from Codependency (a life pattern that is completely outwardly focused on others’ needs), and it started in your childhood.  If you want help breaking the pattern, then contact me about one-on-one counseling, or let me know if you would like to be in one of my Codependency small groups starting this fall.   You can be free of the drama!

Your sister in Christ,