The Roles We Play

July 2013 Newsletter

Dr. gloria wright

We all have many roles we play in life. I want to focus on the three roles that Dr. Stephen Karpman names as the roles we play in communications: Persecutor, Rescuer and Victim.

– The person who plays the role of a victim; one who is helpless and    not responsible for their position.

– The person who pressures, coerces or persecutes the victim, and

– The rescuer, who intervenes, seemingly out of a desire to help the      situation or the underdog.

Drama Triangle

Notice that the arrows in the diagram go two ways. The person who plays victim only sees two other roles: you are their persecutor or a potential rescuer. The rescuer needs persecutors to provide the victims for them to rescue. The persecutor is looking for the underdog to intimidate and for rescuers to clean up their messes.

These roles are not stagnate. Any of us can play all or any of the roles in a single interchange.

Here is a short mini drama. See if you can identify the role of each player.

A mom, dad and their 10-year-old son are waiting to see a psychologist. They are unknowingly being observed. At first they sit in silence and tension. The child becomes restless and climbs under a table where he finds some old chewing gum. The mother turns to the dad and says, “Make him stop that.” The dad sternly says, “Sit down and be quiet until the doctor gets here.” At that juncture the mom signs, “You didn’t have to be so rough on him.”

So who plays which role? Dad the persecutor? Mom the rescuer? The child the victim?

At first glance you would be correct. If you analyze more closely they all play all three roles. Yes, the dad is persecuting the child, but is he not also rescuing the mom and isn’t he a bit of a victim himself? The mom sets the dad up (persecutor) and then rescues the child. She also plays the victim when she doesn’t handle the situation herself. And the child? Well, my guess is that he has been setting up his parents (persecutor) for ages while he rescues them from boredom. He also is the victim.

So if you don’t want to be in any of these roles, what can you be? An adult. In transactional analysis the adult (regardless of age) is a person who is fair, considerate, responsible, logical, rational, pragmatic and makes I statements about their feelings, thoughts and actions. They often strive for a workable compromise.

Let’s go through the above scene again with each person playing the role of the adult.

The child: “I’m bored. Can you explain why we are here? Could you play a game with me….” The dad, “Honey, you can handle this yourself.” And mom, “Son, get out from under the table. I know you’re tired of waiting. Let’s play a game of tic tac toe….”

Persecutors like to be top dogs. They typically look for people they can manipulate and upset. If you don’t play the role of victim, they loose their power.

The rescuer is an interesting role. At first glance it looks like a positive role. But it isn’t the rescuer in the emergency we’re talking about. They are enablers. It can make them feel good to be helpful but they often block or discourage the adult responsibility and actions of the victims.

And the victims don’t seem to change much-they remain victims. They’re miserable in their marriages and jobs. Get divorced -the ex-spouse doesn’t pick up the children when they say and doesn’t pay child support. The saga goes on. They change jobs. You guessed it: they find persecutors (and rescuers) there too.

The moral of the story? Be an adult….