Victim Triangle

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by Megan Bronson RN, MSN, CS - ©2003 Balance Point, Inc.

The function of the Victim Triangle is to contain the pain (unresolved grief, trauma, and toxic anger and shame), in the system. The fuel that runs the victim triangle is guilt and fear and avoidance of personal responsibility. All three positions demand a level of dishonesty and a compromise of personal integrity and values. All three are positions of low self-esteem. The Triangle examines the parts played in this system.

Victim Triangle was originally identified by the work of Transactional Analysis (Karpman, et al.) 

Victim - (I am not OK)

Anger is often expressed by covert means such as failure to act, manipulation,
Feels miserable, fears abandonment
Hopeless, helpless, sees no choices
Looks for others to take care of and to protect and to rescue them
Takes power from others by behaving powerlessly
Many behaviors are aimed at eliciting rescue
Does not set boundaries

Perpetrator - (You are not OK)

Perpetration can be subtle or blatant
Blaming, shaming, finding fault, getting even 
Is often sarcastic, critical, and judgmental 
Fears loss of control
“See what you made me do!” - justifies perpetration
Looking for a place to put anger

Creates pain in others to avoid own pain 
Has no respect for boundaries 
Communication is often dismissive and discounting 
Takes power from others through abusive and controlling behaviors 
Anger expressed through more overt means such as verbal, emotional, physical or sexual threats and/or abus

Rescuer - Takes sides and tries to fix things (wants to make everyone and everything OK)

Caretaking (fixes pain, ignores own needs, can’t say “No”)
Controlling, saving, fixing, rescuing
Fears rejection and abandonment
Little concept of boundaries - takes on the needs and pain of others as own
“I am only trying to help you” (helping you for your own good)
Focuses on the pain of others to avoid own pain
Anger is often expressed passive aggressively
Allows self to be used to help others avoid responsibility for self (gives up self)
Takes power away from others by infantilizing (doing for another what they could do for for themselves and/or attempting to solve other people’s problems)

This is a “power over/under” pattern for dealing with conflict,, emotional pain, and shame. All three positions are an attempt to take power/energy/self-esteem from another through control, manipulation, coercion, and emotional, physical, or psychological abuse. All are positions of low self-esteem. Most people have a preference for one role, however, may shift into the other roles at times. All three roles are an emotional and spiritual trap. We can get stuck in this triangle all by ourselves or we can participate in it with others. 



  1. State clearly and honestly the truth of what you think and feel.
  2. Ask directly for what you want, need and/or expect
  3. Avoid communicating for or about others.
  4. Avoid judgments - seek clarification, information, and verification.
  5. Become a care giver - rather than a care taker/rescuer
  6. Give feedback in a timely manner and make it specific to behavior.
  7. Listen to understand, rather than to fix or rescue
  8. Take responsibility for own actions
  9. Be willing to take risks, be vulnerable, open, honest, and take responsibility for self.
  10. Problem solve creatively (recognize choices).
  11. Consciously direct anger to set appropriate boundaries-avoid shaming and blaming.
  12. Refuse to compromise values; be willing to risk rejection and abandonment
  13. Commit to creating healthier patterns in your circle of friends and family.
  14. It is sometimes necessary to walk away from destructive and abusive relationships and systems, especially when there is no commitment to change these patterns.
  15. Find ways to build healthy self-esteem for yourself, your children, and significant others in your life:
  • Act with integrity
  • Practice appropriate self care (do those things that promote your own spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being and growth)
  • Take responsibility for your life and actions
  • Take responsibility for the words that you choose to use
  • Take responsibility for your emotions and what you choose to do with them
  • Honor what is true and real.
  • Set appropriate boundaries with oneself and others.
  • Accept yourself and challenge yourself to grow i. In short be a good parent to yourself 


Megan Bronson RN, MSN, CS - © 2003 Balance Point, Inc.
The Phoenix Society, Inc.® • 1835 R W Berends Dr. SW • Grand Rapids, MI 49519-4955 • 800.888.BURN •  All Rights Reserved.