Highly Sensitives and Recognizing The Dastardly Drama Triangle

Most of us grew up loving comic books, superheroes, and supervillains.

Who wouldn’t? Superpowers, action-packed storylines, and even aspects of certain characters we can identify with, right?

But have you ever considered that these comic book characters, with their superpowers and action-packed storylines, grapple with unhelpful behaviours that mirror our own?

It’s a reminder that even our favourite heroes and villains aren’t immune to relationship struggles, just like us.

Looking a little closer, we can see these unhelpful behaviours give rise to a dysfunctional relationship pattern known as Karpman’s Drama Triangle. This pattern or cycle of dysfunction isn’t unique to comic book characters but one that many of us, in various forms, can recognize in our own lives.

Karpman’s Drama Triangle is a cycle of dysfunction that revolves around three key roles: the Persecutor, the Rescuer, and the Victim.

Most of us, to varying degrees, have experienced similar dynamics growing up in our own families. We can see how these roles can continue in our current relationships.


Let’s explore these roles a bit more.


In Persecutor mode, the person disregards others’ perspectives and integrity. They exhibit anger (overtly or covertly), aggression, and judgment, often resorting to bullying, demanding, spiteful, and scornful behaviour.

Consider the comic book characters we grew up with, like The Joker, Poison Ivy, or Magneto. These villains, with their behaviours based on the Persecutor role, are not just fictional. They mirror the real-life behaviours we may have encountered in our parents, caregivers, siblings, friends and even ourselves.

In Rescuer mode, the person doesn’t value other people’s capacity to help themselves. They appear self-sacrificing and overly helpful. They like to be needed, are prone to meddling unnecessarily, and think they can’t exist without the other person (lose themselves in the relationship).

Growing up, many Highly Sensitive people, because of their natural ability to put themselves in others’ shoes, relied on the behaviours of the Rescuer role (AKA the Superhero). Think of Batman, Wonder Woman, or Superman.

Highly Sensitive people can tend to exhibit many of the Rescuer’s behaviours, always “being there” for others and ready to lend a “helping hand.”

In Victim mode, the person doesn’t value themselves and defers to others. They are helpless, needy, manipulative, complaining, whining, downtrodden, blaming others, worrying a lot, and suffering from a ‘poor me’ syndrome.

Highly Sensitives may recognize seeing one of their parents or caregivers who relied on the behaviours of the Victim role. Think of Gotham City (who seemingly needed Batman to fight The Joker), Lois Lane, or Rachel Dawes.

So it’s easy to see where we’ve picked up on the behaviours of this dastardly drama triangle.

Let’s look at an example in today’s society to understand how these behaviours and roles change.

A person (who relies heavily on the Persecutor’s role/behaviours) yells at their partner. After they hurt their partner’s feelings, the partner depends on the Victim’s role/behaviours and turns to their friend for support. The friend then relies on the Rescuer role/behaviours.

In the meantime, the individual who initially yelled at their partner feels ganged up on by the Victim and the Rescuer and then begins exhibiting Victim behaviour. Then, the original Victim feels terrible for the Persecutor and gets mad (exhibits the Persecutor’s behaviour) toward the Rescuer.

Leapin lizards! Holy, here we go again, hey Batman? See how these roles and behaviours change and become cyclical?

So, what do all three of these behaviour modes have in common? What keeps them going? Guilt and blame.

If we look a little closer, we can see this Drama Triangle playing out in many different relationships: our relationship with ourselves, a group of friends, between family members, in our workplaces, politics, and society.

So, how can we use this information to our advantage?

By reflecting on how we may be relying on the behaviours of the Prosecutor, the Rescuer, or the Victim and recognizing how this is affecting our relationships, we can start making conscious changes to improve them.

Since Highly Sensitives value meaningful, healthy relationships, we must recognize when we’re engaging in the unhelpful behaviours of a drama triangle.

While guilt and blame may be recurring themes in these roles, it’s crucial to remember that understanding these patterns is the first step to creating and nurturing healthier relationships.

Of course, the most meaningful relationship you will have is the one you have with yourself. Investing in healthy habits and behaviours and developing firm boundaries will always benefit you.

As you recognize how these roles are playing out in your life and begin making small changes in your behaviour, you’ll notice you start gaining more peace and free time to invest in mutually beneficial activities and relationships.

This journey of self-awareness and change leads to personal growth and healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

Change is not only possible, but it starts with you.

As Batman says, “Everything’s impossible until someone does it.”

Rayne is one of the Content Creators for HSP World. She's a curious traveler, yup an HSS too, who loves reading, writing, spending time outdoors, and playing in new projects.

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