The Trauma Triangle.

The Trauma Triangle is a concept I learned while in hospital. It is also called the “Drama Triangle” but I feel that wording has (or could have) a negative connotation to it.

When dealing with trauma or any life stressor, we all run the risk of getting on to this triangle and switching corners happens easily. By learning to stay off of it, we can truly begin to heal and make better life decisions. I am going to try to explain it to the best of my ability here. I hope that I can do it justice.

Trauma Triangle

The Victim
When you are on this tip of the triangle, it isn’t very hard to spot. It is hard to admit it to yourself though. In the victim role, you feel that you are being victimized in any variety of ways. No one invited you to a get-together that you know is happening. You are left out of a discussion. You are not talented in a certain area where others seem to be. Your past was all “them against me”. You are fat, ugly, or too short/tall (in your opinion). Anything that happens in your life or happened in your life and you view it as a negative.
Almost everyone deals with at least a few of these issues throughout their life and these reactions can be normal for a short time. If however you can’t seem to get out of these patterns, you are in the victim role.
HAVING these issues is not what makes you a victim. It is how you respond to these bumps/hurdles in your life that matters. If you throw your hands in the air and just give up? You are taking on the victim role. If you respond with the view that everything always happens to you and you never get a break? You are in the victim role.  If your days are a little too full of you thinking that you have things worse than most everyone else? If you are waiting for someone or something else besides yourself to save you? If you go to a program or take certain medications and expect them to cure you with little or no effort from your end? You are in the victim role.

The Rescuer
Insert Superman cape here… “I’ll save you!!!!”
I know that trauma survivors tend to be rescuers on a regular basis but I am positive it affects many people without this background as well. A rescuer is not only someone who steps in to help in times of crisis. They also use the role of caregiver. Mothers that give everything to their children and leave nothing for themselves (I did this). Fathers who work too many hours to help support their family but cause themselves harm in the process. People taking care of those whom are ill, in need, less strong than they are (or appear to be) at the expense of their own needs.
It is very loving, caring, kind, and considerate to give to others freely and expect nothing in return but if you do it to the point that there is nothing left for you at the end of the day? You have stepped in to the role of rescuer and you are now on the trauma triangle.

The Persecutor/Abuser
This is a tough one to explain. The abuser on a trauma triangle is not really the same as the abuser who hurt you in your past. Lets leave them out of this completely for now okay? This concept is the hardest to see and the hardest to admit/stop. This corner of the triangle can be very sticky.
To be the persecutor/abuser towards others in your life can be the obvious type of abuser whether physical, emotional or verbal. If you are following the role models that you had whom abused you and are now doing that to others? This is an obvious abuser role and it needs to be stopped immediately no matter what you need to do to help yourself.  Therapy, anger management, family counselling, moving out until you can treat others better… whatever it takes.
There is another type of abuser  that is far less obvious to us though. This abuser is a bit sneaky and doesn’t even know they are being abusive quite often. That abuser can be you. If you ever find yourself uttering statements like “I am so stupid.” “I can’t do anything right.” “I’m such a loser/dork/idiot.” “It’s all my fault.” or any variation of these? You are abusing yourself. If you cause yourself harm physically? You are abusing yourself. If you deny yourself of things that you would never deny anyone else (items, food, compassion, loving kindness)? This is abuse. Certain traits such as perfectionism are also considered self abusive behaviour.

So what do we do when we find ourselves in these roles?
If you are in the victim role, you need to start problem solving. Take that black cloud that hangs over your head and pick away at each issue until the sun can shine through again.
If you are the rescuer, you need to practice self-care. While it is nice to give to others, you need to give to yourself first. Look at yourself for a moment as though you are a glass of water. You can give others a drink quite a few times but eventually you are empty. You need to take time to fill back up again. Treat yourself as well as you treat those around you.
If you are the persecutor/abuser? You need to knock it off NOW. Trust me when I say that I know it is not easy but you just have to do it. Stop calling yourself names. Stop berating yourself. START being kind to yourself right now. It’s very, very important.

We all get on and off this triangle throughout our lives and I believe it is completely normal to be on any of these tips on a fairly regular basis. The important skill to learn here is the ability to see you are on it and consciously get off of it again.

I hope this has made sense and I hope it helps you see where you might need to focus some attention. Always remember to take care of yourself first. You are no use to anyone else if you are depleted yourself. You matter. Always remember that.

Have a great day all!

8 responses to “The Trauma Triangle.

  1. Thanks for the great explanation , Heather. I was not familiar with the Trauma Triangle at all, and there are certainly important lessons there for ALL of us!


    • Thanks Janet. I have found it to be a very useful tool to use especially in boundary setting. I was always a really big rescuer to the point of neglecting myself. I am not that way any longer. I think of others all the time but I think of myself as well now. Things like that.
      Thanks for the feedback. 🙂


  2. Awesome explanation and a great reminder not to be the abuser of self!


  3. Reblogged this on Cass & Co.


  4. Great post, you explained it well. 🙂


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