Trying to stay out of drama this Christmas? Knowing about the Drama Triangle, a concept from transactional analysis, may help

While Christmas is often portrayed as a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness, it can also be a challenging period for many, especially if dealing with tricky family dynamics.

The Drama Triangle identifies three roles people often play in conflict: the victim, the persecutor, and the rescuer. Staying out of the Drama Triangle involves recognizing these roles and consciously choosing healthier alternatives.

Before delving into more detail about the Drama Triangle, it can be helpful to first reflect on some of the common reasons for conflict at this time of year:

Unmet Expectations: Expectations surrounding the holiday season can be unrealistic and lead to disappointment. When family members have different ideas about how Christmas should be celebrated, conflicts may arise.

Financial Stress: As if life hasn’t been expensive enough lately with rising interest rates and costs of living, the pressure to buy gifts, decorate the house, and prepare elaborate meals can contribute to financial stress. Disagreements about budgeting and spending can lead to tensions within the family.

Family Dynamics: Existing family dynamics and unresolved issues can intensify during the holidays. Spending extended periods of time together may bring underlying tensions to the surface, leading to arguments or conflicts.

Divorce or Separation: Families dealing with divorce or separation may face challenges in coordinating holiday plans. Children may be caught in the middle of conflicting arrangements, causing emotional distress.

Cultural and Religious Differences: Families with diverse cultural or religious backgrounds may struggle to find common ground in their holiday celebrations. Clashes in traditions and beliefs can contribute to tension.

Social Pressure: The societal expectation of having a perfect, joyful Christmas can create stress and anxiety. Families may feel pressured to present a harmonious front even when underlying conflicts exist.

Substance Abuse: For individuals or families dealing with substance abuse issues, the holiday season can be particularly challenging. Stressful situations may exacerbate these issues, leading to conflicts and emotional distress.

Personal Challenges: Those facing personal challenges, such as mental health issues or significant life changes, may find the holiday season emotionally taxing. The added pressure of festivities can amplify stressors.

Communication Breakdown: Lack of effective communication can contribute to misunderstandings and conflicts. Miscommunication about plans, expectations, or feelings can lead to heightened tensions.


What is the Drama Triangle:

The Drama Triangle is a psychological and social model that describes three roles often present in unhealthy interpersonal interactions. These roles, developed by psychologist Stephen Karpman, are the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Rescuer. Here’s a brief description of each part of the Drama Triangle:

  1. Victim:
    • The Victim is characterized by a sense of helplessness, passivity, and a belief that they are at the mercy of external circumstances. They often feel oppressed or mistreated and may seek sympathy or rescue from others. Victims may avoid taking responsibility for their own actions and instead focus on external factors as the cause of their problems.
  2. Persecutor:
    • The Persecutor adopts a critical and blaming stance towards others. They may be aggressive, controlling, or judgmental. Persecutors often blame the Victim for their problems and may exhibit bullying behavior. This role provides a temporary sense of power and control but can lead to a cycle of conflict within relationships.
  3. Rescuer:
    • The Rescuer intervenes to assist the Victim, often with the intention of solving their problems. Rescuers may have a genuine desire to help, but their actions can become enabling and disempowering for the Victim. They may also adopt a self-righteous attitude and derive a sense of superiority from their rescuing behaviors. Over time, Rescuers may become frustrated if the Victim doesn’t take their advice or if the situation doesn’t improve.

It’s important to note that individuals can shift between these roles, and conflicts often involve a dynamic interplay among them. The Drama Triangle illustrates how unhealthy patterns of communication and interaction can perpetuate dysfunctional relationships. Ideally, individuals can move towards healthier dynamics by adopting more constructive roles, such as the Challenger (assertive problem-solving) rather than the Persecutor, the Coach (supportive guidance) rather than the Rescuer, and the Survivor (taking responsibility for one’s actions) rather than the Victim. Recognizing and breaking free from the Drama Triangle can contribute to more positive and empowering relationships.

Here are steps to help you stay out of the Drama Triangle:

  1. Awareness:

Recognize the Roles: Be aware of the victim, persecutor, and rescuer roles in yourself and others.

Acknowledge Triggers: Identify personal triggers that may lead you into these roles.

  1. Mindful Observation:

Observe Interactions: Pay attention to your interactions and notice if you are slipping into one of the drama roles.

Pause and Reflect: Before reacting, take a moment to reflect on your emotions and the situation.

  1. Choose Empowerment:

Avoid the Victim Role: Instead of feeling helpless, focus on what you can control and take responsibility for your actions.

Refuse to Persecute: Avoid blaming others or adopting a critical stance. Seek understanding rather than placing blame.

Resist the Rescuer Role: Allow others to take responsibility for their actions. Offer support without taking over or enabling.

  1. Effective Communication:

Use “I” Statements: Express your feelings and needs using “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory.

Active Listening: Practice active listening to understand others’ perspectives without judgment.

  1. Set Healthy Boundaries:

Clarify Expectations: Clearly communicate your boundaries and expectations in a respectful manner.

Say No When Necessary: Learn to say no when it aligns with your values and priorities without feeling guilty.

  1. Problem-Solving Approach:

Focus on Solutions: Shift the focus from blaming to problem-solving. Collaborate with others to find constructive solutions.

Encourage Accountability: Encourage individuals to take responsibility for their actions and participate in finding solutions.

  1. Self-Care:

Prioritize Self-Care: Ensure you are taking care of your physical and emotional well-being.

Seek Support: Reach out to friends, family, or a counselor when needed for guidance and support.

  1. Cultivate Empathy:

Understand Others: Try to understand others’ perspectives and feelings without judging.

Validate Emotions: Acknowledge and validate the emotions of yourself and others.

  1. Learn from Experiences:

Reflect on Interactions: After conflicts, reflect on the situation and consider alternative, healthier responses.

Continuous Growth: Embrace a mindset of continuous personal growth and learning.

  1. Practice Compassion:

Be Compassionate Toward Yourself: Understand that everyone makes mistakes. Be kind and forgiving to yourself and others.

By adopting these steps, you can break free from the Drama Triangle and foster healthier, more constructive relationships. It requires self-awareness, effective communication, and a commitment to personal and interpersonal growth.

How setting boundaries in a loving way might look across different scenarios

 1. Personal Space:

Not Loving: “You’re always so clingy; can’t I have some space?”

Loving: “I love spending time with you, but I also need some alone time to recharge. How about we plan some time apart so we can appreciate our moments together even more?”

  1. Work-Life Balance:

Not Loving: “I can’t believe you’re working late again; you’re never home!”

Loving: “I know your work is important, and I appreciate your dedication. Can we talk about finding a balance that works for both of us so we can enjoy more quality time together?”

  1. Respecting Personal Choices:

Not Loving: “I don’t like it when you hang out with your friends. Cancel your plans.”

Loving: “I want you to have a good time with your friends. Can we discuss how we can make sure our plans align, so we both get to enjoy our social lives?”

  1. Communication Style:

Not Loving: “Stop being so emotional; it’s annoying!”

Loving: “I value our discussions, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed. Can we find a way to communicate where we both feel heard and understood?”

  1. Financial Decisions:

Not Loving: “You spent how much on that? You never think about our budget!”

Loving: “I appreciate that we have different approaches to spending. Let’s sit down and discuss a budget that works for both of us so we can feel secure about our financial decisions.”

  1. Respecting Time:

Not Loving: “You’re always late; it’s disrespectful.”

Loving: “I understand things come up, but I feel upset when plans are consistently delayed. Can we work together to be more mindful of each other’s time?”

  1. Family Boundaries:

Not Loving: “Your family is too involved in our life. I can’t take it anymore.”

Loving: “I love your family, and I want us to have a healthy balance with our own space. Can we discuss how we can establish some boundaries that respect both our families and our relationship?”


Setting boundaries in a loving way involves expressing your needs and feelings while also considering the other person’s perspective. It’s about finding compromises and solutions that enhance the relationship rather than creating conflict.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you would like some help. To enquire about an appointment at Moving Forward Clinical Psychologists, please complete our Online Contact Form, or call us on 1300 133 013. Our experienced Clinical Psychologists are located in Terrigal (10 minutes from Erina) on the beautiful NSW Central Coast. We are also available Australia wide, via Telehealth.