addiction in the familyAddiction doesn’t happen in a bubble, it has a way of altering a family and the interactions of family members.  The effect addiction in the family has becomes quite apparent when we look at the dysfunctional communication roles that family members often take on.  These interactions are fittingly called The Drama Triangle.  There are three roles in the Drama Triangle and each one is reactive and manipulative instead of honest and authentic.

What Are The Roles People Play When Addiction Exists In A Family?

Victim: This person continually feels victimized for what others are doing to him or her.    They feel helpless and hopeless.  Victims typically have unrealistic expectations and feel despair, vulnerability, and suffer chronic disappointment. Victims or martyrs tend to communicate in passive ways.  The victim avoids responsibility by blaming others and trying to control them with guilt.  This person feels “less than” the persecutor and often receives pity and is taken care of by the rescuer.

Persecutor: This person acts out in order to get revenge and/or offend others, as a way of avoiding his or her own discomfort.  Persecutors often communicate in an aggressive way.  They blame and criticize others.  They see everything as win/lose and insist on “being right”.  This person feels “better than” the victim and uses intimidation and threats to feel power and try to boost self-esteem.

Rescuer: This person is a natural caretaker and very non-confrontational.  They keep secrets and enable addictive behaviors.  Rescuers provide unasked help (while neglecting themselves) and often feel tired, depleted, unappreciated, and resentful. Rescuers communicate in a passive-aggressive way.  This person feels superior to both the persecutor and the victim.  Rescuers concentrate on others in an effort to avoid turning inward.

If you see yourself in different roles in different situations, that is expected!   

People will start in one role and often move around the triangle to different roles, sometimes within one interaction.  For instance, consider an alcoholic who is out late drinking while their partner is at home worried.  The alcoholic may come home to an angry partner (persecutor role) and instantly be in the victim role but then try to turn the blame onto his/her partner (therefore reversing the roles).  The interaction may then evolve further with the partner helping the alcoholic to bed and calling into work on his/her behalf the next day (rescuing role).

Also, don’t forget this is the drama triangle, so these roles are assumed when things are going awry.  These are not permanent roles.  However, as we know as an addiction progresses things go awry more and more often.

Why Would Anyone Participate In The Drama Triangle?

We take on these roles because subconsciously there is a perceived benefit to each one.

  • The victim receives pity and doesn’t need to take full responsibility for their actions.
  • The rescuer feels superior although over time they feel unappreciated, frustrated and tired from their attempts to rescue.
  • The persecutor feels a sense of power and entitlement and demands respect from others.

But these benefits are really an illusion, Claude Steiner comments, “The victim is not really as helpless as he feels, the rescuer is not really helping, and the persecutor does not really have a valid complaint.”  All the roles have something in common: by taking on a role, you don’t have to deal with your own issues or take responsibility for your own actions.  The roles serve the purpose of getting our adult needs met but in immature ways.  All three roles share a lack of boundaries and hinder one’s ability to be intimate and/or respond to others appropriately.

How To Step Out Of The Drama Triangle?

The only person you can control is yourself.  You can begin to step out of the unmanageability of the drama triangle by:

  • Recognizing that there is a Drama Triangle that is not working
  • Setting healthy boundaries
  • Taking responsibility for your own actions
  • Speaking honestly, calmly saying what you really mean
  • Having respect for yourself and others
  • Valuing the relationships more than being right, or better than

If you or a loved one is repeatedly in The Drama Triangle because of addiction.  You can get help getting out by contacting New Hope Recover Center at info@new-hope-recovery.com or 773-883-3916.  For more information about us visit our website at www.new-hope-recovery.com.

Other articles you may find interesting: Family Roles and Addiction

Written By: New Hope Recovery Center