One way or another, we are all part of Karpman’s drama triangle a few times in our lives. Sometimes we play the role of the rescuer, sometimes, we are the persecutor, and some other times we are the victim.
Today I want to talk about how the rescuer can turn into a persecutor by trying to help a victim too much.
As the transactional analysis studies define, the victim acts or feels like a victim without necessarily being one. The “poor me” person is that person that always feels or plays as if they are helpless, hopeless, powerless, and so on.
The rescuer is someone who “hears” the victim and always says: “let me help you.” Often, they feel guilty if they don’t help the “poor” victim. By helping, the rescuer wants to prove they are worthy of love and capable of achieving things.
The persecutor is someone who blames the victim. They believe it’s the victim’s fault for their situation.
While I don’t want to bore you with terms and definitions from psychology, I think it’s essential for everyone to understand the three roles described earlier. Also, it is beneficial to know that we all play these roles without even knowing. And sometimes, we change positions in this drama triangle.
The introduction may be a bit too long, but I think it will help us understand how and why you can’t help someone more than they want to be helped.
Now, switching gears to a less theoretical and a more anchored in reality approach, I want to talk about the hidden benefits of some of the victims and why, by trying too hard to help them, we can turn from a rescuer to a persecutor.
Do you know how babies cry to draw attention? That’s their way of communicating. That’s their way of saying they are hungry, tired, bored, or want attention. Naturally, their mother or caretaker gives them what they need, and the babies feel happy.
Later in life, the toddlers discover that they keep receiving attention, affection, and what they need if they cry. So they keep on crying whenever they don’t receive what they want. And the mother keeps on giving or starts to blame, accuse, or ignore the child. And that is the first stage of becoming a victim, and like that, the victim has the first interaction with a rescuer or a persecutor. Later, the big brother or sister will feel the need to protect the younger siblings, and even further in life, they can perpetuate that behavior or turn into persecutors.
The victim learned that if they keep “crying,” they keep receiving attention, affection, or help. So they do what they know best.
On the other hand, a rescuer has a natural instinct to help. They know how to detect “the cry” from afar; they listen to the victim and feel the urge to give a hand.
And while you might think that this is a match made in heaven, that the victim receives what they need, and the rescuer fulfills the victim’s need, it is not always as simple as that, and almost all the time, the fairytale goes bad.
Let’s think about it. The victim learned this behavior in childhood. They saw that they didn’t have to put in the effort if they were helpless. It’s enough for them to “cry,” They receive what they want. On the other hand, the rescuer feels like they are on a mission to save someone else, proving they are needed and good enough. So, if the rescuer really helps the victim, the victim will have to start working, in other words, to take life into their own hands. Will they really want to do that? Are they ready to be in charge? Do they want to put in the effort and take the hard path when it’s much better to cry and receive?
You got it right! They don’t want to make that change. They don’t want to walk the extra mile. It’s easier for them to accept what they receive than to go out and work for what they want. To make a parallel, imagine a child who wants to play with all the toys simultaneously but doesn’t want to put them back when mommy can do it for them.
On the other hand, the rescuer sees that the victim doesn’t really want the change (aka the help they offered), so they feel they failed. They are not good enough rescuers, or their efforts weren’t appreciated. So, from being a rescuer, they become a persecutor and start blaming the victim. Will they feel better in this new position? Of course not! Will this behavior help the victim? No way! So now we have to deal with two unhappy people and probably with a broken relationship. Why? Because you can’t help someone more than they want to be helped.
So now, if you feel you are in any of these situations, please, try to think about how you can break this pattern. What can you do to “evade” this stereotype and take it from scratch on the right pathway? And don’t be afraid to ask for real help, even if you are the victim. Also, if you are a rescuer or a persecutor, it’s alright, too. There’s no shame to receive instead of giving. That can be rewarding, too.
Seek help! It can free your life!