The Triangle

I want to make it very clear that I am no expert in the area of codependency.  I am learning as I go and if you are on the same journey, we can learn together. There are many resources available and many support groups that may help you. I joined one at one time, but just about everyone was divorced and that seemed to be the theme of their recovery. I knew that was not the support group for me. You must make similar decisions about what will or will not help you on your journey.

Recently I learned about the Karpman Drama Triangle. See if you see yourself in this one. The first corner of the triangle is Rescuer. We see someone’s need and we feel we must take care of it. We step in and take the responsibility off someone else. They may or may not have asked for help, but we determined they need it and so we attempt to rescue them from their situation.

Rescuing is doing something for someone that they could do themselves.

It is not just helping, it is doing something out of guilt or a need to avoid conflict. We may do it because we think the other person can’t do it well enough or to suit our standards. We may do it because we think the other person won’t do it. Whatever our reason, we step in and rescue the other person from having to do it.

After a while we move to the second point of the triangle, Persecutor. The person we are doing things for just doesn’t seem to appreciate our sacrifice. He or she isn’t grateful. In fact, that person may even criticize us for what we have done. We feel we have given so much, done so much, and this is the thanks we get. They may even come to expect our rescue, even demand it. Now we are no longer volunteering our help, it is expected and we have no choice in the matter.

That is when we start letting that person know how we feel about the whole thing. We remind them how many times we have had to do this thing. We explain how hard it is for us or how much pain it causes us. We remind them of how much trouble they cause and what chaos they have created. Or we reprimand them for not doing the things we expect them to do. “Somebody has to do it and why is it always me!”

Of course, most people don’t respond well to this type of treatment and so they respond negatively to us. Before long we move to the third corner of the triangle, Victim. “Why am I always the one who gives and gives and gets nothing in return?” We bemoan the fact that we are the “good” spouse, the loving one, the selfless one and we are getting nothing out of this relationship. We get angry. We pout. We cry.

Then, because we are Christians, we determine our behavior is ungodly.  We beat ourselves up for being so selfish. What is wrong with me? Why aren’t I more loving and kind? After a few rounds of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” we become convinced that there must be something terribly wrong with us for complaining in the first place. Now we are ready to once again move to the Rescue corner and begin the drama again.

I have walked out this drama triangle hundreds of times in my life, but recently I discovered I am learning on this journey. I had agreed to help someone set up a new computer. I determined it was not something they could do for themselves, and I also determined I was willing to help. What I failed to recognize, though is that an old pattern was in play.

After a couple hours of setting everything up and installing everything that needed to be installed, the person I was helping told me it was not what they wanted. The old tapes began to play in my head. “Nothing I ever do is good enough. After all the time and effort I have spent here…” But, praise the Lord, I am learning. I caught myself mid thought.

I was able to respond, not in anger and persecution, but in love. “If this doesn’t work for you, I can set your old computer up again. You make the decision. It is your computer.” The person tried to put the decision back on me, but I held my ground. Finally they decided to have me set up the old one again. I was able to leave their home in peace because their decision did not reflect on how I felt about myself. I was not there to rescue them and what they decided to do with the computer was simply what they wanted done, not a reflection on my efforts.

That evening I was spending some time with the Lord, thanking Him for this new healing in my life. During that time the Lord showed me something I had forgotten to tell that person about their new computer. I called them and shared what the Lord had showed me. “That’s all I wanted. I didn’t know the computer could do that. I really want it.”

In the past I would have been well into Victim by the time I reached home that day. Instead my heart was open to hear what the Lord wanted to tell me. I was not responsible for the other person’s reaction or decision. Their acceptance or rejection of the computer did not reflect on my worth or the validity of my act of kindness in helping them.They are now loving their new computer and I am loving my new freedom!

You are responsible for your words and your actions.

You are not responsible for someone else’s words or actions. You are not responsible for how someone else reacts. That’s why you need to ask the Lord what He wants you to say and do. Then obey Him and don’t worry about the effect that has on your spouse. You can tie yourself in knots taking your cues and determining your worth from someone else, especially someone who is not in a healthy place right now.

One last thought… If you are in a situation where you are in physical danger if you do not act or respond the way someone else wants you to, seek help now! Do not believe that it is your fault or that it would not happen if you just said or did the right things. You are in the worst kind of codependent relationship when an abuser is determining your worth for you. No one deserves to be treated that way. That is not love and staying in that situation is not a way of showing love to your spouse. Get help and get healthy. Then you can stand for your marriage strong in the Lord, not weakly dependent on a sick person. Love, Marilyn

“Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” 1 Peter 4:9-10

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7

Author: Marilyn Phillipps

Married 49 years, we have three children and six grandchildren. My initial career of nursing prepared me to work with marriages that are wounded and in need of healing. For 35 my husband and I have led 2=1 International, a ministry to marriages and families around the world. We have seen miracle after miracle when many had given up hope.

3 thoughts on “The Triangle”

  1. I have returned to this post several times since you first wrote it. It was "no duh" moment for me when I first read it. Thank you for helping me see a pattern I want to break. I noticed a lot of codependency material assumes divorce is a "healthy" option to break the cycle, but refuse to accept that answer standing on God's word that He wants to restore my marriage and make it strong and healthy. Thank you for your voice out there!

  2. Jesus is the best and only healer! He is so loving and kind. After my husband left, I learned to ask "who am I in your sight, God?" instead of allowing myself to be defined by what my husband thought about me. It definitely is a process of healing to realize and experience the love of God to the extent that He changes what I think of myself. See Craig Hill's book, Help! My Spouse Wants Out. Several kinds of inner healing prayer have blessed me with my own gradual "Damascus Road" experience. Thank you, God!
    Susan Marvin

  3. Thank you, I so enjoyed your insights and comments. Have you read David Emerald's book, The Power of TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)?

    There David offers an escape from the drama triangle with practical steps on how to shift your actions and responses. Check out his website at I am interested in what you think.

    warmly, kathy

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