The Trauma Triangle: How Fostering Awareness of Reenactments Builds Resilience

The basic concept surrounding trauma-informed care is this:

We all have trauma. Some of us are at a higher risk of experiencing trauma. We carry this trauma with us, and if we do not address it, we will not heal from it.

Understanding reenactments is one way that we can continue healing from trauma. Our healing helps us make sure that we don’t traumatize or re-traumatize others due to our own inability to emotionally regulate.

In the context of trauma healing, there are three main things we seek to accomplish when considering reenactments:

  1. Learning the language and concepts of reenactments.
  2. Identifying reenactments in our own life, in retrospect and as they unfold in real-time.
  3. Breaking out of reenactments as we step into healing, empowerment, and positive change.

In this article, we’ll cover all these bases. As you explore reenactments, be kind to yourself. These are not “three simple steps” to healing. Take your time with these new concepts, and consider coming back to this resource when you need a refresher.

The Reenactment Triangle, Drama Triangle, and Trauma Triangle

Don’t worry. There’s only one triangle you need to know for now (later, we’ll introduce you to the empowerment triangle). The reenactment triangle is also known as the drama triangle or the trauma triangle. We’ll use these terms interchangeably. While the language varies slightly across different models, the concept is the same.

Dr. Stephen Karpman developed the original drama triangle, which identifies the three major roles people take on during a reenactment: the victim, the persecutor, and the rescuer.

In a drama triangle, the participants’ mindsets are marked by blaming, entitlement, and helplessness (this applies to the victim, the persecutor, and the rescuer). Common thoughts might include:

  • “This is all their/my fault.”
  • “They owe me…”
  • “They/I shouldn’t have done/said that.”
  • “They/I didn’t mean to!”
  • “There’s nothing they/I can do.”
  • “It will always be this way/Things will never change.”

Most of the time, the trauma triangle plays out in our relationships. These various roles bleed into our everyday lives unconsciously or mindlessly. We might argue or engage in negative cycles that harm our relationships or our sense of self.

Let’s explore the three roles. As you read, consider how you might relate to each role. Try to avoid blaming yourself for falling into these pitfalls: rather, consider them as logical responses to the trauma you have endured.

It’s most common for a person to take on more than one of these roles during a trauma response. Within one conversation, you might bounce from victim to persecutor to rescuer.

The Victim: “There’s nothing I can do”

The victim sees themselves as a powerless entity subject to outside forces, even when they find themselves in situations completely under their control. They are blind to the influence they have on any given situation and may resign themselves to suffering because “there’s nothing they can do.”

A victim’s attitude is marked by dejection and shame, and they will persistently deny their ability to affect change. They tend to struggle with decision-making, problem-solving, experiencing pleasure, and understanding how their behaviors impact their lives.

More often than not, a victim relies on a rescuer or savior in times of need. The removal of this rescuer or enabler is not a catalyst for self-sufficiency. Instead, without a rescuer, a victim turns to self-pity.


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