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The Prosecutor, Victim and Rescuer: Understanding Dysfunctional Friendships & Relationships

Stephen Karpman, MD developed the Drama Triangle to demonstrate triangulation and its roles which are prosecutor, victim, and rescuer. Which role(s) do you typically play and why? How often are you caught up in this triangle? Being healthy involves breaking toxic cycles within your life. Triangulation describes the ways in which a group of friends, family members, co-workers or individuals become involved in a dysfunctional entanglement (yes...I said it) that can be emotionally, mentally, and spiritually draining.

Let me give you an example. Three university students, Jamal, Justus and Lamonte are friends (for lack of a better word) and are also roommates. Jamal (victim) feels that he has an issue with Justus (prosecutor). Jamal alleges that Justus has been stealing money from his drawer and has been using the money to gamble. It is not true that Justus is stealing Jamal's money.

Jamal decides to make Lamonte (the rescuer) aware of his allegations and asks that Lamonte confront Justus, because he believes Lamonte is better at resolving issues and speaking out and because he is allegedly intimidated by Justus who he describes as a bully. Thinking he is doing advocacy work, Lamonte agrees and confronts Justus (when Jamal is not home), blindly accusing Justus of being both a thief and a bully without telling him the originator of these allegations (after all, he wants to protect Jamal, the alleged victim).

Feeling attacked, Justus expresses anger towards Lamonte and leaves the apartment to go stay with his girlfriend and the two never speak again. Jamal then goes to visit Justus at his girlfriend’s place to console him and tell him how horrible he thinks Lamonte is for falsely accusing him and making him out to be the bad guy for no reason. “I know you would never steal anything from me bro,” says Jamal, “I don’t know where Lamonte would get such an idea.” Justus thanks Jamal for having his back and always understanding him. The two become closer friends.

Let us take a look at the triangle now. Jamal has moved from being the victim to the rescuer. Justus, formally the prosecutor becomes the victim. Lamonte formally the rescuer becomes the prosecutor, and a new bond is formed between Jamal and Justice while animosity now exists between Lamont and Justus that was not there before. Taking things, a step further, either Justice, Jamal or both now relay this story to anybody that knows Lamonte (and anybody who will listen) to further annihilate Lamonte's character.

This folks, is triangulation, a drama triangle that you might be familiar with. One that often plagues families, friendships, and relationships and can even create toxic work environments.

Are you often feuding with others but do not know why? Do you have a dislike for someone, and you have yet to confront them? Do you feel insecure or uncomfortable around someone you feel loathes you for no reason? Speak to me about why this is happening, how to break free from these roles for good and how to build and maintain healthier relationships.

“A healthy relationship is one in which love enriches you; not imprisons you.”

– Steve Maraboli

Kevin Ufoegbune


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