The narcissistic mother takes pleasure in creating a situation where the siblings have to compete for her attention by unfair means. This can create jealousy between the siblings, making them become arch-enemies. Due to the deep emotional scars that the mother creates, there may be little connection between the siblings as they grow up. None of the narcissistic mother’s children realises that they are their mother’s puppets where the roles may switch at any time. Without any awareness, they will each take their turn of becoming either the persecutory villain, the victim or the rescuer in the drama triangle as their mother dictates the outcome of the family dynamics convoluted dance.
In Karpman’s Drama Triangle there are three roles (or transactions):
- The Persecutor,
- The Rescuer (which are the “one up positions”),
- The Victim (which is the “one down position”).
As the child of a narcissistic mother, one is going to find oneself caught in the Drama Triangle with the mother’s pathological conflict one way or another.
THE VICTIM STANCE: When we talk about the victim, we are not talking about an actual victim, but rather someone who is acting the victim. However, even though they are acting, they sincerely feel that they are being victimised, oppressed, hopeless, ashamed, etc….they are engaging in the “Poor me!” stance.
THE PERSECUTOR STANCE: The persecutor will go out of their way to control, blame, criticise. They will come across as being superior, self-righteous, angry, oppressive. No matter what happens, the persecutor will always insist that you are at fault.
THE RESCUER STANCE: The rescuer is the consummate enabler who suffers guilt if they don’t rescue the situation. Unfortunately, their rescuing can have adverse effects for the victim; it keeps them dependent on others and robs them of the experience of learning how to solve their problems.
For example, if the narcissistic mother enters into conflict with one of her children, she will see that child as her persecutor, and herself as the victim. She will always involve her other children in the conflict. She will expect them to rescue her and become her enabler and accomplice to further discredit her victimised child (unwittingly or wittingly). All three participants become drawn into, or even seduced, by the energy that the drama generates. Unfortunately, the real issue becomes obscured, and confusion escalates, the focus becomes on winning the argument rather than finding a solution to the problem. In reality, it is the narcissistic mother that is the persecutor who is abusing and exploiting both members of her family (i.e. it may be both siblings, or the father and a child). It is no mistake that the triangle shows the “Victim” at the top of the triangle on their own, while the narcissistic mother, the “Persecutor” sits at the broad end of the triangle with her “Rescuer” in allegiance with her. This loyalty causes divisions between each of her children and their father.
With the interlocking of the three roles, the actual victim is left confused at what has just happened. The fact that the mother is joined by her rescuer, (who unknowingly backs up every word of her manipulation), means that once again, the victim is left swimming in a pool of blame and shame, and they are yet again “the problem”.
This game of manipulation becomes the narcissistic mother’s lifestyle, and she will assume the role as victim, rescuer or persecutor whenever it suits her cause. If the children of the narcissistic mother continue to play this game with her, the Drama Triangle flourishes. If you are a child of a narcissistic mother, it is important to get familiar with how this works, and then refuse to engage in her destructive behaviour. One good way is to watch movies that illustrate the Drama Triangle in action, for example: –
- Notes on a Scandal (2006)/Judy Dench
- Shattered Glass/Hayden Christensen
- House of Sand and Fog (2003)/ Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley
- Weight of Water (2000)/Sean Penn
RECOGNISING WHAT IS HAPPENING: When you can recognise what is happening in the relationship, the good news is that you can choose to get off the “drama triangle” (regardless of the role you find yourself in). When you do that, it changes the whole dynamic between you and the others in the family (or workplace, or friendships, etc.). Getting off the triangle calls for different action, and a willingness to negotiate putting down new boundaries when necessary. It also requires that we look more closely at our behaviour with curiosity and understanding. In that way, we remain connected to our self. This allows us to take decisive action, such as choosing to walk away from the situation rather than trying to defend ourselves from within the manipulated triangle, rather than becoming a persecutor ourselves. The goal is to stay with the truth of the situation and allow others to behave according to their story. It does not matter if the stories do not match, what is important is that you liberate yourself through self-responsibility and truth. Not allowing yourself to get caught up in your mother’s Drama Triangle, where there is no room for truth.
Getting “off” the Drama Triangle is not something you do just once and it then it lasts for all time. Think of it more as a process, and not a final destination, where you will most likely find yourself getting on and off repeatedly with your narcissistic mother. As long as we stay in the drama, we allow ourselves to get caught up in all types of conflict that lock us into rigid and self-punishing roles that limit us beyond measure.