Narcissists And The Drama Triangle

When we speak of narcissists and the drama triangle, we need to speak first of the psychological concept of The Drama Triangle, which was coined by the psychologist Stephen Karpman. More here:

This triangle refers to how people operate in dysfunctional relationships.

The Drama Triangle looks like this:

narcissists and the drama triangle

There is a lot of fascinating information on the internet about this Drama Triangle and if you are at all interested then it could be well worth your while to do some research on that. But here are my own thoughts about how the Drama Triangle and the narcissistic dynamic work. (As ever, these are my unqualified thoughts, based on my reading and experiences.)

My thoughts are that narcissists, like all dysfunctional people, live on the drama triangle. And their favourite and indeed, essential, role, is that of Victim. They definitely never ever see themselves as Persecutors, because of course they’re perfect and would never do anything wrong.  They can be a Rescuer, but to a limited extent and I speak about that below.

But mostly, they are the Victim. (They especially consider themselves to be the victim whenever they’re called out on any of their behaviour, in a process called DARVO.)

Let me digress briefly to speak first about the word ‘victim’. It has come to be a bit of a loaded word, and I think it’s fair to say that nowadays it has two subtly different meanings.

The first is a simple factual statement, indicating someone who experienced something bad. There is no baggage or implication about this meaning; as I say, it’s just a statement of fact, on a par with saying someone is left-handed or has green eyes.

The second meaning has way more baggage about it. It refers to someone who enjoys the drama of being hard-done by. Someone who is nearly a professional victim, milking it and enjoying it and wallowing in it. And I think it’s the confusion with these two meanings that lead genuine victims to reject the word, which is why they understandably prefer to think of themselves as survivors rather than victims.

The Drama Triangle refers to the professional Victim type. It’s about a state of mind rather than an exact circumstance. And so when I speak of narcissists as Victims, I mean that they think of themselves as such. Not that they are. They are indubitably the Persecutors.  But they fully believe themselves to be the Victim.

I think it’s because there is such a disparity between their vision of what their life should be on the one hand — which is them being perfect, and worshipped, and admired, and pandered to — and the reality of life on the other , which is that no matter how hard they try, people will not admire them or worship or pander to  them as much as they want and need.  Many people they meet don’t want or need to pander to them – their boss at work, the woman in the local shop and so on. And even those people who are in their web, such as you their daughter, and their Enabling Husband and so on, simply cannot pander as much as the narcissist would like no matter how hard they try.

So life falls very far short of how they want it to be, and they do genuinely feel very hard-done-by because of that, and so they are in perpetual Victim mode.

And then, if someone, maybe you, dares to call them out on their behaviour, no matter how kindly or mildly you do it, nor how minor the issue, they experience it as a full-on attack, and they experience the other person as a Persecutor. And so they go into uber-victim mode.

The only times that I see it that a narcissistic mother will be in Rescue mode is if it suits her narrative of herself where she likes to think of herself as a rescuer, and/or if she’s an engulfing mother.

Another quick digression: being a Rescuer is also a mind-set. It’s about getting your needs met through this role of Rescuer. It’s quite a superior place to be, so narcissists like it from that point of view.

Someone who helps isn’t automatically a Rescuer – it depends on their mindset, their agenda, and how much their ego is attached to it all. Yes, we all get pleasure from helping others, but that’s not dysfunctional by itself.

Okay, so to get back to two kinds of narcissist-Rescuers: the occasional helper, and the constant engulfer.

For the former, I know my own mother loved to think of herself as a Rescuer. She was always inappropriately ready to rush in and help whenever anything was going on. It felt invasive and almost predatory. Sometimes all I wanted was for someone to listen but she would say, demand almost, “Is there anything we can do to help?”  Which doesn’t sound bad, does it? If I were to try to explain that to someone I’m sure they’d tell me to get over myself. But I think that you as a fellow DONM will get it. It was the tone of hunger nearly, of rapaciousness, of delight at being involved with the crisis. There was a strong sense of her pouncing on the issue.

And even when it was a situation in which I could genuinely do with the help, and appreciated it, there was something about her heightened excitement about it all that was really uncomfortable for me. Even these clumsy words that I use now are only achieved with hindsight.  At the time I couldn’t begin to articulate, even to myself,  what was wrong. But I felt it wrong, and that was more confusing still as here she was offering to help, and here I was feeling bad about that.

But yes, narcissists with their love of drama love being where the crisis is, and feeding off it as emotional vampires. And so the narcissistic mother can play the Rescuer in that case, in the dysfunctional Drama Triangle sense of the word, and not at all in the genuine non-dysfunctional helpful sense.

The other way the narcissistic mother can play Rescuer is if she’s the engulfing type.  Then she rescues endlessly as a form of control. This is infantalisation.

In both those cases of Rescuing, rather than the help or advice being offered unconditionally as it would be in a healthy dynamic, there are of course huge strings attached, in the form of endless gratitude to them, and subservience and so on. And if you don’t pay them their due then they’re all:  “After all I’ve done for you…” etc etc.

And they’re straight back into Victim, which is where they love to be.

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