Why you should be aware of something called the ‘drama triangle’ — a manipulative tactic narcissists use to keep you on your toes
The Insider/October 17, 2018
By Lindsay Dodgson
One of a narcissist’s favourite games is creating havoc for others. They get a kick out of seeing other people struggle, while they can sit back and revel in the destruction and feel superior. They want to control and manipulate other people to get this sense of supremacy, whether it’s at work, in a romantic relationship, or within a family.
Narcissists simultaneously loathe others and crave their attention. How much attention they want depends on what type of narcissist they are: exhibitionist, closet, or toxic. But generally, if the spotlight is on them, they feel like they are winning.
The attention doesn’t have to be positive. One tactic they use is to keep their victims on their toes. They do this by lying about the past, and manipulating someone’s present so they feel like they are going crazy. They also switch between being calm and placid to being fierce and terrifying in an instant — a bit like Jekyll and Hyde.
In psychology there is something called the “drama triangle.” It was developed by Stephen Karpman in the 60s, and it describes how people can play three roles: the victim, persecutor, and rescuer.
With a narcissist, they may flip between these three roles quickly and suddenly, meaning their victim never knows what to expect.
“You’re always walking on eggshells, [so] you never know how to respond,” Perpetua Neo, a psychologist who runs Detox Your Heart, told INSIDER. “So let’s say they are playing the victim, and you’re responding with empathy — they will flip to persecutor. So you know there’s no way you can win, even if you’re not playing to win, or you’re not even playing.”
One minute everything could be going fine, the next the victim might be on the receiving end of fierce narcissistic rage. But rather than trusting their gut that they did nothing wrong, they tend to try and explain away the narcissist’s behaviour by blaming themselves.
This is often a result of the “love bombing” that happened at the beginning of the relationship. It’s a manipulative tactic abusers use to suck in their targets where they shower them with affection, compliments, and gifts, and then they take it all away. The victim is left wondering what they did wrong, and focuses the blame internally.
“The problem is nobody is 100% bad, and a narcissist is great at pretending to be good,” said Neo. “Be very aware of the drama triangle where they flip between being saviour, ‘I’m going to save you,’ persecutor, ‘you are so stupid, you’re worthless, nobody’s ever going to love you,’ and the victim, ‘how could you abandon me, I need you to support me, without you I’m dead.'”
It’s a toxic mixture of guilt-tripping, verbal abuse, and intermittent affection. The human brain will tend to focus on the good, and try and blank out all the bad. This means victims will often explain away a lot of the shouting, violence, and betrayal because of the times where the narcissist was nice to them. But this is a mindset you have to break away from, Neo said.
“Know they are going to tug at your heart strings,” she said. “These are all manipulations. Be very aware that all the good times you had with them that made you convinced of their potential was probably all a lie.”