Breaking Free of the Drama: How Stepping Off the Karpman Triangle Improves Your Relationship (Part 2 of 2)


Part 1 introduced the dynamics of the Karpman Drama triangle in relationships.  It explored how the power struggles and dynamics of victim, perpetrator, and rescuer can keep you caught in a toxic dance with your partner.   

Now, we’ll turn to focus on creating change in your relationship through jumping off the Karpman triangle into a healthier way of relating.  Each of the three roles of the triangle has an alternative counterpart that allows you to experience freedom from the dysfunctional dance of power in the drama triangle.  These three parts must be experienced in the order that follows. 

Taking Responsibility

The counterpart to the victim role is taking responsibility for the adult self and approaching yourself with kindness, empathy, and courage.  This is the most important step: the following two steps cannot be achieved without completing this step first.

Taking responsibility requires getting in touch with the part of you that feels like a victim.  Typically this part of you feels young, like a child version of yourself.  Often this is because the victim role reacts to your unmet needs or desires from childhood.  Working through these unmet needs in therapy can help you understand why you react so strongly to situations in your present-day life.  Therapy will help you learn to establish self-care routines and healthy communication in relationships to soften these strong reactions.

Our reactions to distressing situations relate to coping mechanisms or survival instincts picked up in childhood that we now repeat as a way of protecting ourselves.  Those old patterns often don’t work in the way that they used to, yet we go back to them because they are familiar.

As an adult, you no longer have to be beholden to these patterns of coping.  You can choose a new way of living instead of just surviving, which is what taking responsibility is all about.  It involves reminding yourself that, as an adult, you can make different choices.  Oftentimes as children we felt powerless.  This step is a way to reclaim a sense of power and self-assurance to work for what you want instead of feeling powerless.

Come up with a mantra or statement that embodies a different way of viewing yourself.  For example, in the victim role, you might see yourself as unlovable or worthless.  Instead, in taking responsibility, you’ll acknowledge and own the reality that you are lovable and of great worth.  As you acknowledge these realities, you’ll notice the fog of shame lifts and you’ll be able to see your path out of the drama triangle more clearly.

Examining Options

Once you’ve taken responsibility by acknowledging the impact of past wounds and your capabilities and power as an adult, you can then move into examining the options in front of you.  This counterpart to the perpetrator role is a healthier way of coping with feeling trapped in the victim role.

After acknowledging your adult capabilities, make yourself a list of all the different options in front of you.  Remember in this list that you are only in control of yourself: your actions, thoughts, attitudes, and responses to emotions.  You cannot control other people. When your choice hinges on the actions of someone else, this is a setup to get caught up in the drama triangle again.  Instead, look at what you have control over and what changes you can make. 

Brainstorm in this step: write down everything you can possibly think of for different options, even if they seem “out there” or impossible.  If you’re doing this with someone else, such as your spouse, know that you don’t have to agree 100% on these: you’re just getting ideas on the table.  Once you’ve brainstormed several ideas, you might notice a cohesive theme starting to form that will lead you toward the next step. 

One important note: if you find yourself feeling like a victim again or re-entering the drama triangle, notice this and know that it is normal to slip back into old patterns.  Pause and go back to the core of the victim role you identified earlier and repeat the process of taking responsibility for yourself.

Negotiate to Make a Choice

Once all your options are laid out, you’re prepared to make a choice with the knowledge in front of you.  Rather than attempting to take on the world through the rescuer role, negotiating requires inviting relationship and enlisting the help of others.  Identify which of your options is the best possible outcome with all the information you’ve gathered.  Make a plan on how to implement this choice.  Take an action step as soon as possible to get this choice moving so that you don’t forget and slip into old patterns. 

This choice will likely involve some difficulty or change in your life, and you may be tempted to jump back onto the drama triangle to return to something that feels familiar.  Remind yourself of your vision for ending the drama of feeling trapped and the experience of the victim role.  You may have to learn to set boundaries or ask for what you need more readily, but the hard work will be worth it.


Do you feel stuck in the drama of the Karpman triangle?  Are there pieces of your past that seem to resurface in arguments with your spouse?  Are you tired of constantly feeling like a victim and want to regain a sense of power and control over your life?  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services to help empower you and move you into more healthy ways of relating to others.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up your first appointment.

Finding Your Power Center: How To Leave Victimhood Behind and Own Your Power

If you’ve been on the receiving end of a spouse’s betrayal through an affair or sex and love addiction, there are times when you feel completely powerless and out of control.  Your partner’s behaviors and decisions baffle you.  Oftentimes the behaviors affect you directly, and it can be maddening to feel out of control.

Moments like these lead you to feel like the victim of someone else’s chaos or poor decision-making.  You may feel trapped, angry, or afraid of confrontation or change.  You’re probably also exhausted from trying to manage the emotional upheaval from dealing with the fallout of someone else’s actions, questioning whether or not you can trust them, and doubting your own self-worth.

How do I know I’m not in my power center?

When someone else’s actions or the circumstances around you leave you feeling like a victim, here are some symptoms you might notice:

  • Reacting rather than responding

  • Feeling trapped and stuck: “I just have to sit down and take it.”

  • Intense and overwhelming emotions, such as fear, anxiety, or anger

  • A sense of hopelessness: “Things will never change.”

  • Powerlessness: “There’s nothing I can do about this.”

If you’re dealing with a partner’s sex and love addiction, here might be some other symptoms you notice:

  • Denying or ignoring your partner’s addiction

  • Avoiding signs that addiction is continuing

  • Obsessively checking on your partner’s whereabouts and actions

  • Enabling addictive behaviors by taking ownership/blaming yourself

  • Attempting to control the addict’s behaviors

  • Feeling like you’re the addict’s parent rather than partner

How do I reclaim my power center?

The biggest shift needed to reclaim your power is defining yourself as someone capable of creating change, rather than a victim.  This is difficult because it may be true that there are things outside your control.  The actions, thoughts, and decisions of others are not something you have the power to control.  However, you can choose how you think and act in response to these behaviors and meet your personal needs within difficult circumstances. 

Vicki Tidwell Palmer, in her book Moving Beyond Betrayal*, does a great job of outlining how to find your authentic personal power by moving from victim to victorious. She invites you to take a step back from chaotic situations to identify what you need and choose appropriate steps to get those needs met.  Be kind to yourself in this process, and don’t heap shame on yourself when you find yourself feeling like a victim again. Instead, feel empowered to make a different choice rather than feeling like your emotions are taking over.

At times, taking back power can be as simple as naming that you are powerless.  In the Twelve Steps, Step One involves admitting that you are powerless over the addictive behavior.  In truth, you are powerless over your partner’s behaviors, and admitting this truth frees you to make decisions that are best for your well-being.  This process can teach you to meet needs through supportive relationships and friendships, self-care, and spirituality.

In particular with addicts who are either in denial or in active addiction, it can be easy to get caught up in the cycle of feeling like a victim or enabling their behavior.  Instead, admit that you are powerless over the denial itself.  While you can communicate the effect your partner’s behaviors have on you, you will need to support yourself with appropriate boundaries.  Setting boundaries to protect yourself and meet needs in healthy ways will allow you to reclaim power over your own life.

Practical Next Steps

Practice grounding exercises when you’re experiencing intense emotional responses.

Grounding exercises are a way that you can reconnect with the present moment when your emotions threaten to take over.  Sit in a comfortable spot and pay attention to your breathing.  Place your feet flat on the ground and notice the sensation of the ground beneath your feet.  Hold an object that has a unique texture, such as a smooth rock or a soft toy and connect with your sense of touch.  Practice the 5-4-3-2-1 breathing exercise (outlined in this article) where you connect deep breathing with noticing sensory information around you.

Pay attention to your body to identify what you need.

Check in with yourself emotionally by noticing the physical sensations in your body.  Identify previous times you have felt those physical sensations.  Ask yourself about those memories: what did you need at that time?  Safety?  Comfort?  Time alone?  Love?

Journal and reflect on these needs and identify healthy ways you can meet each of them.  For example, you might give yourself safety by removing yourself from situations that feel unsafe.  You can find comfort by calling or visiting a friend and talking with them about your experience.  You can feel love by spending time with a beloved pet or practicing self-love through kindness toward yourself.

Set a boundary or Make a request to move closer to what you need.

Some needs aren’t as easy to meet on your own.  In that case, you can make a request of your partner or others in order to get that need met.  Keep in mind that this request needs to be made with acceptance of the other’s response.  They have the right to say yes or no, and you will need to prepare for how you will respond in either case.

Setting boundaries is a helpful way to practice self-care or self-protection.  Boundaries are not meant to be a weapon or a punishment.  Instead, they are a tool by which you increase feelings of safety and stability in your life and relationships.  For example, if your spouse tends to raise his or her voice while having an argument, you might set a boundary that when he or she raises their voice, you will walk away from the conversation.  Or if your spouse continues sexually acting out, you may set a boundary of sleeping in separate bedrooms to help you feel safe.

Make agreements with your partner about supporting one another’s boundaries and needs.

Work together with your spouse to find compromise about current needs you each have in the relationship, especially in light of any addictive issues at play.  Identify the needs you listed above and come up with several possible solutions of how to resolve them.  Have a discussion with your partner about those needs and come to a place of compromise where you can both be satisfied with your agreement.  This conversation is likely best done in the context of a couples therapy session, if your partner is willing.   

When you’ve gotten to a place of compromise, write down the actions to which you and your partner have committed and sign them as agreements, giving a sense of gravity to the document.  If these agreements are not being honored by one or both of you, you have this physical document to revisit and have additional conversations about what might have caused the agreement to be broken.

Have you felt out of control with your emotions after discovering your partner’s betrayal?  Do you struggle to set boundaries or know what you need?  Are you afraid of confronting your loved one’s addictive behavior for fear that you will lose the relationship?  At Restored Hope, I offer compassionate counseling and care as you walk through these difficult life circumstances and seek to regain a sense of power and control over your life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up an appointment at my Ann Arbor counseling office.

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

Empowering Yourself Through Boundaries: A Review of Moving Beyond Betrayal by Vicki Tidwell Palmer


If you’ve recently become aware of your spouse’s sex and love addiction, you’re likely reeling from the new information and the trauma caused by the discovery.  You feel completely blindsided, powerless, and victimized.  You likely didn’t ask to be married to an addict or expect that your spouse would be involved in sexual betrayal.  Deception and denial on the addict’s part have led you not to trust your intuition and potentially believe the betrayal is your fault.  You might feel swept up in a whirlwind of emotions and trauma reactions, not knowing how to calm yourself down or stop the mood swings.

How can you regain a sense of control when it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under you?

In Moving Beyond Betrayal*, Vicki Tidwell Palmer gives you the solution.

In this book, Vicki outlines an understanding of boundaries for partners of sex addicts that puts you back in the driver’s seat.  You’ll come to understand the importance of self-care in setting boundaries, and you’ll learn her simple 5-step plan for getting your needs met through understanding your power center and making requests.


What I Liked About This Book

Boundaries as self-care

In the book, Vicki explains that boundaries come from an understanding of self-care and clarity about your own needs and the level of power you have over getting those needs met.  The purpose of boundaries is to provide protection for yourself and others, as well as defining yourself and your personal space.  They are not intended as a punishment or a means to control the behavior of your spouse.

A healthy boundary expresses what one will and will not accept in a relationship, and clearly states how the person setting the boundary will practice self-care if the boundary is violated.
— Vicki Tidwell Palmer

I like this focus on self-care because often boundaries are misconstrued attempts to control the addict or influence his or her personal recovery.  Instead, framing boundaries as a way to practice self-care makes it about you and your needs, rather than about others.

Understanding and communicating your needs

If boundaries are based in self-care, you first need to know your needs.  Vicki includes a step in her 5-Step boundary solution involving recognizing your own needs and adopting methods of meeting those needs in a way that creates safety and strength.  Relationship with God can be highly involved in this process, as you look to Him or to the church body as a source of support in meeting your needs.

Once you become aware of your needs, the next step is to communicate them.  Rather than believing the myth that others should be able to read our minds or give us our needs without our saying anything, Vicki teaches how to communicate needs using a simple talking formula.

Authentic personal power

The pervasive feeling of powerlessness in the early days after discovery of addiction can be debilitating.  But this is not entirely true: even though you cannot control your spouse and their behaviors, you do have power over yourself and your own responses.  You are able to fight for your own self-care by following through on your boundaries and taking action rather than fluctuating between passivity and demands.  In my opinion, the definition of and emphasis on authentic personal power in the book has the potential to be life-changing.

Effective and healthy boundary work means you’re willing to take action to get your needs met, even when the addict says no to your request.
— Vicki Tidwell Palmer

Responding when your boundaries “don’t work”

The feelings of helplessness can creep back in when you attempt to set a boundary and it doesn’t go as planned.  But Vicki gives several options for revisiting your boundaries and taking back power over getting your needs met.  Perhaps your spouse says “no” to your request: you have options to negotiate a different boundary. Or you might accept your spouse’s “no” and use that as data to assess their willingness to work on the relationship.  You can look at the priority level of the boundaries and re-communicate them as needed.  You might even realize that admitting powerlessness increases your power because it prevents you from getting caught in the vicious cycle of trying to change the unchangeable.

As paradoxical as it may seem, doing nothing is sometimes the most empowered choice you can make.
— Vicki Tidwell Palmer

A positive view of boundaries

Vicki encourages you to look at boundaries as a way for you to practice self-care and give your spouse the opportunity to rebuild trust.  You are empowered to make choices through your boundaries rather than being stuck.  You can move from being the victim to being victorious!  And not only can you use boundaries with your spouse, you’ll likely find yourself effectively implementing them with family members, coworkers, or others you interact with on a regular basis.

I’d highly recommend purchasing Moving Beyond Betrayal* if my review sparks your interest.  You can also introduce yourself to Vicki’s work through her website.  In particular, she gives an overview of her 5-Step boundary solution here.


Are you struggling to set boundaries with your sexually addicted spouse?  Do you feel like you’re constantly in a tug-of-war where everyone loses?  Are you clueless about how to practice self-care in the wake of the trauma of discovery?  At Restored Hope, I offer specialized counseling and care for partners of sex addicts who are seeking healing from the pain of their spouse’s addiction.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule an appointment at my office location.




*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.