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Learn About: The Victim Triangle

Original Post May 27, 2017 By Diane Zimberoff

Imagine it, you’ve saved up for an amazing once-in-a-lifetime vacation.  You have been dreaming about this since you were a little kid.  You’ve always struggled with your weight, but as you are committed to planning your vacation, you decide you need to make a few changes.  You resolve that your eating habits need to be reined in so that you feel more confident as you venture off to paradise.  For most of your life you have struggled in relationship to food, so as your trip approaches, you do what you have always done. 

You begin feeling yourself out of control as you shift into victim mode.  And then you get the brilliant idea to rescue yourself by prescribing a new and improved crash diet to help you lose the extra pounds you want to lose.  As your vacation draws closer, you begin to persecute yourself as you aren’t seeing the results you had hoped for.

20 pounds in two weeks, come on, they promised if you followed it you would lose the weight.  You berate yourself to the point of becoming a helpless victim again.  And so, this insidious cycle continues.


This is a prime example of the Victim Triangle playing out in everyday life.  The Victim Triangle is an ultimate display of a lack of personal power.  As Diane Zimberoff shares, “The victim triangle is the basis for codependent dysfunctional families and for addictions.”  Most research shows that these dysfunctional patterns are learned in childhood. 

In her book, Breaking Free from the Victim Trap, Diane shares, “People tend to re-create the patterns they experienced early in their lives.”  Some of the patterns outlined in her book are:

  1. An addiction to chaos

  2. A fear of intimacy

  3. A sense of unpredictability

  4. Unspoken rules- “Don’t speak, Don’t trust, Don’t talk back, Be quiet.”

  5. No resolution of conflict

  6. Confused messaging/

  7. “Don’t be yourself.”- A private self and a public self are created.

Let’s look at the players in the Victim Triangle.  These roles will continue to be cast until we take responsibility to heal the early patterns learned within dysfunctional familial relationships. 

This level of dysfunction is relative to the child experiencing it. What was functional behavior as a child can become dysfunctional behavior as an adult. Perhaps as a child you grew up in a household where parents were fighting before you went to bed and then in the morning everything was “fine.”

Nothing was discussed and you were left feeling confused.  Very early on in your life, you learned to not trust your perception of reality. Fast forward in your life and perhaps you can see how this early experience has left you traveling aimlessly around the Victim Triangle? 

Early in the work with The Wellness Institute, we learn that “I’m not responsible for another person’s life.”  That’s where this work is so profoundly powerful, we wake up to our unconscious participation of these auto-pilot roles and glean new insights.  By actively participating in our own healing work, we enable ourselves a deeper sense of freedom and a greater capacity to fully participate in our lives.


Who are the personality players in the Victim Triangle? 

1. The Victim: One who feels helpless and sorry for himself or herself

Victim Vocabulary: “If it weren’t for my parents I wouldn’t be in therapy.” “If it weren’t for my ex-wife I could be happy.” “If it weren’t for the town I live in I would have a chance to be somebody.” “If it weren’t for the government, I would be rich.”

Main Projection upon the world: Blame and Excuses

Hypnotherapy Feelings to Extinguish:

  • Helplessness

  • Self-pity (sorry for self and others)

  • Shame- I’m bad

  • Guilt- It’s my fault

  • Anxiety

  • Fear of abandonment

Characteristics of the Victim:

  • Helplessness

  • Poor Me

  • Self-Pity

  • Blaming of others

  • Substance Abuse

  • Addictions

  • The world owes ME

Self-Reflection Question: What do I gain from being a Victim? 

2. The Rescuer: “A person who takes care of everybody else, the child who grew up in that dysfunctional family who thinks that it is her responsibility to solve the family’s problems or to take care of her alcoholic father.”  (Breaking Free from the Victim Trap)

Rescuer Identity: At the core, a rescuer feels the intense feelings of being a victim.  Beneath their often overly ‘helpful’ exterior they are looking for a victim to rescue so that they can stop feeling like a victim in their own lives.  A co-dependent relationship is established between the VICTIM and the RESCUER. 

Main Projection upon the world: A sense of arrogance.  Presuming and anticipating to know what’s best for another.

Hypnotherapy Feelings to Extinguish:

  • Pressure, stress, responsibility for everyone else

  • Guilt

  • Anxiety

  • Fear of abandonment, not having needs met

  • The need to be needed

  • Loneliness, emptiness

Characteristics of the Rescuer:

  • Enabler- overlooks and excuses others’ addictions

  • Martyr- suffers while taking on too many tasks

  • Discounts needs and the ‘Self’

  • Avoids true feelings

  • Overly stressed

  • Stress-related Illness

  • “Look at all I’ve done for you.”

  • “I’m fine.” – with a counterfeit smile

  • “I don’t need anything- what can I do for you?”

Self-Reflection Question: What do I gain from being a rescuer?

3. The Persecutor: Persecution shows up in many forms ranging from abuse - either physical, emotional, or sexual - a withdrawal of love, sexual gratification, or financial security. (Breaking Free from the Victim Trap)

Persecutor Identity: An inability to express feelings in a healthy way

Main Projection upon the world: Shames and abuses others

Hypnotherapy Feelings to Extinguish:

  • Fear of Abandonment

  • Guilt

  • Shame

  • Helplessness

Characteristics of the Persecutor:

  • Abusing others

  • Using guilt to control

  • Withdrawal

  • Use of alcohol and drugs

  • Rages

  • Shaming others

Self-Reflection Question: What do I gain from being a persecutor?

As Diane reminds us, “Once the victim patterns are released, the doors open for you to truly become who you are.  You will know on a very deep level what you feel, what you want, and exactly how to manifest it in your life.  You will no longer be seeking approval from outside yourself.  You will have the quiet confidence to experience the profound, authentic approval from within.” 

The three roles within the Victim Triangle are interchangeable and people often shift from one to another very spontaneously and in reaction to certain situations.  The ‘game’ of this triangle is learned very early by children in co-dependent families.  Often as individuals, we travel through this Triangle in relationship to ourselves.  ‘Another’ is not always needed to play this game.  The Victim Triangle becomes extremely addictive.

As Diane’s lifelong work with clients indicates, “People who are victims will always attract rescuers and persecutors.  If you don’t have anyone to play the game with you, you will soon find someone.” 

As you gather up your courage and willingness to identify the roles you play on this Triangle, it becomes imperative to link up with a practitioner who can hold a space for you to untangle the dysfunctional behaviors of the present to live a more fully awake and aware life.  Be willing to peel back the layers of the past and unravel the unconscious threads of dysfunction.


Affirm to yourself:

  • “I am 100% responsible for my experiences in my life.”

  • “I now take back the power to make healthy choices in my life.”

  • “I now express my feelings in healthy ways.”

  • “I love and approve of myself.”

Release the patterns of your past and fully step into the power of the present. 

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