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Stop Being the Victim, Savior, or Persecutor in Your Life

7 steps to liberate yourself from unhealthy dynamics in your relationships

The Victim Triangle dynamic: The three roles are the victim, the savior, and the persecutor.
Source: 52Hertz/Pixabay

In every relationship, there is a certain dynamic that develops over time, where each partner is cast in a role from which they mainly operate in the dyad (for example the complementary roles of pursuer and distancer). In certain dynamics, a specific triumvirate of roles emerges which is called The Victim Triangle: The three roles are the victim, the savior, and the persecutor.

In this dynamic, each partner consistently operates from one role or switches between the three roles again and again.

In this article, I will refer to the common version of this dynamic which is prevalent in most intimate relationships. In its extreme form, the victim triangle can lead to codependent, symbiotic relationships and even to substance abuse or domestic violence.

How does the victim triangle operate?

The partner in the victim role constantly feels blamed, attacked or unappreciated. They feel helpless and full of self-pity; they may tend to blame others for their difficulties.

The partner in the savior role regularly takes responsibility for their partner, while often feeling the significant other is not sufficiently grateful for their efforts. They sometimes act and feel like altruistic martyrs – swooping in to save the day, disregarding their own needs all the while playing the guilt card to receive their reward.

The partner in the persecutor role uses power and guilt to control others. They tend to shift between attack and withdrawal. They use their force to feel powerful and settle for their partner’s fear as a proxy for closeness and intimacy. They may experience some regret for their hurtful behavior.

All three roles are essentially different expressions of similar deep pain and use guilt as the currency with which they operate. This dynamic is characterized by both partners feeling lonely, helpless and trapped, and often creates dysfunctional couple and family behaviors.

Where do these roles come from?

Victim triangle roles are learned and adopted early on through our family dynamics and relationships. We witness our caretakers and extended family behaving in these three roles and naturally adopt them as adults.

As we grow, the victim triangle becomes the glasses through which we cast people in our lives. Subsequently, we’ll attract to our personal and professional life people who have similar triangle glasses, unconsciously casting each partner in a role (or roles) that enable the victim triangle to endure. For example, if you usually tend to be a savior in your intimate relationships, then you will find yourself associated with either victims and/or persecutors. Alternatively, people who tend to experience themselves as victims of their loved ones will often build relationships with persecutors and/or saviors.

The victim triangle is characterized and maintained by:

a. Unclear interpersonal boundaries. This is expressed through symbiotic, enmeshed, reactive dynamic.

b. Two core beliefs that the copule maintain:

  • Love equals pity. The way you feel and express love is through the prism of fear or pity.
  • Others can’t take care of themselves. People aren’t strong enough to take care of themselves and therefore you are always responsible for your partner’s well being.

The victim triangle is present in every relationship to some degree. The question is how rigid or extreme the roles are in the dyad.

 Albert Rafael/Pexels
The victim triangle is present in every relationship to some degree. The question is how rigid or extreme the roles are in the dyad.
Source: Albert Rafael/Pexels

What is the alternative?

The alternative is The Interdependency Circle, where each partner feels solid and confidant. In this dynamic the relationship is characterized with greater stability, trust and respect. The interdependency circle is maintained by the following conditions:

a. Clear differentiated boundaries between partners. Differentiation is the ability to be connected to yourself and to also be intimate with another person. It is not an either you or me, but an interdependent connection.

b. Healthy release of feelings through verbalization or sublimation.

c. Adopting the core beliefs that:

  • I am 100% responsible for what I create in my life;
  • I trust that others can take care of themselves.

This may sound easy but it is really hard to do. This circle requires a high degree of confidence, differentiation, optimism, and vulnerability.

How to get out of the victim triangle?

  1. Recognize whether you are in a victim triangle dynamic. Are you in a personal or professional relationship where you often feel attacked or persecuted? Do you frequently take responsibility (and blame) for others who appear to be ungrateful and unappreciative? Do you feel like a martyr? Do you bully or belittle your loved ones? If so, then there's a high probability that you are in one of the roles within the victim triangle. If there is violence or abuse in your relationship immediately turn to professional help.
  2. Stop, reflect and examine your secondary gains and losses. Ask yourself why are you maintaining this interaction. What are your secondary gains from your role? What are your losses? What gains does your partner have from this dance? (Click here for a video about secondary gains and losses).
  3. Share with them this article so you both have common language.
  4. Verbalize the dynamic in vivo or retroactively. Try to verbalize (what I call broadcasting live) that you are feeling like a victim/savior/persecutor. For example “I'm feeling this pull to blame you for my situation now.” Or “I’m feeling pulled to save you and take your healing upon myself”. Once you start verbalizing the dynamic, there is a good chance that the dynamic will soften.
  5. Hold on to yourself in the midst of the victim triangle. Remember that you are not responsible for your partner’s feelings, even when they blame you for all their pain or sorrows. Hold on to your self and through verbalization, time outs, and clear boundaries; the storm will eventually pass.
  6. Try to soften your limiting core beliefs that lead you toward the victim triangle.
  7. Over time you will be able to soften and even distinguish yourself from the victim triangle glasses. Once you become aware of the triangle, you’ll begin to see that your relationship can be different. From this understanding you can start stepping out of the victim triangle.

Changing this dynamic is scary, because most probably you took on these relationship roles a long time ago. In addition, your partner is used to their complementary role(s) as well.

Once you step out of that triangle, there is a real chance of growth and healing for you and your partner. By releasing yourself from the triangle, you and your partner will be able to enjoy a fuller, richer relationship and to connect to the circle of an interdependent and differentiated relationship.


Zimberoff, D. (1989). Breaking free from the victim trap: Reclaiming your personal power. Issaquah, WA: Wellness Press.