Anyone can fall prey to a narcissist believes Dr Sarah Davies, a chartered counselling psychologist with a Harley Street practice. Here she gives some practical tips on understanding toxic relationships …
Narcissism, and the awareness of this psychological profile, is arguably on the rise; an estimated five per cent of the UK and US population have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). There are many factors that play a role in the development of narcissistic personality disorder, which Dr Sarah Davies explains in her new book: How to Leave a Narcissist For Good. These include societal and cultural influences, parenting styles, and pivotal early life experiences such as neglect, abuse and trauma. Dr Davies explains:
“In my clinical work I see many people who are affected by their relationship with a narcissist. The essence of narcissism and its core psychopathology is a deep-seated shame and self-loathing and the response to this is to attack – either themselves or others. The range of ways a narcissist will keep themselves from feeling bad is basically by being abusive to others, so-called narcissistic abuse.
One way to recognise narcissism and an abusive dynamic is to be familiar with Stephen Karpman’s “Drama Triangle”. The Drama Triangle is a model of social interaction that’s active in a dysfunctional dynamic. By familiarising yourself with this, you can become more skilled at recognising this in action, and then master control over your choice as to whether you play a role in it or not.
The Drama Triangle has three points, each marking a distinct ‘role’: persecutor, victim and rescuer.
The persecutor role really suits a domineering, arrogant and aggressive overt narcissist. As persecutor they blame and shame, judge, criticise, humiliate, intimidate, and bully others to get their own way and ultimately to feel better about themselves. They may also try to get others onside to ‘gang-up’ on their target, whether that be a person or institution.
In contrast, being persecutory is when a narcissist believes they are, or they make claims to be a victim. In the victim role, they may appear vulnerable or helpless. They aim to elicit sympathy or support by portraying themselves as being unfairly treated or misunderstood. When somebody positions themselves as a ‘victim’ it is with the hope and intention of inviting another into a ‘rescuer’ role.
The rescuer position is often the role that unsuspecting partners can find themselves in. In response to a narcissist portraying themselves as hard done by, as seen in the victim position, or when in the aggressive, persecutor role, those with co-dependent tendencies especially will slip into a rescuer position to placate, appease, or soothe the narcissist.
Narcissists can also take a turn as a rescuer, in the guise of a martyr-like helper. This can serve a function for them of receiving admiration for seemingly being ‘helpful’ to others, however, it’s usually controlling or manipulative.
A narcissist can adopt any one of these roles and easily move between them, at the same time inviting others to assume any one of the remaining roles and so completing the drama triangle and creating drama, confrontation, and conflict for all those involved.
Let’s say Mark is a narcissist. Jenny is his partner. Mark assumes the role of victim – where he believes and accuses a person or institute of treating him unfairly, not understanding him or being hard done by in some way. Jenny becomes rescuer; she steps in by agreeing with him, sides with him, feels sorry for him and empathises with him.
If or when Jenny tries to point out his part in the scenario or doesn’t agree or side with him in the way he wants, Mark immediately switches to a persecutor role and accuses Jenny of not supporting him and being unkind and uncaring. He guilt-trips her and may even punish her with silent treatment. If Jenny becomes self-pitying about this, she may complain to friends or loved ones about how poorly she is being treated yet doesn’t do anything about it. Jenny has now positioned herself as a victim. This can then invite somebody to step in as rescuer and so the drama continues. Here both parties have played different roles in the drama triangle.
Being part of a toxic drama triangle is unhealthy and exhausting. It creates upset, conflict, anxiety, resentment and is impactful to your mental wellbeing.
You can manage this by learning to recognise the roles of a drama triangle as well as any invitation or pull to join in. Any drama triangle will not be completed if you simply do not join it. This means taking care of yourself so that you don’t take up any one of the positions; no persecuting, not playing victim and stopping caretaking, people pleasing and rescuing. The drama triangle ends when you either refuse to join in the first place or leave.”
Need to Know: To learn more about the drama triangle and other ways to recognise and end narcissistic abuse read How to Leave a Narcissist For Good, Moving On From Abusive and Toxic Relationships by Dr Sarah Davies, published by Souvenir Press. www.drsarahdavies.com