Recovery For Incest Survivors,
    Adult Children Of Alcoholics
    And Co-dependents

    Marsha Utain, M.S.

    Recovery is often a long and painful process for Adult children of Dysfunctional Families, but
    sometimes it can be made easier when you understand the systems and patterns that run your life.

           If you were raised in a dysfunctional family, you have, for the most part, been raised to be
    inauthentic, to lie to yourself and others about what you are feeling and what motivates you.  You
    have been raised to play psychological games with yourself and others.  Although true insights
    about those games come from doing deep levels of process work, it often helps to have a framework
    of understanding from which to view your daily situations and some steps to follow to help you out
    of the dilemmas.


           Developed in the late 1960s by Stephen Karpman, the drama Triangle is a description of one of
    the most persuasive and damaging psychological games play today.  
           In 1978, after recognizing the value of the Drama Triangle, I began working with Dr. Arthur
    Melville to clarify the Triangle so that it could be used as a major tool in the understanding of
    dysfunctional families.  We added some information to the basic Triangle to develop a more
    complete model of human dysfunction.  We also found that while the original Triangle could be used
    to describe the complicated interactions of psychological games, it did not pay enough attention to
    the emotional processes that keep people caught in the Triangle.  So Dr. Melville developed a tool
    called the Feeling (Emotional) Diamond, based on the four basic emotions of Joy, Fear, Sadness and
    Anger, and we began to use that with the new information we had added to the Triangle to support
    people in moving out of drama and chaos in their lives.
           The Drama Triangle now can be used to describe the various processes characteristic of all
    dysfunctional families, including addictive families.  By understanding the roles designated in the
    Triangle, the way they interact and the rules that ensnare you, you can learn to avoid becoming
    entangled in the Triangle and the drama that the Triangle precipitates.
           If you come from a family suffering from alcoholism, incest, emotional or physical violence or
    chronic co-dependence, you are probably aware of the chaos and drama that was part of growing up
    in a dysfunctional home.  Having been raised in a dysfunctional family, you realize that you were
    expected to act out a particular role in the family for the family's benefit.  You were expected to be
    inauthentic.  You were not allowed to be in touch with who you are, how you were feeling and what
    truly motivated you.

           If you were raised in a dysfunctional family, you are already familiar with the Drama Triangle,
    although you never had a name for what you were experiencing.  All you would know is that you felt
    awful and nothing seemed to turn out the way you had hoped or expected.  What you were
    experiencing was being caught in the Triangle and having to play out the various roles and moves
    governed by the nature of the Triangle.
           The Drama Triangle is the representation of a complex interaction process involving the three
    participating roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer.  The triangle is based on blame and guilt and is
    put into operation whenever any type of lie or denial occurs.  Without blame, guilt or lies there would
    be no Drama Triangle and no chaos.  Instead there would be healthy responsible relationships based
    on honest communications.


           If you look at the Triangle in figure 1, you will notice that it is placed upside down on one of the
    points, rather than on its side.  This configuration emphasizes the pivotal position of the victim.  To
    understand the Triangle, it would, therefore, be best to start with that position.  Before exploring the
    Triangle in depth, it is important to remember that participating in any role in the Triangle does not
    mean that you are a bad person.  It means that you are caught in the dysfunctional programming
    that you grew up within your family.


           The victim position is the key role in the Triangle because it is the position around which the
    others revolve.  People operating in the victim position take no responsibility for their actions or
    feelings.  They truly believe that they are life's fall guys.  Their perception is that everyone in the world
    is "doing it to them."  They continually look for someone or something else to blame for things not
    working in their lives.  Victims can frequently be identified by their usage of such language as :  
    Everyone/anyone does it to me; you/they (the government, my mother, father, boss, spouse, children,
    etc.) do it to me; poor me!

    Pathetic Victim and Angry Victim

           There are two basic types of victims, the pathetic victim and the angry victim.  The pathetic
    victim plays the pity-ploy using woeful "poor me" looks and the desolate language of self-pity, while
    the angry victim pretends to be powerful, using phrases, such as, "I won't let you do it to me," "Look
    what you did to me," "You're not going to do that to me again," or "you're bad."
           Both types of victim are looking for someone to blame for the emotions they are having and for
    their lives not working.  In addition, they look for a rescuer, someone they can "hook" into taking
    care of them and their responsibilities.
           Victims manipulate others into doing what they want with blame and guilt.  They will find
    someone that they can blame for their unfulfilled lives.  The victim sees this person as a persecutor.  
    If that person believes the victim and accepts the blame, then he will feel guilty and try to remedy the
    situation.  As soon as he tries to fix things for the victim, he moves from persecutor to rescuer.


           Let's take an example of two friends and watch how the victim operates and tries to manipulate
    the friend into rescuing him.
           Neil and Martin have known each other since grade school.  Martin holds down a responsible
    position as an assistant manager for a large food chain, achieving his position by working his way
    up since graduation from high school, six years earlier, when he began work as a box boy.
           Neil has never held down a job for more than three months.  He is rarely on time anywhere,
    especially work, but always has some excuse.  Neil is a victim.  He claims that the world picks on
    him and no one understands him.
           One day Neil shows up at Martinís, wanting to borrow Martinís car.  Neil's car is in the shop.  
    He didnít check his oil, and he destroyed his engine.  Neil says that he has a job interview and that
    he tried to borrow his mother's car, but she refused to let him use it.  Neil has taken no
    responsibility for not taking care of his own car.  Neil, the victim, enters Martin's house, blaming his
    mother for stopping him from going to his job interview and calling her names because she would
    not lend him her car.  Neil's mother is cast in the persecutor role, and Neil is trying to manipulate
    Martin into the rescuer role by implying that Martin will be to blame if Neil cannot get to his job
    The last time Neil had car trouble, Martin loaned Neil his car even before Neil asked for it.  Neil was
    supposed to borrow it for a few hours, but he kept it for several days, and Martin had to take the bus
    to work until he could get his car back.  When he finally got it back, it had two dents in the door
    that Neil claims were there before and refused to repair.  Martin was upset, but never learned how to
    communicate his feelings or take care of himself in this type of situation.  His parents had taught
    him that it was not nice to get angry with people.
           When Neil came back to borrow the car again, he tried to make Martin feel guilty and believe it
    would be Martinís fault if Neil could not get to the interview.  If Martin were to feel guilty, he would
    be "hooked" again into the Triangle because he doesnít know how to deal with guilt in a healthy
    way.  He would lend Neil the car and become the rescuer.
           If Martin did not lend Neil the car this time, Neil would then make Martin into the persecutor.  
    Even if Martin attempts to help Neil by making suggestions to Neil about getting to the interview by
    bus, Neil would still find a way to blame Martin.  Neil would claim that Martin was trying to make
    Neil look bad by having him show up by bus.
           Martin was raised in the Triangle without ever knowing it.  He was trained by his parents' and
    his church's standards to believe that in order for him to be good, he had to take care of other
    people - physically, emotionally, or spiritually - even at the cost of his own well-being.  Martin was
    drilled with the idea that to take care of himself was selfish and that selfishness was bad.  Therefore
    when Neil, the victim, approached him the first time with his tales of woe, Martin was a prime target
    for the manipulative hook of guilt.  Martin already believed that he should take care of other people's
    problems, and that if he did not, he was bad.  Because he did not wish to be cast in the bad guy,
    persecutor role, he quickly jumped in to rescue Neil, the victim.  He ended up doing something that
    was not in his best interest.
           Martin did not realize that he was raised to be a rescuer.  His parents did not realize that they
    were teaching him not to be selfish for their own selfish reasons, so that they would look good to
    those around them whom they wished to please.  They did not realize they were setting Martin up so
    that no matter what he does with Neil, he will feel awful because they raised Martin in the Triangle,
    and he does not know how to get out of it.  All that he knows how to do is move positions in The
    triangle, but moving positions in the Triangle only produces more pain.


           In the Triangle, the position of the rescuer is the position of the good guy.  Because of the way
    that most people are raised, whenever they feel guilty and believe that they have been "bad" and done
    something wrong, they will usually try to get out of the guilt by moving into the rescuer good guy
    position.  Martin is an example of someone who feels guilty and moves
    into the rescuer position.  Martin prefers the position of rescuer to the position of persecutor,
    because the rescuer position affords him some relief from the guilt, giving him an opportunity to
    pretend that he is acting unselfishly for someone else's good.  Martin gets a momentary high from
    helping.  As any recovering co-dependent knows, this high is what makes the rescuer position so
           Martin believes that by helping others, he is being unselfish.  He does not realize that he is
    actually motivated  by very selfish reasons.  He does not want to feel bad, nor appear to be a bad
    person.  Martin believes that he should share, no matter what the circumstances.  He does not
    realize that he was taught by his parents to share his toys, even when he didnít want to share them,
    because his parents believed that if Martin did not share his toys, he would make them look bad as
           One of the things that Dr. Melville and I realized in doing this work with the Drama Triangle is
    that most people will choose a favorite position to start from in the Triangle, usually the victim or
    the rescuer.  
           For the person who prefers being a rescuer, there is another important point to understand
    about rescuers.  Because of the very nature of the Triangle, rescuers must have a victim, someone to
    take care of, someone to control, someone, who by their very need makes the rescuer feel good.  
    When people are co-dependent and therefore addicted to the high of the rescuer role, they will find
    that they actually have a need to rescue.  In order to fill that need, they will have to have a victim
    around whom they can "help."  If there isn't one available, the rescuer will attempt to make one.
           In general, rescuers need to be needed, and they need to be in control and be right, no matter
    what the cost.  Being in control and being right allows the rescuer to avoid dealing with any
    emotions or discomfort that might arise from facing life honestly.  Remember that in all addictions,
    the addictive substance or behavior, in this case rescuing, is used by the addict to avoid feelings.
           Rescuers are so determined not to feel and not to pay attention to anyone else's feelings, they
    do not realize that the underlying communication they are transmitting to their chosen victim is,
    "You are insufficient; you are inept; you cannot take care of yourself.  You are not good enough.  
    Therefore, I should be in charge."
           This position of rescuer in the Triangle fits the traditional role in the alcoholic family syndrome
    of the enabler, the co-alcoholic.  This is the person in the family who enables the alcoholic to
    continue the disease process by taking care of the alcoholic's responsibilities and not leaving the
    alcoholic to be responsible for his own actions.
           When I work with people who choose the rescuer-enabler position as their first choice in the
    Drama Triangle and who tell me how much they like to help people, I usually do a little exercise to
    allow them to experience how degrading it is to be placed in a position of being inept and not good
    enough.  Rescuers are usually so involved with the high of feeling good because they have helped
    someone, they fail to notice how awful the person being rescued is made to feel in the process.  
    Often I will ask the rescuer to imagine being the other person while I play the role of the rescuer and
    verbalize key phrases, such as, "Here, let me do it for you!" or
    "Isn't it better to do it the right way?"  I will especially look for phrases that the rescuer uses when
    rescuing others or phrases that their own parents may have used when rescuing them.

    One for One rule

           Still another important aspect of the Triangle that is pertinent to the rescuer role is the one for
    one rule that says that every time someone rescues another person, the rescuer will end up the final
    victim in that particular play.
           Let's look at Martin and Neil to see if this is how it happens.  Neil borrowed Martin's car for a
    few hours, kept the car for a few days without Martin's permission.  Martin had to take the bus to
    work, which made his daily commute two hours longer and left him exhausted.  On top of that, Neil
    returned the car with two dents in it.  Martin has known Neil since childhood and knew that he was
    irresponsible, so Martin knew that lending the car was not acting in his own best interest.  He was
    taking care of Neil in order to try to feel good about himself and to avoid feeling guilty.  By looking
    for the emotional high of helping Neil, instead of the healthy action of taking care of himself, he
    ended up the victim, having to pay for two dents in his car and jeopardize his own well-being by
    adding stress to his job situation.
           Frequently the person starting the maneuvers in the Triangle as a rescuer is a rescuer-martyr,
    who will end up as the victim-martyr.  This is the person who helps others with strings attached.  
    This person has a hidden agenda, an expectation that is never openly communicated nor agreed
    upon and is rarely, if ever, achieved.
           The rescuer-martyr believes that if he does something nice for people, they should feel obligated
    to do something nice for him.  This sense of obligation gives the rescuer-martyr a false sense of
    control over people.  Without necessarily saying it out loud, the rescuer-martyr is thinking, "Look at
    all that Iíve done for you.  You owe me."


           The role of the persecutor is the role of the bad guy, the villain.  It is the one role that few
    people consciously choose as their starting place in the Triangle.  In fact, it is the role that keeps the
    Triangle going because people in the Triangle are attempting to avoid that position by moving into
    the rescuer role or by perceiving themselves as victims.  No one likes to see himself as the bad guy.  
    Even criminals in prison want to be seen as the victims of society, rather than society's persecutors.  
    The persecutor role is the one that victims use, along with blame, to maneuver others into rescuing
    them.  What makes this position truly unique is the fact that once a person is in the Triangle and he
    decides to leave it, he must leave from this position.  In other words, when a person  removes himself
    from Playing the Triangle, anyone still playing will perceive him as the persecutor.

    Positioning, Maneuvering And Rules In The Triangle

    Now that you have a basic understanding of the positions in the Triangle there are a number of key
    points to consider remembering:

    1.         The Triangle is based on lies.  Tell a lie to yourself or someone else,  whether it is a lie about
    data or a lie about your emotions or your experience, and you move immediately into the Triangle
    and the addictive process.

    2.         All shoulds are a lie.  Therefore, shoulds will throw you into the Triangle.  (An important
    piece of your healing process is learning how to go about getting your needs and wants met after
    you learn to distinguish them from your shoulds or  the things that other people have told you are
    your needs.)

    3.         All positions in the Triangle cause pain so no matter what position you are in at any given
    moment in the Triangle, you will be in pain.

    4.        There is no power in the Triangle.  When you are in the Triangle, you are operating from
    powerlessness and irresponsibility no matter what position you are playing.

    5.         Everyone has a favorite starting position which is usually either the rescuer or the victim.  
    Few people choose persecutor as starting position.

    6.         Once you are hooked into the Triangle, you will end up playing all the positions, whether you
    like it or not, because of the nature of the Triangle.  You may have perceived yourself as a rescuer
    who wound up as someone's victim while at the same time that person perceives you as the

    7.         Guilt is the experience that books you into the Triangle and therefore you need to learn a few
    points about guilt:

           a.  Guilt is a signal that someone is attempting to pull you into the Triangle.
           b.  To stay out of the Triangle you need to learn to give yourself permission to feel guilty
                without acting on that guilt.  In other words, do not let the guilt push you into the
                rescuer position.
           c.  Learn to sit with the guilt and be uncomfortable.  This experience called guilt is a
                learned  response; it is not the same thing as being out of integrity with yourself.

    8.         The "escape hatch" out of the Triangle is located at the persecutor position. Telling the truth
    and feeling your emotions opens the escape hatch out of the Triangle.  In other words, in order to
    leave the Triangle or stay out of the Triangle, you have to be willing for others (the victims or the
    other rescuers) to perceive you as the bad guy.  This does not mean that you are the bad guy; it does
    mean that others choose to see you that way.  If you are not willing to be seen as a persecutor, you
    will get hooked into rescuing and place yourself back or keep yourself in the Triangle.  If you are
    already in the Triangle and wish to leave, you have to be willing for those in the Triangle with you to
    see you as the persecutor.

           When you are in the process of leaving the Triangle, you are in the process of telling yourself the
    truth about your feelings, your motives and the situation in general.  You are willing to experience
    whatever feelings you are having and you are willing to let others experience their feelings without
    your having to rescue them.  If the other people in the Triangle are willing to tell the truth and
    experience their feelings, the Triangle disappears.  If they are not, as is more often the case, then you
    leave looking like their persecutor.

           Let's go back to Martin as an example.  In order for Martin to leave the triangle that he is in
    with Neil, Martin must be willing to feel his fear of looking like the bad guy and his sadness that his
    friend wants to blame him.  This does not mean that he actually is the persecutor even though Neil
    perceives him that way.  To stay out of the Triangle, Martin must also be willing to Let Neil leave the

    9.         You can play the Triangle alone, with yourself.  (Once you have been raised in a dysfunctiona
    family, you do not need anyone else to push your into the Triangle.)

           a.         The way you play the Triangle by yourself is by listening to the negative voice inside
                       your head that beats you up, puts you down, and constantly shoulds you.
           b.         Remember, shoulds are a lie.  They have nothing to do with who you are or how the
                       universe works.  They are someone else's interpretation of what to do and what is good.
           c.         When you play the Triangle with yourself, your should-er will persecute you so that you
                       will feel like a victim.  At the same time you will be feeling guilty.  This will trigger the
                       belief that you are the persecutor.  The guilt will drive you to rescue someone
                       (or some situation) even when no one except you is attempting to manipulate you
                       into the rescuer position.
    10.       When you actively participate in a relationship with someone who lives in the Triangle, you
    must be very careful of the hooks.  It is difficult to be around people who constantly operate in the
    Triangle and not get hooked into the Triangle yourself, especially if your personal boundaries are not
    clear, and you have not learned to recognize the Triangle.

    11. Your internalized Should-er is also the voice that pushes you into the Triangle when others
    around you are in the Triangle and attempting to hook you.  The should-er is your false-self, the part
    inside you that is actually someone else but that you believe is you.  It is controlling, negative, rigid,
    perfectionistic and righteous.  Without that part of you operating, you would not participate in         
    the Triangle.

    12. Being in the Triangle is not being alive; it is a living death.  It is a life of pain, inauthenticity and
    lack of love and acceptance.

    13. Suicide is the ultimate victim act, the ultimate act of self-pity.  When the victim perceives that he
    cannot get anyone to come to the rescue anymore and he does not have the courage to seek new
    alternatives, he may turn to suicide.

    14. Telling the truth and experiencing your emotions is the only way out of the Triangle.  To do that
    you have to learn to know and define your boundaries and take responsibility for recognizing,
    experiencing, expressing and completing your emotions.

    Let's look at another example of the Triangle positions and how they relate to co-dependence and
    the Alcoholic family syndrome.

           I once worked with a young woman who entered therapy as an acknowledged Adult child of an
    Alcoholic.  When I asked her what her purpose was for being in therapy, she said that she had come
    in to work on herself and her co-dependence,.  After relating that healthy-sounding purpose, she then
    proceeded to spend a large part of the session telling me about her husband.  He was not living up
    to her expectations.  He would stay at home, depressed, and not go out job-hunting.  In her
    estimation her unhappiness was based on his behavior, and he needed fixing.  She said that she
    kept trying to push him to get a job.  When I probed further, I found out he had abandoned the
    career he had liked because she was embarrassed by it.
           When I pointed out to her the co-dependence involved in what she was telling me, she was able
    to recognize her need to control matters in order not to feel uncomfortable, but she did not want to
    change.  Although she had come into the session stating that she wanted to work on her co-
    dependence, what she was really hoping to do was to get me to help her find a way to change her
           When we explore this scenario relative to the positions in the Triangle (which the three of us did
    later on), we find that her husband in an effort to rescue her, to take care of her embarrassment and
    to avoid guilt, left his job in a career that he enjoyed.  He ended up experiencing himself as the
    victim-martyr and her as the persecutor.  She, on the other hand, saw herself as the victim of her
    husband's unacceptable career and had hoped to get me to rescue her.
           When she came into my office, she did not realize that she was trying to bring me into the
    Triangle.  She was not even aware that she lived in the Triangle.  She didn't see that she was trying
    to fix him in order to avoid dealing with herself.  Toward the end of the first session, I told her that in
    order for me to work with her, she would have to be willing to let go of trying to control his life,
    starting with letting go of controlling his career.  She told me she couldn't do that.  I told her that
    this would be her last session.  I would not work with her as long as her primary goal was to fix
    him.  She sat there stunned.  She had really thought that I would help her by showing her how to fix
    him.  I watched the fear rise in her eyes as she realized that I was not going to do what she wanted,
    which was to rescue her.
           She sat for several minutes more.  Then she took an important step in her recovery.  She agreed
    to be willing to let go of trying to fix him.  She went home and told him that she was willing to stop
    running his career and that he could go get any job that he wanted.  He did.  This was the first time
    that they had been able to consciously step out of the Triangle.
           It was obvious to me when this woman came in that she had only a superficial understanding
    of co-dependence.  With the help of the Drama Triangle and the Feeling (Emotion) Diamond and
    much deep process work, this woman was quickly able to recognize when her co-dependence was

                                                  The Feeling (Emotion) Diamond

    As human beings we are all born with the ability to experience all emotions and the potential to
    distinguish the various emotions from each other.  Through our dysfunctional upbringings, we
    suppress those abilities and are forced to go back and relearn how to identify, experience and
    express our emotions.  In order to make that process easier, I begin by teaching about the four basic
    emotions, joy, fear, sadness, and anger.

    First, let us look at an experience circle. (see figure 2.)  
    Now let us assume that this circle represents a portion of life.  Emotions are among the many types
    of experiences that we have in life.  Emotions are an important part of the experience of self and
    provide the energy for living.  The four basic emotions are joy, fear, sadness and anger.


            Looking at the circle, you will notice that joy is placed alone on the right side of the circle.          
    This is done because many people seem to believe that joy is the only good emotion and fear,
    sadness and anger are bad emotions.  This is not so.  All emotions are good.  Fear, sadness and
    anger are good.
           The reason that most people believe that fear, sadness and anger are bad is because they are
    unable to distinguish the emotions from the actions associated with them.  While emotions can
    provide the energy for actions, they are not the actions.
           For example, most people have a tendency to confuse the emotion called anger with the action
    of violence.  Dysfunctional families do not teach the difference between emotions and actions
    because in many dysfunctional homes violence often follows anger or takes the place of it.  This
    leads people raised in that dysfunction to believe that violence and anger are the same thing and
    that anger is, therefore, scary and bad and must be avoided.  Avoiding anger causes people to
    amass huge amounts of it, and when they can hold no more, they burst out in violence or react with
    passive aggression.  If people can learn to experience their anger when it happens, they do not need
    to use violence.

    Primary and Secondary Emotions

           If you look at the left side of the circle, you will notice an interesting configuration.  Fear and
    sadness/hurt are on the same line while anger is above them and connected to both of them.  Fear
    and sadness/hurt are soft receptive emotions.  Anger is a hard emotion; it is powerful and dynamic.  
    It is our protective defensive emotion.  Often it is the only way we know to defend our boundaries.  
    Although anger does not trigger first, once it is triggered, it must be experienced and completed (not
    acted out) in order to return to and complete the fear and/or the sadness/hurt from which the anger
    was activated.
           If you have been taught, as men in particular have been taught, that fear and sadness are bad,
    anger is probably the only emotion that you will experience.  If you have also been taught that anger
    is bad, you will suppress that as well and begin to behave with passive aggression.  Unable to
    directly express anger, you will seek indirect covert ways of expressing it.  Because most women
    have been taught that anger is bad, women shut down on anger and either turn it against
    themselves or become victims of everyone else's anger.

    To further simplify understanding the emotional process, Dr. Melville developed the Feeling (Emotion)
    diamond (see figure 3).  He took the circle that we were using and created a diagram to demonstrate
    the way the emotional process operates.


                 When you look at the diamond, you will see that at the top of the diamond is joy,
    which is where all of us wish to be.

           There is nothing wrong with wishing to experience joy.  The problem comes when you believe
    you should be there all the time, and try to hold on to joy and avoid feeling fear, sadness and anger.  
    Trying to hold on to joy (or anything else) removes you from reality and the ability to live in the
    moment.  You have to be able to experience your joy and complete it  in order to stay present in the
    moment.  If you allow yourself to truly live in the moment, you will discover that you will have the
    opportunity to experience not only the other emotions, but all the richness that life has to offer.  As
    you progress through your healing process, living in the moment becomes easier.
    Complete And Release

           Looking again at the diamond, you will notice that when you leave joy you will go to either fear
    or sadness/hurt or both.  If you complete and release those emotions, you can return to the place at
    the top to await joy.  If you do not complete and release the fear or sadness/hurt, you will either
    store them or convert them to anger.  When you store fear or sadness/hurt, you will find it difficult to
    return to joy, and the more fear and sadness you store, the more difficult it will become to experience
    any joy.  If you are like most people who believe that being happy is right and being sad or angry is
    wrong, you walk around with huge phony smiles on your face, pretending to yourself and everyone
    else that you are happy.
           If your emotional process also includes converting the fear and/or sadness to anger, then you
    will also walk around with large amounts of incomplete anger.  Looking at the diamond, you will see
    that there is no direct pathway between anger and joy.  In order to return to a place of joy, you must
    therefore not only complete and release the experience of anger, but you must also go back and
    experience the actual fear and/or sadness from which the anger was triggered.  Only then you can
    you return to a possibility of joy.
           Also remember that when the level of anger stored reaches the point at which you can no longer
    contain it, the anger will burst out, either as rage or violence or at the very least, passive
    aggression.  You are like a storage vat.  There is just so much volume available for the storage of
    emotions.  That is why storing and controlling emotions may work for a while but it eventually stops
    working.  When there is no more room available, the pot boils over and the lid blows off.
           Another important point to remember is that if you are not experiencing some form of joy (such
    as happiness or contentment), you are going to be experiencing some form of fear, sadness/hurt or
    anger in various combinations.  There are very few people on the planet today who are so advanced
    in the process and so present in the moment that they experience no emotions.  Most people who
    claim to feel nothing because they are either having an emotional response but are in denial about
    it, or they are so disassociated from their emotions that they are numb.  Because western culture
    tends to prize intellect and degrade emotions, people often use this as an excuse to intellectualize
    all human experience and behave and communicate (as Virginia Satir has said) like living
    computers, very reasonable with no show of emotions.
           If you are an Adult Child, you have had such poor emotional models and have lived with so
    much dysfunction that you have shut down your ability to experience your emotions.  That does not
    mean that the emotions are not happening; it does mean you are out of touch with them.  As a
    result, you are probably having several other types of experiences, ranging from anxiety attacks to
    addictive urges, all of which result from the inability to experience the true emotions that are there.
           If you are in recovery, whether it is a 12-Step program or therapy, you are probably beginning to
    discover emotions and experiences that you never thought possible.  If that is not the case, you need
    to do something else to move your process along.
           Learning about the emotions and learning to experience them are not the same thing.  You may
    have learned that you have emotions and you may even be able to recognize them when you sense
    they are there but that does not mean you know how to experience them or complete them.  Learning
    to recognize emotions is like coming upon the ocean and learning what it is.  You see the ocean and
    then you sit down and watch it.  In order to experience it completely, you have to go in and swim in it.

    Using The Emotion Diamond To Stay Out Of the Triangle

           If you wish to stay out of the Triangle, you must learn to tell the truth about what emotions you
    are feeling, and you must learn to take responsibility for them.  Remember that no one else is
    responsible for your emotions.  No one else can fix them for you or change them for you.  People may
    support you in experiencing them, but ultimately no one but you can complete them and release
           Frequently your dysfunctional family is so repressive that you cannot identify certain emotions
    or distinguish them from other types of experiences.  If you want to heal yourself, you must learn to
    complete your emotional experiences to stay out of the Drama triangle.  When you tell the truth
    about what you are feeling, no longer take on the guilt that others try to place on you and you are
    willing to feel the fear and sadness of being accused of being the persecutor by those who stay in the
    Triangle, you will step out of the chaos in your life.  By being responsible for acknowledging and
    experiencing your emotions, you are also being responsible for your addictive process.  Using the
    Diamond will give you some support in accomplishing that task.

    1.         Whenever you discover that things in your life are not working, you can assume that your
    addictive process has been activated and that you are caught in the Triangle.
    2.         Ask yourself which position you are in at the moment.  Is this your primary choice in the
    3.         How did you get there?  What lie did you tell yourself or someone else?
    4.         Which emotion(s) are you avoiding?  Use the Feeling (Emotion) Diamond here.  If you are not
    experiencing some form of joy, you are experiencing some form of fear, sadness/hurt or anger.  Are
    you having anger?  If so, you must experience it and complete it; not act it out!  Then look for the
    primary emotion from which the anger triggered.  Is it fear or sadness/hurt or both?  Again,
    experience that and complete it.

           Remember that emotions must be experienced, not intellectualized.  You cannot think your way
    into an experience.  No matter how much I describe to you the color red in scientific terms of wave
    length and intensity, you will still not have the actual sensory experience of the color red if you have
    been blind since birth.  Intellectual understanding of something is not the same as experiencing it.

           If you answer the question, "What emotion are you avoiding?"  by identifying a response such as
    disappointment, you have discovered a complex experience that combines the emotion of sadness
    associated with an unmet expectation.  Keep looking for the four basic emotions.  Remember it
    takes time after all the years of suppression to find and feel your emotions.  Find someone who can
    help you experience your emotions.

    Some people seem to be able to identify the emotions but cannot
    seem to complete them.  There are several possible reasons for that:

    1.         You may have mislabeled an emotion so that you cannot really experience or complete it.
    2.         You may be having more than one emotion and experience activated at once. You will need to
    identify all of them.
    3.         You may need to process the tapes and the scenes that have surfaced with your         
    4.  You may be "running" your emotions on yourself or the others in the Triangle. If this is the case,
    you will probably find yourself in the victim position and you will have great difficulty removing
    yourself from that role or the triangle in general.

    Running The Emotions

           Here is what running your emotions is about:  Let us look at the Experience Line (see Figure 4)
    as if it were the range between the inability to experience emotions (on the left) which I call, in
    jargon, "stuffing it" and the ability to experience and express emotions in a healthy way (on the right)
    which I label EXP.

        STUFFING                           RUNNING                                EXP
        EMOTIONS                            EMOTIONS                            EXPERIENCING
                                                                                                      AND EXPRESSING
                                                   Figure 4.  Experience Line

           When you are stuffing emotions, you are denying, ignoring or disassociating from your
    emotions.  You may be going numb.  The emotions are occurring but you are not in touch with them.  
    You may have been raised in a family where only one emotion was acceptable.  It might have been
    sadness or anger or fear.  If this is so, you will translate all your emotions into the one the family
    has made acceptable so you will still be out of touch with what you are really feeling.  You will not be
    able to complete your emotions until you discover what the real emotions are so that you can
    complete them.
           At some point in your recovery process, you will begin to have a sense of the emotions and how
    they feel.  This is the point at which you may begin running them.  What happens is that you make
    some contact with the emotion, but you still do not know how to take responsibility for experiencing
    and completing it.  Instead, you may use the emotion to try to manipulate someone into the Triangle
    to rescue you from your emotion.  You will blame others for your emotion and expect them to do
    something to take it away.  You are attempting to control with your emotions.  You are running them
    or making them right so that you do not have to feel them.
           You will probably sound like this:  "I'm hurt (or angry or scared) and it's your fault," or 'I'm
    feeling . . . (fill in the blank) . . . and you should do something about the situation."  Or "What you did
    made me feel . . . (fill in emotion) . . .and now you have to stop/change or I can't get through my
           While it is perfectly acceptable to request that someone change certain behaviors, it is still not
    the other person's responsibility to fix your emotions.  You must learn to complete your emotions
    whether the other person changes or not.  Otherwise you will become addicted to controlling other
    people's behavior in order not to have to experience your own emotions.
           Let us look at another form of running emotions.  If you were raised in a family where only one
    emotion was acceptable, anger, for example, everyone will walk around with that emotion.  As soon
    as you begin to feel any other emotion, you will convert it to anger, not because you have something
    to be angry about, but because that is the way your family acts.  If you are sad, you will act angry; if
    you are scared, you will act angry.  You may not even experience the anger; it has simply become an
    act for you and you will learn to use the anger act to control yourself and others.  This is one of they
    ways you develop a false self.
           When you are further along in your healing process, you will be able to recognize your various
    emotions.  Then you will begin to express them to others in order to get further in touch with the
    emotions and to complete them, not to try to make someone else responsible for them.
           Remember this is a process and you may slide back and forth along the Experience Line until
    you are very much in touch with your emotions and the way that you deal with them.
           When you are operating anywhere to the left of the experiencing and expressing end of the
    Experience Line, you will find yourself operating in the Drama Triangle.  As you learn to experience
    and express your emotions in order to have them and complete them and not to run them on other
    people or try to get some results from people, you will find yourself less and less in the Drama
    Triangle and less and less in your addictive process.

    Barbara's Story

           My name is Barbara Oliver.  I was the child victim of a five-year incestuous relationship
    perpetrated by an alcoholic stepfather, which began the night he raped me when I was ten years old.  
    Twenty-five years later, near the end of three years of intense therapy with Marsha Utain, my mother
    and the rest of the family still did not know the Secret.
           As a client of Marsha's, I was fairly well versed in the dynamics of the Drama Triangle and the
    Emotion Diamond.  Marsha had given me many other tools as well, and the more my recovery
    progressed, as healthy behaviors were beginning to be a part of my life, the more uncomfortable the
    relationship became with my family, especially with Mother.
           Having never outgrown the role of family Scapegoat (Wegscheider-Cruse) I was an integral part
    of the family myth.  Mother, the co-dependent spouse of a non-recovering fourth-stage alcoholic,
    clung to the mistaken belief that she and my stepfather had been "good parents," who had taught
    their children values.  In fact, their parenting techniques had been emotionally and psychologically
    damaging.  As the Scapegoat and the "bad guy" in the family triangle, I was used to, although never
    comfortable with, falling short of family and parental expectations.  They blamed me for making the
    family look bad, pointing to a disastrous first marriage and a chronic weight problem as further
    proof of my defectiveness.
           As a child I had learned that Mother didn't want to deal with sadness and unhappiness and
    needed to be known as a good mother.  How she appeared to others was important to her and I
    believed that it was my job to help her in that effort, which always placed me in the rescuer role.  
    Inferences that she had been less than perfect were met with a tearful, "I guess I can't do anything
    right," which placed her in he victim role with me as her persecutor.  Feeling guilty, I would then tell
    her that she was a good mother, send her flowers on her birthday and Mother's Day, visit when I
    could and call her often, never reversing the charges even though she said I could.  This placed me
    back in the rescuer position.

           I was addicted to making Mother happy in order to avoid dealing with my own fear of rejection.  
    As I healed I wanted a truthful, rewarding and mutually supportive relationship with her.  What I had
    was a Drama Triangle.  Mother was the Victim who needed to be told she was okay, I the Rescuer
    who protected her from the truth.  With the Emotion Diamond, Marsha had taught me about the
    dynamics of feelings and being responsible for them.  I wanted to get out of the Triangle.

           The only way was to tell the truth and be willing for Mother to perceive me as the persecutor.  
    As a child the Secret overshadowed every phone call, letter, visit; even the simple act of picking out
    appropriate greeting cards had become a painful chore.  After a lifetime of fearing her rejection and
    having gone to great lengths to avoid that possibility, confronting that fear was the first step.  
    Several painful teary sessions with Marsha, as well as work at home with the processes she taught
    me, helped me to become willing to face Mother's rejection.  I began to separate my sense of worth
    from what she thought of me, an empowering success.
           Allowing myself to feel guilty for the pain Mother would feel if she knew the truth was the next
    step.  "Feel the guilt without doing anything about it," Marsha said.  Part of the need to rescue
    Mother had been to discharge the guilt.  Learning to sit with it without doing anything to make it go
    away was quite an assignment.

           Having confronted many painful issues and being in the process of developing healthy
    relationships as a result was of some comfort.  Mother could survive knowing the truth.  I wasn't
    sure that our relationship would.  Yet the reality was that there could be no healthy relationship
    without the truth.  I became willing to step out of the Triangle.

           Marsha supported me in beginning to write letters to mother, a process that would result in the
    one I would finally send.  Years of anguish, emotional abandonment, anger, pain and sadness were
    poured into those pages as I shed decades of unwept tears.  Finally a five-page letter, which told the
    truth and introduced mother to who I really am, was mailed early in March of 1982.

           Mother's initial reaction was neither unexpected nor unreasonable, given her all-consuming
    need to look good and the effectiveness of her denial.  She didn't believe me.  Even so, she decided to
    confront my stepfather.  At that time, still in denial himself, he said that it happened once when I
    was 16 and that it had been I who seduced him while he was drunk!  That, she believed!  Then she
    blamed me for making her entire life a lie and for having ruined her marriage.  We rarely spoke for
    over a year.

           Don't get the impression that I felt no pain during that year.  I did!  The difference from the way
    it had been before was that the willingness to feel the pain and sadness helped me to heal.

           Today, nearly seven years later, my relationship with Mother has had many ups and downs.  
    Mother is still very much concerned with looking good.  My stepfather has since acknowledged the
    truth.  While Mother will talk about the Secret within the family, she still wants to keep it hidden
    from the outside world, believing that, "We should not air our dirty linen in public."  She does not
    understand my willingness for the whole world to know and continues to put me in the wrong for
    that.  While I understand her fear and acknowledge her pain, I no longer try to rescue her.  If she
    could become willing to go through her pain rather than trying to make it go away, she could heal.  
    On the up side, we have had some meaningful moments of truthful sharing, special times when we
    let down some of the barriers between us.

           Learning and using the dynamics of the Drama Triangle and the Emotion Diamond supported
    me in a greater awareness of who I am and in doing so, freed me to find a place in my ever-
    expanding world.


    Karpman, Stephen B.  "Fairy Tales And Script Drama Analysis"  in  Transactional Analysis Bulletin,  
    April 1968, Carmel, Vol. 7, No. 26, pp. 39-40.

    Satir, Virginia.  Peoplemaking,  Palo Alto:  Science and Behavior Books, 1972.

    Wegscheider, Sharon.  Another Chance:  Hope and Health for the Alcoholic Family,  Palo Alto:  
    Science and Behavior Books, 1981.

Figure 1.  Drama Triangle
(Melville's and Utain's Variation on the Karpman Triangle
Figure 2
The Experience Circle
Figure 3
The Feeling (Emotion Diamond)