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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Lott

Navigating the Holidays: Breaking Free from the Drama Triangle

As the holiday season approaches, many people are eagerly anticipating the warmth of family gatherings, festive feasts, and shared moments of joy. However, for individuals in recovery from eating disorders, this time of year can be fraught with challenges that go beyond the usual holiday stress.

Navigating family dynamics can sometimes feel like stepping onto a stage set with invisible scripts, and this is where psychologist Stephen Karpman's Drama Triangle comes into play. Understanding how these roles manifest in family interactions can be a crucial step toward a healthier, happier holiday season.


Karpman introduced the Drama Triangle (sometimes known as the Victim Triangle), in 1968.

Karpman's Drama Triangle outlines three roles that people often unconsciously adopt in challenging situations: the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Rescuer.

These roles can be especially pronounced during family gatherings, creating an emotional minefield for people in eating disorder recovery.

  1. The Victim: During the holidays, individuals recovering from eating disorders may find themselves cast as the victim. Comments about their appearance, eating habits, or recovery journey can trigger feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness. The victim role can perpetuate a cycle of shame and guilt, hindering progress.

  2. The Persecutor: Family members, often with the best intentions, might assume the role of the persecutor. Comments meant to be helpful can inadvertently come across as judgemental or critical, pushing the individual in recovery into the victim role. This dynamic can heighten anxiety and jeopardize the delicate balance of recovery.

  3. The Rescuer: On the flip side, family members may adopt the rescuer role, trying to fix or control the situation. While their intentions may be genuine, this dynamic can disempower the person in recovery, reinforcing a sense of dependence rather than fostering autonomy.

To Break Free from the Drama Triangle:

  1. Awareness is the First Step: Encourage open communication within your family about the challenges of the holiday season for you in your recovery. It helps foster an atmosphere of understanding and empathy, allowing everyone to share their feelings without judgement.

  2. Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries regarding discussions around food, weight, and appearance. Communicate these boundaries to your family in advance, empowering yourself to steer conversations in a healthier direction.

  3. Practice Mindfulness: Incorporate mindfulness techniques to stay present and centered during family interactions. Mindfulness can help you respond thoughtfully to triggers, breaking the automatic cycle of reacting within the Drama Triangle.

  4. Educate Your Family: Provide your family with resources on eating disorders and recovery, or invite them into a joint session beforehand with your therapist . Education can dispel myths, reduce stigma, and help your loved ones understand the importance of supporting your recovery journey without unintentionally adopting harmful roles.

  5. Seek Professional Support: Enlist the help of a therapist or support group to navigate the challenges of the holiday season. Professional guidance can provide coping strategies, emotional support, and a safe space to process difficult feelings.

The holiday season can be a time of joy and connection, but for those in eating disorder recovery, it also presents unique challenges. By understanding and actively working to break free from the Drama Triangle, individuals and their families can create a supportive environment that fosters healing, growth, and genuine connection during this special time of year.


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