prevent conflicts in relationships: understand the persecutor role
Updated: May 9
The persecutor plays an important role in the Drama Triangle (by Stephen Karpman). This role is one where the person feels most comfortable passing judgment on others. As everyone has a predominant role in the Drama Triangle, which consists of the rescuer, victim, and persecutor, there are lots of people who play this role. You can probably see it in those around you once you learn about it.
What does a persecutor look like? It’s not seen in all men, although it can be considered as the dark side of the father. It looks like someone who is pointing out how wrong others are without wanting to acknowledge what they contributed to the situation. They get irritated and frustrated with others easily and regularly. They can believe they are superior to others. For example, they can tell people their steak seasoning won’t ever compare with their own seasoning. They might tell others they don’t look good in swimming suits or make condescending jokes about it. Persecutors actively point out to those around them how wrong they are.
On the inside, persecutors have shame from their childhood. There is usually a deep abandonment pain they are covering up with this role. They are often so angry with the shame they take it out on others, whether they are aware of the source of their pain or not. It is normally their only outlet for anger and they truly believe others are the reason for their anger, not themselves. Narcissists and people with narcissistic tendencies often reside in this role. They need someone to play the victim who isn’t good enough and who is willing to be their scapegoat.
Persecutors need victims to blame. Without having someone to blame they are stuck with how low they feel inside. So, they create and need victims around them in their life to mask their pain. If someone has a persecutor in their life, they don’t have to look far for someone who is playing a victim. For example, a parent who is a persecutor may likely have a child who becomes a victim on the Drama Triangle. All the roles, the victim, persecutor, and rescuer, are intertwined and need each other.
Persecutors chose their worst victims for those who are closest to them. They are too scared of being caught with their low self-esteem which means they are most critical to those with whom they are most close. They will keep people like their partners and children at a safe distance. True and healthy intimacy is threatening to them.
How does someone get off the persecutor role? A persecutor is never stuck in this role for the rest of their life. The difference with the persecutor compared to the other roles on the Drama Triangle is that the persecutor must realize they need a change. Someone telling them they need to change will not help make them want to change. It may come in the form of the persecutor realizing what they are doing isn’t working or they become tired of belittling others. They need to realize that other people are not to blame for their anger.
One way of moving beyond this role is by learning how to express anger healthily. For example, regularly screaming into a pillow or throwing rocks into a lake. Doing this once a day for a week is a great exercise to release that anger. Another method of moving beyond this role is daily journaling. Asking questions like what are you angry about? Why are you upset? Who made you upset when you were young? Are you angry with a parent? If so why? Do you like others demeaning you? Do you think others like your criticism? Learning to be less reactive to others is another step for the persecutor. Being the one to point things out all the time is not a role that is in healthy relationships. Others can’t do it for themselves if the persecutor is the one always doing it.
After the persecutor starts learning to not take their irritation and frustration out on others, they will move to a space of wanting to challenge others in a supportive and healthy way. They will build others up rather than tear them down. They will have healthy forms of releasing anger and not assume someone else is the reason for how they are feeling. The former persecutors will understand they can be right or they can be happy.
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Unsplash: Sergey Pesterev