Boundaries in Relationships

Unhealthy Boundaries in Relationships and The Victim Role

Having healthy boundaries in relationships is incredibly difficult, especially for those in the victim role of the Drama Triangle. In order to learn how to have healthier relationships, we have to learn how to stop being codependent.

 If you read my post about the generational curses of codependent behavior, you’ve got a good foundation of knowledge about the Drama Triangle. If you have not read my post “Generational Curses of Dysfunctional Relationships Full of Guilt and Shame” I highly recommend doing so before reading the rest of this post and then come back.

Lacking Healthy Boundaries in Relationships and Codependent Behavior

It’s important to understand how our codependent behavior in the Drama Triangle shows up in our lives. For those of you who did read it, you know a little bit about the victim role. So, you are ready to continue.

Before reading more, pay attention to how you feel simply reading or hearing the word, “victim.” Do you have feelings of anger, sadness, shame or frustration? Are you thinking of people in your life who play the victim role? Are you willing to acknowledge that maybe you play or have played the victim role?

Codependency Addiction

We all have or have had codependency addiction to some degree. Not one person in the world can honestly say that they have never had any form of codependent behavior. If we knew how to stop being codependent, that still would not mean that we would do it.

Think about alcoholics for a moment. Everybody knows the resources available for alcoholics to stop drinking. So, why don’t they do it? The reason is because it is so hard and scary to do.

Codependency addiction is the same. From my experience as a psychotherapist and the daughter of an alcoholic who died of cirrhosis, alcoholics tend to play the victim role in the Drama Triangle. That’s why I used the example of alcoholics.

Even if you know how to stop being codependent, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that you will always succeed. Earlier in this post, I asked you if you were willing to acknowledge that you have played the victim role. Now, I will answer the question for you. Yes, you have. Everybody has played the victim role at some point in their lives!

The Victim Role and Unhealthy Boundaries in Relationships

However, finding somebody who will admit that they enjoy playing the victim role is pretty rare. Society shames anybody who portrays the traits of a victim. That just furthers our difficulty with boundaries in relationships because we allow others to dictate how we feel and to shame us.

That teaches us not to have healthy boundaries in relationships. We don’t set boundaries in relationships because we “need” somebody to keep us in the victim role. We struggle with setting boundaries with others and ourselves. So, that keeps us in the victim role.

Please keep in mind that I am not referring to people who were true victims of traumatic experiences. That is a completely different ballgame!

Now, let’s take a deeper dive into the victim role. The victims I am referring to are the types of people who often sit in self-pity without the ability or desire to make changes in their lives. Victims believe they are unable to help themselves.

Due to this, victims often form close relationships with people who are rescuers. To read more about the rescuer role, click here. The victims attract rescuers who need to feel important.

When that happens, the victims allow the rescuers to step in to attempt to “fix” whatever difficulty the victim is experiencing. Hopefully, you can see this is simply codependent behavior for both the victims and the rescuers. If you want to learn more about the rescuer role, click here to read my post “The Overworked Rescuer.”

We are Not Taught How to Stop Being Codependent

Shaming is not my intent here in regard to victims because it is incredibly difficult to get out of that role. Not only that, but victims swim in enough shame placed on them from others and themselves, thus keeping them in the victim role.

As I keep mentioning, it is not only hard to get out of that role, but most victims are never shown how to stop being codependent.

Very few families break the cycle of The Drama Triangle. Reason being that they never learned anything different in terms of changing codependent behavior. Therefore, a victim often gets “stuck” in that role and the codependency addiction.

Imagine a baby who is nearing the developmental stage of walking. If this baby had never seen one single person walking, how would the baby know that walking was even a possibility? Chances are that most babies would never learn to walk if that were the case.

Take a minute now to think about people in your own life who play the victim role often. If they, like the baby I mentioned, have never seen anybody setting healthy boundaries, then how would they know it was even an option? The only thing they would know is to how to continue codependent behaviors.

Looking at Our Own Struggles with Boundaries in Relationships

Setting healthy boundaries is the only way out of the victim role in The Victim Triangle. That is why I gave that analogy. It shows how incredibly difficult it is for a victim to change their thoughts and codependent behavior leading them to that role.

“Let me help” is one of the best phrases a victim can hear. When a victim hears that, it means that somebody has subconsciously recognized that a victim needs rescuing. So, that rescuer will jump in to “save the day.”

Often, it is easy for others to identify somebody in the victim role. The difficulty lies within looking at ourselves and recognizing when we are in the victim role. There are many examples I could give of how people play the victim role.

Examples of the Victim Role

One example is helplessness. This often develops from one’s family of origin. The victim is taught at an early age that he or she is not capable of most things. You often see this with children who have parents who “need” their children to be completely reliant upon them.

I have sadness for these types of parents because their self-worth is incredibly low. Their need to feel valued in the world rests solely upon their child needing them for everything.

For victims to step out of that role, they would have to find a way to get their needs met in a healthy way. Allowing somebody to rescue them is their “go-to” behavior. When they do that, they stay right in the midst of The Drama Triangle.

This results in those children growing up without knowing how to have healthy boundaries in relationships. Their codependency addiction can show up in many ways.

The Drama Triangle and Codependency Addiction

As previously mentioned, many victims become alcoholics or drug addicts by using alcohol and drugs to rescue them. The next part of the Drama Triangle, then leads to a persecutor. To learn more about the persecutor role, click here.

For people with alcohol and drug addictions, society and their families are typically the ones persecuting them for their addiction. That persecutor role then sends them right back to the victim role again to then used drugs or alcohol to rescue. Rinse and repeat as the saying goes.

Looking at a Victim in the Drama Triangle

Now, let’s look at a different example of somebody in the victim role of the Drama Triangle. Imagine a twenty-five-year-old female who has suffered from depression since childhood. Let’s call her Maria.

She tells herself that she is worthless. She believes she will never be happy and will never find a romantic partner to love her. Her family taught her the codependent behavior of the Drama Triangle.

When Maria had school projects, her mother would do them for her because her mom didn’t think Maria was smart enough to do well on her own. She felt Mom’s energy since she was a baby because Mom put her own Not Good Enough Stuff on Maria.

That’s how Maria came to be in the victim role. Sadly, she learned from Mom that she was never good enough at anything in life. That is why Mom always jumped in to rescue Maria who was always in the victim role.

The Root of Codependent Behavior that Forms Unhealthy Boundaries in Relationships

If you’re curious as to what I mean about Mom putting her own Not Good Enough Stuff on her daughter, click here to read my post for an “Explanation of Not Good Enough Stuff.”

So, let’s go back to present-day, twenty-five-year-old Maria. She has had many failed romantic and friend relationships. Maria constantly hears from others that she is too needy. Friends and romantic partners easily tire of rescuing Maria. That results in very short relationships for her.

Maria has also struggled with her weight since childhood. Whenever she felt depressed or Mom believed she would fail at something, Maria would find food as a comfort.

So, with Maria’s multiple relationships that all ended quickly and dramatically, she found herself gaining 50 pounds in less than two years. This only added to Maria’s negative self-talk that keeps her in the victim role.

The Victim Role Continues

That negative self-talk begins spewing into Maria’s professional life. Due to that, she starts having difficulty maintaining a job.

It is really hard to do well at anything when you believe it’s not possible. For those in the victim role, the codependent behavior of this role tends to show up in every aspect of life. For Maria, that intensifies her negative image of herself even more.

She sinks deeper into the victim role and her depression. The Drama Triangle and depression are vicious cycles that are beyond exhausting for those in them. Can you recognize any similar thoughts or experiences like Maria had? They might be to a lesser or greater extent, but still similar.

If so, then you feel like you would do anything to get out of it. Again, that is hard to do, but is also possible if you’re willing to do the work. I always recommend seeing a licensed therapist to help guide you towards healing when wanting to do such deep work like this.

Escaping the Victim Role

The key to escaping the victim role is first to recognize when you are in it. If you aren’t able to recognize it, then you will find somebody or something to rescue you. Then the Drama Triangle will just continue and you’ll find yourself right back in the victim role.

Once you’re able to recognize that you are in the victim role, you can then set healthy boundaries for yourself and others to keep from being rescued. That probably doesn’t sound easy for you and that’s because it is far from easy.

So, for now, let’s focus on how to recognize you are in the victim role. The sign that told me I was in the victim role was that I was feeling sorry for myself. I believed nobody understood me or loved me in the way that I needed.

I used to tell myself that I was just too difficult for others to love me. I could name so many reasons to validate that, or so I thought. I even found toxic people with no boundaries in relationships I had. That just furthered my belief that I was not loveable. However, none of that was ever true. It’s also not true for you either.

The Flintstones and the Victim Role

If you have read some of my posts, you will remember that I used The Flintstones to help me with my own healing. If you watched the Flintstones, you probably remember the little angel and the little devil that sat on opposite shoulders of Fred.

When I notice I’m feeling sorry for myself and heading into the victim role, I imagine a little visual of a victim sitting on my shoulder. I say to myself, “Hey victim, you can go sit down now. I see you and I’m not gonna let you show up right now.”

After that, I have to figure out what my needs are that I’m not getting met. Then, I have to figure out a way to set a healthy boundary for myself or others so that no person or thing has an opportunity to keep me in the Drama Triangle by rescuing me.

The next step is to decide how to get my needs met in a healthy way. That is no easy task, but then again none of this is easy. So that’s par for the course.

Here’s an Example of Setting Boundaries in Relationships with Ourselves:

Victim Role Belief: Nobody loves me. I’ll always be single and I’ll never be happy.

The Need from that Belief: To feel like I matter and that I am loveable.

Ways to Get My Need Met: Treat myself to a massage to show myself that I deserve to be pampered sometimes, which means I matter to myself, or go for a walk or practice any form of self-care.

After walking through that, I have moved out of the nasty victim role because I didn’t need somebody or some unhealthy “thing” to rescue me. It’s important to have boundaries in relationships with others, but also with yourself. The boundary I set with myself was to tell the Fred Flintstone devil on my shoulder that he was wrong.

Changing Your Beliefs When in the Victim Role

It’s trendy now to tell people to use positive affirmations when dealing with negative self-talk. I typically rebel against trendy “things.” However, this one actually works, even though it felt fake to me to use positive affirmations.

The thought of allowing myself to believe the positive affirmations was laughable. The more I read the post-it notes on my mirror, the more my mind started opening up to the possibility that maybe I could believe what I was reading.

Eventually, I was able to truly believe those positive affirmations. It definitely takes time for that to happen, but it can happen. When that happens, you then move yourself out of the victim role.

Wrapping Up the Victim Role and Stopping Codependent Behavior

Just remember that I said we have ALL participated in the Drama Triangle that we learned from out families. We were taught to have the codependent behavior we carried into adulthood. That often turns into a codependency addiction. So, changing something you have done your entire life takes a lot of time and is hard.

Please don’t let that stop you because it is worth it. As I’ve said many times throughout many posts, healing can never be lost. So, doing the work to step out of the victim role is a gift to yourself that will always remain valuable.

If you have any thoughts or questions about the victim role, please comment on this post. We can always learn from one another. You just might have an idea I never thought of or something that has helped you with the victim role. So, that could be valuable to share with others reading this post.

Now, go find something that you enjoy doing and practice some loving self-care. I promise you deserve it because just reading a post like this can be overwhelming. As always, I recommend finding a licensed therapist to help guide you through your healing process. Just remember that setting healthy boundaries in relationships takes time and you will mess up. Be ok with that. Know that you can keep working until you are great at having boundaries in relationships!


This site is only intended for people who are truly willing to look at themselves with an open mind and have the ability to truly be vulnerable with themselves and others. Please understand that this site is in NO WAY THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. However, this site can be very beneficial in learning the causes of your Not Good Enough Stuff. This site is not intended to provide or replace medical or psychiatric treatment. Mary Beth HIGHLY RECOMMENDS finding a licensed therapist to help you process the information from this site and all that you learn about yourself. Visit Psychology Today to find a licensed therapist in your area.

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