It's over fifty years ago now that Stephen Karpman described the drama triangle now often named after him as the Karpman drama triangle. He describes how in conflict there are generally three identifiable roles: persecutor, rescuer, and victim. In his psychological/drama analysis, some interesting things come to light: not only is there is a payoff for each role, there can also be a marked difference between which role people claim for themselves and how they are perceived by others. And people often change roles over time. For example, someone may psychologically embrace the role of victim which confers a status of innocence at the cost of giving away any power or agency. To gain heroic status, someone may understandably embrace the role of rescuer -- at the cost (or benefit) of painting someone else as the villain and implying someone else is helpless. And many persecutors see themselves as either victims or rescuers, either justifying or not noticing when they cross the line to being violent, controlling, or unreasonable themselves.
I find myself wondering today how those roles fit into the picture of redemption, or whether they fit at all. We'll start with an innocent role: the role of victim. To clarify, that's not the same as someone who has been harmed. We've all had the common human experience of being hurt; whether we continue as a victim is a different question. The dramatic role of victim requires a certain perpetual powerlessness and involves sticking to a certain limited script of responses. For someone defined by hurt or motivated by anger, forgiveness can mean losing identity or motivation -- or losing the default assumption of innocence that is part of the victim role. With redemption, the picture changes. There is justice tempered with mercy. Hurts are healed. There are no more victims, only those who have been redeemed and restored.
What about a rescuer? Clearly there can be legitimate instances of helping other people. Even so, the legitimacy of the starting point doesn't protect against the temptations along the way. This person generally pictures themselves as doing righteous work -- and may come to depend on the recognition and status that comes with the role. They may also grow their self-worth at the expense of the belief that someone else cannot get along without their help. They may enable the cycle to continue. On the darker side, rescuers may enjoy the opportunity to call other people the villains, and (like victims) may find their identity and self-worth caught up portraying someone else as irredeemable, and themselves as better-than. The angrier and more self-righteous the rescuer becomes, the higher the risk that they cross over that paradoxical line where history's most dangerous villains have seen themselves as champions of a good cause. For those who have not yet crossed that line, though, how do they relate to redemption? Of course the rescuers will be glad to see the hurts healed. But there is a temptation among rescuers to be merciless, even ruthless; that way lies no small danger to ourselves. Those who are on a quest for peace and justice will be glad to see justice -- and even be glad to see it tempered with mercy.
But when vindictiveness becomes a virtue, the victim or rescuer has lost themselves and has emerged as a persecutor. They may have started out in another role with innocence or good-will. But the longer the focus on hatred, the longer the hardening of heart, the longer the dehumanization of the opposition -- the longer the good-will becomes limited to certain people, the more the original innocence is lost and the original good-will becomes stained. Redemption is most powerful when it redeems even the evil, and makes them innocent again. And yet it rolls off of those who insist they are innocent already. Here is a danger in the "good cause" that hardens the heart and provokes to mercilessness. Still there is always hope for redemption. Forgiveness is always an open door. For the cruel and arrogant, it starts with humility. Contrite repentance will renew their fellowship with God and others. God will lift up the humble.
Whatever our starting point, whatever our current place on the drama triangle, there isn't a single place in the drama without its temptations. "Watch and pray", as they say; "watch and pray."