Generational curses of dysfunctional relationships stem from codependent behaviors we learn from our families, often as very young children. All families have dysfunctional relationships to some degree.
Unfortunately, the majority of families I’ve seen have taught one another very unhealthy behaviors that cause lifelong struggles for us. The main tactics that keep these dysfunctional relationships going in a family is guilt and shame.
This means that we don’t learn healthy ways of supporting each other. Instead, we learn we learn the exact opposite. The major difficulty in that is that we have generation after generation passing on unhealthy, codependent behaviors. Hence, the reason I say these are generational curses.
That is not to say that people do this intentionally. In fact, it’s very rare for parents to consciously do this. However, it still happens and the results are incredibly damaging for all involved.
Due to us learning these unhealthy, codependent behaviors from our families, we then bring that yuckiness into every relationship we encounter, such as friends, romantic and work relationships. That’s why there are so many dysfunctional relationships in our world. Just keep in mind that it is absolutely possible to stop these generational curses!
The Generational Curses from Our Families
If your thoughts are heading into the mindset that your family caused so much of your Not Good Enough Stuff that created so much pain with regard to relationships, stop right there. You are correct that your family probably caused that and the generational curses have been around long before your family of origin even existed.
However, please keep in mind that the majority of parents and caregivers did not do this intentionally. They simply repeated what they were taught because they didn’t know any other way. These generational curses cause us to have so much Not Good Enough Stuff without having an awareness of where it came from. If you want to learn more about the Creation of Not Good Enough Stuff, click here to read my post on that.
The Drama Triangle is a great resource to explain the dynamics of codependency in relationships. It was created by Dr. Stephen B. Karpman, M.D. The Drama Triangle is a nasty cycle that everybody in the entire world has participated in throughout their lives. Dr. Karpman has a book available on Amazon if you are interested in reading more about his work on the Drama Triangle.
NOBODY has ever escaped being a participant in the Drama Triangle, myself included. Not only that, but it has NEVER benefited anybody in a positive way. Take a minute to look at Dr. Stephen B. Karpman’s Drama Triangle below.
Generational Curses Teaching Us How to Have Dysfunctional Relationships
There are three roles in the Drama Triangle. The roles are the victim, the rescuer and the persecutor. Remember how I said that everybody has participated in the Drama Triangle? Well, we have also played each role in it as much as we might not want to admit.
In my opinion, this toxic cycle is one of the many generational curses that has been passed down from every family in the world. If we could stop these generational curses, we wouldn’t have to learn ways to eliminate our codependent behaviors.
They would just no longer exist. Now, isn’t that a beautiful thought? Oh, if only it were that simple to stop these generational curses. In order to do that, every person in the world would have to be doing their own personal healing work. I’m pretty optimistic about the world learning to heal, but even that is a huge stretch for me to imagine.
Take a look again at the picture of the Drama Triangle. Pay attention to how you feel about each role. Do you notice that one role angers you or makes you feel sad? If you were to be incredibly honest with yourself, which role do you tend to play the most? Do you have guilt and shame coming up when looking at this?
Families Don’t Know Healthy Ways of Supporting Each Other
Often, we are born into a certain role with our families. That can be hard to consider! Again, our parents or caregivers do not do this intentionally, but they were not taught how to have healthy relationships. Due to that, the only other option is to continue unhealthy, dysfunctional relationships based on codependency.
If you’re a bit confused as to what this might look like or how it might apply to you, I’ll give you a few examples. Before I do that, I want you to understand that this information can be hard to think about or to allow yourself to consider it as truth.
Also, you don’t have to agree with me. That’s perfectly ok! As with most of my posts, I can’t “prove” any of this. What I can do is explain what I have seen in families as a psychotherapist and within my own family. For me, that’s all the validation I need.
However, I am fully aware that many people struggle with that and need research to prove validity. If that’s you, then you probably don’t like the majority of what I write. Again, that’s perfectly ok. Just know that I have seen these same generational curses of dysfunctional relationships in EVERY person and EVERY family that I have ever worked with.
Examples of the Drama Triangle in Motion
Now, to the examples of people being born into the roles of victim, rescuer or persecutor from the Drama Triangle. Imagine a couple who has one child and is planning on having a second. That couple is having major issues in their relationship.
These issues range from financial problems, unhealed trauma from each of their childhoods, communication struggles and toxic families of origin. You would think this couple would want to improve the relationship before having another child.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. The couple remembers how happy they were when their first child was born and easily forget the stress that also comes with a baby. Consciously and subconsciously, they have thoughts that another baby will improve things in their relationship.
Oh, how wrong that is! Not only that, but it puts a ton of pressure on the baby who doesn’t exist yet. Now, what role do you think this sweet little baby will be born into for this family?
If you’re thinking the rescuer role, then you are correct. That little baby is supposed to solve all the difficulties within his or her parents’ relationship. That sure does make me sad for that precious little baby who is coming into the world.
Rescuers Believe They are Merely Helping People in Need
Nobody should have to carry the weight of “fixing” anything for anybody! I’m a therapist and I can’t “fix” anybody or any relationship. I can guide people towards healing, but that’s not something a baby can do. So instead, that baby will only intensify the difficulties in his or her parents’ relationship.
Unfortunately, that baby will probably grow up trying to rescue everybody and everything he or she encounters in every relationship. I’m just going to hold onto the belief that the parents will learn how to heal themselves and their relationship.
If so, that can prevent the baby from staying in the rescuer role for the rest of his or her life because the parents can then teach the baby how to heal and have healthy relationships.
That is one of the reasons I LOVE working with couples and adults. I get to help them learn how to heal, which then allows them to teach their children how to heal. Just thinking about how that stops the generational curses of dysfunctional relationships, warms my heart.
The Core of Dysfunctional Relationships
Now, let’s dive deeper into the Drama Triangles’ victim role. If you want a more in-depth look at the victim role, click here! The victim role is also a role in which a person can be born into within a family. His or her parents might be really good at the roles of rescuer and persecutor.
Due to that, the parents need somebody to be the victim to keep their codependent relationship functioning in a way that is sadly comfortable for them. Remember that every family participates in the Drama Triangle and that is simply due to never being taught how to have healthy relationships.
So, think about that poor little baby being born into the victim role. He or she is now the recipient of his or her parents’ blame for all that goes wrong in their lives.
When that takes place, somebody has to rescue that baby. Next more persecuting happens and that keeps the Drama Triangle going. This is probably subconscious for the parents, but the baby will still absorb the energy that he or she is to blame for everything.
Drama Triangle Scenario
Here’s a little scenario for you to see what I’m talking about. Dad travels for work. Mom decided to be a stay-at-home mom. She is stressed during the week from having no help because Dad is travelling and only home on weekends.
Dad gets home on Friday night and wants to relax from a hectic week of work on the road. Mom wants Dad to take care of the baby for a couple of hours so that she can get some time to herself. Well, both of those wants can’t take place because somebody has to take care of the baby.
Now, the baby is in the victim role. The baby is subconsciously blamed by his or her parents because neither of them gets his or her needs met to be able to relax.
What I typically see happen in this situation is one parent has to decide to forego his or her needs of relaxation to make sure the other person gets his or her needs met. That person in the relationship is the rescuer.
Guilt and Shame within the Drama Triangle
If you want to learn more about the rescuer role, that post is also coming soon. Now, let’s say that Dad was the rescuer by letting Mom have a break, which means he had to forego a break for himself.
So, now we need a persecutor. The rescuer, Dad in this situation, can often become the persecutor and spew anger on the person he or she rescued by giving the partner time for relaxation.
In this example, Mom who got time to relax can also be the persecutor. He or she might be angry at the baby for being so “needy” and not allowing both partners time for relaxation. If you’re not clear on what the persecutor role, rest assure that a post on that will be coming in the next few weeks!
Dad gave Mom a break by watching the baby in this example. There were dishes piled up in the sink that needed to be put in the dishwasher before he could cook dinner. Can you feel the energy of Dad sliding into the persecutor role?
If so, your energy reading ability is spot on. Dad is now persecuting Mom for not having cleared the sink prior to him getting home from work. This doesn’t necessarily mean Dad is verbally persecuting Mom.
That could absolutely happen, but it could also be his energy of blaming Mom silently. We all know how that can go. If somebody is angry at us, but doesn’t say a word, we still know they are angry and blaming us for something.
The Drama Triangle Continues Just like Our Generational Curses
We now have a victim, rescuer and a persecutor. The Drama Triangle doesn’t stop though. It continues with Dad persecuting Mom. That means that Mom is now the victim and needs a rescuer.
After that, a persecutor will find his or her role in the Drama Triangle. So, it just continues and continues. If you’re thinking that there is no end in sight to this, then you are pretty close to correct.
The only way to stop the Drama Triangle is for at least one person to decide he or she will no longer participate. In order to do that, the person has to set very clear, healthy boundaries and stick to them. The hardest part of setting boundaries is not faltering when pushed.
Setting Boundaries to Step Out of The Drama Triangle
I can guarantee you that your boundaries will be pushed! Remember that dysfunction functions. So, when you remove a part of the codependent triangle, the other participants don’t know what to do.
They need to continue functioning even though it’s an unhealthy way to function. This is how these generational curses continue for families. Even if one person steps out of the Drama Triangle, the family will find another person to play the role of the now absent boundary setter.
Also, be aware that guilt and shame become weapons fired at the person who sets the boundary. Be prepared for that if you set a boundary.
Now, think about a time you may have set a healthy boundary in any relationship. Did that person in the relationship find another way or another person to meet that unhealthy, codependent need?
I know I’ve heard this type of phrase a million times, “Fine then, I’ll just find somebody who cares about me to help.” Since we were all raised to function in the Drama Triangle, it only makes sense that we need to pull somebody else in if we “lose” somebody to a healthy boundary.
In case you are confused, I’ll give you another example. This will show you what it looks like when somebody sets a healthy boundary. Just remember that I said another person will have to be pulled into the Drama Triangle. The reason for this is so that everybody else can continue functioning in that comfortable, but unhealthy and codependent cycle.
How the Drama Triangle Plays Out in Families
Let’s look at a fictious family with three adult children and a mother. In this family, Mom has mastered the victim role. If her children are not getting along with each other, then Mom feels like she is a failure.
Her life is practically put on hold when she knows her children aren’t getting along in the way she wants. She doesn’t voice this, but her internal voice is shouting, “Poor me! Why can’t my kids just get along. Can’t they see how much easier it would be for me if they had better relationships with each other?”
Mom calls her youngest child, Anna. The goal of Mom’s call to Anna is to pull her into the rescuer role since Mom is in the victim role per her usual. Mom tells Anna that Sally sent a gift to Joe. Sally didn’t get a thank you from Joe. Therefore, she calls Mom to tell her that Joe didn’t thank her.
Just in that little bit, we could follow the roles of the Drama Triangle, but we’ll stick to the example I wanted to show you. So, Mom tells Anna that she wants her to call Joe to see if he got the present from Sally.
Guilt and Shame Used as a Weapon
If Anna does that, she will then be the rescuer. From there, Joe will be probably be the persecutor as he will be angry at Anna for getting in the middle of things with him and Sally. Once that takes place, Anna would then be in the victim role, needing a rescuer.
Sally would then use some passive aggressive behaviors with Anna to rescue her. Sally might say, “Oh my goodness! I had no idea Mom would involve you in this. I am so sorry.” Now, Sally knew that Mom would call Anna, but she is rescuing Anna and playing innocent.
After that, Sally might call Mom and tell her that she was just concerned that Joe didn’t get her present. She might also say, “I should’ve told you not to do anything about this because I was just chatting and sharing that I wondered if Joe got my gift.”
Now, we all know people like Sally. She knew exactly what was going to happen with Mom calling Anna. That is what she wanted to happen because she thrives on the drama of the Drama Triangle.
Removing Yourself from the Drama Triangle
I think it’s time now to show you what can happen when Anna sets a healthy boundary instead of stepping right into the victim triangle with her family. Anna needs to be aware of the backlash that will take place and the pushing of her boundary.
Let’s go back to Mom’s phone call to Anna. Mom wanted Anna to call Joe to see if he got Sally’s gift. Anna quickly realizes that Mom is in the victim role. This realization helps Anna see that Mom needs a rescuer.
Anna has played the rescuer role so many times for her mother. However, this time she decides she is done with that. Anna listens to Mom’s sorrowful plight of Sally and Joe not communicating with one another.
Listening does not mean that Anna is participating in the Drama Triangle. She validates Mom’s feelings of frustration and sadness, then provides a simple response communicating her new and healthy boundary.
She tells Mom, “I’m really sorry that Sally and Joe aren’t getting along the way you want. I hope it gets better because I know it really upsets you, but I can’t be a part of it. Hopefully they work it out themselves.”
Mom then asks Anna in multiple different ways to jump into the rescuer role. Anna continues to repeat, “I know that’s hard for you and I hope it gets better. I’m not able to do anything about this.”
Sticking to Your Boundary
Confusion sets in for Mom as Anna has never set a boundary with her like this before. Mom now realizes that Anna is not going to jump in as the rescuer like she has always done. There are only two options now for Mom.
She can just leave this alone and allow Sally to choose what she wants to do about Joe not calling to let her know he received the gift. The other option is probably what will happen though. Mom will then find somebody else to be in the rescuer role.
It’s possible that she’ll ask her husband or Joe’s wife to be the rescuer. That will leave her husband or Joe’s wife with a decision to play the rescuer. If they choose to do so they will ask Joe about the gift Sally sent.
By now, you should know what that will look like if that happens. A persecutor will then find his or her role, which will need a victim, then another rescuer and so on. Are you exhausted from following all of this?
The Drama Triangle Continues When One Person Steps Out of It
Well then, just think about how emotionally exhausting it is for you when you are an active participant in the Drama Triangle! It’s important to know that Anna will have to continue setting boundaries for Mom.
This family has functioned in the Drama Triangle for so long that they don’t know any other way to function. Often, the family will persecute the person who sets a boundary.
That boundary setter will have to continue sticking to his or her boundary until it is clear that he or she will no longer play a role in the Drama Triangle. This is no easy task. My advice would be to find a licensed therapist to help guide you.
The Difficulties with Setting Boundaries with Family Members
Setting boundaries with your family is incredibly hard, but also incredibly worth it. There’s a quote that says something to the effect of, “The people who don’t like your boundaries are the ones who benefitted from you not having any to begin with.”
That is so true. The boundary is for you to gets some peace of mind by removing yourself from that toxic, codependent Drama Triangle. Again, I want to remind you that setting these boundaries to remove yourself from this cycle is very hard.
So be kind to yourself it you find yourself sneaking back into the Drama Triangle. Keep in mind that I am saying these behaviors are part of our generational curses AND we can heal that.
For myself, it took about a year for me to maintain a boundary similar to Anna. As I continued to stand firmly with my boundary, it became understood that there was no point in asking me to participate in those roles anymore.
I still have to be very careful and aware of when others are trying to pull me into that cycle. Sometimes I slip into it and then have to catch myself to come back to a good and healthy boundary.
How have you participated in the Drama Triangle with your family? Have you set a boundary? What happened when you set the boundary? What boundaries do you want to begin practicing? Will you be the first person in your family to stop these generational curses of dysfunctional relationships?
Comment on this post to join others who are working to set their own boundaries. We can always learn from one another! My hope is that we all learn to stop these generational curses, which changes the trajectory of every family member’s life moving forward. We truly could say goodbye to the generational curses that have been passed to us from our families.
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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.