“Sweet is revenge, especially to women.”

Relationships|February 7th 2011

Lord Byron, who wrote those famous words, discovered that a woman’s revenge can be lifelong. He became caught up in what is nowadays a recognised psychological and social model: The Drama Triangle.

If you read about Lord Byron’s tempestuous affair with Lady Caroline Lamb and her behaviour during and after the affair, which he ended, I think you will soon see what I mean! Throughout, Lady Caroline was married to William Lamb: the future Prime Minister, Viscount Melbourne and one of Queen Victoria’s favourite advisors.

Looking back over recent posts, I noticed that some of them appear to present women as victims. The truth, of course, may be somewhat different. Both men and women are more than capable of casting themselves as innocent victims in their relationships with others – but in some cases, when viewed up close, they can seem more like oppressors.

I recently attended a fascinating talk given to our firm by two ladies from the Oakdale Centre, which has consulting rooms across the country, but is headquartered in Harrogate. Psychotherapy and psychology isn’t part of our normal legal training, but it’s a compelling “add-on”. At Stowe Family Law, we include it as part of our in-house training programme. It is useful for us – and for our clients – if we understand how some clients may be feeling, and how we can best help them to cope with divorce.

The Oakdale ladies focussed on The Drama Triangle, and it proved to be a fascinating insight into the minds and thoughts of some highly distressed people who cannot get what they want. The Drama Triangle may also apply to some of the everyday situations family lawyers sometimes encounter. And because these situations are so emotionally fraught, it can take a lot of skill to resolve them.

What is the Drama Triangle?

Imagine a triangle with all three sides of equal length. The three corners are labelled as follows: The Persecutor, The Rescuer and, on its own, The Victim. Let’s look more closely at each corner, and its label.

The Persecutor is bearing down upon The Victim. Unstoppable, ruthless and refusing to negotiate, The Persecutor applies maximum pressure and intends to crush the Victim into the ground. There is no room for manoeuvre. The Persecutor is motivated by anger and is anxious to avoid all blame or responsibility.

The Victim is at the bottom of the triangle. Like The Persecutor, The Victim won’t take any responsibility for the situation. The Victim cannot be wrong, hasn’t made mistakes. The Victim has done no wrong to The Persecutor; rather, The Victim has been wronged by The Persecutor.  The Victim, dejected and unable to make decisions, blindly reaches out for help. Looking ahead and up, the Victim finds… The Rescuer.

The Rescuer turns out to be a fictional Knight in Shining Armour, often a figment of The Victim’s imagination. Soon The Rescuer assumes an impossible position in the Victim’s thoughts, as the person who will prise The Victim from The Persecutor’s clutches. Faced with The Victim’s intransigent, impossible demands, The Rescuer cannot or will not deliver.

Then The Victim turns on The Rescuer.  At that point The Victim becomes The Persecutor, The Rescuer becomes the Victim and the Drama Triangle has shifted.

How do you put an end to it?

Ideally, The Persecutor should immediately move on. If The Persecutor consciously leaves the triangle, it begins to break down.

The Victim must begin to accept responsibility and stop blaming others. The Victim must be firmly encouraged to find solutions, but should make decisions and leave the Drama Triangle independently.

The Rescuer, if there is one, must nurture The Victim. This is necessary in order for The Victim to resolve problems independently. In doing so, The Rescuer leaves the Drama Triangle and takes the Victim too. If The Victim won’t jump off the triangle – and many Victims won’t – The Rescuer must part company with The Victim.

Interesting isn’t it? But the Drama Triangle doesn’t always require three people. It can be played out with only two, who move from one position to another.

“Mad, bad and dangerous to know”

In Lord Byron’s case, he unwisely pursued Lady Caroline Lamb. She described Lord Byron as “mad, bad and dangerous to know” after meeting him for the first time, but ultimately they entered into a passionate affair.

When Lord Byron broke off the relationship, there was all hell to pay. A married woman, Lady Caroline had her position in society to consider – but she didn’t care. Instead, when he refused to rekindle their affair, Lady Caroline became akin to a modern-day stalker.

After trying to get into his home, she left a note in the flyleaf of his book. “Remember Me”, she wrote. He responded with a hate poem:

Remember thee! remember thee!
Till Lethe quench life’s burning stream
Remorse and shame shall cling to thee,
And haunt thee like a feverish dream!

Remember thee! Aye, doubt it not.
Thy husband too shall think of thee:
By neither shalt thou be forgot,
Thou false to him, thou fiend to me!

His actions only exacerbated the situation. Lady Caroline refused to give up. As The Victim, she still yearned for him to rescue her. He refused to play The Rescuer. So then she became his Persecutor.

Her marriage was in turmoil. Her husband, William Lamb, was still willing to stand by her. However he couldn’t be The Rescuer in her eyes. She spurned him, and they later separated.

Lord Byron also shifted alternately from The Persecutor to The Victim. He flatly and harshly refused to compromise, or to respond to her as she wished. Instead he replied to her writings with fierce words of his own. This, in turn, worsened her conduct towards him.

For many years following the end of their affair in 1812, there followed exchange upon exchange as the Drama Triangle shifted first one way, and then another.

It ceased to be in 1824, when Lord Byron left the Drama Triangle abruptly, dying of a fever contracted in Greece. Lady Caroline Lamb died four years later, and her premature end appears to have been hastened by alcohol and laudanum. Lady Caroline Lamb alternated between the roles of The Victim and The Persecutor. Byron, for her, was always her impossible Rescuer.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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