The Three Masks of Shame

Updated: May 2

What are the three masks of shame?

What is the relation between shame and co-dependency?

How can we create a new healthy pathway for us?

The past couple of years, I have been working with shame through my own journey of healing my ancestral and transgenerational trauma. I believe that shame together with fear, are the two deep seated emotions that are the basis of all the other negative held emotions.

In 1968 Dr Stephen Karpman revealed an upside down triangle, which he named it the Karpman Drama Triangle. The top two angles are the roles of the persecutor and the rescuer. At the bottom is the victim, with the latter being the more dense of all three traumas because no matter where we are on the triangle, we will at some point of the cycle play the other two roles subconsciously and will always end up becoming the victim.

Over the years therapists have written their own explorations based on this triangle and I too will try to attempt to write my own experiences and observations of others around me, together with the research I have done to help me through my own healing, hoping that my own experiences will help others with similar journey.

The first thought that comes to mind is “I don’t play the victim, so this wouldn’t apply to me!”. We find admitting to having played the victim brings shame to our identity but shame is the basis of this role. It takes a trigger to get us on this cycle and once we are on it, the three subconscious masks of shame, which are the persecutor, rescuer and victim are at play. These roles are created by trauma in our lives which we are acting out in order to meet our subconscious needs where the emotions that we have inherited, denied or we do not want to face, become parts of us that we feel ashamed of, so we suppress them so well, that even we aren’t aware that we possess them, so we project it onto others. We are drawn to people with similar vibrations, it's a silent language we all speak and the ones who respond are the ones who are also on this triangle.

So how do we recognise which role we play out? Firstly, by checking what triggers you most, and second, how do you react to this trigger. Explanation of each individual role might shed light on it. Since we play all three roles with a main dominant role, we will have a mixture of all three but mainly resonating with one.

I also have included quotes above each section which I feel is what applies to each role.

"We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions. - Brené Brown

The persecutor has the ‘father wound’. As children, we see the divine masculine in a distorted version, and we end up taking on the role of the persecutor needing someone to blame or take our frustration out on.

The persecutors mostly are in survival mode, they can be aggressive, defensive, have lack of trust and they do not like to admit to their own mistakes. They find it challenging to forgive, so there might also be bitterness. They manipulate, belittle and push other’s boundaries to get what they want. It is not always a physical projection, it could also be a mental projection of their own feelings onto the other, usually towards the one who is the victim. Since the victim has low self esteem, they take on the projection and make it their own self belief.

We can also internalize these projections by becoming our own persecutor with negative self talk, confusion and contradictions within us that can lead to self sabotage.

They have underlying deep seated shame and feelings of unworthiness so they guard their heart in order not to feel their own wound. Their biggest fear is being a victim but in a way they are already a victim of their own beliefs.

One becomes the persecutor as a result of themselves being harmed by physical and/or mental abuse while growing up. They usually enter a co-dependent relationship with a victim mostly to blame them for their suffering.

"Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others" -Brené Brown

The rescuer has the ‘mother wound' which is the unhealed version of the divine feminine so we grow up needing to help or fix others.

They have distorted boundaries, it’s either a wide open one due to their inability to say no, or strong barriers. They have the 'good girl' syndrome and are constantly busy, because if they stop, their attention will be on self which will highlight their own pain, so instead they are always wanting to fix others or give advice whether they are asked to or not, to the point that the recipient at some point feels smothered, controlled or manipulated. They see themselves as the caretakers, the mediators or the martyrs. When their efforts are not recognised or reciprocated, they either take on the victim role and feel hopeless, betrayed and used or the role of the persecutor and have outbursts of anger, frustration and/or resentment after an internal dialogue of self criticism. Since the outburst is built up and sudden, most times the other person hasn't even got a clue about what they have done.

The rescuer also has tendency to feel sorry for others, specifically the victim type, and tries to help them with wide open boundaries because they trust too easily. When the victim takes advantage of the rescuer's helpful personality by pushing the non existing boundaries, since the rescuer cannot say no, their energy becomes fatigued and the eventual outburst of externalised or internalised anger.

A good friend of mine said once, that her parents always taught her not to feel sorry for others, because this very act will place us above the other. There is a difference between feeling sorry for another and having empathy. The first places us in the above mentioned looping pattern, whereas empathy teaches and provides the tools for the other to utilise.

We take on the rescuer role when we become ‘an adult’ from a young age.

Their biggest fear is ending up alone so they enter a co-dependent relationship to avoid being alone with someone with similar frequency.

"Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection." - Brené Brown

The victim is the wounded inner child so we need someone to rescue us. The victim feels vulnerable because they don't know how to prioritize or set boundaries so they end up not having any. The difference between a healthy vulnerability and the unhealthy one of the victim, is having healthy boundaries. Unhealthy boundaries are as a result of having deep seated fears.

They are incapable of nurturing themselves, feeling weak, needy, not enough or vulnerable.

They enter a co-dependent relationship with the rescuer or the persecutor because they need the other to look after them and since they don’t like to take on responsibilities, they can always blame the other if things go wrong.

There comes a time when the victim wants to be free from the rescuer or the persecutor so they themselves become an indirect persecutor by being passive aggressive, using sarcasm or guilt to manipulate the rescuer. Or turns their projection towards self by negative self criticism followed with fear setting in again which drives them back to being fragile, weak, needy and worthless, so the cycle continues.

Fear stops them achieving their goals and dreams so they spend their life dreaming about the grass being greener on the other side.

They also prefer to sit on the fence and not take sides because they cannot make decisions of their own.

They feel confused leading them to have contradicting thoughts, are very sensitive and become easily overwhelmed because all their emotions are enmeshed.

Shame is the root of victimhood which drives them to depression and addiction and the possibility of narcissism. They mostly are children who've never grown up.