Toxic Drama 102: The Role of Persecutor


In toxic drama 102 you will learn…


Interviewed perspectives and roles

When you do IDL interviewing, it may look like you are taking on this or that role. However, there are important differences. Like an actor in a play or movie, it is true that when you do an IDL interview you are pretending to be some other character and doing your best to embody the personality of the character you represent when you do an interview. However, with acting there is never any doubt that this is you assuming a role and that you are pretending. While you do assume different roles and pretend that you are them when you do IDL interviewing, you are accessing relatively autonomous emerging potentials. The three perspectives that make up the Drama Triangle, Persecutor, Victim, and Rescuer, are all roles. To designate that status, these words are capitalized. When we embody a role, even a dramatic one, it is clear that they are still “us,” – self-aspects, sub-personalities, or “parts.” For example, when you take the role of the Persecutor, by persecuting yourself with thoughts like, “How could I have been so stupid!” Or, “I hate myself!” That’s you telling yourself those things. When you play the Victim, that’s you feeling helpless and powerless. When you play the Rescuer, that’s you needing the validation of others.  The perspectives that you interview in Integral Deep Listening are different. While they may sometimes be referred to as “characters,” as are dramatic roles, they are also called “perspectives,” and “emerging potentials.” This is to differentiate them from roles, self-aspects, parts, or sub-personalities. They are all these things, but more. During interviews you lay aside your waking sense of self and occupy the perspective of the interviewed troll, suitcase, or glacier. You look out at the world from its perspective in the dream or life situation and answer from its worldview and its preferences, not your own. When you do an IDL interview of a dream or life situation, the perspective you take looks out at “you” as well as the other characters and elements in the situation. You become it, as an autonomous being or presence, rather than as a role or self-aspect. Interviewed perspectives may have preferences, feelings, and thoughts that are similar to your own or they may radically different not only from yours but from those of other elements in the dream or life experience.  With IDL interviewing, you suspend the assumptions that the characters are roles or self-aspects. You suspend the intention to pretend in order to embody the perspective as fully as possible, as if it is who you are, rather than to assume that you are really you, and that perspective is either a part of you or less real than you are – imaginary – as is done when we take on roles as children, while acting, or in most forms of shadow work or Gestalt therapy. Of course these perspectives are imaginary – from your waking perspective. But during interviews, you suspend that assumption and allow the perspective to be as real and autonomous as it wants to be. These differences may seem subtle or unimportant, but they are not. The basic difference is between maintaining and strengthening you or developing a multi-perspectival, polycentric identity, of which you are only one element.To assume that an interviewed perspective is a self-aspect makes it derivative and less autonomous than you are. It sets up a duality between “real” and “imaginary.” While we need and rely on that distinction in our waking life, it gets in the way during IDL interviews, and so it is temporarily suspended. We do so for ethical principles of respect, reciprocity, and empathy in order to build trustworthiness.  How do you want to be treated by others? Do you want others to treat you as unreal? No. Do you want others to treat you as figments of their imagination? No. Do you want others to hear you and evaluate what you do, say, and feel in terms of their worldview? No.  Don’t you want them to drop those filters and empathize with your perspective to the best of their ability? If you wish that others approach you with respect and empathy, doesn’t that imply you need to practice the principle of reciprocity, which means to treat and approach others – even imaginary others – in the ways that you want to be treated and approached? By dropping the assumption that interviewed perspectives are roles we are not only making a “phenomenological” shift of tabling assumptions about the relative reality and autonomy of those that we interview. We are also taking an ethical position in our intrasocial relationships. The reason this is important is that we not only move out of toxic drama by building self-respect, but we encourage the development of a greater ability to demonstrate respect, reciprocity, and empathy toward all others. 

What is the relevance of the role of Persecutor in the Drama Triangle for IDL?

An explanation of the role of Persecutor is explained in both the reading materials and the accompanying video, but we can hit the high points here. Essentially, the role of Persecutor is one of unrecognized and justified toxic criticism, whether of others or ourselves, in relationships, our thinking, or our dreams. Self-criticism is not necessarily toxic while unrecognized and self-justifying self-criticism is. For example, when you objectively assess the impact of your thinking on your mood or of your words on the behavior of others, that is a healthy self-critical analysis. Your feedback in a teacher role is not only assumed to be constructive and necessary, but invited by students. The conclusions taken from criticism can be positive, neutral, or negative. We can end up feeling good about our choices, preferences, feelings, performance, and behavior, or be indifferent toward the feedback, or regress into guilt, shame, or reactive anger. The self-criticism that occurs within the Persecutor role of the Drama triangle is of the third variety, in that it is negative toward others and has negative impact on ourselves, whether or not it is a negative self-appraisal. Because others represent aspects of ourselves, as we criticize others we are criticizing those aspects of ourselves that they represent. Do we want to do that? Is that helpful? Is that conducive to healing, balancing, and transformation? 

Examples of the role of Persecutor in your dreams

Monsters, villains, abusers, screamers, and natural threats like fires or tsunamis are examples of dream characters that may or may not be in the role of Persecutor in the Drama Triangle. While from a waking perspective, they most certainly are Persecutors, an interesting aspect of IDL interviewing is that when such “Persecutors” are interviewed they often will say that the only way to get our attention to wake us up out of some self-generated delusion is to scare us. Otherwise we forget the dream; we don’t get the message; we don’t wake up; we don’t move into greater lucidity. The problem is that we generally look at both dreams and our waking relationships and life experiences from our point of view. We assume our understanding or interpretation of dream and life events is accurate. Is it? We don’t know until we investigate the intention of the “Persecutor.” It may be found to be functioning outside the Drama Triangle but only appearing to be in the role of Persecutor. If you do enough interviews you will find yourself able to not only interview such dream “Persecutors” but also take their perspective and find out what the dream “looks like” from their perspective instead of yours. This capability will bleed into your waking life as less personalization and more empathy toward the worldviews, preferences, and feelings of others.

Examples of the role of Persecutor in your relationships

Assuming that others are in the role of Persecutor just because they are persecuting us is one of the most fundamental cognitive errors generating conflict in relationships. Persecution is in the eye of the beholder and recipient but rarely in the perception of the persecuting agent. People, groups, and nations rarely view themselves as persecutors, much less Persecutors within the Drama Triangle. Instead, they see themselves as defenders of truth, freedom, the “right,” God’s will, democracy, dharma, and human rights even when they are waging war. That you or I view them as Persecutors generally shocks them and is met with vehement denials. A good example of this is the typical Israeli response to the finding of the International Court of Justice that actions of the State of Israel “plausibly” are genocidal. Israelis, like the rest of us, emphatically deny that they are Persecutors.  You can see this principle with parents, who yell at their kids or spank them “for their own good,” saying, “This hurts me more than it does you.” You can also see this with couples who view their criticisms of each other as attempts to “reach” them, to “get them to understand,” when softer, less pressuring measures haven’t gotten the results they want. 

Examples of the role of Persecutor in your thinking

Similarly, when you criticize yourself it is likely to feel justified and even comfortable. It is true that are stupid or guilty or should feel shame. Self criticism feels like something you need to make yourself focus, remember, be reliable, organized, or behave. The point here is that when you are in the role of Persecutor toward yourself you are unlikely to see it as such, but instead as “necessary self-instruction” that you tell yourself “for your own good.” 

The role of Persecutor as an adaptive strategy

We can see then, that we get into the role of Persecutor to motivate change in others or ourselves. We see the desired change as something positive and criticism as a necessity designed to bring about that change. This is something of a paradox because all of us require not only positive rewards but fear of consequences in order to motivate significant and lasting change. Jumping into the role of Persecutor is regressive and expresses a lack of creativity, a lack of alternative framings and strategies to motivate change. It generally represents the way we were taught as children, that is, a regression into our childhood scripting. That scripting might have been adaptive in our childhood, even if it was not the best strategy our parents could have used. But is it now that we no longer are in our family of origin? One of the advantages of IDL interviewing is that it proposes alternative adaptive strategies to persecution and criticism, providing us with relevant reframings that help us to outgrow a knee jerk relapse into childhood scripting.  Because we are generally either blind to being Persecutors or in denial, we have to rely on the perspectives of others and seriously consider their point of view in order to gain the objectivity to consider changing our behavior. Because we generally discount the feedback of others when they tell us we are Persecutors, because that is not how we view ourselves or our intent, IDL interviewing is an important way to break through this resistance. It does so by accessing subjective sources of objectivity that can point out how we are in the role of Persecutor in ways that are more difficult to ignore or discount because, after all, that assessment is coming from ourselves. 

The role of Persecutor as a psychological game

When Eric Berne developed Transactional Analysis he interpreted and elaborated dysfunctional relationships as “games.” Such games are devious and manipulative, involving manipulative and unexpected “switches” designed to generate self-validating “payoffs.” A “switch” is a a sudden shift in communication or behavior during a transaction that involves a change in the role or script of the participants in an interaction. For example, a Victim becomes a Persecutor or a Rescuer becomes a Victim. Let’s say you seek advice from a friend about your fear of rejection. If your friend’s response is empathetic, if you are locked in the role of Persecutor, you will switch roles and become critical or argumentative. You might challenge their motives and claim they aren’t really empathetic but just setting you up for more rejection. Such a switch can be a way to maintain a Victim “You’re not OK” script, perhaps to avoid vulnerability or intimacy. That is an example of a “payoff.” A “payoff” is the psychological reward or benefit that we receive from playing a specific role, like  Victim or Rescuer, or engaging in a particular behavior, within a transactional game. It represents the underlying motivation for the behavior, even if it may not be immediately apparent. Say you know someone who consistently plays the role of Victim, constantly complaining about how unfair everything and everyone is. The payoff for this behavior could be the sympathy and attention they receive from others. The emotional support and validation they gain serves as the payoff, reinforcing their tendency to adopt the Victim role.

Assignments and Homework 


Under “Essays and Interviews,”  read:

What do olives have to do the Barak Obama?

A Turtle Pisses on Dinner

A Turtle Pisses On Dinner


In the IDL video curricula, watch: The Role of Persecutor Integral Deep Listening looks at the self-righteous abusiveness of the role of Persecutor from the perspectives of relationships, self-abusive thinking, and self-abusive night time dreams, and recognizes that it must be addressed in all three of these life realms if it is to be transcended. This is discussed in more detail in “Escaping the Drama Triangle in the Three Realms: Relationships, Thinking, Dreaming, by Joseph Dillard.   


Check for study questions and/or create some of your own.


What happens to characters from dreams and life issues that appear to be in the role of Persecutor when they are interviewed? Does their relationship to that role stay the same or change?

At a minimum, do one interview a week, getting experience with both dream and life issue protocols. One week, interview yourself. One week, interview a subject. It can be a fellow team member, a family member, friend, or client. One week, be interviewed by someone else.  Focus on thinking about if your life issues and dreams reflect your enmeshment in toxic drama and if so, how. Consider how the feedback and recommendations made by your interviewed characters impacts your ability to understand and extract yourself from toxic drama. Questions

  1. Write down your answers to the following questions. 
  2. Share your answers with your other study team members.
  3. Discuss.
  4. Submit your written answers to your team supervisor.

What is the difference between an interviewed perspective and a role? What is the relevance of the role of Persecutor in the Drama Triangle for IDL? What are some examples of the role of Persecutor in your dreams? What are some examples of the role of Persecutor in your relationships? What are some examples of the role of Persecutor in your thinking? How would you rate the usefulness of this unit 0-10? Why? How can it be improved?

Setting Intent:

What do you want to take away from this unit to improve your life?

How would you like it to influence your dreams tonight?

How can you format that as a statement of intention to read over to remind yourself, before you go to sleep, to incubate in your dreams tonight?

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