Karpman’s dramatic triangle – what you need to know

Karpman’s Dramatic Triangle is a social model of human interaction. The triangle represents the type of destructive contact that occurs between people in a conflict, where they play three different roles.

Karpman's triangle
Karpman’s triangle. Photo Wikipedia

How does this manifest itself in practice?

A few years ago, I met my college classmate who was struggling to break out of a very toxic codependency relationship. It was a long drama in which she played three different roles. First role – victimas she felt helpless and firmly attached to a person who was an emotional sadist. Second role – pursuer… When her strength was running out, and she felt like she was cornered, she threw tantrums, broke dishes and threw things. And the third role – rescuerwhen her toxic partner came and complained to her how bad he was, and only she can understand and save him.

Psychotherapist and MD Stephen Karpman called this cyclical phenomenon the “dramatic triangle.” He invented this relationship structure to explain social interaction back in 1968, when he was trained by renowned psychiatrist Eric Berne.

Eric Byrne
Eric Byrne
Photo Wikipedia

So, the triangle represents the patterns of behavior that a person resorts to when in contact with another person. The question is, how do you know which of the three roles you tend to unconsciously engage in in a relationship or, say, in some painful situation?

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What does it mean to be a “victim”?

When you choose the role of the victim, it seems to you that the whole world is against you. All your inner strength recedes into the background, and in its place comes helplessness that overwhelms you. In the place of the victim, a person experiences a feeling of being driven into a dead end, and he is convinced that the situation will never change. The victim does not try to change the circumstances and plunges into his own suffering (real or perceived).

Photo by Pixabay

What does it mean to be a “stalker”?

When you try on this role, you may be perceived as an aggressive, oppressive, and vicious person who often becomes angry. Persecutors usually prefer to be in complete control of the situation in order not to fall into the victim’s shoes, and they do not accept any point of view other than their own. The main aspects of stalker behavior are arrogance and defensiveness. To get his way, he will do anything.

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What does it mean to be a “lifeguard”?

In this role, you feel the need to “fix” the situation in order not to be a victim. The essence of the rescuer is that he identifies himself with the victim, and then acts on her behalf. He attaches too much value to his decisions and actions and actually gets stuck in this cycle. The rescuer prefers to take care not of himself, but of others, in fact, neglecting his own interests and needs.

How to find a way out of such a “drama”?

First of all, it should be remembered that accepting all three roles is an unconscious process, not a deliberate intention. Karpman’s triangle reflects the misbehavior patterns with which we learn to survive and cope with conflicts, as well as interact with other people.

To get rid of this “drama”, you can take the following two ways.

1. Start practicing mindfulness and gain new information

Dramatic patterns have been around for years for one simple reason: we simply don’t think it’s a problem, despite our own suffering and discomfort. It is quite difficult to break it down. However, realizing your “I” can be the first step to breaking this pattern. Ask yourself:

  • “How do I feel when this happens?”
  • “When I am told certain phrases, what is my first reaction?”
  • “When I’m being rude, what do I usually do?”

These questions are designed to trick you into thinking in a certain direction and to explore and analyze toxic and destructive behaviors.

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2. Find a positive alternative to the Drama Triangle

David Emerald Womeldorff, a trainer and consultant, came up with the so-called “empowerment dynamic” (or TED). The TED system allows the toxic drama triangle to take a different direction.

David Emerald Womeldorff
David Emerald Womeldorff
Facebook photo

According to TED, alternatives exist for all three roles in Karpman’s dramatic triangle: the creator replaces the victim, the wrestler replaces the persecutor, and the coach replaces the rescuer. It works like this: you realize that you are forcing you to take on a certain toxic role, and then, based on this awareness, you direct your actions in a different direction.

  • When the creator replaces the victim, there is a transition from helplessness to decisions and actions.
  • When the wrestler replaces the persecutor, then instead of the previous violence, criticism and humiliation, there is a desire for alternative thoughts and actions.
  • When the coach replaces the rescuer, he not only blindly saves, but asks the appropriate questions, encourages the person to think and supports him.

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