Karpman’s Drama Triangle

Victoria Gimeno. Director Institutional Relations. IE University

31 January 2016

Sometimes, without realizing, we place ourselves, or someone else places us, in a very harmful triangle - the Karpman drama triangle.

In an article he wrote in 1968 entitled “Fairy Tales and Script Drama Analysis,” Stephen Karpman wrote for the first time about a triangle that describes a condition related to how people approach relationships. It starts in childhood as a survival strategy and a way to win affection, and may continue into or return in adulthood. The roles within Karpman’s triangle are those of Victim, Rescuer and Persecutor.

Here’s an example designed to summarize and simplify the “games” that occur within this triangle, which can be set in motion by any of the three personality types. The victim seeks a rescuer that solves his/her problems because the victim feels incapable of doing it on their own, and the rescuer enters the triangle by making themselves responsible for the victim. The rescuer may end up becoming a victim and the victim may become a persecutor. What I want you to bear in mind is that the people who end up in this kind of triangle end up trapped in it and may subsequently repeatedly exchange roles. Such relationships only cause suffering. The victim feels resentment, the rescuer feels guilt, and the persecutor is aggressive and under pressure.

In extreme cases, the victim may commit suicide, the persecutor may be a murderer, and the rescuer may succumb to psychological or physical illness.

These roles exist in society. The rescuer is someone who in their desire to help places limits on themselves and gives their help even when it is not asked for. The persecutor is a manipulator who tries to have things done how they consider they should be done. Meanwhile, the victim is never guilty of anything and really needs the others’ help. Hence these very real personalities are very capable of entering into this triangle when they find a role that complements the way they act.

Only a professional can change these roles, making the persecutor give up their aggressiveness and become an adviser for the victim by providing feedback. The rescuer can become someone who listens without judging and recognizes the capacity of the victim to solve their problems on their own. The victim can become a person who can learn and become responsible for whatever problems they have. In order to achieve this, it is first necessary for each one of them to recognize their role, or, as we say in coaching, “to realize.” This is an emotional triangle that can have a very negative effect on relationships, making them cease to exist, and making communication disappear only to be replaced by lies, manipulation and pain.

Article originally published on AVA’S BLOG.

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