Do you frequently experience conflict and drama in your relationships? Then you just might be trapped in the Karpman drama triangle. Read on to find out if you are a victim, a persecutor, or a rescuer.
Conflict and drama
Conflicts are an intrinsic part of all relationships. Conflicts, when dealt in a healthy manner, can help us enrich our relationships and help us have an enhanced human experience. However, this depends on exactly how well we are able to deal with conflict.
When we are unable to handle conflict in a healthy and effective way, it leads to drama. And this leads to some serious complications and problems in relationships and life. Individuals who lack healthy coping mechanisms or are prone to get into conflict tend to suffer from mental health issues, stress, anxiety and troubled relationships.
Engaging in all this drama can severely affect our quality of life, make us forget our purpose in life and even affect our relationships. Moreover, excessive drama and conflict can compel us to subconsciously fit into disempowering roles in our relationships and our lives.
According to psychologist and author Margalis Fjelstad, PhD, most of us are programmed to engage in conflict and fit into certain self-punishing or self-satisfying roles that restrict our abilities and cloud our judgment. This prevents us from enjoying a healthy and happy life. These roles often lead to negative emotions like superiority, shame, helplessness and break the emotional connection in our relationships.
To explain this drama, psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Karpman, MD developed the Karpman Drama Triangle in 1968. This model depicted how interactions could lead to excessive, destructive conflicts among people in different relationships. The model primarily focuses on our behavior and the roles we take on during conflict – the victim, the persecutor, or the rescuer.
Karpman Drama Triangle
The drama triangle model is applicable to all relationships and is specifically common in romantic relationships where one partner suffers from impulse or personality disorders. Although it is one of the most neglected pathogenic models in family therapy theory and practice, “this triangle is evident where emotional, sexual, and physical abuse are present,” states a 2009 study.
The Karpman Drama Triangle was created “to map the dysfunctional behavior we predictably display when we get sucked into interpersonal drama,” explains Christine Carter, Ph.D., author and senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. She adds “Karpman recognized how entertaining and addictive our relationship conflicts could be – despite being psychologically harmful.”
The drama triangle model was conceived by Dr. Karpman to graphically depict how interactions become complicated among individuals engaged in a pathological conflict. He analyzed that in every conflict and drama, there is a common pattern of thinking: the good guy vs bad guy. Karpman observed that the people embroiled in conflict get sucked up by the energy generated by the conflict. As a result of the drama, disappointment and confusion arises, the real issue gets forgotten and the focus shifts from finding a probable solution.
In a Forbes article, leadership strategy expert Remy Blumenfeld writes “The drama triangle is used in psychology to describe the insidious way in which we present ourselves as victims, persecutors and rescuers. Although all three are ‘roles’ and none may be true to who we really are, we can all get caught in a cycle that is hard to escape.”
3 Roles of the Drama triangle
The three angles of the Karpman Drama Triangle illustrates three different roles we play during conflict and drama: the Victim, the Persecutor and the Rescuer. Dr. Stephen Karpman, MD uses an inverted triangle to describe the 3 aspects of drama. Sharie Stines, Psy.D., recovery expert and counselor explains “Each corner of the triangle depicts a role that people play in the game of a dysfunctional relationship. One corner is the victim (please help me); one corner is the rescuer (the over-responsible, controller); and the third corner is the persecutor (the villain, the bully, the superior one).”