If you are having relationship problems, it may be because you are stuck in The Karpman Drama Triangle
Are your personal relationships strained or combative?
Are you seeing signs of a toxic relationship with someone you thought you could trust?
Do you often find yourself in power struggles with friends or people at work?
If so, you could be playing one or more roles within the Karpman Drama Triangle and not even know it.
But, you can be more aware of — and break free of — these manipulative dynamics and prevent yourself from falling into unhealthy relationships once and for all.
The Drama Triangle was developed in the 1960s by psychiatrist Stephen Karpman. It explains what creates unhealthy relationships between people.
Karpman observed that anytime we feel angry, victimized, or misunderstood, it’s because we’ve slipped into one of three unconscious and disempowering roles:
- The Persecutor: Plays the role of the bully, criticizing and blaming others in order to disconnect from more vulnerable feelings.
- The Victim: Avoids making decisions, solving problems, or taking responsibility for their circumstances. Instead, they attempt to get their needs met indirectly — and will blame others if things don’t work out.
- The Rescuer: The self-proclaimed hero or good guy. If we’re caught up in this role, we try to help others even when it violates their boundaries. We try to rescue others even at the expense of ourselves. Later, we may feel resentful if that person fails to give us the acknowledgment we think we deserve.
In an unhealthy relationship, these three roles are highly interchangeable — meaning we may cycle in and out of them many times in a single conversation.
For example, the perpetrator, realizing his outburst has triggered sadness in his target, may suddenly try to rescue that person. And the target, who was moments ago a victim of the perpetrator’s anger, may switch into the role of perpetrator and lash out.
Regardless of which role we play, participating in the Drama Triangle is an exhausting way to live. We may succeed in controlling others in the short term. But in the long run, we deny ourselves the power to create relationships based on mutual respect and joy.
What makes matters worse is that our participation in these dramas is often unconscious. We simply reenact the same scenarios we saw being played out in our families of origin. So, if you want healthy relationships, it’s time to change things.
Here are 3 principles to help you recognize when you’ve fallen into the Drama Triangle so you can break free from it once and for all.
1. It only takes one
So often, we’re motivated to change our behavior because we want someone else to improve theirs. But this is a trap that puts our happiness in the hands of someone else.
Begin by acknowledging that no matter how anyone interacts with you, you have the power to choose a different response. By choosing to deliberately respond rather than reflexively react, you set into motion an entirely different outcome.
2. Your words have power
Our words reflect our dominant perspective and mindset. They are the building blocks that we use to create our day to day reality.
Language such as “can’t”, “should/shouldn’t”, “ought to”, “have to”, etc. are indications that we have fallen into Victim, Perpetrator, or Rescuer mode. When you’re using words to conceal your true needs or desires, you’re in the Drama Triangle. The same thing goes when you’re withholding communication out of fear of others’ reactions.
In every moment, we have the choice to look for what’s working well or to focus on what’s missing or lacking. One thought pathway leads to freedom and personal responsibility; the other to a mindset of lack and blame.
The words you use will clue you into which way you’re headed.