How often have you had an interaction turn into trauma or drama? And how often were you unable to figure out that just happened? You may find yourself confused; wondering if you instigated something. Or if you’ve been taken advantage of? Perhaps you were just trying to calm someone else down and save them from potential conflict.

Relationships (of any kind) are quite complicated. Life could be a whole lot more pleasant and stress-free if only you could avoid all the unnecessary drama.

If only there was a method for understanding interactions and enhancing your interpersonal skills. Guess what? Such a method exists. It’s called the Karpman Triangle.

The Karpman triangle was first described in the 1960’s, and it describes three basic roles or stances that tend to keep people stuck. These roles are rigid and habitual and high stress and conflict exert a kind of gravitational pull that sucks us into them.  Each role can impede psychological growth and healing, and they keep our relationships at a standstill.

The 3 Players in the Karpman Triangle

1. Victim

This person assumes, by default, characteristics like helplessness, hopelessness, and incompetence. “Poor me,” they moan as they act like they are at the mercy of life’s random whims. The person who is stuck in the victim role is dependent on other people to rescue them by telling them what to do, or getting them to do it for them. Since he believes he is incapable of changing his life, the Victim blames the Persecutors and seeks out the Rescuers. This frees them from ever having to take responsibility for their station in life.

2. Rescuer

A Rescuer has good intentions. They are also there to help and are ready to jump in and fix the victim’s problems. The rescuer assumes responsibility for the victim. They do not realize that are disempowering Victims by making them dependent and keeping them helpless. Simultaneously, the Rescuer often finds himself feeling drained from their efforts. Meanwhile, their own needs are not being met.

3. Persecutor

The third member of the Karpman Triangle is always ready to criticize. To them, the Victims are weak and Rescuers are enablers. In some ways, they are correct. But the Persecutor never has useful advice and can frequently turn into a domineering, blaming bully.

Whether we realize it or not, we each assume these roles — depending on the situation and the other people involved in it. If we remain stuck in such patterns, things can only get worse. Fortunately, identifying your role in the Karpman Triangle provides you with an opportunity to change.

3 Steps Toward Escaping the Karpman Triangle

1. Self-Awareness

This is the first and most important step. It’s also a very challenging effort. But, until you know the three roles — and know which role you typically play — interactions will feel out of your control. Analyzing the Karpman Triangle gives you the option to:

  • Commit to changing your behaviors and choices
  • Stop playing any of the three counterproductive roles

2. Embrace Healthy Communication

Healthy communication is the quickest pathway to honest and productive interactions — with no need for role-playing. By choosing to be direct and respectful, you:

  • Give everyone the chance to share their thoughts and observations
  • Deepen and enrich your relationships
  • Choose to collaborate instead of controlling and competing
  • Resolve conflicts quickly and without escalation

3. Try the “Empowerment Triangle”

In this counter-triangle, the positive players are Creator, Coach, and Challenger. By focusing on solutions and outcomes, Victims transform into Creators. Rather than always being a Rescuer, you can become a Coach that supports and encourages Creators in a healthy manner. Rounding things out, the Persecutor can reject the paths of criticism and blame. Instead, they can morph into Challengers by lifting others up — even while holding them accountable.

Shifting Triangles

The thing about the Karpman Triangle is that the roles are tough to see in yourself… and even tougher to shed. You might struggle to extricate from one or more of these roles if:

  • You have a lot of early trauma in your life
  • You have endured long term exposure to someone with a personality disorder
  • You grew up with someone with an addiction and/or mental disorder
  • You have been around someone volatile, emotionally or physically abusive
  • A loved one struggles with mental health issues

If that’s you, it can be tricky to find your way out of one of these engrained roles. That’s where the help of a skilled counselor is indispensable. Your regular therapy sessions are where you move toward recognizing patterns that currently seem invisible. At that point, you are well-positioned to create change.

But change is also far easier said than done. Your therapist can serve as your Creator, Coach, and Challenger. They will guide you into new perspectives and then, new approaches. This transformational path begins with a single phone call. Feel free to read about individual trauma therapy like and more. When you’re ready reach out for a confidential consultation too.