Karpman’s Drama Triangle

Karpman’s Drama Triangle


Based on Eric Berne's work on Transactional Analysis, Stephen Karpman has developed a model that allows us to analyse, understand and get out of relational situations of recurrent dissatisfaction, which are called "psychological games". These games are harmful to those who play them, mostly unconsciously. This is what differentiates the dramatic triangle from conscious persecution.

Identifying the existence of a psychological game helps to take action to get out of the game and thus limit dysfunctional relationships and their harmful effects on oneself and the other person in business or everyday life. Understanding the dynamics and negative impacts of these relationships allows one to take the necessary distance to recognise one's share of responsibility, i.e. the role one plays in the process. In this way, it is possible to make relationships more harmonious and increase their efficiency in the organisation.

Karpman's "dramatic" Triangle is "dramatic" in the theatrical sense of the word: it involves characters (roles).

There are 3 recurring roles: "Persecutor", "Victim" and "Saviour". These are "roles" and not intrinsic characteristics of the people playing them. They are all 'harmful'.

  • In the "Persecutor" role, the personal attacks, devalues, criticises, points out what is wrong, ironises... "I have no choice but to attack others to deal with the situation.
  • In the "Victim" role, the person complains, suffers, feels sorry for him/herself, and declares him/herself incompetent, incapable... "I have no choice but to complain or whine to deal with the situation".
  • In the "Saviour" role, the person comes to the rescue and seeks to "save" others, they cannot help but help even if they are not asked. "I have no choice but to take charge of others to deal with the situation and for them to see that my help is needed.

It is important to note that a psychological game is played by two people. It is important to note that a psychological game is played by two people, so a Karpman triangle, although it introduces three roles, only involves two people! You can also play alone (internal dialogue).

During a psychological game, the following mechanism is systematically triggered:

1. The Hook: the trigger for the game. There are 4 possible types of hooks:

a. Victim seeks saviour

"It's too hard... I really can't do it... no one is there for me!

b. Victim seeks Persecutor

"I'm really incompetent, look at all the mistakes I've made, I'm really just a bum.

c. Saviour seeks Victim

(without being asked) "Look, I know a good way to get through this task a lot faster.

d. Persecutor seeks Victim

"Who produced this lousy job?

The hook is an invitation by one of the two interlocutors to enter the game. This invitation can be accepted or refused.

2. The invitation to play is accepted: the interlocutor adopts the role he has been invited to play and reacts.

3. Escalation: the exchanges become tense until...

4. Switch: suddenly, one of the two protagonists of the story changes role (The persecutor becomes the Victim's Saviour; the Victim becomes the Persecutor and "forces" the Persecutor to take the role of the Victim...). This turn of events generates a moment of confusion.

5. Negative benefit: this is the reason why we all play. We get a negative benefit from the Game: a validation of our internal beliefs ("I knew I was a failure", "without me they can't get away", "I have the power to make others feel bad"...).


A: "Ah I can't do it! Help me" (Victim seeks Saviour)

B: "Ok I'll take care of it" (Saviour accepts the invitation)

A: "Oh, your thing doesn't work! It's useless! Frankly, you shouldn't help people if you don't know how! (Drama: Victim becomes Persecutor & Saviour becomes Victim)