Karpman's Drama Triangle

Karpman's Drama Triangle

A model for deciphering Psychological Games


  • Identify some classic psychological games to avoid entering (or to allow to exit) Karpman's dramatic triangle as soon as possible,
  • Understand and be able to identify dysfunctional interactions in order to transform them into true relationships,
  • To become aware of one's own responsibility in relational processes,
  • Discover how to regain one's power, one's capacity for decision and action.


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 for oneself and for the other person in business or in 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 person 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, 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 (Persecutor becomes the Victim's Saviour; 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)


  • Do not enter the Game

Once you have identified that you are in danger of entering a psychological game and before continuing with the interaction, ask yourself the following questions, depending on the role you are likely to take in the situation.

The case of the 'Persecutor' role

  • What is the real intention of my intervention? What is my positive intention?
  • What is the 2% truth behind what I am about to say?
  • Do I have the authority/power that gives me the right to intervene?
  • Am I being judgmental, critical?
  • Will my intervention be appreciated?
  • Will I get the recognition I expect as a result of my intervention? Objective: to get out of the belief that "they are worthless, stupid, cannot be trusted, everything that happens is their fault, they do not deserve it, they are incapable...".

Case of the "Victim" role

  • What is my positive intention?
  • What is the 2% truth behind what I am about to say?
  • Do I really need outside intervention?
  • Have I (really) already used all my knowledge and skills to solve the situation/my problem?
  • How will I ask for help without entering the triangle?
  • Can I make an explicit request?
  • Who is the appropriate person to whom I can make my request? Objective: to get out of the belief "People don't see my value, I do stupid things but it's not my fault, people don't want to trust me, everything that happens is my fault, it's unfair, nobody loves me...".

Case of the "Saviour" role

  • What is my positive intention?
  • What is the 2% truth behind what I am about to say?
  • Is there an explicit request for help from the other person?
  • Do I have the competence and the necessary means at my disposal to respond to this request? Am I legitimate?
  • Do I want to provide this service?

Objective: to get out of the belief that "If I wasn't there for them, the poor, it's not entirely their fault, I know better than they do what's good for them, I can't leave them in this situation...".

If you are faced with a person playing the role of "Victim”

Resist the temptation to do things for them or to attack them / take power over them. Instead, offer help/support to help the person learn to do things for themselves.

If you are faced with a person playing the role of "Saviour

Resist the comfort offered.

Thank the person and possibly specify what they can help you learn (so that you can do it on your own afterwards).

If you are faced with a person playing the role of "Persecutor”

Resist the defensive posture.

Instead, ask for advice or support: "What do you think should be done?