Dysfunctional interactions: what is Karpman drama triangle?

The Karpman triangle (or drama triangle) is a theoretical model of dysfunctional interaction that is used in power and responsibility relationships in conflicts

The theoretical assumption is based on the very specific role that each person plays in this interaction: from each person’s role comes repercussions not only on oneself, but also on others.

What are the roles of Karpman’s dramatic triangle?

There are three roles in Karpman’s triangle, just like the vertices of the triangle (hence the name):

The persecutor

The ‘it’s all your fault!’ pattern is associated with this role.

The persecutor (or perpetrator) bullies the victim with a hypercritical, oppressive and judgmental attitude.

He feels superior and manifests his supposed superiority and grandiosity.

He wears this mask of pretense to avoid listening to his own feelings and to avoid being crushed by his own fears.

The persecutor needs the victim because this allows him to project his own insecurity and emotional dysregulation difficulties onto her.

The saviour

Associated with this role is the ‘I’ll help you!’ pattern.

The saviour has the role of supporting the victim.

He is a person who is unable to accept his own limits and deal with his conflicts, he feels like an unresolved person who tries to forget and remove or deny his problems by devoting himself to the other.

By showing his philanthropic qualities and feeling indispensable to the other, he feels fulfilled; when he cannot help the victim, however, he feels frustrated.

The rescuer’s help is not good for the victim and makes him unable to take responsibility, leaving him vulnerable to the persecutor.

The victim

Associated with this role is the ‘poor me!’ pattern.

The victim is not a real victim, but wears this mask.

She feels desperate and oppressed, accused and dependent.

This role gives the possibility to remain constantly close to the saviour and to receive affection and comfort at all times: the victim thus satisfies his need for dependence, never feels responsible for what happens, he defers all blame to his persecutor.

These three roles are generally played by three people in constant interaction and in a rigid manner, each tending to feed the vicious circle with these relational characteristics of the other.

The help offered by the saviour does not allow the victim to take responsibility or develop resources on her own, forcing her to remain always in the position of inferiority, dependence and need.

It happens that the roles may swap, but the dynamics remain the same, with no way out of the circle!

Karpman’s drama triangle in fairy tales

To imagine his triangle, Karpman drew inspiration from the model of fairy tales, where we often find

  • a protagonist embodying the role of the helpless victim (Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty),
  • an antagonist (the wolf, the witch, the ogre),
  • a saviour (the fairy godmother, the hunter).

Similar stereotypical roles are also assumed by characters in opera or in other artistic fields.

How to get out of the dramatic triangle?

To get out of this situation, each role must make changes.

For the victim, it is necessary to try to develop her own autonomy: she must therefore make an effort and take responsibility for herself, building on her self-confidence and sense of self-efficacy.

He must use his vulnerability as a starting point to restructure himself.

The persecutor must try to recognise and accept his limitations and insecurities, become more assertive and stop judging others, trying to

The saviour must leave people free to choose whether or not to enter into a relationship with him, stop tying them to him only out of need, turn his attention to his own conflicts, try to resolve them and learn to ask for help. In short, she must accept his personality without taking refuge in false altruism.

What to do:

  • In the dilemma ‘either me or the other’, choose oneself;
  • Accept to confront the perpetrator directly, if necessary;
  • Accept to disappoint him by saying “No”;
  • Facing fear and guilt;
  • Not postponing action for one’s own good until one no longer has these feelings.


Yalom I. D. (1995). The Theory and Practice of Group Psychoterapy. Basic Books, New York Tr. it.

Teoria e pratica della psicoterapia di Gruppo, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino, 1997.

Weiss J. (1993). Come funziona la psicoterapia. Tr. It. Bollati Boringhieri, Torino, 2000.

Weiss J., Sampson, H. (1999). Convinzioni patogene. Quattro Venti, Urbino.

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