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The Drama Triangle

To help us better understand ourselves and why our lives feel so out of control, we look at The Drama Triangle.


There is much to be learned from this well-established therapeutic tool called the Karpman Triangle. Steven Karpman was a highly esteemed psychiatrist who developed this model in the 1960s, and it is still widely used in cognitive behavioral therapy to help people identify their self-limiting behavior.

The Drama Triangle has three roles: victim, persecutor and rescuer. The victim’s role is to feel like a mistreated, persecuted person. The persecutor’s role is to pressure or bully the victim. The rescuer’s role is to rush in to defend the victim to protect them from the persecutor.


Each per­son has a pri­mary role that is so familiar it hooks us and becomes the entry point into the triangle. Once we’re in the triangle, we auto­mat­i­cally rotate through all the posi­tions. This triangle represents the relationship between two people. Chances are, we act out this relationship all the time without even being aware of it. Here’s an example of how all three roles work:


It starts with the rescuer and the victim…


The rescuer is basically our nice guy, the one who wants to help others and be noted for it. The rescuer may, inadvertently, step into the rescuing role to help someone who looks like they need help. The rescuer has a sensitive feeler antennae for others ‘in trouble’, especially those acting out the victim role. The rescuer gets sucked in and takes over the victim’s problems and it becomes a win/win situation for both. Many relationships start this way because a victim can seem a very attractive proposition to the rescuer. They receive kudos as a result of sorting out a victim’s problems.


After the victim tells the rescuer they are overwhelmed and incapable of looking after themselves, they feel grateful and relieved when the rescuer meets their needs.. The rescuer, consequently, feels powerful and important because they were able to take care of the victim.


These two roles are agreed upon at some deep and unconscious level. A contract is drawn up but no papers are ever signed. It’s understood there will be a bit of power transferred to the rescuer and that the victim will do as they’re told! Everyone is happy for a while!


Then the rescuer turns into the perpetrator…


Once the rescuer begins to flag under the weight of trying to keep up the rescuing, things change. Resentment starts to set in as the rescuer registers that they’re not getting their own needs met and they’re fed up that the victim isn’t pulling their weight and that they are leaving the rescuer to mop up the mess.


Not only do they have to rescue the victim, they also have to keep all the other plates spinning in the air at the same time. Then one day a minor event turns into a major catastrophe and BANG, the rescuer turns into the perpetrator. The rescuer says things like ‘Why is it always me who has to do the laundry? Why do I have to be the one to bring in the money? Why can’t you grow up and do something towards our relationship? Why don’t you get your head sorted out?’


Then the victim rescues the perpetrator …


The rescuer turned perpetrator may start drinking or staying out or starting affairs or carrying out other destructive behaviors because of their rage at ‘having to give and never get back’. They don’t feel appreciated. The victim, meanwhile, unwittingly realizes the relationship has changed, and then becomes the rescuer.


The new rescuer tries to calm everything down by apologizing for their behavior and begging for forgiveness exclaiming, ‘I’ll change…’ and making a real effort to pitch in. The perpetrator now feels hugely guilty and steps into the victim role thereby burying the rage and becoming depressed. While these positions aren’t comfortable for long, the two roles become quickly reinstated and so the original equilibrium is back in its rightful place!


Finally, the victim becomes the perpetrator…


However, there comes a time when the victim becomes fed up at having someone else run the show or being constantly pushed around. The victim doesn’t want others to look down on them or be at the mercy of someone else’s show. This transition begins when the victim feels resentful at being made into the ‘poor thing’ part of the relationship and starts to get angry with the other person.


The victim may start to act out at this point by behaving ‘outrageously’ and supposedly out of keeping with the victim role. The victim moves into the perpetrator role because they feel enraged at being ‘controlled for so long with ‘Leave me alone, stop trying to control me - back off’.


The rescuer then goes into the victim role sobbing about every time they try to help, look what they get. The victim backs down with an excuse for their behavior and they settle back into their original roles of victim and rescuer.


And Why We Have To Accept That We Have Become The Perpetrator Too


We would like to deny that we have dominated others, but we have. We find it difficult, almost impossible, to own up to blaming others for our feelings today, taken part in fighting, used threatening language and behavior and done to others what was done to us as children. We have been unable to stop this behavior. Such is the rage we hold hidden inside for what was done to us. We need help.


We cannot recover alone. We need to receive the acceptance of others before we can discover our true selves. We need to stop judging ourselves and discover why we are as we are and find a way through the pain towards self-discovery with the help of this program and others who are on the same journey.




List 5 examples when you have acted out as:


1. The Victim

2. The Rescuer

3. The Perpetrator 

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