The Aggressor - Karpmann Drama Triangle

The Aggressor – Karpmann Drama Triangle

The Aggressor – how do people end up like that?

The Aggressor must be easy to spot if they’re angry all the time?

If they were always loud and angry it would, but Aggressors aren’t all like that, and those that are aren’t like it all the time. Instead Aggressors can use passive-aggression, and won’t necessarily always be in the Aggressor’s role.

What do you mean by passive-aggression?

Passive-aggression is the avoidance of direct confrontation, and instead displaying disagreement through other ways. This may be through criticism, non-cooperation, withholding information, or withdrawal. It’s also marked by the contradiction between the behaviour and the passive-aggressive person’s insistence that things are “fine” or that “nothing’s wrong”.

What most people focus on is the passivity. However, the key point to note is the aggression. These people are still acting as an Aggressor, and as much in conflict with you as if they were physically or verbally demonstrating that.

So what makes people act as Aggressors?

It depends on what corner of the Karpmann Drama Triangle really want to inhabit. If they want to be the Aggressor then it can be a reaction to feeling overlooked or undervalued. It could also be following a change in culture or outlook in a group or team.

If the Aggressor feels left behind by change they may try to re-impose what they see as the more authentic or original ethos. It can also be a reaction to people feeling isolated, where their moral or technical superiority provides a smoke-screen for the real reasons behind their isolation.

The Karpmann Drama Triangle

The Karpmann Drama Triangle

Why would someone act as the Aggressor if they want another role?

If someone wants to be your Rescuer then you need to be a Victim first. The quickest way to find a victim is to make one, and that’s where being the Aggressor comes in. Find a fault or mistake, establish blame, personalise it, and then you can move to start rescuing the individual involved. That also comes with the advantage that the subject you’re being aggressive about will be one where you can display your strengths in the rescue.

How do I deal with an Aggressor who is passive-aggressive?

There are four fundamental rules for dealing with passive-aggression –

  • don’t reciprocate – no matter how tempting
  • don’t tolerate – set and apply boundaries to behaviour
  • don’t generalise – don’t use words like ‘always’ or ‘never’ when discussing behaviour
  • don’t personalise – talk about the impact of their behaviour on other people

What if people are trying to make me play the Aggressor?

Step outside the rules of their ‘game’, and act as a Challenger rather than an Aggressor. Challenge what they’re saying and reflect back any contradictions. Ask them to clarify their thinking, and if they’re making suggestions about changes get them to check that they’re realistic and compatible with their values.

In short be a supportive but critical friend, and if they genuinely want to make changes they’ll embrace this support. If they wanted to recruit you into a social game then they’ll find someone else instead.

The Karpmann Drama Triangle

The Positive Engagement Triangle


If you found this blog about the Aggressor useful you might like the ones about the Karpmann Drama Triangle; the Rescuer; and the Victim. You might also like to sign up for my monthly newsletter here with three stories every month on the quirky side of psychology and relationships