The Karpmann Drama Triangle

The Karpmann Drama Triangle

What is the Karpmann Drama Triangle?

You may not recognize it as easily as you do a football pitch or a tennis court, but you will have been invited to play on the Karpmann Drama Triangle. And you will probably have accepted, without even knowing it – because the triangle is the basis of many social games.

What’s a social game?

A social game is a “series of interactions between two or more people that follows a predictable pattern”. The outcome of these transactions is meant to be predictable too, as the ‘winner’ of the game will have their actions and outlook validated. These games are played out, often unknowingly, by millions of people every day.

Could you give me an example?

One classic game is called “Yes, but”. One person describes how their life is unsatisfactory, and the other person in the game starts to make suggestions about how they could improve it. The originator of the game then blocks all of the suggestions – “Yes, but it’s different for me…”, “Yes, but I’ve tried that before…”, Yes, but …”. They win the game by getting to confirm that it’s not their fault – there’s simply nothing that can be done.

How does the Karpmann Drama Triangle fit in?

The triangle has a different role at each corner

  • The Rescuer, who needs to help
  • The Aggressor, who needs to blame
  • The Victim, who needs to be pitied

This provides the framework for countless games, or social transactions, every day.

The Karpmann Drama Triangle

The Karpmann Drama Triangle

Could you give me an example?

Let’s go back to “Yes, but”. If we look at the triangle, the person who says their life is unsatisfactory is claiming the role of Victim. They recruit a Rescuer, who wants to make helpful suggestions. However, because none of them can be used (“Yes, but”) they get to be confirmed as a Victim.

How do they know the other person is a Rescuer?

They might not, but games like this have a way of making us take a corner if we aren’t careful. And if you’d taken the Aggressor corner instead they’d have got you to identify and blame the person who was keeping them a Victim.

And that can really happen without you knowing?

Absolutely. Have you ever come out of a conversation not having said anything you wanted to? Or wondering why the same thing always happens? You’ve been on the Karpmann Drama Triangle.

Can you tell me more?

Of course. All about the Victim; the Aggressor; and the Rescuer, and how to get out of their games.


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