Stop the drama triangle

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The Karpman Triangle: A Three-way Drama

Today we will see a dramatic triangle! Yes, it almost looks like theater, and it’s not very far from the truth 🙂

This dramatic triangle, also called Karpman’s Triangle, is a psychological tool invented by the psychologist of the same name in the sixties to explain certain relational problems. For this he described 3 main roles (the 3 actors in our little play):
As you can see, the Victim is at the top of the triangle. Although she is the “victim” and thus undergoes the role of the two other characters, it is she who leads the game. Indeed, without her the Savior and the Persecutor have no reason to meet. The victim is therefore the master of the game.
 

Explanation of the Psychological Game:

It is important to know that everyone at one time or another in their life plays this psychological game, unconsciously. The roles, however, are not fixed, and we pass very easily from the Victim to the Persecutor or the Savior.

That said, in this Game none of the three actors wants the situation to change. Because each is satisfied with his or her role and takes a personal interest in it, thus creating a certain balance.

So the Victim doesn’t want to step out of the role of the victim, the Savior doesn’t really want to help the victim, and the Persecutor doesn’t really want to push the victim down either. They all pretend, like in a play.

 

We also find this structure in most dramatic tales:

For example: Snow White, the wicked mother-in-law, and Prince Charming / Red Riding Hood, the wolf and the hunter / Cinderella, her family and the prince…
 

The role of the Victim:

Of course, it is questionable what benefit the Victim derives from being persecuted, however, there is:

  •     The Victim draws attention to himself, and in particular the attention of the Savior. For people with problems of emotional deprivation, therefore, this is the ideal situation to receive compassion, protection and attention. Moreover, they do not know their own needs or how to provide for them, so they hope that someone else will take care of them (The Savior).
  •     The Victim can complain. Because she is the Victim, she feels it is her right to complain, which makes it good for her to externalize her complaints.
  •     The Victim does not want to acknowledge his responsibilities, and does not have to make the effort to change. Since she is the Victim, all the evil is due to the Persecutor, and of course this gives her the image of an irreproachable person.

Her favorite phrases are: “I do everything right and he keeps blaming me.” – “I don’t see how I can satisfy him, he’s never satisfied anyway.” – “I’m never lucky, it’s easier for you.” – “You never come to see me, nobody pays any attention to me.” As you can see, these are mostly negative and generalizing sentences.

All this makes the Victim not really want the situation to change, she feels comfortable in her role. Moreover, if the situation were to get better, she would no longer have the attention she enjoys, no more excuses to justify her problems, and would no longer be able to hide her laziness in assuming her responsibilities/needs.

A person who is ready to take on the role of Victim then seeks to attract a Saviour. Therefore, he calls someone else to be his Persecutor. If no one wants to play the role of the Persecutor, the Victim will make it up (it will be chores, bills, etc.).
 

The role of the Savior:

 
The Saviour’s interest is much more obvious, for becoming a Saviour is a rather rewarding role. It allows one to have a good image of oneself, and also a good image with others. But that’s not all, because it gives him satisfaction that someone trusts him and he rejoices to have someone dependent on him, and therefore to have control over him.

And that’s the whole problem, the Savior incapacitates the Victim: for him, the Victim could not get by without his presence.

The Savior is often a former Victim of another Game who feels uncomfortable seeing the same situation happening in others, which makes him act even when he has not been asked. Because he is actually taking care of the needs of others to forget about his own unmet needs.

His favorite phrases are: “I’m busy but I’ll help you.” – “I did this for you.” – “Let me take care of it.” – “I’ll take care of it.”

The Saviour, therefore, has no more interest in seeing the situation resolved, because like the Victim, if the problem ends, there is no longer a reason for it to exist and the person who would play that role would lose all his or her advantages.

It is to be differentiated from “rescuers”: firemen, first-aid workers… who take action and correct the situation by not pretending to try as the Savior does.

Finally, for the Savior to endure, he needs a Victim but also a Persecutor to justify his existence.

 

 The role of the Persecutor:

The Persecutor (or also called the Executioner), derives his interest by releasing his aggressive impulses on someone else, the Victim. He often does this in order to get something in return, that is, to impose himself on the Victim in a violent manner and for his own benefit.

It is often a disappointed Savior who – no longer knowing how to go about it – uses the strong way, or a Victim who has decided to protect himself and take revenge. The Persecutor is only aware of his own needs and denies those of others.

He sets the rules, decides, directs and corrects at the slightest mistake. He does not forgive the slightest deviation and does not hesitate to make demeaning, even humiliating remarks, to make destructive criticisms, to put his interlocutor in a position of inferiority, to make him feel guilty.

That said, this is only a role and in truth it hides a person petrified of fear in the face of relationships, and who seeks to defend himself from an imaginary enemy. He therefore needs a victim to feel capable and strong.

His favorite phrases are: “You’re not doing anything right!” – “I tell you that all the time!” – “You never stop!” …

Moreover, unlike the other two roles, the Persecutor is not always a person. It can also be an illness, a handicap, an addiction, etc.

The Persecutor (or also called the Executioner), derives his interest by releasing his aggressive impulses on someone else, the Victim. He often does this in order to get something in return, that is, to impose himself on the Victim in a violent manner and for his own benefit.

It is often a disappointed Savior who – no longer knowing how to go about it – uses the strong way, or a Victim who has decided to protect himself and take revenge. The Persecutor is only aware of his own needs and denies those of others.

He sets the rules, decides, directs and corrects at the slightest mistake. He does not forgive the slightest deviation and does not hesitate to make demeaning, even humiliating remarks, to make destructive criticisms, to put his interlocutor in a position of inferiority, to make him feel guilty.

That said, this is only a role and in truth it hides a person petrified of fear in the face of relationships, and who seeks to defend himself from an imaginary enemy. He therefore needs a victim to feel capable and strong.

His favorite phrases are: “You’re not doing anything right!” – “I tell you that all the time!” – “You never stop!” …

Moreover, unlike the other two roles, the Persecutor is not always a person. It can also be an illness, a handicap, an addiction, etc.

The Persecutor, like the other protagonists, is not always a Persecutor. Roles can be redistributed during the famous “coups de théâtre”, when the situation that becomes untenable for one of the protagonists, then makes him change his role and thereby changes that of the others.

For example: A Saviour who is tired of not seeing the Victim let him act, will become the Persecutor. Or the Victim, tired of seeing the Savior decide everything, will choose to be the Persecutor. The Persecutor then adapts his role according to this change, if the Savior becomes Persecutor, the Persecutor will become Savior, or if the Savior is rejected by the Victim he will become Victim himself and the Victim will become Persecutor.
 

Getting out of the Karpman Triangle

The roles played in such a triangle are destructive, leading you to lock yourself into an infernal spiral that will not make you happy, despite the few benefits you believe you can get, especially since all this leads to a false perception of reality.

Thus, if you think you play a role in a Karpman triangle, you should think about getting out of it.

To begin with, you should already be aware of the role you play and that of others around you. Look at the relationship you have with them, think about your emotions and behaviors in everyday life, because it is always the same scenarios that keep coming up over and over again in this Psychological Game.

A simple solution to get out of it is not to assume your role. For the Karpman Triangle to work, you need a Victim, a Persecutor, and a Savior.

  •     Do you have a tendency to complain? You need to remain the actor of your life, responsible and not to pose as a victim and never expect others to take care of you when you are in trouble.
  •     Do you have a tendency to save others? You must remember that helping is not saving, and ask yourself when you feel like intervening: if the person you are helping has made a request to you, if the effort is shared or if you are going to do everything alone, and if you have clearly defined the limit of this help.
  •     Do you tend to be aggressive? You must be careful to temper your anger when you are unhappy with the work of others, the behaviour of those close to you, and to communicate without being aggressive or overly authoritarian.

Another way to cope is to play the “mirror”, if the other person plays the Victim, be the Victim, if he plays the Savior, be the Savior and if he plays the Persecutor, be the Persecutor. This is a good way to block the game because you are not playing the complementary role.

For example, if someone complains to you about their difficulties in getting you to take care of them, talk about your own misfortunes and difficulties and try to get yourself taken care of.

This will send them a clear message that you are not complementary and that they will have to look elsewhere for their gambling partner!

Remaining caring and factual, informative, questioning, neutral and professional can also mean not getting caught up. Asking to clarify very precisely what is expected on both sides of the relationship can also help the other person to “regain” control to answer questions and participate in a more productive discussion.

A final, more violent strategy – if nothing works – is to rush into the Game by creating a power escalation. Many followers of the Dramatic Triangle want to play, but in a socially acceptable and not too strong way. They may quickly stop their attempts if they see that you are likely to go much further and much harder than they would like.

The public, if they don’t fit into the Triangle, can also help stop the cost of a Manipulation Game. Sometimes, leaving a private room to go public will make the person you are talking to no longer find the role appealing. At other times, moving away from the public and regaining the “intimacy” of a private relationship will also help to get out of the infernal circle of the Karpman Triangle.

However, the best solution, in my opinion, is already not to get caught up in this Game, making sure to get out of your role as soon as you recognize it in any relationship.
 

Claude Steiner’s First Aid Kit

For Budding Saviours, here is a transactional analysis tool that will be very useful. From the moment you say to yourself “I should do something for this person”, or that you are doing more than 50% of a job; here are 4 important questions to ask yourself:

  •     Do I have a responsibility in this case?
  •     Is it within my jurisdiction?
  •     Do I want to help this person?
  •     Have I been clearly asked to help?

If you say “yes” to these 4 questions, then you can afford to help the person. If you say “no” to any of these questions, especially the last one, then stop for a moment to think about what you are doing. If you say “no” to two or more of these questions, you are playing the Savior Don’t Go.
 

So what role are you playing now?  Tell us all about it in the comments!

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