Too Much Drama In Your Relationship? Maybe You're Stuck In A Karpman Triangle

Three simple ways to break free from the dreaded drama triangle & avoid it in the future.

Woman stuck in Karpman Drama Triangle Scopio, Valeria Ushakova | Canva

Are your relationships strained or combative? Are you seeing signs of a toxic relationship with someone you thought you could trust? Do you often find yourself in power struggles with friends or people at work?

If so, you could be playing one or more roles within the Karpman Drama Triangle and not even know it.

But, you can be more aware of — and break free of — these manipulative dynamics and prevent yourself from falling into unhealthy relationships once and for all.


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What is the Karpman Triangle?

The Drama Triangle was developed in the 1960s by psychiatrist Stephen Karpman. It explains what creates unhealthy relationships between people.

Karpman observed that anytime we feel angry, victimized, or misunderstood, it’s because we’ve slipped into one of three unconscious and disempowering roles:


The Persecutor:

Plays the role of the bully, criticizes, blames others, and disconnects from more vulnerable feelings.

The Victim:

Avoids making decisions, solving problems, or taking responsibility for their circumstances. Instead, they attempt to get their needs met indirectly — and will blame others if things don’t work out.

The Rescuer:

The self-proclaimed hero or good guy. If caught up in this role, we try to help others even when it violates their boundaries. We try to rescue others even at the expense of ourselves. Later, we may feel resentful if that person fails to give us the acknowledgment we think we deserve.

How the three Karpman triangle roles interact 

In an unhealthy relationship, these three roles are highly interchangeable — meaning we may cycle in and out of them many times in a single conversation.


For example, the perpetrator, realizing his outburst has triggered sadness in his target, may suddenly try to rescue that person. And the target, who was moments ago a victim of the perpetrator’s anger, may switch into the role of perpetrator and lash out.

Regardless of the role, participating in the Drama Triangle is an exhausting way to live. We may succeed in controlling others in the short term. Yet, in the long run, we deny ourselves the power to create relationships based on mutual respect and joy.

What makes matters worse is that our participation in these dramas is often unconscious. We reenact the same scenarios we saw being played out in our families of origin.

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How to escape the dreaded drama triangle if you want healthy relationships

1. Make the choice

So often, we’re motivated to change our behavior because we want someone else to improve theirs. However, this is a trap that puts our happiness in the hands of someone else.

Despite how anyone interacts with you, you can choose a different response. Choosing to respond deliberately rather than reflexively, you set into motion a different outcome.

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2. Use your words

Our words reflect our dominant perspective and mindset. They are the building blocks that we use to create our day-to-day reality.


Language such as can/can't, should/shouldn’t, ought to, have to, etc., indicate we have fallen into Victim, Perpetrator, or Rescuer mode.

When you use words to conceal your needs or desires, you’re in the Drama Triangle. The same goes when you withhold communication out of fear of others’ reactions.

Every moment, we have a choice. Look for what’s working well, or focus on what’s missing or lacking. One thought pathway leads to freedom and personal responsibility, the other to a mindset of lack and blame.

The words you use will clue you into which way you’re headed.


3. Be responsible for guarding your energy

You have a built-in guidance system that lets you know when something or someone is negatively affecting your energy. This internal GPS speaks to you in the language of your emotions.

The moment you feel stressed, annoyed, or defensive, permit yourself to disengage. Your emotional guidance system will alert you whether you are on a path of empowerment or bondage.

Remember, the Drama Triangle is a manipulation dynamic that feeds on itself. If you don’t play the role you’re being assigned, you starve it of the fuel it needs to survive, leading you to the healthy relationship you deserve.

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Christy Whitman is an energy healer, transformational leader, celebrity coach, and New York Times bestselling author of 'The Art of Having It All: A Woman’s Guide to Unlimited Abundance.'