Karpman Triangle

The most popular model of interpersonal, family relationships is Karpman Triangle. It was first proposed in 1968 by Steven Karpman, a classical scholar of transactional analysis. 

Within such a triangle of relationships, there can be two, three or more people. But there will always be 3 distinct roles present: a victim, a persecutor, and a rescuer, and the roles of the participants may often overlap or become switched. Despite such fluctuations, one thing remains unchanged – all participants are manipulators, and end up bringing pain and suffering to themselves and others.

The Victim

For someone with the victim role, life has become an unyielding cycle of misery. They believe that everyone treats them unjustly, and constantly feel too exhausted to cope with life’s challenges. Victims often feel offended, afraid or ashamed, and tend to become jealous or envious far too easily. They usually only expect bad things to come of life, and often lack the will, power or time to change their situation for the better.

The Persecutor

For someone with the persecutor role, life is seen as an opponent, which is the source of all woe. They are often angry, tense, irritated or scared, and find it difficult to let go of past quarrels. Persecutors also often tend to constantly predict future problems, and frequently criticize and attempt to control those around them. They typically feel that they bear an unreasonably heavy load, and often end up completely drained of energy and willpower.

The Rescuer

The rescuer is the role that ties the other two roles together, since they display anger towards the persecutor, while feeling pity for the victim. Rescuers usually feel that they are more important than others, and are proud of their seemingly important role. However, this self-perception of importance is merely an illusion, since they only end up interfering where they aren’t needed, and often end up aggravating negative situations. A rescuer’s only goal is to achieve self-affirmation, and are typically offended when their ‘help’ goes unapprised or unrewarded.

Persecutors find it hard to leave a victim alone, and often criticize and drill them. The victim then tries hard, but end up becoming exhausted, and begin to complain. Rescuers then give some advice to the victims, and offer them comfort and a shoulder to cry on.

This cycle can go on for many years, with many of the participants changing roles from time to time, often without even realizing what’s taking place. They may even believe that everything is as it should be. This is because the persecutor gets the opportunity to release their frustration, the rescuer rejoices in their role as a hero, and the victim gets comfort from the rescuer’s effort.

They all depend on each other to ease the burden of their responsibilities, and end up manipulating each other to fulfill their own needs. Such a relationship can never be called loving, since it is all about the desire to dominate, without any thought for nurturing real support, love or happiness.

What’s more, living within a Karpman triangle has a highly destructive influence on the future of any children involved. Most probably, such kids will end up suffering from self-confidence issues, and will find it very difficult to make rational choices throughout their lives.

How to Escape the Triangle

1. Advice For Victims
• Stop complaining, and start searching for constructive ways to improve your situation.
• Stop waiting for salvation, and accept once and for all that nobody owes you anything and that the world is constantly changing.
• Stop making excuses, and don’t feel bad if you fail to live up to somebody else’s expectations.
• Start taking responsibility for your own choices, and be more assertive when making a decision.

2. Advice for Persecutors
• Try to resolve disputes without aggression or anger.
• Stop blaming other people and circumstances for your struggles.
• Stop asserting dominance over those who appear to be weaker than you.
• Stop expecting people to act based on your feelings and beliefs, and accept that everyone is different in their own way.

3. Advice for Rescuers
• If nobody asks for your advice, then don’t give it.
• Stop thinking that you know how to deal with life’s problems better than everyone else.
• Help because you want to, and not because you want to be praised or rewarded.
• Before doing ‘good deeds’ you should ask yourself if your involvement is really required.

Transforming the Triangle

To change a negative pattern into a positive one, you’ll first need to identify what role you are currently occupying. Then, simply follow the advice above, and you should see a new pattern begin to emerge:

1. A victim can turn into a hero. Instead of complaining, a hero will face life’s challenges with enthusiasm and will end up feeling stronger and more confident after each challenge they overcome.
2. A persecutor can turn into a philosopher. Watching a hero’s actions as a bystander, a philosopher is ready to accept any result since they know that everything will work itself out in the end.
3. A rescuer can turn into a motivator. They stimulate the hero for showing courage, and help inspire them to do even greater things in the future.

The Perfect Model
With enough willpower and love, the positive pattern shown above can become even greater, and may eventually turn into the perfect triangle:

1. A hero may become a winner. They perform actions not to be praised, but to apply their creative urges in a constructive manner. Winners don’t need approval from others, but enjoy the process of creation, and the change to change their environment in a positive way.
2. A philosopher may become a contemplator. They see connections that others can’t, and create new ideas, while acting on opportunities.
3. motivator may become a strategist. They provide the contemplator with constructive advice and encouragement, which will help to bring their dreams to life.