The Karpman Triangle: A Powerful Model for Healing Life

by Nov 24, 2018Resources & Articles

The Drama Triangle

Imagine that there is an enormous, invisible magnetic triangle right through our atmosphere, exerting a powerful psychological and gravitational pull on all of humanity. Imagine that the corners or apexes of the triangle are epicenters for 3 Power-Roles that humanity is drawn to, and that once sucked onto the triangle, a game begins.

Until each human being discovers this magnetic universal game board, we get pulled onto it via one of the power-roles, rescuer, persecutor or victim. Each of the power centers has a strong, tempting gravitational pull because we learn that once we join a power-role, it feels really great! At first.

Then, the drama unfolds. Hidden within the structure of this cosmic game board are forces that pull is down, into misery, isolation, fear and total frustration. It works like this: We get sucked on, via day- to- day roles we assume in life. These roles evolved in our lives and were reinforced because they worked for a little while, to get seen and known. In other words, the deep desire of the true Self, to be connected, to have power, to be respected and admired is initially fulfilled via the power-roles on the triangle.

But eventually, the frequency or energy of that role heads down, down, down. The power-roles are not aligned with truth, rather, they are forms of manipulation although we don’t realize this at first. We try harder. We inevitably start going around and around the game board, playing each role with the other people that get sucked onto the game board with us. Despair, misery, hopelessness and addictions ensue. We end up feeling separate, alone, misunderstood.

The Three Power Roles

We are socialized to act out the 3 roles forming entry points to the triangle. During formative growing up years, one of these roles was reinforced in through our family system. We learned to get seen and get our needs met by engaging in each of these roles.


Identifies as someone who identifies by being helpful, accommodating, fixing problems, often being known as always giving, never taking, there for the people others give up on. Also known as co-dependent or enabling in addiction systems, rescuers do not trust that things will get done or work out without their ongoing efforts. When one is in the rescuing role, we extend ourselves too far into another’s personal power-space, while at the same time unconsciously seeking the inflated sense of importance through controlling/helping others. Rescuers have eventually have an intrusive energy, within a group, while depleting their own internal physical, emotional and spiritual energy in the long run.

Rescuers move to Victim when they are exhausted from lack of self- care and people aren’t giving back in the same extreme manner they did. Rescuers move to persecutor when their anger, even rage from their own depleted state boils over into blame.

Rescuers: Getting OFF the Triangle:

  • The truth exists. Our belief systems are not necessarily the least aligned with truth.
  • We learned to rescue out of survival, discovering a means of coping and believing we were taking care of our self.
  • Rescuing emerges from an inflated sense of personal power to help, and results in dangerous self -abandonment.
  • We are responsible for discovering the truth (of a situation), outside of our biases and beliefs about helping. This often requires outside resources.
  • We each have a given allotment of life-force energy with which to work and live each day.
  • We create our reality. We didn’t get taught that. Including our own level of fullness, of being loved, and feeling cared for.
  • Giving out more energy than you were given, creates a ‘soul-debt’ any day we exceed our allotment.
  • To the exact degree that we exceed our energy allotment, we end up with a physical-psyche-soul debt.
  • Driven by this psyche debt (manifesting eventually in inner emptiness, rage, hurt, depletion, illness), we turn to other triangle roles, driving ever- increasing negativity and addiction.
  • Giving out more energy than we are given depletes the life force and healing in those we are helping. In the long run, we damage those we are trying to help.
  • We are personally responsible for our life.
  • We are personally and solely responsible for our Self-Care. No one else is responsible in the least for our Self-Care, although receiving love and care is a key responsibility to ourselves.
  • It is common for rescuers not to trust the greater Universe (God, the Nature of Existence), and to assume that we are assisting God in running the universe.
  • Hidden within the helpfulness in assisting the Universe on its path, is a deep- seated form of arrogance, or inflated sense of importance, common in those who learned early to survive by rescuing.
  • At the same time, the true level of importance of our own self compassion and care cannot be underestimated, as we generate a level of love and energy around us to the degree WE have found the beloved within ourselves.
  • Mother Teresa, sadly, was very, very, deeply unhappy, with a darkness she could not shake. She reports that she could not feel the presence of Jesus through most of her life. The harder she worked, the less she felt Him. This was revealed in her journals after she died, and confirmed by her confidant in the church.
  • Self-care on a soul level, including physical care, psychological growth, nurturing creativity and spiritual care is core to healing rescuing. We heal the planet when we heal the illusion of omnipotence.
  • Feeling guilty is a sign that rescuers are recovering!

Victim/Passive-Aggressive Role

Identifies as someone who feels deep down that life is not fair to us, that we did not get enough of what others have, hence we tend to withhold optimism and enthusiastic participation in life. We have learned that we get your needs met by withdrawal, being quiet or staying sick despite help given, as well as by retreating, or withholding the connection or affection others seek. As such, when we are in this role, we suck energy from those around us, even in the silence of our manipulation. By being passive, this power-role draws helpers toward us, such as rescuers who need a job, or persecutors who need someone to become furious with and to blame.

Victims move to rescuing when they need to pump up someone else and can resort to persecutors when the passive or victim role isn’t working.

Victim/Passive Role: Getting OFF the Triangle:

  • The truth exists. Our belief systems are not necessarily the least aligned with truth.
  • We learned to become passive and feel victimized out of survival, discovering a means of coping and aligning with beliefs that we integrated as true. It was a means of taking care of our self.
  • The truth is that everyone is 100% responsible for their own destiny, including recovering (if we choose), from what happened to us.
  • As the responsible agents of our own life, we have been allotted equal levels of Consciousness, of true Self to work with.
  • From adulthood on, we end up perpetuating our reality, by living from the belief systems formed through childhood. These beliefs form our thoughts and our thoughts are most often distorted, such as victim thinking and passivity toward life.
  • We continue to attract people and situations that feed into our distorted beliefs.
  • The solution exists in seeking the truth about the situation, and noting where we are contributing to our sense of powerlessness, rage and devastation.
  • Notice where we don’t show up for life.
  • Notice where we feel life isn’t fair. The truth is life is not ‘fair’ on the surface, for anyone.
  • To get off of the triangle, when we are in passive or victim, we are asked to fully show up. This means using our energy and agency to take an active role in furthering our life, or accepting that we will stay where we are.
  • No one has responsibility to help or transform our lives.
  • If someone makes an effort in our behalf, we can experience and express gratitude. They have limited energy, and must tend to their own lives.
  • We are not as alone as we feel.
  • We are completely responsible to establish and follow through with our own self care.
  • Our efforts to transform affect the world around us.
  • Not heeding advice on healing; staying sick is not an excuse to get attention. Ultimately we get attention through being seen for who we are in our wholeness.

Persecutor Role

Identifies as someone who feels superior to others, overtly or silently bullies and dominates others with an air of righteousness and intimidation. When in this role, we hide our insecurity by expressing overt criticism and blame of others, even if it just with a look on our face or gesture. As persecutors we exude an intrusive energy, where our upsetting frequency elicits a placating response from others which feeds into a cycle of rescuing this power role. Persecutors avoiding any effort at looking within, deferring responsibility for the events in life.

Persecutors move around the triangle, becoming rescuers in some roles, and resorting to passivity or victimhood in others.

Persecutors: Getting OFF the Triangle


  • The truth exists. Our belief systems are not necessarily the least aligned with truth.
  • We learned to persecute out of survival, discovering a means of coping and aligning with beliefs that we integrated as true. It was a means of taking care of our self.
  • The truth is that we are vulnerable inside, at our core, to an equal degree.
  • It is our personal responsibility to break- through our desire to seem above or superior to, or intimidate any single person.
  • Humility is the anti-venom to persecuting, and demonstrates powerful strength in the end.
  • Turning inward to seek the truth about a situation is key.
  • Seeking help and taking advice with humility and gratitude betrays persecuting.
  • We are personally responsible for our life, and the energy we display to those around us.
  • Everyone has a right to equal say, and equal personal power in a given situation.
  • Correcting our attitudes and behavior through acknowledging to others where we were wrong, and where we were abusing our power gets us off the triangle. Explaining why we believed we were right is not necessarily helpful, and may suck us back onto victim or continuing on persecuting power roles.
  • We are responsible for our self care, and the state in which we find ourselves.

When we get off the triangle, miracles ensue. We are assisted in mysterious ways, once we begin but not until we begin.


Do you feel…

  • Powerful and important when giving
  • So uncomfortable when others are suffering, you notice a compulsion to “help”
  • A sense of purpose in life with role as a helper/giving type/problem solver/fixer
  • At times arrogant with a sense of personal, heroic importance
  • Relate to all descriptions of enabling but don’t always understand how to stop.
  • Feel responsible for loved ones’ happiness, well being, health or growth.
  • Others won’t learn what I know unless I teach/share/lecture…
  • I like being the problem solver when relating to people I want to like me – it’s a safe role.
  • I hide behind the role of giver, of problem solver because otherwise I feel vulnerable in a group.
  • I feel guilty when giving to my self – “selfish” versus knowing that self care is my personal responsibility.
  • I am burdened, exhausted from giving – then have excuse to be self righteous in the end.
  • As an admitted Martyr – tired from giving , I justify addictive behavior in the end because “I deserve “ the food or drink or drugs.
  • My general identity is “One that has answers” – being the teacher on how to live correctly – whether its superiority in business, spiritual or personal arenas.
  • I harbor a lot of frustration that others don’t know how to live correctly.
  • I may not admit this openly, but feel that I am God’s assistant or I help make reality happen for people.
  • I hurt too much when others suffer, especially those I love, so I fix it instead of letting them learn powerful lessons from their own pain.
  • I stay in relationships that are not satisfying and healthy because I “don’t want to hurt or abandon someone.
  • The truth is I’m scared to hurt someone, as they will dislike me.
  • I withhold the truth, withhold giving people important feedback because I am afraid of their disapproval.
  • I don’t set boundaries, limits with other people, since it may seem selfish or rude.
  • As a result of this people pleasing I end up in places I don’t want to be, doing things I don’t want to do, with people I don’t want to be with.
  • I do other peoples work for them. It makes me feel important and I ignore the fact that this cripples that person for life.
  • I thrive on some people becoming dependent on me.
  • I am not personally responsible for my self care.
  • Others, that I have given to, owe me care. I wait for them to show me what I show them!


Do you relate to:

  • I like knowing others are worried about me…
  • I elicit other people’s worry about me, hoping they express their worry out loud.
  • I try to get “seen” or noticed through the sort of ‘drama’, of stirring things up with alarming, off handed or controversial directions of conversation.
  • I often disrupting what is happening and re-routing the direction as a way being noticed.
  • Life is not fair for me. It seems like other people have it easier.
  • Life is not safe, so I pull back and do not participate in fundamental areas. (We only do this with certain people in certain ways.) These may include:
  • I pull back on eating enough food
  • I don’t want to look healthy and “normal” , rather be seen for being under weight or sick as a way of getting noticed.
  • I am passive about speaking up, setting boundaries, saying my truth- I want someone else to do it for me.
  • I don’t speak loudly or clearly enough – I want see others work to have to get me.
  • I don’t put forth my full energy when talking to people who are trying to help me, rather I slump in my seat, divert my eye contact, use body language that demonstrates my unwillingness to give people the positive energy of my connection.
  • I don’t show up on time to where I am supposed to be, as a passive aggressive expression of anger or hurt.
  • I counter positive suggestions and points with a negating comeback.
  • I sabotage goals – using old ways of comfort and coping after knowing what is right because I am scared to show up for my life as a competent adult.
  • I don’t take the personal risks necessary to become whole and happy.
  • I don’t show up for life on life’s terms – I want proof first.
  • Being sick is safer or more powerful than well.
  • I share negative problems I am having without including what I am going to do about it. Bringing up the negative point, playing devils advocate, being cynical.


Do you relate to:

  • I hold an inward and outward position of superiority to others.
  • I express myself often by blaming others, ranting about something, insulting, being outwardly negative and critical.
  • I persecute in subtle ways by using expressions like sneering, distain, eye rolling, and other forms of being punitive.
  • I refuse to do my own personal psychological work (regarding therapy or self help). I am “above” getting help.
  • I put down people as “weak” who do seek the advice or counsel of another whether
    spiritually, physically or psychologically, rather than owning my own vulnerability.
  • I become physically violent to the property or others around me.
  • I make light of or avoid talking about my physical violence.
  • I displace responsibility onto others to prove their point and holding an antagonistic attitude when they try. It’s the easier way to hold power.
  • I often vocalizing the negative or contrary side of an argument, sometimes just to hear
    myself talk.
  • This is because I am needy, since I regularly abandon myself. Since I don’t take authentic care to love myself with compassion, I end up needing other people’s attention, even if it is that they are stuck listening to me.
  • I am directly disrespectful to others.
  • I use “you” or “they” statements as I express my discontent without owning my part.
  • I aim to stand over other.
  • I am to undermine other’s power.

About the Author

Francie White


Francie White is a theorist and practitioner in the science and art of nutritional psychology as well as a creative force investigating and teaching about philosophies of consciousness. She has a 35 year history at the forefront of treatment for all types of disordered eating, which parallels her abounding interest in the deeper questions about the nature of reality, and the importance of resurrecting wonder within the journey of human life.

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