Karpman Drama Triangle Codependency

If you are in a relationship where the drama never ends, but you cannot leave because of family ties or because you feel guilty, scared or stuck then this article is for you. You will learn about Karpman drama triangle Codependency , why you are in it and how to get out.

What is Karpman Drama Triangle Codependency?

The Karpman drama triangle was developed by Dr. Stephen Karpman in the 1960s. He used it to show the behaviour and dynamics of people in high conflict relationships.

The codependent triangle involves two or more people who play the roles of victim, rescuer or persecutor. The people in the triangle shift roles around the triangle to meet their own needs in the relationship. The more they shift the greater the drama.

Karpman called it the “drama” triangle because he said the people are acting the roles. So a victim is not a victim but some who is acting like a victim.  Same with the other two roles. Karpman was an actor so he understood what acting was versus authenticity.

This is not victim blaming. We are talking in the context of the drama triangle. People take on these role to get their needs met, so it is manipulative and controlling. An actual victim is not acting, they want to get out of the victimized situation and mindset as quickly as possible.

Each Role Depends On The Other

Because each person depends on the other to maintain its role Karpman drama triangle codependency is the result.

The victim needs someone  to be a persecutor, the persecutor needs a victim so it can play it’s own role. And the rescuer needs there to be a victim they can save, which means they also need a persecutor to help the victim play it’s role.

They are all codependent on each other.

The relationship between the rescuer and victim is the classic codependent relationship. The victim becomes the child and the  rescuer becomes the parent role. This is the shared fantasy. It is therefore a form of narcissistic abuse because the rescuer recreates the victims relationship it had with the original abuser.

The Main Roles People Are Drawn To Are The Ones They Learned As a Child

People learn their roles in the family system they were raised in. They will develop trauma responses when the environment is not healthy.

A child that was powerless, unheard and abused will become the victim. If they learned to take care of their parents to gain safety they will develop the rescuer personality. As the victim child gets older and stronger he may become the persecutor “the shoes on the other foot now.”

The Karpman Drama Triangle Takes A Life of It’s Own

Once people are in the drama triangle, they find hard to get out. Not only does their identity depend on it, they are also playing out unconscious patterns.

So a victim will organically go and seek out someone who confirms his role as a victim. This is why codependent people often end up with narcissists.

A rescuer will encourage people to stay as a victim, so they can remain as the rescuer. On the surface they pretend to help but will sabotage the the person who they are “helping.”

Once you are in it, the triangle has a life of its own.

The Three Roles in Karpman Drama Triangle Codependency

The three roles in the codependency triangle

These three roles create the drama. People who play these roles with each other do so because it makes them feel whole.

Each enlists others, organically

For instance, when there are three people involved the rescuer is encouraged to enter the situation by BOTH victim and persecutor. Because the rescuer enhances the roles of both.

And because they have unconscious psychological wishes and needs, the triangle caters to these needs but without having to look at the real issues.


The victim see’s themselves incapable of doing anything, and even if they try they believe things will not go there way. “poor me, there is nothing I can do and nothing works out for me.”

In order to live out this idea of themselves they NEED to be persecuted. Remember the people in the triangle are playing roles, they are acting. So they need other actors to continue their role and to create drama.

Both the persecutor and the rescuer confirm it’s role as the eternal victim.

Also an abuser will shift its role and play the victim to hide and take attention away from what he did. They use victim playing to dehumanize the victim and turn it into the victims fault. Playing the victim also gets them sympathy and empathy, which they use to get their own way.


The rescuer is the classic codependent. He learned in childhood that he can feel safe and sooth his anxiety by helping his parents.

It may sound altruistic but it is controlling behaviour. They need the victim to stay as a victim, so they can continue being the saviour. Codependency and control go hand in hand.

They are an enabler. As I stated earlier, they need the drama so they are not actually rescuing them.

Rescuers have high anxiety and mental health problems, they need the victim to soothe them, by allowing them to be the rescuer. By focusing on the victim, they are no longer focusing on themselves. They cannot deal with their own life so search for others to help so they can ignore the real issues they need to deal with.

Here’s an example of the rescuer role…

I briefly knew someone who soon after his mother had died found out she had two other children he knew nothing about. She ignored their attempts to connect with her.

When I met him, he would look at people with his sad, caring eyes as if they needed rescuing from something. I first saw him do it to a friend who was a happy well balanced guy, then he tried it with me.

One time we came out of a restaurant, there was man who was taking a snooze on the bench. He was well dressed and it was around 12 midnight. So it was obvious he was drunk but not in any danger as the area was safe with plenty of light and people. This guy woke him up and tried to rescue him. The man on the bench got annoyed, and told him to leave him alone.

It’s only when I find out about his mothers recent passing, that it all made sense. He had become the rescuer to avoid dealing with his own stuff. He saw victims everywhere.

Rescuer also has covert egoistical motives. He is getting narcissistic supply. The surface motive of “helping” is facade. They need you NOT to get better, so they can feel great about being a saviour. he will sabotage you and not let you grow up. The rescuer teaches you learned helplessness. He needs to be needed in a unhealthy way.


The persecutor his high in narcissism. Nothing is ever his fault, it’s always you. 

The persecutor is controlling, bullying and demanding. He will criticize without offering any solutions or constructive feedback.

A victim can shift it’s role and become the abuser , but will say it was an accident, “I had the right to act this way.”

The persecutor will also take on the victim role. They do this as justification to themselves first of all, and to justify their behaviour to others. “What else could I do?” or “They made me do it.”

How You Know You’re in Karpman Drama Triangle Codependency

See if you recognize yourself or the other in the above roles. Do you shift through the different roles?

If the answer is yes, then you can be pretty sure you are stuck in a drama triangle.

Remember, the roles play off each other and make the drama worse. It’s a compulsion to act in a particular role to gain power and have your needs met.

If there is not a natural give and take and a respect for others boundaries, this is another sign you are stuck in the Karpman drama triangle.

How to get Out of The Karpman Codependency Triangle

Exit the codependency triangle by learning what a healthy relationship looks like

To exit the triangle you must deprive the actors of the pay off. This starts with self awareness and going into the reason you play each role. Then get to the point where you can get the same things in a healthy way.

Developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence should be your goals. So you must actively seek out what a healthy relationships look like.

You may need to work with a therapist to dig deep enough to make a change. There is some great therapy like internal family systems that help you understand your mind.

Here are some general guidelines to exit the roles and the triangle…

Stop Being the Rescuer

Understand that by being the rescuer you are soothing your anxiety by taking attention away from yourself. Also acknowledge that you are getting ego benefits from rescuing people. You are getting attention, respect and a toxic version of love.

When you see your identity is not the rescuer role, you can still help people but in a way where they become empowered and not a victim.

Do work with a therapist to get to the root of why you think you must rescue people to feel love and reduce anxiety. Have a look at this article : letting go of codependency.

Stop Taking the Victim Position

You may have been victimized in the past, that does not make your identity a victim. See that you have chosen to play a role because it’s your way of controlling the other person and getting what you want.

This will be a challenge as long as you are getting the pay off from the rescuer and the persecutor. So you must see that you unconsciously go out to meet such people because they help you stay in your role.

Develop boundaries and start acting in an empowered way but without becoming the persecutor or a rescuer.

Step Being the Persecutor

If you do not have NPD then you can see that the reason you are persecuting people is a reaction to feeling like a helpless victim.

It gives you control and plays into the false idea that you are blameless and everything that happened to you or you did to others is not their fault.

Deal with the underlying causes of why you act like this.


Karpman drama triangle codependency makes everyone worse. All the roles are acting selfish and they are all fake.

People in the conflict triangle shift the roles to get what they want. The victim and the rescuer can be become the persecutor and the persecutor can become the victim or rescuer.

This happens organically, like there is a unwritten agreement to shift around to give each other what they want. Most of this is unconscious and learned in childhood. This is the only way the child got emotional or psychological sustenance.

To exit the triangle is to become aware of the roles you all play and then seek to stop playing them through therapy and understanding.

Move from dysfunctional relationships without boundaries to ones with healthy boundaries where people respects yours and you respect theirs.

See also peace of mind quotes to bring you serenity and How Introverts Recharge. Also you might like 12 Traits of a Narcissist and 7 Love Languages and Emotional Intelligence In Relationships