Karpman drama triangle is a model of human interaction from the 1960s. It's based on two core assumptions: First, we have a tendency to choose certain recurrent roles in moments of conflict. Second, these roles are nonhelpful and often destructive.

Every drama triangle starts with a victim or a persecutor. Victims are oppressed by their persecutors. They are at the effect of others and/or their circumstances. Persecutors are the villains. They are authoritative and controlling. They blame others for screwing things up.

The third actor in a drama triangle is the rescuer who comes to the victim's aid in order to make themselves look good or to avoid dealing with their own problems. The rescuer validates the victim's feelings of persecution and provides momentary relief.

You can probably see examples of the drama triangle in your everyday life. There are victims, persecutors, and rescuers in your family, in the stories your friends share with you, and at your workplace. On certain occasions, you yourself have taken the role of a victim, a rescuer, or perhaps even a persecutor.

Since anxiety and tension are part of our lives, so is drama and conflict. However, as individuals we have a choice to stop and think as opposed to react and automatically fall into our destructive roles:

  • As a victim, ask yourself what do you want instead of what you don't want. Focus on outcomes instead of problems.
  • As a persecutor, ask yourself what are your true intentions when challenging someone. Do you want to support the learning and growth of others or do you want to point out your brilliance?
  • As a rescuer, choose the role of a coach over the role of a hero. As a coach, you assume that other people are capable of solving their own problems. Coaches ask questions that help people understand what they want, what are the current realities, and how can they take steps toward their goals.

David Emerald teaches people how to turn the drama triangle upside down and opt into more constructive roles. You can find his book The Power of TED here.