Remember that you are not a damsel in distress, waiting for some prince to rescue you. Forget that prince. With your brain and your resourcefulness, you can rescue yourself.

Brad Meltzer (*1970)
American Novelist

The Karpman Drama Triangle, first described by Stephen Karpman, is used in psychology and psychotherapy. Nonetheless, it’s useful to be aware of it for moderation of group processes.

Three Roles

There are three habitual psychological roles, which people often adopt in a situation — including and perhaps even more in workshops as these are times of intensive human interactions. The Karpman Drama Triangle examines their dynamics.

  • A person who accepts the role of or is treated as a victim.
  • A person who persecutes the victim by pressure or coercion.
  • A person who intervenes and rescues the victim out of an ostensible wish to help.

But be aware: the Victim is not really as helpless as he feels, the Rescuer is not really helping, and the Persecutor does not really have a valid complaint.

What usually happens is the following: two players move around the triangle, switching roles. Thus, for example the Victim turns on the Rescuer (as he feels hurt and wants revenge) or the Rescuer switches to persecuting or becomes the Victim himself (initially trying to fix the situation, but now feels helpless).

All of them act out of selfish needs, and not — as one might assume — for responsible or altruistic reasons. It’s about getting their unspoken (unconscious) wish met, to feel justified without being aware that they are harming. Interestingly, this might happen also with only one person who takes all three roles in an inner dialogue.


This drama will disturb your workshop. In order to end it a moderator has to intervene. In minor cases, you could just leave it at that. Perhaps you could talk to the participants during the break.

In more disturbing cases, this “game” might effect the overall atmosphere in a negative way. If that is the case, then you should stop the current topic and discuss the situation with the group (meta-communication [see Communication)]. Explain what happened and highlight the roles of the different individuals. The best outcome would be that the persecutor repents and apologises while the victims forgive. Both the victim and persecutor should thank the rescuer.

On the other hand, the Drama Triangle can be played as game for experiencing our different roles in life. Nonetheless, I would recommend leaving this kind of moderation to experts, i.e. psychologists.

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