The Karpman Triangle

The Karpman Triangle


One of the most helpful concepts I learned during early recovery was the Karpman Triangle. Stephen Karpman first published this concept in 1968 to label the negative roles that people fall into during times of conflict. These roles, and the behaviors that describe them, are usually subconscious – in other words, ourselves and our loved ones often fall into one of these roles without even recognizing it. 


The following description is my personal take on the roles and how addicts/alcoholics often use these roles to justify staying in their addiction. The three roles are: Persecutor (dominator); Rescuer (martyr); and Victim (helpless).



As you can see, these roles are merely games we play to justify our bad behavior. Eric Berne, the psychiatrist who mentored Stephen Karpman, actually called this a game of sorts in what he termed the “Analysis of Social Transactions.” There is plenty more on this subject online if you’re interested. 


But the key focus for future residents at Lakewood Recovery is this: how do I use the tactics displayed by the Karpman triangle to justify my behavior? 


·     Do I dominate people, make them feel inferior, and blame them for my actions? Do I rage, let anger take over, and then claim to “need” the “calming” effects of my drug-of-choice?

·     Do I act as the martyr to manipulate people into giving me attention? Do I expect too much out of people based on what I “sacrifice” for them; and when I don’t get what I want in return, do I use that as a reason to drunk/use?

·     Do I behave as a victim so that people will pity me? Do I make my situation seem so hopeless that the only thing to do is use my drug-of-choice to numb-out? 


This is a helpful tool to you and/or your loved one in identifying the destructive thinking that precedes getting help.


By: Dana M.