The drama triangle - understanding how conflicts work

Relationships & Family

The drama triangle - understanding how conflicts work

The drama triangle consists of victim, perpetrator and rescuer and is probably one of the oldest "games" ever. In this article you will learn how it works, which roles are played and how you can change your role.

Bettina Pörtig, October 19, 2022

The drama triangle was first described by transactional analyst Stephen Karpman in 1968. It is used to analyze and better understand a particular pattern of behavior, especially in communication. I like the model so much because it is just incredibly common and describes the roles so accurately. It is also easy to understand and thus offers everyone who wants to the opportunity to recognize their role in a conflict and then also actively change it. Nevertheless, many people do not know it. I hope to change this a little with this article.

The drama triangle consists of three roles, as the name suggests. It is called roles because, theoretically, any person involved can take any role of the triangle. However, my experience is that, because of their patterns, a person will take the same role over and over again until they understand why it keeps "happening" to them, the pattern could be resolved, and the behavior changed.

  • Rescuer: The rescuers help the victims. They step in, think for others, comfort and do whatever they think is necessary to solve the problems of others. However, they usually do this without even being asked. Often they do not receive gratitude for this, but rather the rejection of the victim and thus become a victim themselves and the victim becomes the perpetrator. Or they turn against the original perpetrator and become the perpetrator themselves. In both cases, they place themselves above the other two roles. In the first case, because they believe the victim to be incapable of solving the problems themselves. In the second case, because they believe themselves to be more moral than the perpetrator. In both cases, they continue to feed the drama triangle. Colloquially, this phenomenon is also called helper syndrome.

Theme: Self-righteousness

  • Perpetrator / Persecutor: The role of the perpetrator is not so dissimilar to that of the rescuer. They also place themselves above the victim, but with a different basic attitude. Where the rescuer wants to "help", the perpetrator simply always knows better. They know exactly what is right and think strongly in black and white categories. They also mean well by the way, the others are just too stupid to get it...:). They change roles in the drama triangle and become victims when rescuer and victim team up against them. However, unlike a classic victim who retreats, submits, and takes the blame, they react to this dynamic rather aggressively. "All idiots" is a statement that might come from them in such a case.

Theme: Criticism and accusation

  • Victim: The victim subordinates herself. Both to the perpetrator and to the rescuer. It is a childlike role, putting everyone else above themselves and not trusting themselves to do anything. Especially not to take responsibility for himself and to solve his own problems. In terms of the drama triangle, victim does not mean someone who is really in danger. It is a role that is often (unconsciously) used manipulatively. This is because every victim needs a perpetrator or a scapegoat for missed opportunities, injustices, and more. By allying with a rescuer, rescuer and victim quickly become the perpetrator and the perpetrator becomes the victim.
  • Theme: Rejection and helplessness


One might ask why the same game is played over and over again and why we always find ourselves in this drama triangle. The reason is that every behavior is learned and trained for a long time. Furthermore, every behavior has a so-called "positive intention". The positive intention of each position in the triangle is: to get a lot of attention in the form of negative attention. This may sound a bit strange. After all, when asked, everyone would rather have positive attention. However, many have already learned as children that negative behavior brings them more attention than positive. Be it by whining and complaining about others, suppressing others or helping everyone without being asked, with the expectation of receiving gratitude.


To break out of this vicious circle, it is important to first recognize and, above all, acknowledge one's own role in dramas and conflicts.

  • Do you feel rejected, helpless and somehow at the mercy of the situation? Then you are in the position of the victim. Acknowledge that you are hurt and ask yourself where this feeling comes from. It won't be the first time you've felt helpless in your life. To break the pattern, you need to know where it's coming from. Seek help from a professional (coach, therapist) if necessary, but most importantly, ask specifically for help and support in your current situations. You have to get out of the passive victim position into an active solution finder position and if you need help, then ask for it instead of complaining.
  • Do you feel you know better than others and feel the need to educate them about it and teach them or take their "burden" off them and solve the problem? Then you are either in the position of the rescuer or the offender. No one asked you for help or for your opinion? Then you have not been given a mission to "save" or teach anyone and you should not do so. Practice staying with yourself, giving constructive feedback when requested, or supporting rather than detracting. And for both of these positions, this is also a pattern. Try to figure out why you don't trust others to help themselves or make their own decisions. Here, too, a coach or therapist can support you.

Bild: https://www.froschkoenige.ch/blog/das-dramadreieck

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The drama triangle - understanding how conflicts work
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