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Karpman triangle or dramatic triangle in the couple

In communication, the Karpman triangle – also called dramatic triangle – is one of the manipulation games. A figure of transactional analysis proposed by Stephen Karpman in 1968, the Karpman triangle proposes a grid for reading human behaviors and the way they interact.

The Karpman triangle highlights a typical relational scenario between victim, persecutor and saviour. It is a psychological game between two people who are able to alternately play the three roles.



The Executioner can find himself Saviour then Victim

In the excellent book I have already talked about Overcoming emotional dependence” by Sylvie Tenenbaum, the author offers us a telling example that I will put here: (Karpman triangle or dramatic triangle in the couple)

The father: When you’re done with your homework, I’ll take you for a ride, okay? You must want to get some fresh air, right? (Savior)

The son: I would rather go see my friends, they are waiting for me outside…

Father: You don’t prefer to go out with me? We would both be fine, just a little tour … (Victim).


Mother: But let him go with his friends, you don’t see that you bother him? (Executioner).

Father: Don’t talk to me like that in front of him! I’m his father and I want to go around with my son, don’t get involved in that! (Executioner). And you, come on, we’re going to go between men to hit a few balls! Come with your old father, you will please me… (Victim).

Mother: And I, in there, what do I do? The kitchen, as usual! (Victim). (Karpman triangle or dramatic triangle in the couple)

Male-female reactions to a departure

She also explains that it is important to distinguish kindness from altruism from the Savior’s game.


Example of the Karpman triangle in the couple

The lover: “I’m calling you because you still haven’t called me today, so I wanted to hear from you…” (Victim)

The lover: “Ah sorry, I had a lot of work. I invite you to the restaurant tonight to make me forgive” (Savior)

The lover: “No but anyway I can never count on you, you only think of yourself, you are a real kid. You forget every day to call me “(The Victim becomes Executioner)

The lover: “Don’t talk to me like that finally, you know that I have a lot of work right now, it’s not easy for me” (The Savior becomes Victim).


In short, the psychological game can last a long time. Very long! (Karpman triangle or dramatic triangle in the couple)

The different roles of The Karpman Triangle

The Executioner: is the one who criticizes, attacks, is authoritarian, humiliates, feels superior.

The Savior: provides ineffective help, oppresses, suffocates.

The Victim: complains, feels pity. (The victim unconsciously goes looking for a Save or Persecutor to corroborate his beliefs about his inferiority)


The origins of psychological play

As is often the case in psychology, childhood plays a considerable role. His role will almost be attributed to him from an early age.

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For example, the child is a Victim since he depends on his parents. The latter will play in turn the role of the Executioner and then the Savior through compliments, comparisons, emotional blackmail, rewards, punishments…

Often, this is a pattern that is found from generation to generation: the Executioner himself had an Executioner parent.

We also find the victim parents! Those who seek help from their children, demanding hugs, tenderness constantly… These children will necessarily assume the role of Savior afterwards.


How is the Savior recognized in the Karpman Triangle? (Karpman triangle or dramatic triangle in the couple)

I invite you again to read “Overcoming emotional dependence” for an optimal explanation of the Karpman Triangle which is really analyzed in detail in Sylvie Tenenbaum’s book.

  • The Savior helps others even when they don’t feel like it.
  • He does not always know what he is doing, is not always the best person to solve the problem.
  • The Savior does not know how to refuse.
  • It solves (or not) the problem by doing something instead of the other. Other who could have done it himself.
  • It feels indispensable even when it is not.
  • If the Savior is not saving someone, he is unhappy.
  • He needs to believe that the other is incompetent even if it is not.
  • The Savior allows Himself to think or even to speak in the place of the other.
  • It does not take into account its needs and desires,only those of the other account.
  • A Savior is therefore an expert in the field of assistantship.

How do we recognize the Victim in the Karpman Triangle? (Karpman triangle or dramatic triangle in the couple)

  • The victim spends her life complaining: “it’s too hard” “I won’t make it” “I can’t” “I’m overwhelmed”…
  • The victim always blames others.
  • She lowers her arms at the first difficulty.
  • The Victim passively-aggressively demands, for example” When we need help, everyone comes to talk to me but when I go badly, no one is there. « 
  • It does not formulate its requests directly. For example: “It’s been a long time since you called me” rather than “I wish we called more often”. She is the queen of disguised reproaches!
  • It can become very aggressive.
  • When a Savior cannot save a Victim He suffers intensely and then becomes a Victim.
Doubting your feelings at the beginning of the relationship

How do we recognize the Executioner in Karpman’s Triangle?

  • Sylvie Tenenbaum explains that it is the Savior’s back and forth to the Victim that can make the Save more and more irascible and tyrannical, particularly fit for emotional blackmail.
  • The Executioner makes direct reproaches.
  • He criticizes, humiliates, belittles, harasses.
  • He is authoritarian, he forces the other to see things in his own way.
  • Unlike the Savior, He is not at all in the seduction to help and please, He imposes His vision.
  • He can get angry, become very aggressive.
  • The Executioner makes the morale to the other.
  • It devalues, it is hard and sharp.

Understand your psychological game to save your couple

In the book “Overcoming Emotional Dependence” you will find what happens when a Victim is in a relationship with a Victim. When an Executioner is in a relationship with an Executioner. When a Savior is in a relationship with a Savior… And it’s very interesting! (Karpman triangle or dramatic triangle in the couple)

I will, you speak from my personal experience. Discovering our psychological game in our couple has, I sincerely believe, saved it.

Indeed, for years, I behaved like a Victim (Savior-Victim, I went from one to the other all the time). My friend had become Executioner (Saviour-Executioner). But we were above all me, Victim, him Executioner.

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So, I spent my time complaining, saying that he didn’t love me enough, that he didn’t pay me enough attention… And, suddenly, the more I asked him, the more I demanded, the more he became “nasty” and moralizing.


One day, an outsider made us aware of our psychological game. We did an exercise for a week: I did not have the right to complain once or to claim. He had to show me 7 signs of affection a day of himself.

Very very quickly, after just four days, I noticed that indeed, the less I claimed, the more he demonstrated. And for his part, the less I demanded, the more he wanted to say words of love to me. (Karpman triangle or dramatic triangle in the couple)

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