I'm wondering sometimes why people want to help someone. What are the real motives of it? The Karpman drama triangle says that 3 types of people exist and one of these types is rescuer and as I understand real motives of this type isn't really help to someone, but feed your own ego. Is all that humans do is really spin on feeding ego, or am I wrong?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Psychology.SE. Feel free to read through our site tour. You seem to have some understanding of Karpman's Drama Triangle, but you may have the wrong idea behind it. I will provide more of an answer later today covering this, but as for the crux of your question, "What are the real motives?", that is subject to opinion and the answers can be vast as there can be different motives from person to person. $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2022 at 11:33

1 Answer 1



While I have provided a full answer explaining Karpman's Drama Triangle, you can skip that and go to the last heading (Your question).

Basis of my answer

If you are approaching this question as a therapist, you will be dealing with elements of Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis. And, depending on the therapeutic approach you provide, you may be drawing upon, for example, either

  • Sigmund Freud's theory of ego-defence mechanisms or
  • one concept within the key principle of Frederick (Fritz) Perls' Gestalt therapy, which is the formation and destruction cycle and the contact boundary disturbances which arise from it. This has similarities with Freud's ego-defence mechanisms. (See another answer of mine for information on the formation and destruction cycle).

Bear in mind though that, while I am a defender of Freudian and Neo-Freudian theories, some of the theories covered are considered by some here to be pseudoscientific.

Transactional Analysis (TA)

In TA, the concept is that interactions – transactions – between different people in a given situation when communicating with each other, can be different and changing; and using TA you can analyse these transactions to give you an insight into what is happening. The philosophy behind TA is that

  1. People are ‘OK’ – We may not like or agree with other’s behaviour, but we can accept them as worthy individuals.
  2. People can think for themselves and it is their responsibility to do so.
  3. People make decisions that decide their destiny, and these decisions can change.

Berne (1966) said:

I think most other therapies . . . talk about thinking and feeling. Our question to the patient is not what do you think or how do you feel, but what are you going to do about it?

Karpman's Drama Triangle

This triangle, developed by Stephen Karpman (1968), is actually to do with co-dependency, which can be formed by well intentioned laypeople and trained therapists who are not bearing in mind some of the pitfalls that can come from therapy work.

If you think upon what Dr Eric Berne said, as quoted above, ethical therapy is about helping people to work out for themselves, what they are going to do, to help themselves through their issues. Neither the person going through therapy, or the therapist, should become dependent on the other person.

Visualising the triangle is a way used to analyse the "games" people sometimes play, hence the title of the video referenced, and Eric Berne's book The Games People Play (1964). Two people cannot hold the same position at once.

Stephen Karpman's Drama Triangle
My representation of the triangle from Karpman (1968) PDF

One example of the use of the Drama Triangle is when the victim (through contact boundary disturbances such as deflection or projection) starts persecuting the rescuer, the victim has shifted to persecutor and so the rescuer then becomes the victim.

Reviewing the concept, David Emerald (2016) suggests that the Drama Triangle is problematic, calling it the DDT (Dreaded Drama Triangle), whereby “fixing and saving others, a rescuer believes others will appreciate and value them for their good deeds” and this can lead to problems, because

  • the rescuer has a feeling of powerlessness once the problem has been solved, and then goes looking for more victims to save; plus
  • if they don’t get the appreciation they feel they deserve, they can then go into victim mode.

David Emerald provides an alternative triangle which he called the TED (The Empowerment Dynamic) Triangle. This overpowers the DDT.

The TED triangle

Changing Karpman's triangle, in the TED triangle, the victim is a Creator (taking responsibility and focusing on what they want to create). There is a Challenger (opposite of persecutor – provoking learning and growth with benevolent intent) and there is the Coach who is supporting the creator in their efforts by asking powerful questions (Emerald, 2017).

Learning to transform everyday drama and opt for more growth-oriented solutions, is the priceless gift TED teaches.

The Empowerment Dynamic accelerates your ability to self-observe and notice your inner conversation. By waking up to your ways of thinking and relating to yourself and others, you have a greater chance to choose a more positive response to life’s challenges and to create an empowered life.

Your question

So, what are the real motives of people helping to each other?

Motives can vary from person to person, and so the answer would be subject to opinion. Your assumption that the motivation of a rescuer type isn't really to help someone, but feed your own ego, can be flawed. A rescuer can genuinely want to help a friend or work colleague to deal with a particular difficult situation (pure altruism — selfless concern for the well-being of others). It is just that Stephen Karpman suggests that while the rescuer is looking to help, they ought to ask themselves:

  • Am I doing this for the right reasons?
  • Am I seeking any recognition for providing the help?
  • What happens once they have overcome their issues? Will I feel the need to help someone else?


Berne, E. (1964). Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. London: Penguin Books Ltd..

Berne, E. (1966). Games People Play – The Theory Video. https://www.ericberne.com/videos/

Emerald, D. (2016). Power of TED: The Empowerment Dynamic – 10th Anniversary Edition. Bainbridge Island, WA: Polaris Publishing Group.

Emerald, D. (2017). The Power of TED. https://www.theempowermentdynamic.com/

Karpman, S. (1968). Fairy tales and script drama analysis. Transactional analysis bulletin, 7(26), 39-43. Free PDF: https://www.karpmandramatriangle.com/pdf/DramaTriangle.pdf


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