Karpman’s Triangle

Mar 10, 2012

At a teaching session last night I was unpacking the dense teaching of Pope John Paul II on the Theology of the Body.  I was fortunate to have an exceptionally open group to work with. They really were interested in the teaching of John Paul.  

I had to admit when I began the session that the first time I picked up some of John Paul’s theology I did not really understand it. Thanks to some very good teachers and some years to reflect, I can see that what Pope John Paul offers in the Theology of the Body is some of the most transforming and freeing teaching I have experienced.

Reading Pope Benedict is quite a different story. I could not believe the first time I read some of Cardinal Ratzinger (before he became pope), I not only understood what he was saying, but I was both encouraged and inspired.  

In the years since his election, Pope Benedict has become an even more effective communicator of the greatest truth’s of human life, in the most down-to-earth, simple language and metaphors.

Another difference between these two great popes:  Pope John Paul only ever quoted scripture and saints. Pope Benedict’s writings are full of references to other theologians, thinkers and writers. While some of these are inspiring Catholics, most of those he quotes have little connection with the Church, and a good number are secular (athiest even) thinkers and writers. 

I like this in Pope Benedict.  So if I ever become pope I hope to continue his tradition.

If I get elected in the next day or two (you will have your own views on the likelihood of this happening), I would probably quote the American psychiatrist Stephen Karpman.  He came up in a great conversation with a friend yesterday afternoon and has been on my mind since.

In his “Karpman triangle” he helps to clarify the problem that most of us have in our relationships.  In the clip below, this ‘drama triangle’ is applied to a work situation. But the same artificial roles of ‘persecutor’ ‘rescuer’ and ‘victim’ are at play in our families, parishes, schools, social networks… (anywhere people are together).

The teaching of Jesus is often seen as ‘unattainable moral guidance’. In fact Jesus was the most clear, simple and practical communicator of the life God has created us for.  

I suspect that if Jesus was presenting his Sermon on the Mount today, Stephen Karpman might get a mention.

What do you think?

follow up blog entry at: 


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Latest Posts

a week of feasting

a week of feasting

Abundant human life becomes possible only when lived in intimate relationship with God



Take a moment to imagine Jesus pointing you out in the crowd, calling you by name, and inviting you to follow.

feasting the cross

feasting the cross

The cross is not just a difficulty or an obstacle, but when carried through suffering to death, IS the pathway to life.



only by recognising one is loved do we at last enter into a truly mature, familial and free relationship with God.