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Understanding narcissism and co-dependency with IMAGO and The Karpman Triangle

Understanding narcissism and co-dependency with IMAGO and The Karpman Triangle

By: David Jackman


Transactional analysis suggests that the human dynamic as a social creature is predicated on spending as much time as possible recovering to the position of victim.

That this is at the base if you will of an inverted triangle where in all other inter-relational dynamics you are if not the victim either the rescuer or the persecutor.

The Karpman triangle as it is also known, or the drama triangle, has the added interesting thought that drama is different from other types of conflict because it has as an added side bar to usual conflict being ‘entertainment’ value.


TA has been around for thirty or forty years now, and during a similar timescale there was also the emergence in relational dynamics of Harville Hendrix and his ideas that he called IMAGO.

Hendrix, borrowing from Freud suggests that


1. Our core character traits are derivations of strategies learned in infancy to cope with an impossibly imperfect external world.

2. Strategies that were successful when we were two feet tall and lived in a world of impossibly powerful god- like giants (parents and carers).

3. Hendrix then added (though in more convoluted manner) that these core traits are retained by the core mammalian brain as precursors to the amygdala fight or flight reactions, they become our daily defense mechanisms

4. That as we grow into adulthood we seek partners that offer sufficient representations of the god’s that forced us to adopt those strategies in order that we may seek redemption and so grow

5. That any relationship of significance is based on two people of similar ‘level’.

6.The two parties will be ‘roughly’ as smart as one another, roughly as f^75ed up as one another, need roughly as much work below the tip of the ice berg as one another, and so on


In recent years with the growth, at least in visible terms, of narcissism and co-dependency Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self Love and regular You Tuber has suggested that twenty years of diagnosing Narcissism, and by association co-dependency, have got it wrong.


That in fact this is an arrested development, PTSD situation.


So let me try and put all these three concepts together and add for flavor entertainment value (mentioned above), and the simple enough concept that humans are binary before we are tribal, familial, isolationist etc. (explained and amplified in a separate essay)


So you grow up carrying a bunch of defense mechanisms/strategies that used to work for you when you were four (eight) (twelve), the value and impact of each strategy lessens as you grow but will still be significant if the nature of attack is significant.


You are designed to pair off and so you seek someone with the traits that got you into this mess.


Though (and mindful of diversity) this new partner will be an amalgam of the ‘attackers’ of your infancy or youth.


Now if you each see how messed up the other one is you will likely run a mile…..


Damn I don’t need another dose of that it nearly killed me last time!


So your ‘attraction’ reactions create a form of temporary blindness during which you two create a community of two.


This is often called the honeymoon period and can last from an hour to a couple of years

Because your ‘intuitive’ brain knows what it is doing, and even who it is picking, for a period of time you will emulate all the traits your intuition recognizes will best ‘feed’ your partner.


As time passes though the core need to return to the base of the triangle and become a victim once more will oppress you.


You will start to find fault with your partners behavior, which is strange, because despite the merry dance you did know all along it was ‘too good to be true’.


You revert to type. You revert to the mechanisms that profited you in infancy


Co- dependents seek out narcissists because that is what they are used to, and these seem most attractive to them simply because the body and its chemical/ psycho biological functions are designed to settle around the person who most allows them to become a victim again of the trauma they experienced as a child.


There may be some conjecture that another part of the psyche is seeking this placement in order to demonstrate to self that this time round the individual can survive the experience intact.


Thus achieved the individual can then hang up their co-dependent boots and enjoy what remains of the journey free of the psychological yoke.


The narcissist seeks out co-dependent ‘golden’ partners who will allow that sense of ‘entitlement’ to represent themselves (to themselves) as victim of a forever weakening supply.


Narcissist’s represent themselves as victims to their own psyche all of the time anyway.

What if applying the same cognitive pathway the narcissist simply wants to press or at the least anticipate the inevitability of the co-dependent abandoning them.

To a point where they themselves become re-traumatized by that other’s finally successful rejection.

A rejection in a manner matching the original trauma of their childhood, but from which they may now survive, and in recognizing that survival allow them too to hang up their narc boots


The challenge seems to be the same at both ends of the spectrum, and we will all sit somewhere along that spectrum


If seeking always to be the victim is a human condition.


If narcissism and co-dependency are PTSD responses to childhood and exist along a spectrum for all adults


If we are all psycho-biologically designed to seek out a binary connection from within which to continue the pathway to whole growth


It is the writer’s belief that in Transactional Analysis one thing at least is wrong.

Only a victim can seek redemption from the trauma that put them there.

So the point of the triangle is at the peak and not the base


The entertainment value is the colour that keeps each of us playing the same game over and over


The writer also believes Harville Hendrix had it wrong in one critical area.

He suggested that by mollifying and ameliorating consciously those qualities in each of us that were most difficult for our partners to absorb that we would grow and demonstrate that growth and they would follow

The writer though noting Mr Vaknin’s cold therapy questions whether in fact this too needs to be flipped?


In closing if you think of this as a supporting process to the biology of seeking partners, and making babies for the furthering of the species.

It makes sense that nature would add in a ‘finishing’ school, and an improvement programme as part of survival and evolution of the race

That this would be available to the binary-anatomy in a way not accessible to the mono-anatomy version

David Jackman 19th May 2019



Encyclopedia of Narcissism and Psychopathy

Buy 16 books and video lectures on 3 DVDs about narcissists, psychopaths, and abusive relationships
Jun/26/2019, 5:04 pm Link to this post  

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