In this article, I will go further into narcissistic triangulation, which is one of the favorite manipulation tactics of a narcissist. It’s disturbing and unhealthy behaviour when someone uses triangulation and therefore it’s useful to learn about it in order to recognize it.
Triangulation is a manipulation strategy in which one person doesn’t communicate directly with another person, but rather uses a third person for communication to the second person, thereby forming a triangle. For victims, it could become a negative vicious circle of being involved in gossiping, comparing, and feeling envious.
It can result in becoming isolated from your support system and as a result more dependent on the narcissist. In my in-depth article about triangulation, I explain triangulation, why narcissists do it, the effect it can have on the victim, and how to possibly deal with it. Due to the length of that article, I decided to go deeper into a few examples and the dynamics of triangulation in this article.
Triangulation can be done in many different ways and it can vary from being very subtle to letting others blatantly smear you. As there are many examples I will first share 6 examples of narcissistic triangulation and then go deeper into some of the dynamics of, for example, the most subtle triangulation and the most brutal form in order to illustrate how it could work.
6 examples of narcissistic triangulation
Below, I will go into 6 examples of narcissistic triangulation.
1. Love triangle
A common form of triangulation is the narcissist creating a love triangle. This means they will bring in another lover or ex and they try to create a situation in which you compete against this other person for the narcissist’s attention and love. A narcissist loves drama, emotional responses, and attention.
This triangulation could be done in the form of a narcissist sharing that a mutual friend, family member, or co-worker has been flirting with them. The narcissist wants to create jealousy and insecurity in their partner and similarly show they are ‘popular’. It warns their partner that they can easily be replaced with someone else. This can result in the partner becoming mad, emotional, and/or trying harder to please the narcissist, which will all be narcissistic supply for the narcissist.
It thus creates an unhealthy dynamic in which the narcissist is more dominant and in control. This dynamic is that the narcissist will only take whereas their partner will only give (in an imbalanced way). You can read more about this dynamic in my article about the toxic relationship between an empath and a narcissist.
A narcissist can accuse you of being jealous and overreacting. It can be a tactic to make it appear you’re too sensitive and to devalue/discard your feelings. Some narcissists will specifically flirt in front of you to make you uncomfortable. The more uncomfortable and emotional you become, the more value the third-party has to them.
Clearly, a healthy person wouldn’t want you to become jealous or insecure but rather wants you to develop as a person and become more confident. A healthy person doesn’t enjoy making you uncomfortable by sharing such information but would rather feel uncomfortable themselves if someone flirts with them. They would try not to participate and actually keep some distance from those flirting.
2. Gaslighting triangle (gaslighting by proxy)
The gaslighting triangle revolves around a narcissist seeking validation for their truth. They seek support for their truth to create more pressure on their victims. The narcissist uses flying monkeys to support their story and it can create a feeling that everybody agrees with the narcissist. It’s a way to create emotional pressure so they will have their way. Clearly, it’s not healthy behaviour to use other people to solve problems or disagreements in a relationship.
Using gaslighting by proxy to seek/recruit support for your arguments or truth is using force and power to ‘win’ against the other person. Therefore, it’s unhealthy and manipulative.
A very negative form of the above is the smear campaign in which the narcissist seeks support for their smearing. A positive form could be the narcissist being very kind and idealizing you towards others (and thus boosting your ego). In the latter case, they try to make you dependent on them because you want the narcissist on your side. You might be afraid of losing their idealization of you towards others.
Another example of seeking support is that a narcissist can use triangulation and gaslighting to set up for a break-up or discard. They might work towards it for months so the victim will eventually look crazy/unstable and they will look like great persons that tried very hard to make things work. A narcissist could use all these stories towards their new relationship/love and even use them to bully you. Gaslighting is a very disturbing and brutal method of manipulation in order to make you doubt your reality and can create a lot of anxiety. You can read more about gaslighting in my in-depth article about gaslighting by a narcissist.
Creating an unsafe environment
An example of creating support/followers is a narcissistic culture in the workplace created by a narcissistic boss. A narcissistic culture is one with an unsafe environment with a lot of comparing, gossip, fighting for promotions, praising the boss, etc. It can create a very competitive work environment with a lot of manipulation and games being played.
If someone leaves the company or has a different view on things, they will be smeared. Resistance from the culture itself isn’t allowed. It creates fear to leave the company and to survive it seems necessary to play along with it. Some employees will build their identity around working at this place and the status attached to it. You can read more about this dynamic in my article about having a narcissistic boss.
The same dynamic of the workplace could hold for having a dominant narcissistic person in the family that creates a culture of followers. It forces persons to play along with it or to be smeared/scapegoated. A dominant narcissist can create a very unhealthy and unsafe environment within families.
3. Triangle of comparison
A common method used by narcissists is to idealize someone else in order to devalue you. It’s a way of showing conditional love, praise, and/or validation to others and discarding the feelings and importance of their partner. They tend to have special friends that seem to be perfect. A narcissist will tell you about them and why these people are so great in order to show you indirectly how you should behave or why you’re not worthy.
A narcissist could use people with status and choose to take sides with them. They can even do this from a less dominant position. It’s like a childish way to agree with someone else against the victim. This other person is idealized, the narcissist kisses their ass and tries to ‘team-up’ with this person with status against the victim. This could be a ‘successful’ person and the narcissist will believe they have a lot of similarities. It’s a way of trying to increase their own status.
In essence, by using comparisons, the narcissist is showing you the conditions in order to gain their conditional love. Sadly, these conditions change because of their unending needs. This means you will never be able to satisfy them in the long run.
Examples of phrases of comparing could be:
- Why can’t you be more like Paul?
- Everyone agrees you’re way too sensitive.
- My friend Sarah is a mother, has great work, and never complains about being too busy.
- The whole family says you’re wrong about this.
- You should know Lisa is talking shit and complaining about you all week, and I’ve been trying to defend you.
- Your sister is very attractive, I didn’t know she was so beautiful.
- You don’t want to become the same as your mother.
- The sex was much better with my ex than with you.
- My friend’s husband has a great job and earns way more than you.
- I love my mother, she is the best person I know. I wish you could be more like her.
Even though (some of) these comments might seem small, it’s all very unhealthy and manipulative. If this is done regularly and deliberately it’s abusive. It’s all about comparing you to others in order to make you feel insecure or guilty. You can read more about the narcissistic abuse cycle of idealizing, devaluing, and discarding in this article.
4. Using a new relationship to abuse or smear you (after discard)
A narcissist could use their newly found ‘love’ or relationship and make them disturb/smear you. This new relationship could be manipulated into bothering you in all kinds of ways. This could be a form of stalking, such as texting, yelling, raging, and so forth. The narcissist could share everything they know about you and use it.
It’s thus a very immature game that will only drain your energy if you play along.
5. Creating a distance or driving a wedge
A common example is where a narcissist tries to create a distance between you and someone close to you, such as a friend or a family member. They will complain to you about someone else or try to create doubts about the kindness or loyalty of this person. It’s like they try to put evil thoughts in your head. Additionally, they can ask questions in such a way you will think it’s your own opinion. You might not even notice their manipulation.
When they do the above, they could similarly complain to this person about you. It will create a distance between these two manipulated people. It can result in driving a wedge between victims in a way both victims don’t approach each other to solve it.
A method of triangulation is thus creating a distance between two persons. A reason to do this could be to eliminate possible threats. The narcissist feels who is under their influence and those that are not. If someone is clearly not impressed by them or not under their control, they will try to create distance between these persons and their victim. They simply are a threat to them.
It can also be used to control information shared between these persons. It gives them the power to be the person in control as everyone is communicating through the narcissist. They use it to create their truth and find support for it. They love to portray themselves as the victim if someone questions their role.
Realize that emotionally healthy persons will take a distance from drama created by splitting instead of emphasizing it. Normal people don’t enjoy being put in the middle of an argument between other persons. Narcissists love to share dirt and stir up the drama. It’s important to learn to recognize whether someone seems to be involved in creating drama.
6. Negative interpretation and complaining
A simple example to explain the dynamic is that of having a family member that is narcissistic that complains to others about you never calling them. At the same time, they never call you themselves.
This is what happens: If you call, you will get a negative manipulative reaction such as ‘oh you finally decided to call me, you don’t call me a lot even though we are family’. The victim is then supposed to feel guilty. If the victim points out they never call as well, they will likely go into a form of rage or being very offended. There is mostly no proportion to this reaction.
The narcissist will share all this with any support they can find and others might, for example, suggest the victim should call more often. That support is supposed to prove that the victim should feel guilty and apologize or change behaviour. Again, this is thus about a form of control and devaluing behaviour towards the victim.
It shows it’s all about dramatic or negative interpretation of what happens and not taking any responsibility for themselves. It’s very simple to always make others responsible and not take any blame. It’s also very immature.
3 examples of unhealthy dynamics because of triangulation
Below, I will go into 3 examples of unhealthy dynamics because of triangulation.
1. Subtle triangulation: the connection between two sisters
Let me try to explain how subtle triangulation can happen. Suppose a narcissist is in a relationship with Emma, and Emma has a sister called Monica. During the relationship, the narcissist will constantly ask questions about their bond as sisters to Emma.
This can play out as:
– ‘Did your sister call you this week? I love your great connection and that she cares about you so much. I would expect her to call you, especially because you had this important job interview this week. She knows this interview was important to you. I guess it means nothing if she didn’t. You have a good relationship right?’
– ‘Would your sister contact you if something is wrong? It seems like something might be wrong or not going well with her. Maybe there is something she doesn’t want to share with you because it’s about you. I guess we will never know. When did you guys talk for the last time?’
Once Emma starts to have any doubts or negative thoughts about Monica the narcissist will constantly try to emphasize this by asking questions and not leaving the subject. As the attention is on Monica, it will be hard for Emma to notice her partner is not helping.
In a normal healthy relationship, the partner might say her negative thoughts are nonsense and there is no reason to doubt their connection as sisters. It can be hard to notice that your partner is emphasizing your fears and negative thoughts about someone and is thereby only making things worse.
Instead of going into healthy communication with her sister Emma’s mind will create more doubts and Emma could decide to take a distance from Monica and explain everything she does in a negative way.
Simply put, we can observe two possible underlying truths for Emma:
– As long as the underlying truth is ‘I trust in our connection as sisters’ Emma will explain the actions of Monica as positive and there will be no reason to doubt her.
– When the underlying truth slowly shifts to ‘I doubt our connection as sisters’ Emma will explain the actions of Monica as proof that her doubts are justified.
The mind will explain the actions of Monica aligned with the underlying truth of Emma. It’s how the mind works. A narcissist tries to create a different (negative) underlying truth by causing or emphasizing negative thoughts and feelings within you. If this succeeds, your mind will do the rest. It thus can be a very subtle form of manipulation.
2. Example of brutal triangulation: the smear campaign
A very brutal form of triangulation is the smear campaign. It’s one of the many tools a narcissist has in order to try to manipulate, control, and/or devalue you. The narcissist will portray you in an untruthful manner, which could be as being crazy, an addict, unstable, bipolar, a gold digger, cheater, alcoholic, insane, and so forth. To do this they will create numerous lies, exaggerations, suspicions, half-truths, and false allegations about you and your behaviour. Additionally, they try to mirror the situation and play the victim themselves.
Experiencing a smear campaign can drain your energy and create a lot of anxiety, frustration, and anger. It’s a very tough spot to be in. This person you once loved is now brutally attacking you with all kinds of (public) blaming, lies, and false allegations. The smearing is very personal as it’s directly aimed at you, your life, your identity, and your environment. Narcissists will (ab)use your strengths and vulnerabilities to customize the smear campaign to be as painful as possible.
A narcissist can frame a normal response of someone as being abnormal. They could use disturbing behaviour to try to make someone mad and then frame them as having a temper or no control over their emotions. Even though this person could have legitimate reasons to be angry, it will be used to play the victim and frame this person.
Being a victim of a smear campaign, it would be natural to be mad, emotional, and frustrated. The narcissist will use this behaviour to frame the smeared person as being crazy or unstable. The normal behaviour in response to the smearing will then possibly be misinterpreted by others because of the narcissists’s manipulation.
The last stage of the narcissistic abuse cycle is the discard stage. Before their discard or end of the relationship, they will find support from others and do their smearing. They try to recruit flying monkeys to leave the blame with you and maintain their ‘great’ appearance. After the discard, they will publicly brag and share how happy they are with their newfound love. Any emotional response from their discarded victims results in fulfilling their need for narcissistic supply.
It thus all portrays the victims as the abuser, crazy, or unstable one and the narcissist plays the victim. It’s a form of gaslighting of third-parties in order to get their attention or sympathy. It can be seen as gaslighting by proxy. You can read more about the above in my in-depth article about the smear campaign and in my article explaining the narcissistic abuse cycle.
3. Golden child and scapegoat dynamic
An example of a dynamic of triangulation could be how a narcissistic parent treats one child as the golden child, whereas the other is always the scapegoat. This well-known golden child-scapegoat dynamic is very dysfunctional. It’s a form of showing conditional love to one child, thereby indirectly communicating the scapegoat child is not worthy of love. It’s devaluing one child by idealizing another.
This black and white behaviour, in this example projected upon the narcissist’s children, is a clear sign of narcissism. A narcissist will idealize those that are under their control and use it to show how great they can be when you’re ‘worthy’ of their love and attention. It’s a twisted game of showing conditional love to some in order to torture/hurt others.
You can read more about this dynamic in my article about signs of a narcissistic sibling, the effect they have, and how to deal with it.
Triangulation is a game of truth
The dynamic of triangulation seems to be simply a game of truth and you don’t want to be part of it. This game of truth makes it important to be aware of what’s going on in your environment.
It’s important to notice if a person seems to enjoy telling you dirt or negative information about others. Sometimes a victim doesn’t recognize this because the comment triggers them. Try to become aware of whether someone brings you more harmony or negative energy when you interact with them.
Is there someone that is trying to limit direct communication with others and rather informs you themselves? Try to become aware of this and why this would be. Why would a person want to be in the middle instead of simply referring you to the person it’s about?
Remember that how someone speaks tells you something about their perception of others. It will reveal much about their personality.
I hope this article can be useful to you. You can read more about triangulation and how to deal with it in my in-depth article about triangulation.
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