Triangulation is one of the many manipulation tactics a narcissist has and sadly, they love to use it. It’s 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.
Triangulation exists in many forms and has similarities to more common (unhealthy) behaviour such as gossiping, comparing to others, and bad-mouthing others. It’s also called triangulation when there is a form of splitting in which the narcissist manipulates a relationship between two parties by controlling communicating between them.
Triangulation is disturbing behaviour and results in negative energy and chaos instead of harmony in an environment. It can be hard to recognize this behaviour as a narcissist can be very subtle in how they use triangulation or a victim could be very involved in the ‘triangulation game’. Therefore, it’s helpful to learn about it and how this form of manipulative behaviour can play out.
Sometimes a victim doesn’t notice their mind is negatively impacted and that they have become more involved in negative energy. It could become a negative vicious circle of gossiping, comparing, and feeling envious. This can result in being isolated from your support system and as a result becoming more dependent on the narcissist.
In this article, I focus on explaining narcissistic triangulation and I will go into what happens with your energy and self-worth as a result of triangulation and how to possibly deal with it. In general, I aim to focus on the manipulative/narcissistic behaviour a person shows instead of trying to put the label narcissist on someone. Anyone can show unhealthy/toxic behaviour and it’s important to focus on the behaviour and becoming aware of people manipulating you.
I hope this article is helpful to you.
Being aware of manipulative behaviour
Becoming aware of manipulative behaviour is important in order to be able to consciously choose how to deal with this manipulative/narcissistic behaviour. As manipulation often revolves around a game of truth and creating doubts it’s important to recognize what’s going on.
A narcissist sadly uses pressure and many manipulation techniques in order to disturb your clarity to see things as they really are. Triangulation is an important technique when it comes to creating external pressure as well as creating distance between you and your support system.
It’s necessary to be able to clearly separate your own behaviour, thoughts, and feelings from the behaviour, thoughts, and feelings of others. This is even more important when dealing with a narcissist. Due to cognitive dissonance and the narcissist pushing you in the wrong direction this separating process can be very hard.
In my view being conscious/aware is very important. In order to become aware of manipulative behaviour you need to become aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. It requires you to develop yourself and learn to trust your truth and intuition.
Narcissists manipulation strategies and their web of control
The most important reason why a narcissist uses triangulation seems trying to be in control of others. In my article about the narcissist’s web of control, I explain how narcissists use manipulation strategies in order to gain control over their environment.
A narcissist tries to ‘recruit’ people they can influence that don’t recognize they’re being manipulated or people that allow being controlled by a narcissist. These people that act on behalf of a narcissist to a third party are called flying monkeys. These flying monkeys are mostly used for an abusive purpose.
Sadly, flying monkeys (choose to) believe the fake persona the narcissist has created and are being manipulated. Anyone can become a flying monkey: it could be naïve people who just don’t see what’s going on, less dominant persons that tend to follow dominant persons to survive or as a habit, toxic people without boundaries that seem to like gossip and drama, people that are temporarily fooled because they don’t suspect someone is manipulating in such a brutal way, and so forth.
What is triangulation by a narcissist?
Narcissistic triangulation is when a narcissist brings a third person into their relationship for abusive purposes such as having power/control, gaining narcissistic supply, and devaluing/smearing their victims. Triangulation can appear in many forms varying from subtle comments to brutal smear campaigns.
Mostly, triangulation is used to create rivalry or negative thoughts between two people or using one person to abuse the other. A narcissist uses it to control the interpretation of communication and pushing opinions and beliefs of their victims about others. The purpose often is to create doubts and negative feelings in order to eventually isolate a victim from their support system and thereby making the victim more dependent on the narcissist.
The aim is the only communication between the parties goes through the narcissist and there is no direct communication between the parties. A narcissist can try to drive a wedge between people or scapegoat someone for certain problems. They can make up hurtful statements someone said, emphasize certain comments, or interpret something consciously in a harmful way.
Passive-aggressive manipulation tactic
Triangulation is thus a passive-aggressive manipulation technique used by narcissists in order to trigger negative feelings in their partners such as jealousy and insecurity. It’s one of the many manipulation tactics a narcissist has in order to drain your energy, create self-doubts, and get emotional responses. It can be tough and disturbing to experience as it mostly plays out in a very stealthy way but can become very brutal.
What makes it more painful is that the narcissist uses other people to hurt you and could play the innocent victim while doing so. In this way, the people that are protecting them (rescuers) will torment the victim by doing so. The rescuers think the victim is the bully and the narcissist needs protection.
Triangulation could happen at home, work, or with family and friends. They might recruit your friends, colleagues, authorities, neighbors, or even family members to manipulate you. Other people being influenced by the narcissist could threaten, stalk, harass, bully, or confuse you and thereby create outside pressure or discomfort.
The narcissist thus influences others and makes them do their dirty work as a true evil puppet master. Most people aren’t aware of being manipulated by someone that is capable of telling lies without blinking and has an ability to convince others of their truth. Triangulation can make the victim feel as if they’re not only dealing with the narcissist but their whole world becomes hostile against them. It thus attacks your safety net which is clearly very brutal.
The parts of the triangle
Triangulation is thus an indirect way of communicating by involving a third-party into a relationship between two people, thereby creating a triangle. I will now go shortly into the three classic parts (or roles) of a triangle, which are the persecutor, the rescuer, and the persecuted. The narcissist is most likely the persecutor, flying monkeys mostly act as rescuer and the persecuted will be the victim of the narcissist.
This is the person who starts the conflict and fully believes to be the victim themselves. There might be shaming, blaming, smearing, anger, and so forth. The persecutor is used mostly by personalities that seem to switch fast in their emotional state, such as being very hot/cold or black/white.
A narcissist can be very childish or undeveloped on an emotional level, as they lack empathy and a connection to a deeper self. The ego has won and their created identity loves to be angry, frustrated, and being involved in comparing to others. It all boosts the ego’s existence and its importance.
Sadly, there seems to be no connection to a deeper self which results in a deep sense of shame, self-hatred, and/or fear. These buried feelings will be projected upon others. The inability to self-reflect makes it impossible to break through and heal a narcissist.
When a narcissist attacks it’s pure survival to them. They need to confirm their created truth and identity in order to deny their wounds. All this intensity will be projected upon you which clearly is very brutal and unhealthy. A narcissist will do anything to support their truth such as seeking support and recruiting allies.
The danger for the victim is believing any of it. In essence, the victim needs to rise above this level of ego and recognize what’s really going on. This is clearly not easy to do, as victims will be triggered and have their own challenges and wounds.
The rescuer is being manipulated to support the narcissist and is thus abused as well as the victim. These people are often described as flying monkeys. They (temporarily) believe the narcissist’s lies and are under their influence. They could be used to do the narcissist’s dirty work as well.
The rescuer doesn’t necessarily have to be a real person, but also could be an organization or fictional person. A narcissist can simply lie about people agreeing with them or having support.
This is the victim being attacked (triangulated) by the narcissist. You could be the victim of a smear campaign, abuse by proxy, and attempts to make you become isolated from your support system. It’s very brutal and painful to be in this position.
In this manipulative game designed by the narcissist, every emotional response will be used to prove their lies. It would be normal to become angry, emotional, and react ‘crazy’ to the abnormal and abusive behaviour of a narcissist. Sadly, the normal human reaction to being a victim of a narcissist is what will make the situation worse.
The game is designed that way. It will be all narcissistic supply. Any emotional response will be used to validate the narcissist’s stories and to keep influence on their flying monkeys.
Examples of narcissistic triangulation
In my article about examples of triangulation, I go deeper into different types of triangulation and examples of those. I will briefly discuss a few here to illustrate some triangulation techniques/examples used by narcissists.
– In a romantic relationship, the narcissist brings in another person to create chaos, confusion, jealousy, and get emotional responses. This person could be someone that happens to be flirting with them or a person that is being idealized by the narcissist. The drama and attention created by telling about this is a great way for a narcissist to get narcissistic supply.
– A narcissist could use a smear campaign and brutally attack their victim with all kinds of half-truths, lies, blaming, and so forth. They will play the victim and accuse the smeared person of for example being crazy, unstable, or a narcissist.
– A narcissist loves to flirt with others in front of their partner. They could, for example, flirt with the waitress every time you’re in a restaurant. Their attention will not be focused on you as it’s simply not fulfilling enough. They will always need and want more than you can possibly give.
– A narcissistic parent could attempt to control communication between two children.
– A narcissist in a relationship or marriage could try to control communication between their partner and their partner’s friends and family (support system). They could try to create a distance between their victims and the victim’s support system by driving a wedge between the triangulated persons.
Read more about these and other in-depth examples in my article about examples of narcissistic triangulation and an explanation of the unhealthy dynamics of triangulation.
Why does a narcissist use triangulation?
Here are a few examples of why a narcissist uses triangulation.
1. Destroying you
Triangulation can be used to try to break you down. If you don’t realize what’s happening it can have quite an impact on your self-esteem and self-worth. This results in a form of control the narcissist will gain over you. If you have low self-worth you might try to be ‘better’ and seek problems within yourself.
This dynamic becomes dangerous when you only seek within yourself. The narcissist will never take any responsibility which means you will be the only one to blame. This thus creates guilt and the feeling you’re not enough.
A specific form of destroying is the narcissist’s smear campaign. You can read more about this in my in-depth article about the narcissist’s smear campaign and how to deal with it.
2. Devaluing you
Triangulation can be used to devalue you. In my article explaining the narcissistic abuse cycle, I explain how the repetitive cycle of idealizing, devaluing, and discarding works. Triangulation is a part of the devaluing stage, whereas it’s mostly designed to question yourself and feel all kinds of negative emotions.
3. Narcissistic supply
A narcissist has an unending need for validation, attention, and ego-boosting. To fulfill this need they will seek narcissistic supply, which can be attention, praise, sex, admiration, status, validation, and so forth. Narcissists are thus very dependent on narcissistic supply.
Any reaction and emotional response from you feeds the narcissist. Triangulation is a very successful method for a narcissist to get those (emotional) reactions.
The above shows the narcissist is thus trying to gain a form of control and to create dependency. A narcissist wants to establish power and control over you in order to feel a sense of importance. Control over others and people competing for their approval will be a confirmation of their grandiosity.
They can try to emphasize your doubts and negative feelings about someone in order to create a distance. This will leave you in a position in which you might not trust this person anymore or you fear that they reject you. This manipulation can be done in very subtle ways.
A narcissist could use triangulation to hoover you back into an abusive relationship as well. You might be provoked or triggered to break your no contact decision.
Narcissists can use triangulation and flying monkeys in order to create support for them. They could use this support when they are attacking someone or have problems with someone that for example doesn’t play along with their games.
If more people support/validate the narcissist the victim will be more likely to start doubting or questioning themselves. In a way, they seek proof or support for their own created truth. If their truth is that you’re a bad person and deserve a smear campaign they will try to find support for this.
It means when your victim of a smear campaign there could be a lot of external pressure and this can have severe consequences. It can make you doubt your truth/intuition and disconnect from it.
A narcissist feels superior and a purpose of triangulation by a narcissist could be to appear as if they have a very active social life. They like to appear popular and as if everyone likes them. They enjoy being a person everyone loves and that others should be thankful for the attention given by the narcissist.
It thus makes them important and ‘wanted’. They can, for example, use triangulation to randomly show you they have some great close friends you have never heard of before.
A manipulative game of truth
Narcissists are very convinced of their own truth and their abuse revolves around manipulation through lies, half-truths, and controlling others. They have the ability to create a fake persona of themselves which becomes their identity. To maintain their identity of being superior and more worthy then others it’s necessary to create fake personas of others as well.
This manipulative game of having the truth of a narcissist versus the truth of victims is complicated. Triangulation and gaslighting relate closely to each other in this sense. You can read more about gaslighting in my in-depth article about gaslighting and how truth can become blurry to a victim of narcissistic abuse.
When a narcissist tries to convince others their partner is crazy, depressed, or has psychological problems, they try to create a false truth in the victim’s environment. They can play this in such a way the victim doesn’t communicate directly with their family or friends, which could seem logical as they make up the victim is in a place with psychological problems and is unable to communicate.
The narcissist plays the role of worried and caring partner and family and friends might feel they have no reason to doubt them because of the gaslighting. This setup is very brutal and heartbreaking. It fully isolates the victim and the narcissist has all control.
This ‘truth game’ makes it essential to learn about cognitive dissonance if you’re dealing with narcissistic abuse. A narcissist is so convinced of their truth and can lie without blinking, which requires victims to become very certain as well about their own truth and intuition.
Clearly, a victim has doubts, self-reflection, and seeks answers more within themselves which can lead to seeking blame within themselves and disconnecting from intuition. This process of seeking it within yourselves endlessly needs to stop in order to free yourself from a narcissist.
Effect of triangulation
A desired outcome of triangulation is that you feel anxious, insecure, doubtful, and suspicious about a lot of things. It’s continuously trying to drive you crazy. It could become even worse if you start feeling guilty about your doubts and jealousy. A narcissist could use this to claim you’re needy, don’t see things straight, crazy, or too insecure. Clearly, the narcissist will never admit anything and thereby leaves the problem with you.
I wrote an article about 8 negative feelings and emotions narcissists cause/emphasize by manipulating and what human characteristics they abuse in which you can read more about the possible effects of narcissistic abuse.
Triangulation is thus all about trying to pull you into a roller coaster of negative thoughts and emotions. It revolves around comparing to others, competition, conditional love and is all about the narcissist’s world of ego and appearance.
A victim could slowly disconnect with themselves and become like a grey rock. It can be paralyzing. Anything the victim does will leave blame and stress with the victim. They could become emotionally tired and being confused and stressed all the time. It’s necessary to emotionally detach from the narcissist.
Dealing with triangulation
It’s essential to recognize you’re not responsible for the behaviour of others and the manipulative behaviour of a narcissist isn’t related to your worth. A narcissist sadly sees their victims as objects in order to gain narcissistic supply. There is no space for being an individual with own needs and feelings. This is why you can’t be yourself, as you will be pushed towards feeling guilty, anxious, stressed, and so forth.
A narcissist will not take any responsibility or apologize for anything. It leaves no space to have real honest communication and thus no space for a deeper connection. Clearly, triangulation is indirect communication and is very unhealthy. Therefore, it’s important to shift the attention to yourself and focus on you!
1. What you say about other people says most about you
A very true saying is ‘what you say about other people says most about you’. Do you notice someone mostly talking badly about others or sharing how others say bad things about you? It’s being involved in negative energy. If you notice this you could think about it and why this person feels this need to do so.
How someone speaks tells you something about their perception of others. It will reveal much about their personality. If a person is judgmental, feels entitled, and has a feeling of superiority, it naturally follows that this person doesn’t speak well of most other people. A narcissist will mostly be very black and white. A few persons will be fantastic and perfect and almost all others will have something on which they are judged.
The tendency to see people negatively or positively in an exaggerated way can be a red flag of someone with narcissism. Some narcissists do have control over their underlying opinion and can temporarily act like they value certain persons. They will manipulate others until it’s ‘safe’ to judge and show their real opinion.
I like to look at it from the perspective of energy. If a person has good, positive, and calm energy they will talk kindly about others and feel no need to gossip or create tension. If a person has more disturbed and chaotic energy, they are likely to bad mouth, talk about, and judge others.
Therefore, it can be useful to think about whether a person leaves you with more positive and calm energy after interacting with them or you became more anxious, tense, or negative. Does this person stimulate your positive thoughts about others or do you end up in your negative thoughts, insecurity, and fears? If you recognize a negative pattern, it’s a clear warning!
Good methods in order to better notice your own energy could be practicing conscious breathing and meditation.
2. Not playing the game or trying to outsmart the narcissist
Sadly, triangulation is all part of a manipulative game the narcissist plays and they are great at it. The only thing you really can do is to not play the game. If you play, you will make it worse. A narcissist is not slowed down by empathy, self-reflection, or doubts. You are though. Know this is a good thing in the end because playing the game is only negative energy.
Playing the game is hurting yourself and thus a self-destructive path. I wrote an article with 8 reasons why outsmarting a narcissist is not smart at all. It’s about why we should completely stay out of the manipulative game and preferably go no contact and focus our attention on ourselves. What a narcissist fears the most is the end of their drama.
3. Ego (dependent mind) vs. independent mind
A narcissist is involved in the world of ego. The ego’s needs are endless and the ego is constantly seeking for something to attach itself to. A narcissist pushes you to join them in their world of ego when you become part of the triangle they create. It will then be all about other people, possessions, status, abilities, belief system, physical appearance, and so forth. None of these things is you.
The ego’s basic patterns are to fight for its existence against its own fear and sense of lack. It results in things as resistance, control, power, defense, greed, and attack. Problems in the mind, created by the ego, will never truly be solved in the mind. Ego is the problem and when ego’s meet there will be drama, conflict, problems, and so forth. There will be no consciousness of the here and now.
If you’re being triangulated it means you are being triggered. You care about what happens and it hurts. This is attachment. The pain is a lesson to be learned. It could be something within yourselves that requires healing. What is the reason you, for example, become jealous? What need is not being fulfilled and why do you have this need? Why do you care? Do you live in acceptance of what is?
I believe we all can find the power within to emotionally detach, heal, and develop ourselves. Clearly, it might be simple to understand but it’s not easy.
You can read more about the dependent mind and independent mind in my article exploring Taoism and narcissism. It’s about practicing gratitude and trusting your own inner nature of peace, love, and harmony.
4. Grey rock method or non-emotional responses
A non-emotional response will be dissatisfying for a narcissist. If you are unsure about why your partner says something that triggers you, you could try to use a non-emotional response in order to observe their response. If your partner tells you about someone flirting with them you could say ‘Okay, I trust you’, keep minding your business, and show no interest in the subject. Do they drop the subject or do they try to go deeper into it? Observe their response and learn about their intention.
This method is part of the grey rock method in which you try to emotionally detach from a narcissist. It can help to become less involved in things such as gossip and jealousy as well. If you decide to not add ‘emotional’ fuel to the fire it will become very clear whether someone needs this thrill or emotional drama. You simply leave their behaviour with them. It can then become clear someone is very attached to drama, speculation, and so forth.
5. Self-worth and your energy
Your self-worth and energy are very important when healing from a toxic relationship. A narcissist causes and emphasizes all kinds of negative thoughts and emotions, increase self-doubts, and will push your self-worth in the wrong direction.
We don’t need to compete with others or compare to others to prove our worth. Comparing to others only has value for boosting your ego or boosting negative self-talk. Rather compare to yourself and learn to know yourself. What are your beliefs and how do you talk to yourself? Is this with kindness and compassion?
It is very useful to start asking quality questions to yourself. If you ask yourself better questions your mind will come up with better answers. What is your belief about what a relationship should be and what is a healthy relationship? You have to know what you want. Do you want to be involved in drama, jealousy, and gossip or not?
You can read more questions you could ask yourself in my article about the narcissist’s web of control.
I have written quite some articles in the category of self-worth and your energy that might be helpful to you. You can find tips on how to work on self-worth in my article about self-worth, appreciation, ego, and narcissism.
It’s about you
It’s okay if you’re still attached or triggered. It starts with recognizing when you’re triggered and reflecting on what happens. Know you’re enough and know it takes time to heal and grow. It’s about taking small steps in the right direction again.
It’s time to reconnect with yourself. You deserve your own kindness, love, and compassion. It would be great to seek professional help and personally I recommend using methods such as conscious breathing (mindfulness) and meditation.
These methods can help to reduce the strength of your inner critic. It all starts with your thoughts. It’s unlikely your self-talk is very positive when you’re a victim of narcissistic abuse. Meditation or mindfulness helps with creating a grateful and compassionate mind instead of one with a lot of negative self-talk. You might be interested in my article exploring Buddhism and narcissism.
I hope this article is helpful to you. I wish you strength and more kindness in the future.
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