narcissistic triangulation

Narcissistic Triangulation Puts You In A Lose-Lose Situation

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You feel played again. But you’re also confused. It seems like the narcissist attacked you, but it was so indirect that you’re questioning your reality.

Now you’re left feeling threatened and unsafe. Other people also seem to be upset with you, and you aren’t even sure exactly what you did wrong!

If this all sounds familiar, you’ve probably experienced narcissistic triangulation. Triangulation is an insidious weapon narcissists use to control others. It’s a form of psychological abuse, but it can be challenging to detect.

Let’s get into what you need to know.

What Is Narcissistic Triangulation?

Narcissistic triangulation refers to how narcissists use other people or situations to make themselves feel better. They essentially introduce a “third-party” to shift the dynamic.

Sometimes, their efforts to triangulate are apparent to everyone. Other times, this action is much more subtle.

Narcissists often use triangulation in their most important relationships. You’ll see this with partners, children, and close friends. It’s how they maintain their power and status quo. 

Here are some examples to illustrate how this dynamic plays out. 

Narcissistic Triangulation in Romantic Relationships

Bob is a narcissist who gets jealous of the attention his beautiful wife, Erin, gets when they go out. Bob constantly worries that Erin will cheat on him with another man. One day, Bob comes home and tells Erin that he’s no longer friends with his best friend, Carl. Bob states that Carl confided that he has a crush on Erin. 

However,  Bob exaggerated the situation (as many narcissists do). Perhaps Carl complimented Erin on her dress, and Bob took it as he was in love with her. 

Erin, of course, feels extremely guilty over what happened. Bob now has the upper hand and maintains a sense of control in the relationship. His strategy temporarily garnered more of Erin’s attention, sympathy, and compassion, all of which fuels Bob’s narcissistic supply. 

Now Erin feels even more responsibility to prove her loyalty to Bob. Furthermore, Bob goes on to tell his other friends that Carl has a crush on another man’s wife. This results in them feeling uneasy around Carl, which makes Bob feel even more powerful. 

Narcissistic Triangulation in Parenting 

Dan and Linda are separated but co-parenting. Linda is a narcissist who believes that she should have full custody of their children. She is enraged that the court has not granted her that access.

While Dan tries to maintain firm boundaries with his kids, Linda makes all kinds of exceptions. She has no problem bending the rules to become the ‘favorite’ parent. 

Furthermore, she often vents to her children about all the awful things Dan did during their marriage. She continues to remind them how much she loves them- and how Dan only loves his work. She may even make up a lie about him seeing another woman and wanting to have children with her. 

Dan feels helpless. He doesn’t want to badmouth his ex in front of the kids, but he doesn’t like feeling like he’s the “bad guy,” either. 

Narcissistic Triangulation in the Workplace

Tina and Jane are in similar positions, and they are both vying for the same upcoming promotion. They’re friendly to one another, but Tina is a covert narcissist who naturally believes she is most fit for the role.

Jane ends up getting the promotion. A few days later, Tina invites her boss to lunch. She is friendly and chatty, and she lets her boss know that she “feels guilty” holding secrets for Jane. 

Tina then spends the next thirty minutes confiding in all the wrongdoings Jane has committed. She tells her boss she was sworn to secrecy, but that she’s genuinely concerned about Jane’s reckless behavior.

The boss believes Tina’s concerns and rescinds the promotion offer. A few weeks later, Jane is demoted within the company while Tina receives the promotion she wants. The boss has no idea that Tina lied. Jane has no idea why she lost her promotion.


Why Do Narcissists Triangulate?

Triangulation isn’t unique to narcissism. Even healthy people do it sometimes, and it’s commonly talked about within the context of family therapy. For example, a couple going through marital problems might seek counseling. But they then focus on how the treatment isn’t helping them- making the therapist the problem. 

Narcissists, however, often rely on triangulation to keep others “on track.” They use it to ensure loyalty and sabotage other people’s successes. In other words, it’s an extreme form of control.

Narcissists also triangulate because it works. In general, most of us want to give other people the benefit of the doubt. And so, a good-natured person may not assume that the narcissist has ulterior motives when sharing something. They might fall right into their manipulative trap.

Because empaths and narcissists often end up in relationships with one another, the narcissist benefits from another person wanting to rescue them. The empath believes that the narcissist is a flawed-but-good person. They want to see them change and get better. The narcissist knows the empath thinks this way and uses it to their advantage. 

How Do You Know If You Are Being Triangulated?

Unfortunately, triangulation can be effective because it’s so sneaky and deceptive. You probably have no idea what the narcissist says about you behind your back. And even if things seem like they’re going well in your relationship, that doesn’t mean the narcissist isn’t scheming.

Other People Are Suddenly Acting Much Differently 

Do your coworkers stop talking as soon as you walk into the room? Is your friend bailing or ghosting you all of a sudden?

Sudden personality changes can happen for many reasons, but triangulation can definitely cause it. Narcissists are charming and skilled in reading others- they will say whatever they need to try to convince others to believe their delusions.

You Feel Like You Constantly Need to Prove Yourself 

No matter what you do, it isn’t enough. The narcissist always seems to have an issue with however you respond. And they have no problem putting other people at the forefront of your conflict.

If this all sounds familiar, you’re probably a victim of their triangulation. Not all narcissists are outwardly vindictive and callous- many of them rely on more covert techniques to manipulate people. And so, they will put you through various “tests” to prove your loyalty.

You Feel Bullied

Triangulation can feel just like bullying. The narcissist knows your weaknesses, and they will exploit them to the rest of the world. In addition, they have no regard for how their actions might affect you.  

If you feel bullied, that’s a clear sign of triangulation. Many ex-partners, scapegoated children, or estranged friends report immense bullying from narcissistic relationships.

As you know, bullies thrive on tearing other people down to make themselves feel good. Narcissists have low self-esteem, and their bullying projects a sense of superiority. They also benefit from getting other people on their side, which is the backbone of triangulation.

What Should You Do If You’re Being Triangulated? 

Knowing how narcissists manipulate people is the first step towards recognizing the red flags in your relationship. In healthy dynamics, people respect one another. They work through conflicts maturely and without criticism or contempt.

Narcissists, of course, don’t play by those rules. They use triangulation to get what they want, despite how it hurts other people.

Don’t Take It Personally

Don’t blame yourself for their behavior. You didn’t do anything wrong. Even if you two disagree about something, that doesn’t give anyone an excuse to belittle or undermine you.

So, as a first approach, it’s important that you remind yourself that their narcissistic projections aren’t indicative of actual reality. It doesn’t matter who the “subject” is. When they feel threatened, they will do whatever it takes to seek revenge or restore their status quo.

Don’t Fight Back  

As you know, narcissists thrive in chaos. Some of them will blatantly triangulate people just to get a rise out of them. 

For example, at the dinner table, a narcissistic father might tell his complaining daughter, “I don’t know why your mom would cook meatloaf for dinner. I know you hate meatloaf! She’s just been so busy with work that she probably isn’t paying much attention to you.” 

If you’re the mother in this situation, how would you feel? You’d probably be angry, upset, and ashamed. And like most people, you would probably want to say something mean back! 

But fighting with a narcissist won’t get you anywhere. They get a rush from the conflict, and they have no problem criticizing, gaslighting, and smearing you until they completely break you down. So instead, it’s better to avoid giving them the satisfaction of any reaction.

Stop Engaging in the Relationship

Having a relationship with a narcissist invariably enables their toxic behavior. Even if you set firm boundaries, they will work hard to bend or break them. 

Over time, this pattern becomes exhausting! You will spend more time trying to establish your limits than you will enjoying the actual relationship. 

Triangulation is harmful and psychologically damaging. Going no contact with the narcissist is the best way to respond to this vindictive behavior. Making that choice gives you the freedom to pursue your own interests, passions, and relationships- without worrying about someone else sabotaging them. 

Other ways to overcome narcissistic triangulation

Explore The Essential Break Free Bootcamp

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I will give you multi-media training (printables and videos) to help you set limits and create stronger boundaries against emotional manipulation that has caused you to act out of character.  Take the course on your own time, at your own pace. Your subscription never expires, and you can come back and review a lesson anytime you need it.

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2 comments
Debra Lowen says January 1, 2022

I’m almost.out.this is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.i am so trauma bonded it’s ridiculous.so much pain but I know I can do this.please keep your inspiration coming Kim.it helps me in a big way.thank you.

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Olivia says December 13, 2021

I think this has been happening with my mother triangulating me and my aunt. My mother has been after my aunt’s money for decades and she died recently, so my mother got everything in her will and I got nothing. My mother is crowing over me about this, whereas I couldn’t care less. I wanted a nice, kind, loving aunt, not money. I suspect my mother has been telling my aunt what a horrible person I am, because she always told me what a horrible person my aunt was. Now I suspect that aunt and I have both been ‘played’ by my mother. I wasn’t close to my aunt, mainly because of my mother’s comments about her, but maybe I lost out.

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