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

You will learn to…

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  • Address your core wounding and make empowering shifts that will bring clarity and joy
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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.

Learn more here.

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Karen says April 19, 2022

Do narcissists look forward to counselling ? Yes it is a strange question but if I am right then the person I think is a narc said this. Is this odd? I would personally find it stressful until i t started to work for me and to a degree it has thankfully. This person also got angry with their therapist because they did not say hello on a chance meeting in the street so the said person I state stopped the meetings with her therapist!. Is it strange to state you are looking forward with a big smile on your face if you had such a bad child hood. This person constantly talked about herself and her non illness. At first I would comfort her but my family could see through this I just sadly put up with it. My father was the same anti social but social when the attention was on him.

Karen says March 18, 2022

Kim this makes so much sense now. We had our ups and downs with our son but we love him and miss him so much. Lockdown in the uk was so hard never saw him for months after meeting him months later he gave me the most awful disgusting look that hurt me so much and I don’t know why. In his entire life he never ever did this to me. What happened it truly hurt me so badly I never got the image out of my head it was a knife in my soul. Why?. He told me he was also so unhappy and lost in lock down months later yet his partner said they where both so happy so which was it? Looking at our son he looks so unhappy yet so many times nasty and distance to his family once he met his partner. I snapped had visions o f people attacking me my heart just broke. He may love his partner but she treats him so bad and it just breaks my heart. It still is. I will be honest my heart broke at the same time I was so angry he turned on us one minute loving the next nasty all after meeting his partner . I was losing my mind with stress I had just had enough we lost our son . We tried to make it better but they bo th wanted to divide me and my husband . My husband could see the grandchild only how cruel because I was the one who snapped just couldn’t take the ghosting and bad behavior so I was the one who was punished. My husband stuck up for me and my daughter so they both stopped them as well seeing the child. So cruel and hurtful.

Mary says February 13, 2022

I have always been held hostage by the triangulation that my sister and mother engage in. Anytime my sister lies about me behind my back and I find out about it, my mother’s response is, “Why would B. say it if it wasn’t true?” (No matter how outrageous the lie). My word is never believed. The narcissist knows that she can totally destroy anyone’s reputation and for some reason everyone believes her. It never ceases to amaze me. I’ve watched her falsely accuse a man of being a pedophile just because she didn’t like him. She turned everyone against him. She repeatedly told my mother that I said horrible things about her that I never said and no matter what I said I was never able to defend myself. Narcissists are so manipulative and convincing that people fall for their lies. They literally destroy people and don’t have a conscience.

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 much pain but I know I can do this.please keep your inspiration coming helps me in a big way.thank you.

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.

    Karen says February 13, 2022

    Good that you can see what is going on. I saw this but looking back so crazy but I trusted my sons judgement that he loved and wanted his partner! I trusted his judgement. I was raised to tolerate bad behavior and my mother convincing me that you always had to give people a second ,third forth chance even when they behave badly so that is what I did kept giving her/narc sons partner the benefit of a doubt. The great thing about recovery is you start seeing by playing detective and taking out emotional thinking from the big picture. You see the constant patterns over and over again and once you see you realize these narcs are insane in their behavior and clearly so damaged and evil. It is a sad situation for you but some people cannot wake up to this and feel for them including the situation with our son who is a shell of a man. I felt so much guilt for not recognizing this because at first he seemed happy. Narcs will do anything and I mean anything to get their own way the greed and want is ingrained into their very souls if indeed they have a soul.

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