Ever been stuck in the middle of an argument between two people? If so, you know exactly how gut-wrenching it can be – and that could not be more true when one or more of these people is a toxic narcissist. That’s because toxic people have a tendency to use triangulation, which is a manipulation tactic often employed by narcissists.
What is narcissistic triangulation?
More specifically, triangulation is what we call it when the narcissist communicates as a third party between two people but prevents the two from communicating directly through either manipulating or controlling at least one of them.
What does this mean exactly? Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about today at QueenBeeing – how to identify and deal with triangulation in a toxic relationship – how and why narcissists put you in the middle of their arguments and conflicts with others; plus, how you can end that, fast.
An Example of Triangulation in Relationships
Let me start out today with a quick story.
So, there’s a woman I know, let’s call her Sally, who’s best friend Molly always seems to put her romantic conquests above Sally. At first, it didn’t bother Sally much, because while it could be frustrating to watch, she knew that Molly was looking for Mr. Right pretty actively – and she totally supported that.
But recently, Sally finds herself feeling angry that Molly keeps canceling their plans in favor of a guy who she swears is “the one” – and it doesn’t seem to matter how important the plans are or how long they’ve been in place – if this guy calls, Molly drops everything.
Rather than just talking to Molly and explaining how she’s feeling – how she feels like she doesn’t matter to Molly when she blows her off, Sally goes toxic.
See, Sally works with the guy’s sister – let’s call her Becky – and one day, while they are on break together, Sally spills the tea.
She tells Becky that Molly is obsessed with her brother, and how she is worried that the relationship is going too fast. She might even hint around that Molly has a history of being obsessive with her boyfriends in the past, and halfway “warn” Becky to keep a close eye on the situation.
Then, Sally asks Becky to keep it to herself – to not say a word to her brother because she’s not trying to interfere in their relationship.
On her end, Becky feels worried and protective of her brother. She doesn’t want to break Sally’s trust, but she also worries that her brother has a right to know. So she begins to obsessively spend time with the new couple and before long, her brother feels like she’s smothering him and asks her to back off.
While all of this is going on, Molly begins to feel more distant from Sally and mentions to her boyfriend that Sally seems more distant recently.
Molly asks her boyfriend not to say anything to anyone because she doesn’t want to cause any trobule. She assures him she’s just venting.
So, rather than just dealing with each other, Sally and Molly end up complaining to other people, and then end up never addressing the actual issue that is causing the problem – the fact that Molly always puts her boyfriend above Sally, even when they already had plans made.
Meanwhile, Molly continues to ignore Sally for her boyfriend, and while she feels stuck in the middle of Sally and her boyfriend, she can’t help but feel some resentment toward both Becky (her boyfriend’s “smothering” sister), who has started to behave this way as a result of Sally bringing her into a situation that had nothing to do with either of them.
Narcissists and Triangulation
This kind of stuff happens between people all the time, and the pattern of triangulation can become the very reason that many people find themselves feeling heartache – not to mention ending their relationships.
Being stuck between two people in an argument, conflict or general disagreement is really difficult on an emotional and psychological level, especially for those of us who are or have been codependent with a toxic person. And while you may be tempted to take sides or offer advice to one or more of the parties involved, it’s best to steer clear and remain neutral when a narcissist is involved.
Sure, there are times when a well-placed nugget of wisdom can literally fix a problem someone’s having with another person. That’s when it helps to offer insight and advice when you see what could help (as is often the case when you’re connected but not directly involved, a third-party perspective can often be useful). But sometimes, especially with smart, stubborn people like narcissists, you have to stay out of a situation and let people deal with it on their own.
Don’t Waste Your Breath! Narcissists Don’t Take Your Advice
See, in general, most narcissists just aren’t receptive to advice unless they choose to be. You might say they work on pure energy and emotion, so when the energy and emotion aren’t entirely positive, they cannot focus on what’s really happening and everything becomes clouded, distorting their thoughts and sense of being present.
Their every interaction becomes tinged by the negativity and they begin to see it spill into other parts of their lives – most notably, their relationships. So if you push them to fix their issues, you’ll simply become part of that negative energy they feel and they’ll direct it to you as well.
And you know what happens then, right?
Triangulation – the narcissist begins to play you and the other person off each other and then it gets even worse: you become a source of narcissistic supply. But if you take a different road and literally refuse to get involved, you actually do the narcissist and his current victim a favor.
If the issue is resolvable and if resolving it matters to the narcissist, they’ll get through it, one way or another. This is even more probable if the relationship is important for him or her.
It might be painful to watch but you’ve got to just look away while they work through it – even if you are certain that your advice could really change things. By choosing to let go of stuff and work through it on their own, their relationship remains their own, and your own nose stays clean. I don’t know – that sounds like a win-win to me. How about you?
Are you struggling to break away or recover from a toxic relationship with a narcissist? Here are some helpful resources for you.
- Resources for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support
- Tools to Speed Up Your Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
- Join a Support Group Online
- Get Your Own Personal Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coach
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.