If you’re in a toxic relationship with a malignant narcissist, you probably feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster.
Do ever feel like you can’t control your emotions, or are you worried because your feelings have been all over the place for years?
You might be dealing with intermittent reinforcement as a form of manipulation from the narcissist in your life.
What is intermittent reinforcement?
Intermittent reinforcement is a pattern of callous treatment mixed in with random bursts of affection. This behavior may lead you to believe the narcissist loves you, but in reality, it’s just another way they manipulate you.
In other words, the narcissist (whether they’re a grandiose or a covert narcissist) gives you the illusion of being loved and cared for by behaving in a loving way between intermittent bursts of abuse.
Worse, intermittent reinforcement can leave you confused and disoriented since it’s unclear why the narcissist has “rewarded” you. This devastates your self-esteem as you realize that can never do or say enough to please the narcissist.
Editor’s Note: I received a moving letter from a reader who has been following my work on narcissism, and it really offers a glimpse into a long-term narcissistic relationship. I’m publishing her story as written with her permission (under the condition that she isn’t identified personally), and I have offered her some advice, which I will publish soon – but first, I’d like to ask you – what would you tell this survivor? ~Angie
When you are involved with a narcissist or even an anti-social personality disordered person, you end up in the middle of their emotional tug of war. They are capable of creating conflict between you and everyone else who matters to you. This is why narcissists use triangulation. Narcissists do it to gain control, confusion, manipulation.
But even if you manage to completely change yourself and morph into the narcissist’s idea of the imagined perfect person, it never matters.
What is narcissistic triangulation?
Triangulation is a psychological game often used by narcissists in their quest for narcissistic supply (attention). The narcissist wants to make sure she has you in her clutches and all to herself; she wants to make sure that when she tells you something, it is the only thing you will want to hear. This is where triangulation comes into play.
Narcissists and sociopaths use triangulation to gain your trust, break your boundaries and establish your gaslighting. As part of narcissistic abuse, it’s a powerful manipulation technique. It is an advanced form of mind control that involves the narcissist using one other person to communicate with you or to through whom he or she communicates with you indirectly. The narcissist often finds someone in your environment to act as his or her liaison between them and you.
Painful Truth: You Will Never Be Enough for a Narcissist (But It’s Not Your Fault)
Here’s a harsh reality that we all have to understand. When it comes to the narcissist and his perception of you, you can never be enough. Even if you completely focus your energy on a narcissist, he or she will always look for somewhere else, something else to increase their own “supply” of attention.
Don’t let yourself be confused here – it’s DEFINITELY not YOU! It’s totally the way the narcissist’s convoluted mind works, and you can’t take personal responsibility for the broken person you’re dealing with – you just have to find your way to self-confidence and peace OUTSIDE of the narcissist.
The fact is that since the narcissist is so personally “broken” on the inside, nobody on earth can ever fill the endless hole of “need” he carries around – at least not for long.
There are so many manipulation tactics that most narcissists have in common that most of their victims say reading about the abuse suffered by others can feel like reading their own stories.
Their tactics are underhanded and sneaky – often undetectable. They’re so definable that even a child can learn to recognize them.
Who are the players in the narcissist’s toxic love triangle?
The narcissistic triangle is one such tactic. It involves the narcissist and two unsuspecting victims who are used sort of against one another.
The role you play in this triangle may shock you. When I first learned about it, I couldn’t believe which one I was of the three.
The primary role in this triangle is the victim. And what’s surprising is that the victim is NOT the actual victim.
The narcissist plays the role of the injured party in this game. He or she will use guilt and manipulation to get what he wants by pitting one person against another.
And unfortunately, this tactic works especially well on women and people who are empathic. That’s because we are wired to help people in distress – it’s part of our nature, and it’s why we have the unfortunate “narc bait” label on our proverbial foreheads – why we keep attracting these types of people into our lives.
The Savior, as it turns out, is also the unwitting enabler, because she tries to take care of the people around her – and often to her own detriment.
This role is the one that is technically one of the actual victims here. This is the person who gets used by the narcissist.
The Evil One/Bad Guy or Girl
The evil one is the bad guy, according to the narcissist. He or she is the one who gets the “blame” – the one who the “victim” (aka the narc) claims has injured him or caused him pain – and generally, the “evil one” doesn’t even know there’s a major issue – or if they do, they are as bewildered as you are about why it’s happening.
The evil one becomes the reason the narcissist uses to get the Savior to react.
So, using the roles outlined above, we can draw our proverbial triangle.
1. The ‘Problem’
First, the victim has a problem that creates a need. So let’s go really simple with our example situation and say the problem is that the victim is not getting enough attention in his marriage. Now, this is most likely because he treats his wife (the evil one, in this scenario) like she doesn’t matter to him unless he’s manipulating her or using her to manipulate or to manipulate someone else.
2. The Sad Story
The victim then goes to the Savior and tells a sad story. In our example, he might go to another woman and whine about how his evil wife is so horrible to him and ignores his attempts for connection and affection. He may even say she’s a cold fish or an abusive narcissist herself – anything to play up his victim role and make the Savior feel sorry for him.
3. The Shoulder to Lean On
The Savior then becomes his shoulder to lean on and, depending on her own ability to resist the narcissist‘s love-bombing tactics, she often becomes the next “love of his life” (or equivalent, depending on the situation). Her role as Savior will only be held as long as she continues to play it to the victim’s liking.
The Savior Becomes the Evil One: The Triangle Evolves
Here’s where it gets really twisted – this is the point at which the current “evil one” slips out of the triangle – or back into the role of the Savior, in some cases.
See, the moment the Savior doesn’t fulfill his narcissistic supply needs immediately and effectively, the narcissist begins to place her into the “evil one” role and goes on the search for his next Savior.
Example: A narcissistic mother of two daughters consistently alternates between the two in this way – the roles are passed back and forth between them from very early in their lives and the narc mom actively manages the situation to her benefit – and unfortunately, often at the cost of the sisters’ relationship.
The cycle begins again as the previous “Savior” watches herself slip into the role of “the evil one,” and as she realizes what has happened, she suddenly understands that she was used to manipulate the last “evil one,” only by now, it’s too late.
And a really skilled narcissist will often play the same few people against each other in varying roles over and over again.
The ‘Mean Girl’ Narcissist Mindset
Take for example the “mean girls” we all went to school with. The followers of the group might continually use her influence over the others to play them against one another.
She does this because she wants to be in control, but also for a deeper reason – she doesn’t want them to maintain relationships outside of her sphere of influence.
That’s because if she did, there might be the possibility that they could rise up against her and boot her from her so-called throne, exposing her for the fraud she really is (this goes back to the convoluted thought process of a narcissist and their own insecurities, of course).
So, rather than risk exposure, she is always working behind the scenes to pull the puppet strings of the people she “rules.”
But the narcissist misses out on one critical element. She isn’t getting the love and support and positive attention she is desperately seeking.
Instead, what she perceives is validation is actually her supply sources reacting out of fear (of losing their place at the “Plastics” table, or of being humiliated in front of the whole school). They do as she says because they fear her wrath and have learned that she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
So, though she might be temporarily satisfied by the attention she gets and the control she has, this narcissist will never really find satisfaction, because she does not understand how to be in a healthy relationship.
She will always find fault with every person in her life and she will eventually learn that the victim role (as described at the beginning of this article) is one of the quickest ways to reel in her next victim.
The cycle is cemented into her process further every time it works. And it always does, because the narcissist knows exactly what to look for in a Savior.
Have you been there?
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