Triangulation: Why you should never try to fix an argument for a narcissist

Written by Angela Atkinson

“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” ~Joseph Joubert

Have you ever been in a relationship with a narcissist? Have you noticed how they use triangulation to manipulate you and people you know? Pathological narcissism (or narcissistic personality disorder) makes a narcissist feel superior to everyone around them (of course, that’s just one of many toxic narcissist traits). They want everyone’s admiration including yours.

If you’re dealing with a narcissist in a toxic relationship, you’ll already know that it’s nearly impossible to tell them anything they don’t want to hear, because when you attempt it, their go-to move is manipulation. One of their most effective forms of manipulation is triangulation, which narcissists use as a way to keep control, manipulate, and do whatever they please.

What is triangulation in a narcissistic relationship?

Triangulation is a common manipulation tactic often employed by narcissists. In a narcissistic relationship, triangulation is one of the names for a co-dependent behavior in which a third person is brought into a romantic relationship as a mediator, a peacemaker, a confidante, or a messenger. During triangulation, 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. Triangulating creates a “blame game” that can help one or both of the people involved avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. It can help them avoid feeling shamed, guilty, or otherwise uncomfortable. The narcissist will often manipulate the third person into supporting them in their effort to hurt you.

Why is triangulation so effective in narcissistic abuse?

Basically, since triangulation is a tactic for gaining power between two people, narcissists take control by getting a third person involved in their conflict. For example, there are lots of different kinds of narcissistic abusers out there, but just about all of them triangulate their targets for one reason or another. That is because the narcissist finds themselves in need of controlling someone else, and just can’t seem to get that under control on their own. So, they use anything (and in this case, anyone) that can help them get what they want. Narcissists are able to do this because they use triangulation as a way to create drama and chaos in relationships with other people. They pull people in and make them feel like they’re the only person who can make them happy and then they discard those people once they’ve served their purpose.

Why do narcissists use triangulation against you in romantic relationships?

Narcissists prefer to have a lot of options in romantic relationships because it gives them a sense of power and control, but also because they don’t want to find themselves alone – they always need backup sources of narcissistic supply, so they like to keep a so-called narcissistic harem in place when possible. Plus, they do not want to be limited in their choices by a relationship that is exclusive or committed.

Narcissists are self-centered, and they want the freedom to pursue their own interests and desires without being tied down or limited by a monogamous relationship. Rather than having one primary partner, narcissists will often have multiple partners, partners who know about each other, and partners who are competing with each other for the narcissist’s attention and approval. This type of relationship arrangement is called “triangulation.”

Triangulation is a common tactic used by narcissists in intimate relationships. It involves bringing another person into the dynamic of a relationship in an effort to keep their partner from getting too close or leaving them. When narcissists feel threatened or anxious about losing their partner, they will often try to triangulate them by getting them interested in someone new whom the narcissist can then use as leverage against their partner.

Why do narcissistic parents triangulate their children?

Narcissistic parents will often triangulate their children, either against each other or against other children – or, in some cases, against the other parent.  Triangulation is a way to control and manipulate the environment, and in general, they will create a triangle by creating a love triangle with two people who are close to the narcissist. The narcissist will pit these two people against each other in order to create a situation where he or she can be the hero that saves the day. In this way, the narcissist gets to feel as though he or she has power and control over two people as well as the environment.

So, the narcissist may triangulate their spouse and their child into a relationship with one another, pitting them against each other, attempting to control their relationship and even their thoughts about each other by doing so. This type of triangulation is very difficult for children to understand because it is so complex and somewhat subconscious on the part of the narcissist.

How Do Narcissists Triangulate You?

Ever been stuck in the middle of an argument between two people? If so, you know exactly how gut-wrenching it can be for all involved.

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).

Examples of Narcissistic Triangulation

The following are some examples of how narcissists use triangulation:

  • The narcissist cajoles two people to argue over him/her.
  • The narcissist acts as a go-between between two people who are angry with each other.
  • The narcissist uses this to play one against the other (“You don’t really care about her…you’re just mad because I slept with her!”).
  • The narcissist will play one person off another by getting them to compete for his/her affection or approval. This creates instability and insecurity within that relationship and causes rifts between friends, family members, etc.
  • The narcissist will give attention and approval to one person and throw it in the face of the other. This leads the “other” person to feel jealous, inadequate, and upset about the one getting approval. This pushes the two apart and puts the narcissist in control.

How do you deal with triangulation?

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. 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? 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 rather than just allowing the narcissist to triangulate you, you can try this: take a different road and literally refuse to get involved with the game. If you’re NOT the current source of narcissistic supply, you actually do the narcissist and their 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 becomes stronger and better than it was before, and your own nose stays clean.

If you ARE the current source of narcissistic supply, consider speaking with the third person in the triangle to find out what has actually happened and how they actually feel. This might be enough to relieve you. But in any case, consider planning your escape from the toxic relationship as soon as you’re able to do so safely.

Get help with triangulation and narcissistic abuse recovery, right now.

Need help with a narcissistic relationship? We’ve got you covered.

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  • Angela Atkinson

    Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor 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 personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, 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 Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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