Triangulation is when you and a narcissist have a disagreement, and, rather than talk to you about it, he or she has someone else talk to you about the problem. For example, if the narcissist in question is your mother, she has your father call you to say that your mother is only trying to help – she does not understand why you are so upset. You should apologize to her.
Narcissists LOVE triangulating! They brainwash their minions, aka flying monkeys, into doing their bidding. Their bidding could be anything – trying to “talk some sense” into you after a disagreement, or convince you to be nicer to your narcissistic mother or father since “he/she isn’t getting any younger” (or is the only mother/father you have, or you don’t know how much longer she or he will be around.. you get the picture). When I was seventeen and my mother’s abuse was at its height, one of her flying monkeys, who was my elementary school principle and my mother’s close friend, told me how lucky I was to have such a good mother who cared so much about me. She also said that I needed to appreciate her more, and stop behaving so badly. Not long before this call, my mother was screaming at me, calling me terrible names, and accusing me of awful things that I did not do. I certainly was not feeling loved or lucky at this point..
Triangulation can be a real challenge to experience. When so many people are telling you that your narcissist is right, is a good person, loves you or you should treat him or her better, if you are in the very early stages of healing (or have not started healing yet), you may question whether or not they are right. When this happens, listen to your heart! What do you feel inside? Does what they say feel right, or does something about it not sit right with you? Most likely, it will not sit right. Listen to that feeling!! I am a firm believer in intuition, because I think it is God’s voice. If you do not trust your own intuition like so many survivors of abuse (it is hard to trust your feelings when you have heard they are wrong for so long), then try to look at the situation objectively. Look at it as if this is someone else going through this situation. Would you recommend that person listen to the triangulated person? Is the person right? No? Then why listen to that person?
To deal with triangulation, first you need to accept that you will look like the bad guy to your narcissist and her triangulated people, especially if the narcissist is a parent. If you do not do what your mother or father wants, then you are going to be labeled as unreasonable – it is how narcissistic parents all seem to think. Now your parent has her friend, your sister, or whoever convinced that you are unreasonable for not doing your parent’s bidding too, and telling you the same. UGH!
You have every right to set boundaries with this person. Tell him or her that you do not wish to discuss this topic, and if they continue, you will hang up the phone or leave the room, then follow through on your enforcement! If you get emails rather than have face to face conversations, you also have the option to ignore the emails. This is what I always have done when someone emailed me to tell me I needed to contact or apologize to my parents. I never respond to any email from anyone who tells me that sort of drivel.
Depending on the relationship with the triangulated person, you may end up needing to sever ties with that person. Some people become very devoted to narcissists, which can make them toxic for you. You have the right to protect yourself from toxic people. It is up to you whether or not you take this drastic step, of course.
There is another type of triangulation that covert narcissists in particular enjoy using. I learned about it because of my father, who was a covert narcissist. It often happens when there are two narcissistic parents, one overt and the other covert. The covert narcissist will tell the child that the overt narcissist said terrible things about him or her. Also, he or she will tell the overtly narcissistic parent terrible things that the child has said about the overt narcissist. Whether those things are true or not is up to the covert narcissist. In my experience, it is always a gamble.
I believe this sick behavior serves the covert narcissist well in several ways…
For one thing, the child will be hurt by the bad things he or she believes the overtly narcissistic parent has said. Naturally, this child will pull away from that parent, and be closer to the covertly narcissistic parent. That means more potential supply for the covert narcissist.
For another thing, this behavior makes the covert narcissist look good by comparison. After all, this parent is not the one who said those awful things – he or she only shared them. And, this parent will say those things were shared out of concern, or because he or she thought the child had a right to know. This makes that parent come across caring when in fact, that parent is anything but. If you are unaware of the dysfunction of this behavior, you will think that the covert narcissist really does care about you, while the overt narcissist does not.
This behavior also takes attention away from the covert narcissist’s bad behavior. That person can get away with more because your focus is on the hurtful behavior of the overt narcissist.
Covert narcissists love to look like a martyr. They get some of their narcissistic supply from people’s pity. This creates a good scenario for them to look like they are suffering. See the terrible things that poor covert narcissist has to put up with? He or she must listen to the spouse say terrible things about his or her child, and there is nothing he or she can do about it. Poor covert narcissist, huh? The hope is that you will be so moved by how hard this situation is for the covert narcissist, you will offer compassion and comfort. This also is a good distraction – by the covert narcissist being so upset, you may forget that this person failed to defend you as any parent should do.
I have found the only successful way to deal with this particular sick behavior takes three steps…
- First, show no emotions. Showing emotions feeds narcissists. If they know they can hurt you, they will continue doing the behavior that hurts you over and over. Do NOT provide that satisfaction.
- Second, use logic as needed. When my father did this with me, my calmness flustered him. He asked things like, “Doesn’t that bother you?” I responded with logic. “Why would it? I know my mother hates me and thinks poorly of me. This isn’t exactly a surprise.”
- Which brings me to my last way to deal with this behavior: change the subject. After speaking my logical argument, I changed the subject. If he tried to change it back to his topic, I changed it again. Eventually, he got tired of the constant fight to keep talking on the topic he wants, and gave up.