Does your partner continually compare you to his ex?
Has a friend spoken badly about you to exclude you from your circle of friends?
Has your father/mother put the rest of the family against you?
If any of these situations is familiar to you, you are likely to be a victim of narcissist triangulation, a form of manipulation common in narcissists, although it is not exclusive of them. It is a toxic game in which the manipulator destabilizes his victim by resorting to third parties, a more subtle and destructive form of mental abuse based on generating confusion, in order to exercise control over the victim.
What is narcissist triangulation?
Narcissist riangulation is an indirect manipulation tactic that involves more than two people. The manipulator attacks, discredits or abuses his victim with the help – usually unconscious – of a third person. He resorts to an elusive communication style that includes another person – whether real or imaginary – in a relationship where there should only be two.
The 3 actors of triangulation
In triangulation there are three actors: the manipulator, the victim and the third person. Each of them plays different roles in the situation:
1. The manipulator
This is the person who is throwing the threads in the relationship and, although he puts into practice abusive behaviors, he is likely to perceive himself as the victim. In fact, many of the people who resort to manipulation, such as narcissists, have a conflicted and stunted personality, so that their emotional functioning is more similar to that of a young child than that of a mature adult.
Therefore, it is not unusual that, in his logic of thought, he sees himself as a victim who is defending himself and tries to hold the true victim accountable for his actions and emotions. This person will unconsciously try to exorcise his demons by projecting them on his victim, which he will try to dominate or even destroy.
2. The third person
This is the third person introduced by the manipulator in the relationship to control his victim, although he can also be an imaginary person created especially for the occasion. The manipulator will use the statements – real or invented – of those people to make their victim feel guilty. In some cases, that person is also called the “savior” because, according to the story told by the manipulator, he has the mission to take his side and “rescue him” from his victim/executioner. Generally, that third person is also usually a victim of machinations, since it is used by the manipulator to achieve its objectives.
In fact, the manipulator will have no qualms about lying to him, engaging him in chaos and dragging him along to achieve what has planned. He will use it to do the “dirty work” and when he doesn’t need it anymore, he will probably “throw him away”. Generally they are people very close to the manipulator or who want to win his approval, so they usually fall into his game without putting too much resistance or reflecting on his words and behaviors, so that they do not detect incongruities, falsehoods or injustices.
3. The victim
It is the person being manipulated, who is subject to abuse of power or to the smear campaigns of the manipulator. At first, it is normal that he does not notice the manipulation since the emotional bond with the manipulator leads him to justify his behavior.
It is important to keep in mind that every relational dynamic always implies a certain “complicity” of two persons, so the victim also has a share of responsibility in that manipulation – usually because it assumes a passive and submissive role. It is likely that at first you have chosen – more or less consciously – to remain oblivious to what was happening to maintain the idealized image of the manipulator and not generate more conflicts.
That does not mean you have the fault of manipulation, it just means that sometimes our psychological mechanisms play tricks on us, making us more likely to become victims. In fact, people who have developed an insecure attachment are more vulnerable to falling into toxic relationships, motivated by their emotional dependence.
How does triangulation occur?
Typically, after an idyllic period, the manipulative person begins his game. After filling his victim with attention, love and all kinds of details, he begins to remove them, accusing him of being the culprit of his change. Then the third person makes his appearance, which can be a former partner with whom he constantly compares him or a common friend who criticizes his behavior.
In this way the manipulator sends a clear message: you are no longer the center of my life, you have stopped being a special person to become a toxic person that is damaging the relationship. He will say that other people in his most intimate circle think alike, especially if the victim respects or appreciates the people he refers to.
As a result, the victim will begin to feel insecure, jealous and devalued. He will wonder if he is really behaving correctly and, it is likely that to satisfy the manipulator, he gives in to his desires in a vain attempt to recover the initial idyllic relationship – something that will not happen again or happen cyclically and then fall into the cycle of punishment.
The 3 triangulation tactics
1. Generate jealousy
Manipulators often resort to triangulation to generate jealousy in their partner. At the beginning, they will be casual and sporadic comments about a new person or a former partner, in which the victim always loses because he is not smart enough, kind or attractive as that third person.
In a relationship, for example, the manipulator may flirt with another person, but then he will deny it and cause the victim to become obsessed with the subject so that he can use his jealousy against him, stating that he is exaggerating, that he is too sensitive and that it is overwhelming him. This makes a normal and understandable reaction a cause for guilt.
In this case, the manipulator recruits third parties to stand against the victim. In fact, this triangulation tactic is to get the largest number of people pass to his side and share their distorted vision of what is happening.
If the manipulator is arguing with his victim about a disagreement, for example, he will ask friends and family for support to fight on his side, positioning themselves against the victim. It is also common for him to tell only his version of events to attract more supporters.
This triangulation tactic is extremely harmful since the manipulator recruits third parties falsifying reality. It is no longer a limited and self-centered vision, but it invents things against the victim so that everyone thinks he is the “bad guy.”
In other cases, the manipulator is likely to tell the victim that a friend of him spoke badly about him, pretending to be on his side and even defend him. Thus he manages to isolate him from his most intimate circle, pretending solidarity and presenting himself as the “defender”. When the victim is alone, and fully trusts the manipulator, he will have enormous power over him to get what he wants.
How to get out of the triangulation networks?
Getting out the triangulation networks and closing those emotional wounds is not usually easy, but you have to take that recovery trip, for a mere matter of psychological survival. How to achieve it?
– Become aware that you are a unique and special person
To get out of triangulation it is not enough to break ties with the manipulator, you have to do a deep psychological work to replace the insane beliefs that have been sown in your mind.
You need to become aware of the toxic nature of the manipulator, as well as the reality of the abuse experienced. Realizing what has happened does not mean assuming a passive victim role or dedicating yourself to regretting your bad luck, but it is an essential step to free yourself from the sense of guilt and be able to turn the page definitively.
On the other hand, people who resort to triangulation strive to make their victim believe that is easily replaceable. That shatters their self-esteem, which is why victims are often devastated psychologically. The manipulator has “washed their brains” to make them think they were the problem, a deep-rooted belief that you should banish.
To recover, you need to get back the identity that the manipulator tried to erode, erase and diminish. You need to find your value again and understand that you are a unique person. That implies looking inside yourself to find those values and characteristics that make you special.
– Stop idealizing the manipulator
When the manipulator begins his game by introducing a third person, the normal reaction of the victim is fear of losing a meaningful relationship. Fear, however, is not a good travel companion and can cloud your judgment by making you idealize the manipulator.
Instead, you need to develop a more objective vision, take off the pink glasses with which you are looking at the person next to you. To achieve this, it will help you practice detachment. Imagine what is the worst that could happen if that relationship ends. What situation would you find yourself in? What would it change? It may be difficult, but it will not be the end of the world. Maybe it hurts. But it will hurt only once. If you stay in that relationship it will hurt forever.
– Eliminate unnecessary comparisons
One of the manipulator’s strategies is to try to have his victim compete with that third person. And make sure he always lose out. However, you must understand that you do not need to compete with anyone. When someone loves for real, they will not want the loved one to have to compete for their love or attention.
Consider that one of the most damaging beliefs that we drag from childhood is that we have to compete with others to demonstrate our value. That belief allows toxic and destructive conditioning in relationships, so it is likely that even if you have moved away from the manipulator, you continue comparing yourself.
However, if you spend your life comparing yourself to each person you meet, your mental balance will suffer greatly. In fact, comparisons are a major obstacle in the journey towards healing. The truth is that you are a complete person, with your weaknesses and strengths, so you do not need to continue comparing yourself with the people with whom the manipulator triangulated you, or with any other.
– Find out what part of you facilitated triangulation
As important as getting out of a triangulation situation is to avoid falling back into its networks. In fact, it is not unusual for some people who escape from a toxic relationship to fall into another, because the psychological patterns that made them fall into those networks have not been eliminated and continue to foster a dependency relationship.
That means that if you want authentic change to occur, you need to look inside and detect those beliefs, attitudes, expectations and/or needs that have allowed a manipulative person to take control of the situation. It is not about blaming yourself, but about assuming a mature posture and understanding what psychological blind spots the manipulator has touched, so you can reinforce them and never fall into this type of relationship.