Triangulation is a manipulative technique that is used when direct communication between two people is absent, and, instead, a third person is used to convey messages. The result is often resentment, frustration, and miscommunication.
If a narcissist is involved, triangulation is often taken to a whole new level. The narcissist may intentionally stir up things between two people, placing themselves in the middle, or they may also align themselves with one of the people, creating an “us against you” situation.
A narcissist generally triangulates others for three main reasons:
To escape being accountable for their behavior.
Because watching others fight over them or get caught up in the drama they have created feels smug and superior.
Because it’s fun for them to watch this chaos unfold.
Examples of Triangulation
John is married to Sally, and he is having an affair with Elaine, whom he met through an online dating site. Elaine thinks that John is separated, and during the few weeks that they’ve been dating, John has been the best boyfriend she’s ever had. John tells Elaine a series of pity-inducing lies such as that he and his wife are still living together, but only because his wife is manipulative and unstable, and that he needs to be very careful about how he goes about leaving, so she doesn’t drain his accounts. John professes to be a man of his word and says that he has tried hard to make his marriage work. He also adds that he and his wife haven’t been intimate in months and are in separate bedrooms. He tells Elaine that now he has met her, he has the motivation to move out. These remarks elicit pity from Elaine for his lousy marriage and manipulative wife and turn her against Sally. John's words also imply that if Sally wasn’t in the picture, he and Elaine could have a future together.
In time, Sally comes across messages between John and Elaine. After weeks of him denying it and accusing Sally of being crazy and having trust issues, he finally caves in and admits to having sex with Elaine. John tells Sally he met Elaine while he was out at lunch one day and that she flirted non-stop with him, and that she means nothing to him—they only had a one-night stand. He tells his wife that Elaine is crazy and obsessed with him and doesn’t know how to get rid of her. These remarks make Elaine the problem and elicit pity and hope from Sally. Sally is now thinking that if Elaine wasn’t in the picture, they could go back to having a good marriage.
Now the two women are fighting each other, each thinking the other one is the problem, and each one thinking that they will have a great relationship with John as soon as the other woman is out of the picture. John is free of all accountability because each woman is blaming the other one, and he is now the center of attention and the “prize” to be fought over. He uses both women as a source of narcissistic supply because now he feels significant. These two women fight over him, all the while he gets to have sex with both of them, making each think that the other woman is the problem and not him.
Ted and Susan are recently divorced and have a ten-year-old son, Brian. Ted tells Brian that he can no longer afford to pay for his soccer lessons because he has to pay Susan child support. The result of this is that Ted creates hurt and hard feelings between Susan and Brian.
Georgia and her boyfriend Ben go out every weekend to a bar or a party. And almost every weekend, Ben gets into a fight with another guy over Georgia. He doesn’t realize that when he’s not looking, Georgia is flirting with other men, and then when they buy her a drink or try to dance with her, Ben gets upset, and a fight ensues. The whole time, Georgia sits back and soaks up the attention as it makes her feel attractive and important to have men fighting over her.