By Dana Morningstar
Triangulation happens when some form of drama or chaos is created between three people. This can happen in any number of ways, but perhaps the most common are when a narcissist turns two other people against each other while putting themselves in the middle, or when the narcissist aligns 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 makes them feel smug and superior; or simply because it’s fun for them to watch this chaos unfold.
Example: 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 her that he and his wife are still living together, but only because Sally is really manipulative and that he needs to be very careful about how he goes about leaving so she doesn’t drain his accounts. He professes to be a man of his word and says that he has tried really hard to make his marriage work. He also adds that he and his wife haven’t been intimate in months, and that they are in separate bedrooms, but now that he’s met Elaine, he has the motivation to move out. These remarks elicit pity from Elaine for his bad marriage, and turn her against Sally. His words also imply that if Sally wasn’t in the picture they could have a future together.
Then Sally (who thinks John’s affair is over, and that their marriage is improving) catches John cheating…again. 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 when Sally sees text messages between them. He tells Sally that he met Elaine while he was out at lunch one day and that she threw herself at him—but that she means nothing to him and it was only a one-night stand. He tells her that Elaine is crazy and obsessed with him and that he 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 that 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 because these two women are fighting over him, all the while he gets to sleep with both of them, and he is making each of them think that the other woman is the problem and not him.
Example: 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.
Example: Georgia and her boyfriend Ben go out every weekend to a bar or to a party. And almost every weekend Ben gets into a fight with another guy over Georgia. What he doesn’t realize is 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.
Dana Morningstar is a former psychiatric nurse turned domestic violence educator who specializes in abuse awareness and prevention. Her passion is working with survivors of abuse to reclaim and rebuild their self-esteem, boundaries, confidence, and identity. She is an author of multiple books on the subject, and also has a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel, as well as several online support groups, all of which you can find under the name “Thrive After Abuse.”