Triangulation is a manipulation technique toxic people use frequently. Even if you’ve never heard of this manipulation technique before, you probably experienced it at least once in your lifetime.
Although triangulation is usually a method used against children in toxic family systems, it can be seen in romantic, platonic or professional relationships as well.
To define it briefly; triangulation is when a manipulator, who wants to have total control of the relationship (and most probably has narcissistic tendencies as well), includes a third person to their bilateral relationship and tries to control both parties. I’ll try to explain the situation in a more detailed way with the various examples below.
Triangulation Within the Family
Triangulation within a family mostly takes place amongst siblings. Manipulative parents don’t treat their children equally and while idealizing one of them; they criticize and blame the other quite frequently. So, one of them is basically the golden child whereas the other is the scapegoat. In this way, they drive a wedge between the two while keeping them both under control.
***John and Matt are brothers close in age. Their mother spoils John a lot; she always makes sure he has everything he needs, she keeps telling him that he’s special and continuously brags about his success and positive qualities while talking to others. Although John enjoys the attention, it also puts a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. He tries way too hard to not let her down and be the person his mother expects him to be by studying hard and improving himself in any way he can.
On the other hand; the mother always criticizes Matt, making him feel useless and irredeemable by branding him as the black sheep of the family. No matter how hard he tries to improve himself, he can’t escape his mother’s judgement and belittlement. Eventually he starts to internalize his mother’s opinions on him and acts accordingly.
Matt envies John and believes that he will never receive the amount of attention and love John is being given. Interestingly, John also envies the rebellious nature of Matt and believes that he has more freedom due to the lack of expectations from him.
The mother is on the winning side either way. With the existence of John, she gets the opportunity to show what a great mother she is and with the existence of Matt, she gets to have a scapegoat she can point the finger at whenever a problem arises within the family. Besides, by driving a wedge between her two sons and making it nearly impossible for them to support each other; she gets to control them both separately.
Triangulation can be seen between spouses or divorced couples as well. One of them can try to turn the children against the other parent by making sure they are the only parent their children can rely on.
Triangulation in Romantic Relationships
In romantic relationships, triangulation is used by dragging a third person into the relationship.
***Emma and Oliver’s relationship started like a fairytale. Oliver fell in love Emma in no time and he decided that he could never live without her. He spoils Emma a lot with gifts and attention, constantly telling her how much she means to him. Emma enjoys this treatment and believes Oliver to be the best thing that happened to her. Although the couple have met only a few months ago, they’re already dreaming of spending the rest of their lives together.
In time, Oliver’s attitude begins to change. He starts calling her less often and spends more time with his friends rather than with her. Emma doesn’t think much of it at first, but then she finds out that Oliver has been seeing someone called Sarah. Although Emma immediately confronts Oliver about it; Oliver insists that he and Sarah are just friends and that Emma is being disrespectful and jealous for no reason. After the incident he continues texting Sarah right in front of Emma and continuously compares Emma to Sarah.
In the meantime, he tells Sarah that Emma is just an obsessed ex-girlfriend. Then he starts comparing Sarah to Emma, making her uncomfortable as well.
In this way, he keeps both women confused, jealous and afraid of losing him. By doing this, he believes that he can be the center of their attention by making them fight for his affections while also damaging their self-confidence. Long story short, he satisfies his narcissistic needs and keeps them both under his control.
But of course cheating isn’t necessarily needed for triangulation. In fact, they don’t even need the existence of a real person. The narcissistic lover can compare you to their ex, their new colleagues, their neighbors or even make up someone entirely imaginary for you to compete with.
Triangulation in Friendships
***Michael knows that his friend Sophia is self-conscious about her weight. Despite that knowledge, he keeps bringing up how fit and beautiful Brenda is during their conversations and how all women should be like her instead of “being lazy” and “gluttonous”.
In the meantime, he could also tell Brenda that Sophia is comfortable in her skin unlike “shallow and pretentious” women who try too hard to fit in others’ idea of beauty.
In this way, Michael makes Sophia feel lazy and weak while also implying that Brenda is shallow and insecure.
Even if Sophia and Brenda had the potential of being close friends, they start avoiding each other because of this invisible rivalry between them.
Triangulation in the Workplace
Triangulation in a workplace is usually used by a boss or an employee with a high status to fuel the rivalry between their workers.
***Patricia has been working at the same place for years, and Kevin is a new employee. During her conversations with Patricia, their boss Alice keeps mentioning how talented and hardworking Kevin is despite the fact he has just started working there. And while talking to Kevin, she always talks about how efficient and loyal Patricia is and that nobody in this company can be as good as her.
While competing against each other to keep their job and receive more appreciation from their boss; these two employees are manipulated by a very satisfied Alice without even noticing it.
Why do People Use Triangulation?
Triangulation is a very easy and effective method. All the emotional manipulator has to do is to sow the seeds of jealousy, anger and rivalry between two people and watch the events unfold. In this way, they gain total control of the two people on each side of the triangle as well as the situation they find themselves in with the help of the chaos they have created.
Besides, triangulation can be vague and hard to notice. Because when you’re in a triangulation, all you can focus on is the person you’re forced to compete against, not the manipulator. While competing against the other victim, you find yourself feeling less valuable and less successful in comparison. In the meantime, you completely miss the influence of the person who made you feel “less” in the first place.
In fact, you can find yourself getting more and more attached to the manipulator. Because of triangulation, siblings can start loathing each other while trying hard to please their manipulative parents or two ex-friends can start believing that the manipulative “friend” is the only one they cannot afford to lose to somebody else.
To summarize; manipulators who use triangulation can create a chaotic environment and keep everyone under their control without anybody realizing what they’re doing.
Naturally, you need to get rid of the manipulator in your life in order to get away from this situation but that’s not always easy. Especially if it takes place in your workplace, you may find it hard to get away from this toxic environment due to financial reasons even if you realize who your actual enemy is. Or if you’re in a triangulation with a sibling, you may not have the option to get away from your parents especially if you’re still dependent on them. But even if you’re unable to escape the toxic environment, if you manage reaching out to the person you’re in the triangulation with you may have a chance to ruin the manipulator’s plot. Especially if it’s happening between siblings and these siblings decide to talk to each other about it after realizing what their parents are doing, they can end the hostility between them and start supporting each other.
You should also keep reminding yourself that it’s wrong to compare yourself to others, that everyone leads different paths and your self-worth is not determined by an emotional manipulator. You are not mere puppets under the strings of a manipulator; as long as you educate yourself on emotional abuse and keep doing what you think is right, the manipulator’s attempts at bringing you down will only backfire.
You can also find the articles on https://narsistsiz.medium.com/:
Psychopath Free. “Torture by Triangulation”. https://www.psychopathfree.com/articles/torture-by-triangulation.134/
Bonchay, Bree. Free From Toxic. “The 4 Most Common Narc-Sadistic Triangulation Tactics”. Access 13 May, 2015. http://www.freefromtoxic.com/2015/05/13/the-4-most-common-narc-sadistic-triangulation-tactics/