Identifying Narcissistic Triangulation

Written by Dr. Eric Perry

What does it take to have a healthy relationship? Whether it is in love, friendship, work relationships or family relationships, they all need mutual respect in order to thrive. One of the reasons narcissists are not able to have healthy relationships is because they do not respect people. To the narcissist, people exist solely for their benefit. They need a steady and constant supply of attention, approval, admiration, adoration and worship to feel alive and to prop up their weak egos and unstable self-worth. In a sense, they are addicted to being the center of attention. Their fragile eggshell egos are only held together by a steady and constant narcissistic supply. The narcissist needs people to feed on in order to exist. Individuals are interchangeable and easy to replace, like a pair of shoes. When the narcissistic supply from one source drys up they will easily move on to the next target. This insatiable need for narcissistic supply compels them to always have the next victim close by.

Narcissists use triangulation, a form of manipulation, to whip up a whirlwind of narcissistic supply to feed on. Triangulation is a tactic used by narcissists to control their targeted victim and retain their source of narcissistic supply. A narcissist will use either a third party or group to create a triangle and then use the other person to inflict emotional harm on the targeted person. Triangulation can occur with any three people. It can even occur with a narcissist, a therapist and a spouse. I advise those who are seeking therapy that if they suspect their partner may be a narcissist to arrange to meet the therapist individually before meeting as a couple. By doing so, they are giving the therapist a heads up and provide the therapist with an opportunity to rule this out. Narcissists can be charming and may fool a therapist who is not familiar with this deceptive personality disorder. They may even use animals to feign what an amazing and loving person they are. They will make displays of love toward the animal in order to manipulate the targeted person.

Here are some other examples of triangulation:

1. Love triangle
A narcissist in a “love” relationship gets easily bored and has the constant need to stir things up. He will use triangulation to create discord in order to keep his targeted love interest confused and off balance. They may create a love rivalry, pitting two women against each other only to sit back and bask in the attention. A narcissist will inform his wife that a co-worker is flirting with him at work. The love triangle will make their partner feel insecure and undesirable and they will work harder to please the narcissist. The narcissist will openly flirt with other people in order to provoke an insecurity in his partner. He will openly compare his current love interest to women in his past. He may be unfaithful and blame him for not making her happy. In all of these situations, the narcissist is using other people to create jealousy and insecure feelings in their current love interest, as well as creating the illusion that they are highly desirable.

2. Family triangle
A) To the narcissist, their spouse and children belong to them and their primary reason for existing is to please the narcissist and provide them with narcissistic supply. They may have a favorite golden child from which they receive a steady stream of narcissistic supply and will use this child’s accomplishments to gain attention for themselves. They may also use this child to put down another child who they have labeled as the “black sheep.” They will put the two children against each other.

B) A narcissist may recruit their child to manipulate their spouse. For instance, every time a spouse is trying to leave the narcissist, the narcissist will tell the child “Mommy is trying to leave… go tell her I love her and she should not break up our happy home.” The targeted spouse then becomes the bad parent. The narcissist may even use the family church to manipulate his spouse. They will cry and seek forgiveness for infidelity or other issues from the church and again, cast the targeted spouse as the bad person.

3. Work triangle
In the workplace setting, the narcissist will divide and conquer. He will pit co-workers against each other or may manipulate the entire office against one individual. He may do this by revealing to one co-worker that another co-worker does not like them or may reveal untruths about a co-worker. This triangulation will work because the narcissist keeps the individual apart and never really allows them to talk and clear the air. Open and honest communication is the enemy of triangulation and the narcissist.

4. Social triangle
The narcissist will use triangulation to pit one friend against another. For instance, he will tell the target that another friend does not like them and is saying horrible things about them. They may also tell the target that his other friend is so beautiful and special and then say something like “Don’t you wish you were like her?” By keeping the targeted friend feeling insecure and unworthy of the friendship, the narcissist will have a steady supply of narcissistic supply as the insecure friend tries desperately to prove they are worthy of the friendship.

Many individuals who are experiencing narcissistic triangulation are not aware of what is going on. Their relationship with the narcissist has made them insecure, unstable and doubting themselves. The narcissist gets their power from triangulation by pitting individuals against each other and watching the show unfold. In order for this to work they must keep people apart so they will not communicate with each other. Using their manipulation, the narcissist places themselves at the pinnacle point of all communication. It is important to remember that with awareness comes strength. In order to block the narcissist, we must first identify them and their tactics. Once you learn to spot the narcissist you can take what the narcissist says and throw it out the window.

This article is not meant to diagnose or to be a guide for self-diagnosis. The sole purpose of this article is strictly for educational purposes. My aim is to provide the reader with a psychological education in order to better avoid harmful individuals.

The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a professional relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a medical professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.

Dr. Perry

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66 responses to Identifying Narcissistic Triangulation

  1. WonderMoma says:

    It is helpful to identify this type of behavior. I recently had a supervisor who engaged in triangulation from day one with me. She tried to put me on “her side” and “against” my coworkers. She would also put our clients on “her side” and us “against” them. I worked for her for 6 months.
    Great article.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this! This is the first time I have read this angle on narcissism. Makes so much sense and is so insightful. Thank you so much for this article. I enjoy your writing style.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. consciousoftheheart says:

    Great read! This provides an explanation as to why some people behavior the way they do. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 5 people

  4. tammyingram7 says:

    Wow, thank you for explaining my mom and youngest son. This will help me encourage them, at least my son, that he can get help if he is truly sincere in severing this familial generational stronghold. Makes total sense. Thank you for your time in writing up explanations for all of us who dare to peek into our dark worlds.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Nicolle says:

    Thanks very much for this informational post! It sounds familiar as I read a lot of advice columns, and I wonder how many people in those letters are narcissistic. 🤔

    Liked by 3 people

  6. pamelaparizo says:

    Wow. Thank you. I’ve been studying the red pill. Your love triangle approximates their game of dread, where they keep their love interest, sadly even wives, off balance, to satisfy their own selfish needs.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Inspirememom says:

    I suspect my in-laws, especially my sister-in-law is somewhat narcissistic in behavior. Pawning my step-children especially as seeing her as perfect and always putting blame on their father which provokes tension of course between my husband and his kids. I also have been victim to gas-lighting and fist hand have observed what you describe here. I may have to look through more of your posts, but have you shared anything on how to live or set boundaries with those who convey narcissistic behavior? Especially when it is family you cannot completely cut-off? I have established keeping a distance, but how can I protect my own child from the tactics already tried by family members that I am sure could be tried on my daughter?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello! I am Dr. Perry’s assistant, Isabel. Unfortunately, for ethical and liability reasons Dr. Perry cannot answer individual questions on this blog. Please feel free to fill out the initial consultation form if you are interested in working with him. He offers reduced rates to the blogging community. Wishing you the best, Isabel

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Rayray says:

    This definitely helped me identify the person whom confused and manipulated me. Thank you! I at least have a better understanding…

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Robbie says:

    Great article. Going through something similar myself at the moment and really helps to understand things better.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Dr. Perry, thanks for writing this. I have been dealing with a narcissistic mother my entire life. I’ve tried to go not contact with her several times only to be threatened, sued and bullied into accepting her back into my family. My oldest child is her golden child. She won’t even speak to my youngest and constantly blames him for anything negative about my oldest. My children are 9 and 5. She also constantly tries to demonize my husband to me. I have been stuck in her triangles and manipulation for far too long. To make matters worse I am bipolar. She claims to be supportive of me but when I try to distance myself from her, she calls me names, crazy bipolar b*tch is the tamest.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. The part about love triangles when it comes to co-workers was spot on about my life. I worked in the same office with my narcissist ex-husband, and he made it hell for me, by flirting with all my female co-workers and striking up inappropriate conversations with them. Thank you for another great post.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Diana says:

    Narcissistic friend…friends in my life. Too many of them. And grew up with a Narcissistic parent, so not too far of a journey to find friends like the modeling I received.

    However, I am still respsonsible for my choices. Not always knowing the reasons ‘why’. When the awareness arrives, then I can make different choices. More awareness prepares me to spot the next one.

    What struck me the most in this article, is how the narcissist will easily replace one relationship with another, like a shoe. I had that feeling for years about a life long friend of mine. But didn’t understand why. When it became a reality, the lesson arrived. I walked away, sadly, from a very long friendship. She easily replaced me. Or at least in her mind, she did. I know, that she never really valued the friendship I gave to her, nor does she care. She will never, ever truly replace me with another friend. I will always live on in her memories. No one can replace the past.

    Good Information!

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Rhyme Vine Poetry says:

    Great article! I have been part of a Narcissist’s Severe triangulation and it was what finally caused me to leave. I will put up with a lot (unfortunately), but he was mistaken to think that his major Triangulation would be one of those things I’d put up with. That’s where I drew the line. Of course, he raged, called me names, and played all his over Narcissist mind-games on me when I brought up his abuse. I’m just glad it’s over 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Excellent information. I am astonished at how a narcissist typically is the aggressor but has an obsessive need to be viewed as a victim (of their own choices nonetheless). To some degree we can’t completely disconnect when there are family ties who are influenced by a narcissist.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. katemantis says:

    “The narcissist needs people to feed on in order to exist. Individuals are interchangeable and easy to replace, like a pair of shoes. When the narcissistic supply from one source drys up they will easily move on to the next target. This insatiable need for narcissistic supply compels them to always have the next victim close by.” Spot on!
    I’ve met this; fortunately for me, it was on Facebook. And I knew she was manipulating, though I was unsure about how much truth was sometimes behind her words. It’s difficult to check on someone hidden behind a screen. And the virtual environment of this kind of social media has some very persistent narcissists. Even if you’re not wholeheartedly committed to such a person, the experience might be exhausting, confusing, frightening.
    ” Curiosity kills the cat.” Despite my reason and alarm bells, I was curious and…tempted to see how far this person would go and how well can I handle her. I don’t regret the experience;I’ve learned a lot about her and myself too. I’ve learned a lot about emotional manipulation. But I would not advise anyone to try it. It’s dangerous and it’s not really worth it. There are many valuable people around who can give and give meaningfully, not only feed on you like an emotional vampire.
    Dear dr. Perry! Thank you for these series of articles! I needed them. They are very helpful. My respects!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Jay Kaushal says:

    Damn! I am speechless. Very good work! Especially that part about narcissists placing themselves at the pinnacle of all communication. That is by far the most accurate identifying factor.

    Liked by 5 people

  17. phonynonie says:

    Your elaborate and easy to grasp write up is really educative; and brings the fact to attention that we do keep dealing with such narcissists in our daily lives, unknowingly, whether at office or in our friends/relatives circles.

    And like you said, knowledge is power. Once we know what we are dealing with, finding a solution/remedy or to escape it becomes easier.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Your posts on narcissistic family members really help me unravel the behavior of certain relatives. Thank you so much! Have you written or are you planning on writing about the tricks narcissists use when they become elderly e.g. deliberately putting themselves in harm’s way so you have to take care of them, not contacting their younger relatives when they know how worried these relatives are, would a narcissist deliberately go no-contact if you threatened to cut them off?

    Also, if a child reports abuse (sexual and / or physical / emotional) to a parent / guardian, and the guardian does nothing about it but exposes the child to the person he / she is uncomfortable with, is that a surefire way to determine said parent is a narcissist e.g. if the child says that the father keeps touching it, the mother does nothing because the father is volatile then forces the child to share a bed with the father on a camping trip or some other not-everyday situation?

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Sue Love says:

    I have been on the receiving end of this for a very long time, but never had it identified as such before. It helps make sense out of a lot of what I have gone through and am still going through. So, thank you

    Liked by 2 people

  20. M. Oniker says:

    I have assumed for a long time that a person who trolled me relentlessly for over seven years is a malignant narcissist. Everything you write here confirms my suspicion of at least narcissistic. “Troll” or “bully” doesn’t begin to cover it, as the extent and ferver it took on was unlike a garden-variety troll. These people are experts, have a sixth-sense, about who to target. I was in a low place in my chronic depression and boy howdy, did they know how to swoop in, at first to befriend and then to go 180 and attack. I still have scars.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Ladysag77 says:

    It’s so helpful to outline these types of relationships so those of us living with this type of person in our lives understands what’s going on. For too many years, I was fed upon and gaslighted…meant yo believe I was the crazy one. After many years of intense therapy, I can see all of this so clearly now. Unfortunately, the narcissist in my family is my mother. She has such intense unhealed trauma, it’s very difficult to be around her. I have thankfully learned not to emotionally rescue her or take on her energy. Her behavior is on her and is a reflection of what she feels about herself. As long as I keep that in my mind, I am safe and can have compassion for her. She will never change.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Interesting. This really reflects the polyamorous three-way relationship I was in last year. I realised one of them was a narcissist early on and tried to empower our other partner. Unfortunately, the other partner betrayed me and I chose to leave as I was repeatedly gaslighted and abused by the Narcissist and our other partner (his third party). Interestingly, he also had cats that he seemingly adored, however our other partner and I were the ones doing all the feeding etc. Our other partner also came to me with a comment that he felt I was Buzz Lightyear and he was Woody, and I thought this was odd to create this kind of apex in the triad for the narcissist to sort of ‘captain’ the relationship. I’m glad I’m out of that relationship. At one point I was being gaslighted as the narcissist until I realised that my frequent willingness to consider my own actions and self-reflection were not the traits of a narcissist.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. iamvhardik says:

    Quite interesting. Provides an insight into situations that are manipulated due to narcissistic tendencies of people.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Very interesting and enjoyable to read, as always. I have experienced the work triangle and seen the truth in your statement, “Open and honest communication is the enemy of triangulation and the narcissist.”

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Hi Dr. Perry it’s Micki/MichelleMarie. One of the reasons I love what you do is because you have helped me a lot with my daughter and her relationship attachments. I send all your articles to her. I have many friends I send your way. Your wisdom and way of delivering it helps so much. I think we need to hear it and read it so it gets deep down in our knower. Have a wonderful weekend. 🙂 ღ

    Liked by 2 people

  26. SunnyMade says:

    The work triangle is so spot on, I just experienced this for the past two+ years at a company. Completely ruined my mental health. This is a very eye opening article!

    Liked by 2 people

  27. suze hartline says:

    My mother was a narcissist. All of my siblings and I have been through counseling in n attempt to learn better and more healthful ways of dealing with the fallout from her attitudes and behaviors towards us. Interesting read.

    Liked by 1 person

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