Narcissists are known for a variety of characteristics that contribute to their overall persona. They are often alluring, charming, yet self-entitled and self-important, possessing a grandiose idea of themselves and what they are deserving of. Narcissists often resort to tactics of extreme manipulation to achieve their desired goals. For a narcissist, the object is always to become and remain the center of attention, admiration and even envy. Two of the most commonly used manipulation tactics are gaslighting and triangulation.
Triangulation is a deceitful form of manipulation in which utilizes the assistance of a third party, often without their knowledge, to inflict emotional and mental abuse on their target. Sociopaths, psychopaths, borderlines and narcissists commonly use triangulation. In triangulation, the narcissist will use this third party to discredit or dismantle their target, often by playing the victim themselves and soliciting the third party to appear to support the narcissist’s behavior innocently.
There are three key roles in triangulation manipulation: The oppressor, the champion and the persecuted. The narcissist most often occupies the role of the oppressor. It is important to note that while narcissists seem to have the same level or higher of emotional intelligence as others, more often, their emotional intelligence is underdeveloped, reflecting the emotional whims of a petulant child who is being told they cannot have their way.
The Roles of Triangulation
This role is one that narcissists and sociopaths are often drawn too. They believe themselves to be the victim. The role is adopted because the narcissist will project the negative parts of themselves onto the persecuted. He or she will then begin to believe that the persecuted is acting out in behaviors, a result of their negative projections, that are horrendous and unacceptable.
In the simplest forms of triangulation used by narcissists, the process begins with the narcissist acting in character. Perhaps they exhibit selfish behavior towards their partner and their partner, in return becomes angry or upset because of their selfish behavior. Since the narcissist believes that they are not in the wrong, they begin to label their partner as an enemy, finding a malicious cause in any and every behavior which contradicts the narcissist’s image of themselves.
This role is not always occupied by a real person. The champion can be a statement or individual, real or imagined, that the oppressor uses to boost his or her ‘defense’ against the persecuted. In some cases, a narcissist will seek and find a person who they can convince of their worth and value. This person will often genuinely believe that the narcissist is validated in their claims of being attacked emotionally or verbally by the persecuted.
When a real person is the champion, they are often unaware of the narcissist’s true nature, having been shielded from these characteristics to fulfill the specific purpose of being the champion. In many instances, the narcissist has illustrated qualities that drive the champion to seek approval or admiration from the narcissist.
Narcissists who utilize triangulation in their intimate relationships will often use potential new partners, new partners or even ex-partners to achieve their goal of manipulation. With new partners, the oppressor behavior is done in such a way to make the ex-partner of a recent relationship feel as though the detrimental behaviors were a product of the persecuted partners. It is common in these types of scenarios for the narcissist to use both the new partner and the ex-partner to fulfill a need for constant admiration and attention. The new partner will be seeking the approval of the relationship and willing to become a source of supply for the narcissist’s needs. Similarly, the ex-partner may still be hooked or feeling the effects of the narcissist’s abuse and attempting to retroactively convince the narcissist that their relationship is worthwhile and that the new partner cannot understand or provide the narcissist with what they need or deserve.
Non-intimate individuals can also become part of the process of triangulation as well. This can be a friend or family member who already has some issues with personal self-worth which they believe can be fulfilled by the attention and support of the narcissist. These individuals will subject themselves to the process of triangulation, often without realizing that the goal of the narcissist is controlling another individual. These individuals will willingly support the narcissist because they may believe it will offer them some favor from that individual.
There are also times where the champion is a statement, real or fictitious, which the narcissist uses to reinforce the negative abuse on the persecutor. These statements may be claims that other people who know both the oppressor and persecuted are siding with the oppressor’s feelings. For example, a narcissist may claim that their friends have agreed that the persecutor is being unkind or damaging to their relationships to make the persecuted feel as though they are doing something wrong.
The role of the persecuted is often portrayed by the individual which has recognized or attempted to illuminate the narcissistic behavior they have observed. Often, their reactions and insights into this behavior are what trigger the narcissists need to engage in triangulation. The persecuted will be the actual victim of a system of behavior designed to discredit them or make them appear to be the individual in the relationship who is the one with the problems.
A common occurrence is that the persecuted will often feel that they are purposefully being manipulated, thus elating their feelings of reaction. “I’m not crazy”, “I have a right to feel this way because they are demeaning me” or other such statements, however, are the planned reaction the opposer is seeking. These claims, particularly when they are reiterated repeatedly, can make the persecuted appear to others as the oppressor intends, generating more support for their smear campaign against the persecuted.
While many times triangulation occurs in relationships between a narcissist and an intimate partner, it is important to note that this form of manipulative behavior can occur in any type of relationship with a narcissist. If you believe you are in a relationship where triangulation is occurring, you may wish to seek the professional assistance of a licensed therapist or counselor.