Sep 20th 2023
Narcissistic triangulation is a technique used by people with narcissistic traits to control and manipulate the people around them, whether this is within their family, relationships, friendships, or workplace. Narcissistic triangulation can have negative consequences for those who experience it, but there are ways it can be managed or avoided.
Triangulation is a term used to describe a tactic that changes the dynamics of a conversation or argument. Two people in a discussion or disagreement bring a third person into the conversation, creating a triangle. This is often used in conflict situations to deflect some of the tension onto the third person or reinforce one side of the argument .
Triangulation can be a useful strategy to defuse tension and conflict. However, it can also be used in a harmful way to manipulate or control situations or to exacerbate conflict.
Triangulation is not uncommon and can be seen in many different types of relationships, such as parent-child relationships, romantic partners, friendships, and in the workplace. If someone uses triangulation intentionally, it may be seen as a manipulation or control tactic .
Some of these may be signs of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), although they may also occur in individuals with borderline or antisocial personality disorders . Triangulation as a form of manipulation or control is often seen in emotionally abusive relationships, in which the abuser may have traits of NPD .
However, not everyone with NPD is emotionally abusive, nor does every abuser have NPD .
Three distinct roles are portrayed within triangulation. The individual utilizing triangulation as a manipulation tactic may take on any of these roles, although they most commonly adopt the role of persecutor or victim .
Persecutor: The persecutor uses language and actions that are hostile, attacking, blaming, aggressive, or critical toward the person they feel is in the wrong.
Victim: The victim attempts to gain sympathy and attention by acting helpless or hurt, shifting the blame and responsibility onto others.
Rescuer: The rescuer aims to be superior to the others or tries to make themselves look like the ‘hero’ by jumping in to save or fix the situation. They will try to make others feel guilty for creating conflict.
People with NPD often experience the following symptoms, as outlined in the DSM-5 :
These traits can lead to people with NPD using manipulation and control tactics to meet their needs without any concern for the well-being of others. This often occurs within the persecutor role, using aggression and hostility to control the other person with fear or to demonstrate to others why this person is in the wrong .
A person with NPD might use the victim role to gain sympathy, attention, and affection, which allows them to feel special and superior. This role can also help them deflect any responsibility for an argument or mistake, potentially forcing others to take the blame .
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