Written by Dr. Eric Perry, PhD
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 therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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