3 Ways To Protect Yourself From A Narcissist's Attempt To Triangulate You
Are you being dragged into fights that aren't yours? Here’s how to wheel out of it.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | November 7, 2022
Have you ever been dragged into a conflict between two individuals and asked to be a mediator? Perhaps you've been on the receiving end of phrases like:
- "Did you know your father is cheating on me?"
- "I heard your brother is upset, you better talk to him and apologize."
- "You won't believe what my wife put me through last night."
If yes, then you may be experiencing an episode of 'triangulation.'
Triangulation is a manipulative technique where one or both people involved in a conflict pull a third person into the dynamic to ease the tension.
Emotional manipulation is not okay and no one willingly wants to experience it. However, tactics such as triangulation can be difficult to identify. Particularly people with narcissism often try to maintain control through manipulation in order to protect their own fragile self-concept.
Falling victim to triangulation can cause you to experience many of the same consequences as other forms of emotional abuse, such as feeling unstable and insecure, thereby impacting your self-esteem and self-worth.
If the above definition of triangulation sounds familiar to you, here is what you can do to pull yourself out of it.
#1. Have a direct conversation
Calling out a manipulative tactic such as triangulation can be tough, particularly when you are not comfortable having difficult conversations and/or the other person is not supportive.
However, being assertive is the key.
Think about what you want to say and keep your tone respectful so that they do not feel attacked. Make them aware that you are able to notice an unhealthy pattern while remaining empathetic to their situation.
For example, when you see that your parents are comparing you with your sister, you could reply by saying- "My sister and I are different people. We are unique in our own right and I love that about us. I do not want to compete with my sister. Instead, I would like to encourage her to focus on her skills and use them to her advantage."
#2. Set boundaries
It may not always be possible to prevent triangulation, especially in a situation that involves your family. In cases where boundary violation is likely, try to establish boundaries for yourself instead. Be clear about what you will and won't put up with.
- First, let the other person know what you won't put up with. You can say, "I am not comfortable with you asking me these questions."
- Then, bring up how you might have to respond if you feel your boundary is violated. Such as, "If you continue to ask me intrusive questions that I don't like to talk about, I will need to distance myself from you."
- Finally, check in with yourself and remind yourself of the other's perspective. Recognize that they might have their own insecurities which is what is making them pry on your personal life in this manner.
However, it is not worth being repeatedly dragged into the 'triangle' to the detriment of your own mental health. At time you might consider the following:
#3. Walk away or cut them off
If you feel that your boundaries are being violated continuously, find a way to exit the situation. Reminding them that you have something time-sensitive to do will help them realize that you have other priorities in your life.
Alternatively, remove yourself entirely from the dynamic if it gets too toxic. Ask yourself if it really benefits you to be in a situation that is leading nowhere good. Instead of engaging in sticky situations like this, spend more time around people and in situations that uplift your mood.
Remember that it is okay to sometimes not explain yourself for moving away from a situation that is toxic.
Triangulation can also affect you afterward – you may find yourself sad, as a relationship of any kind is of worth to you, no matter what. In such cases, make sure to fall back on your support network or a counselor for professional support.
Triangulation can hamper your sense of self. However, relying on your coping skills and taking charge of your own well-being can help you establish healthy boundaries and form better relationships in the future.