In this episode, I want to talk about the manipulation tactic called triangulation. Where a third party is brought into a situation they don't belong in.Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/mentalfitness)
Triangulation Tactic of Manipulation
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Today I want to talk about Triangulation.
My goal with this podcast is to explain behaviors in the hopes that having an understanding of why some people do the things they do might make it easier for you to not take things personally or let these behaviors of others hurt you, negatively affect your mood, or on a grander scale, affect your life.
More importantly, if listening to my podcast helps you realize you are not where you want to be in life, not being treated the way you deserve to be treated and not living the life you want, I hope some of the things I talk about helps you see you are in a toxic relationship or a toxic environment whether it be your job, school, family, friend group, or relationship and I hope this empowers you to make a change.
If it makes you feel more stuck because you are now awakened to reality and see new possibilities but don’t know how to get there, reach out, and let’s work through that and get you in a better place.
In our lives as humans sharing this earth with other humans, we should all strive to be a good person and see the good in others, practice kindness and compassion but we can’t put blinders on, it is important to acknowledge and accept that not everyone we encounter or interact with and possibly not everyone in our family or friend group are good people.
There are people out there who we interact with who seek to manipulate others for their personal gain, and in some cases, their personal gain might just be the entertainment factor the chaos they create brings or the enjoyment they get from making people angry and lose control.
Seeing the people and situations for what they really are should relieve some stress and anxiety. While empowering you to seek out healthier people and circumstances for your life. Even though it sucks to realize someone you spend time with or someone in your family does not have the best intentions. Seeing people for who they really are is key in keeping the right people in your life and walking away from the ones that don’t contribute to you living your best life. Seeing this and paying attention is what keeps you from getting caught up in other people’s games and in some cases, it keeps you safe.
Plain and simple triangulations are when two people are in conflict and one of them brings in a third party. What I mean by that will become clearer as I continue. Triangulation can be done either outwardly or aggressively, or quietly and passively, it can also be done innocently and unintentionally.
Triangulation can be healthy, and we will touch on that, but the purpose of this episode is to focus on the toxic unhealthy side of triangulation. Triangulation is a popular behavior of toxic people and their go-to manipulation tactic. It's quick, easy, and effective.
Leaning about triangulation and the intention behind it can help you not get caught up in it. Seeing behind the curtain causes the illusion to lose its power, knowing what the manipulator is up to might help you stop or walk away from the situation whether you’re directly involved or not.
Knowledge and awareness will certainly cause the outcome to be less impactful when the power is taken away from the manipulator. Triangulation is used to avoid direct conversations, deflect, create confusion, and in some cases, shift the blame.
Triangulation can occur in any type of relationship work, friends, family, school, romantic, etc.
Its when and a third person is brought in to create competition, jealousy, provoke insecurity, or any number of reasons the manipulator deems appropriate. For example, in a work environment, if you’re up for a promotion and they just told you they are considering someone else as well, or they are posting the opening to see if better candidates come in before giving it to you.
This is to provoke competition, for you to prove yourself… like you haven’t proven yourself already? What is the end game here? This manipulation is purely for their benefit and is disrespectful and insulting to you. This is unhealthy manipulative triangulation that might leave you feeling insecure and questioning your intelligence, your contribution to your career, or work ethic, any number of things can start spiraling in your head from this single action.
In relationships, if your significant other flirts with another person in front of you or talks about other people to make you jealous this manipulation is to create a space for you to prove your love, for you to essentially “compete” with the person they are flirting with to reassure the manipulator that they are loved, their insecurities are causing them to feel they need more attention from you, even if the attention is forced.
Communicating behind other people’s backs, gossip and spreading rumors, forming alliances against a person with the intent of ganging up on another, communicating with one person through another to create a rivalry or an unhealthy or inappropriate alliance, these are all forms of unhealthy triangulation.
The common factor with people who manipulate is insecurity. Manipulating others gives them a temporary feeling of power -hurting others gives them a sense of security and control. Then need to manipulate people and situations to support their thoughts, views or feelings regarding something.
Then need to manipulate in an effort to do everything they can to get the outcome they desire. They use triangulation to avoid conflict by causing conflict between the other two parties in the triangle they have created. They use it to control people and situations to take the focus off of them. Manipulating the people around them into conflict while the manipulator sits back and enjoys the hostility, they created. It’s entertaining to the manipulator. It makes them happy. The manipulator uses others to create a hostile environment, create drama, or pressure another into doing something.
The innocent and accidental situations of triangulation happen all the time it’s a healthy way to process when you are feeling lost and confused in your life. when you are talking to someone about something that happened or the way someone treated you this is still triangulation, however, it's not manipulative, and it's not toxic.
You can see by this example that the term at the beginning of “bringing a third party into the situation” is not always literal because in this case, the third person might not realize you are confiding in someone.
But again, we need this as humans and it's okay. The other person is unaware, in most cases you reaching out and talking things through to this third party gets you a new and healthy perspective and it benefits the third person in the end this is not manipulation, and this is a healthy form of triangulation.
On the other hand, if the person you confided in takes it upon themselves to confront the person you discussed with them when you didn’t ask them to or need them to. That is innocent and accidental on the part of the person who put these wheels in motion… but once the third party involved themselves it became inappropriate.
However, if you sought out this person you confided in on purpose because you knew they would lash out at the person you were complaining about, then that was done with intent and that is manipulation – that is intentional triangulation.
When looking at the people who use the intentional, malicious form of triangulation on a regular basis. In a lot of cases, there is cause for concern. My purpose for bringing topics like this up is because you might think you’re dealing with someone who can be mean at times or is just a jerk.
We hear people throw around the word narcissist all the time:
“he’s a narcissist, he’s acting like a narcissist… the fact is, he just might very well BE a narcissist. Or not, but if he is, this is something to take a little more seriously than the way we are taking it when we throw that word around.
When dealing with triangulation and other manipulation tactics, the reality might be that you’re dealing with someone who is so much more than just being a jerk. We tend to never consider that we are possibly dealing with someone with a personality disorder or other mental illnesses. Maybe you’re not dealing with someone with a mental illness or personality disorder, maybe you just got caught up with someone being manipulative, but that is not okay either.
Especially if they are chronic manipulators. People who turn to manipulation regularly believe they are always being manipulated. Just like people who lie all the time assume they are always being lied to. That’s how their brains work and that’s how we get caught up defending ourselves for things we never did. It’s also why they find they cannot stop lying and manipulating because they believe everyone else is too. Chronic manipulation is not a mental illness diagnosis.
This is why I want to bring personality disorders into the conversation.
Manipulation and triangulation are major character traits in people with Cluster B Personality disorders: I want to touch on personality disorders for a second and my next episodes will dig more into the cluster B personality disorders. There is always a chance the difficult or toxic person in your life has a personality disorder or other mental illness that may or may not be diagnosed.
For me, having an understanding is key and seeing people for who they really are is essential. If you walk around pretending everyone is kind and giving and just having a bad day, that attitude and belief can end up biting you in the ass or landing you in an abusive or more dangerous situation.
Pretending things don’t exist doesn’t make them go away and it doesn’t make them less real. So be aware of who the people in your life truly are, don’t be so quick to disregard or defend bad behavior. Personality disorders are confusing and tend to have overlapping behaviors and characteristics.
Because of that, they are categorized into different groups called clusters, within each cluster, there are shared behaviors and characteristics.
There are 10 different Personality disorders in the DSM-5 and they are split into three clusters:
Cluster A is characterized as odd or eccentric behavior – so paranoid, schizoid and schizotypal
Cluster B is characterized as dramatic, overly emotional, unpredictable behaviors and thought processes.
I’ll break the 4 of these down in my next episode because these are the ones with manipulation as one of the common character traits. And being around people with these disorders that are untreated can put you in abusive or dangerous situations.
We’re talking about
Narcissistic personality disorder
Antisocial personality disorder
Histrionic personality disorder and
Borderline personality disorder
Cluster C consists of Fearful and anxious behaviors - avoidant, dependent and obsessive-compulsive disorders fall into this category.
The numbers regarding how many people have personality disorders are hard to pin down because of a few factors, first - often people with personality disorders don’t care and don’t see themselves as the problem not taking responsibility and blaming others is common, triangulation helps with this, because of that, they have no reason to get help, therefore, there isn’t a diagnosis on record
Second people who do seek help are often misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, PTSD Post-traumatic stress disorder, or a number of other mental illness diagnoses.
This is not surprising since people with personality disorders usually also have other mental illnesses, they can even have more than one personality disorder. So it can get messy because other mental illnesses can get diagnosed and the personality disorder can get overlooked.
Like I said before I will dig into each of the cluster B personality disorders more in my next episode. Please connect with me on Instagram or through my website if you have specific question about any of the personality disorders or would like to discuss this topic with me now before the episodes come out.
Let’s get back to triangulation.
I want to touch on how triangulation is used by people with NPD and BPD.
People with NPD use triangulation to feel empowered and superior. They use it to Devalue others and keep their perceived competitors off-kilter, they manage to gain confidence and self-esteem by engaging in this behavior. It’s much like how cliques operate in middle school and high school talking behind people's backs and pitting people against each other all for the powerful feeling it brings, especially when it causes destruction to people’s feelings and relationships.
Those with BPD don’t necessarily use it to cause destruction, although it does. But their intention is more about positioning themselves to be the center of attention. They have a constant need to feel needed and important. It’s how they feel they get reassurances of love The manipulator thinks that by manipulating people and triangulating them. It will prevent the person they are trying to manipulate from abandoning them. Their thought is if they get two people against each other and relying on them. They become the center of attention. This makes them feel like they’re needed, even though it is a manufactured need.
It is not out of the question for them to create situations where people are fighting over them.
Don’t jump to the conclusion that the only people using triangulation as a manipulation tactic have a personality disorder that is not my point in bringing personality disorders into this conversation. My point is to make you aware that they exist and are real and if you know some of the signs you are better able to protect yourself, especially if they are not getting treatment. Bottom line anyone with or without personality disorders or mental illnesses may use triangulation as a manipulation tactic.
The frequency and intensity of their use could signal there might be a bigger issue. Also, not all people with personality disorders act this way, some are aware of their disorder, and are accurately diagnosed and getting the treatment they need, as a result, they don’t rely on these manipulative tendencies to fulfill their needs.
Regardless of the existence of a personality disorder or other mental illness is present or not, manipulation and triangulation have most probably been part of your life. If you’ve had a problem with a friend or family member, think back, was direct communication used? Perhaps instead the friend or family member used a third party – to complete the triangle and use that person to say everything they wanted to say.
Involving other people also opens the door to now having someone else to blame or when something negative comes out of the situation. Blame it on miscommunication because too many people were involved. Triangulation makes it easy to not take responsibility when things get messy. Sometimes, somehow in all the back and forth and lies on the part of the manipulator, you can come out the bad guy. And everyone involved turns on you and sides with the manipulator.
This is, of course, is their end game especially when triangulation is being used with aggression and intent. You may even start questioning the truth. They can successfully create peer pressure and manipulate the situation enough that no one else sees or understands what’s really going on. You as the person being triangulated start to question yourself and the situation, wondering “Am I the only one who sees what is happening here?
“Maybe this is all in my head?” you can start feeling trapped, controlled, and maybe a little crazy, you might not even be able to clearly see why you are feeling the way you are feeling.
Those brought into the triangle can start to feel confused and coerced, not sure why they are brought into this. They are usually made to feel like they need to pick a side. And feel pressured to align with the dominant party because they know they will experience negative consequences if they don’t triangulation can be used in relationships to make partners jealous, the thought is jealousy means you love them the manipulator feels creating a situation of jealousy will reinforce your love for them. However, this can backfire and their partner leaves because they feel the manipulator's behavior is disrespectful or when the triangulation goes as far as cheating in most cases the manipulator experiences the other person ending their relationship. Now, in their eyes, they were abandoned. The exact situation they were actually trying to avoid.
Sometimes the triangulation includes people who aren’t even physically there. Like an ex, the manipulator will constantly bring up their ex to make you jealous. Maybe even get you to start competing in a way with the ex, show that you are better than they were, you love the manipulator more than the ex did.
That is the goal. In a lot of cases, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and the relationship ends. But the manipulator doesn’t take responsibility for their behavior, they blame the person they were manipulating or the third party they brought into the triangulation.
In families, you can see triangulation with other family members, siblings, or between parents and children. When you have a parent or parents who clearly idolize one child as the special one, the golden child, and the other is neglected or maybe consistently treated badly, Child A can do no wrong – even when they do wrong things. And child B only does wrong – even when they do the right things. This is triangulation used as manipulation.
Or when a parent uses the other parent to threaten a child
“wait until your father gets home!” instead of simply handling the situation and expressing how they feel about the situation, taking responsibility, and disciplining the child on their own. It can occur between siblings teaming up, against another or even a parent, and child can form an alliance against the other parent.
Divorced or separated parents do this when they have a difficult relationship and they use the child to pass messages to each other, this turns toxic when one or both parents begin speaking poorly or our right mean, even lying about the other parent to the child leaving them stuck in the middle.
The third party brought into the triangulation sometimes feels trapped, humiliated, concerned for the person who is being manipulated and concerned for themselves, the person being manipulated and the third party can begin feeling concerned for their safety or the safety of the other person in this with them.
Often the need to confront someone or set the record straight is compelling to the two people stuck in this manipulative situation, but that is exactly what the manipulator is looking for. Especially when the triangulation is intended for the specific purpose of causing problems.
Getting worked up feeling or acting out of control lets the manipulator know that what they are trying to do is working. The manipulator might be well aware of what they are doing and do it anyway, while others are not conscious of what they are doing, they do it because it is all they know, it has been their coping mechanism throughout life and no one has ever given them better tools or healthier skills.
Triangulation and getting people who do not belong in the situation involved can lead to hurt feelings, misunderstandings while creating uncomfortable situations. If the person being manipulated is strong and has people around them to support them, this cycle will eventually cause them to leave. Others who are not as strong or who constantly give the person the benefit of the doubt, hold out hope they will change or are too scared or don’t know how to leave, they stay, and succumb to this cycle of abusive treatment.
When you find yourself being manipulated, especially by someone doing it with aggressiveness and intent, try to stay in control of the only thing you can control, you and how you respond to the way you’re being treated. Resist the urge to engage, no matter what you do or say you will never control the person provoking or baiting you especially if they are toxic. You are not that magical, no one is.
When you are in a healthy relationship, whether its work, school, family, your friend group or romantic, healthy communication is open and honest. Conflict will arise and that’s not a bad thing, how it is resolved is where the difference between healthy and toxic come into play.
Communicate directly with the person you have issues with. This keeps it clean and honest. Bringing other people in is where it gets messy. Keep this in mind about your life and the way you handle things. When you find yourself stuck in the middle of being manipulated, especially if it is chronic you need to evaluate and perhaps eliminate that relationship from your life, no matter who the person manipulating you is.
And remember talking to someone to gain clarity and perspective is a healthy and necessary form of triangulation.
A quick word about red flags and warning signs especially when it comes to interacting with manipulative toxic people. A great guide to always keep in mind is: The minute you don’t tell someone something bad that happened to you, or How you are being treated; when you keep things hidden that are happening to you or in your life, you are protecting someone who does not deserve to be protected you become an active participant in your own abuse cycle this is the minute you start turning your back on yourself and trading their safety for your safety.
Then each of those minutes accumulates and you will feel smaller and smaller and more trapped. You will start believing the belittling things they are saying to you, and eventually, you will start seeing yourself through their eyes. And that is dangerous because their version of you is not real.
When you feel shame or guilt because of how someone has manipulated you, or the ways you have allowed yourself to be manipulated and lied to that is how they want you to feel because they believe that will ensure you keep quiet and they can continue treating you this way.
I need to be blunt here, but you have to get worrying about what others think, and you need to get over feeling like you did anything wrong by getting sucked in and falling for the manipulation. The fact of the matter is that some people are just amazingly good at manipulation and lying. Stop protecting the person you are protecting. They don’t deserve it.
Get the thoughts out of your head that people will think you were stupid for allowing whatever it was that happen to you to happen, or that you are weak, or deserved it.
Only ignorant uninformed people think that way. Seek out the people in your life who won’t respond like that and make you feel worse than you already do… they are out there. Your primary concern should be to keep yourself safe and avoid being manipulated.
Strong, confident, beautiful, secure people have found themselves manipulated and trapped in situations they never thought they would be in… so, get that out of your head and do something. Manipulation comes in all shapes and sizes, none of which are acceptable behavior from anyone.
As we have learned today triangulation can be healthy, it can innocent and lack intention, but still, hurt or cause destruction. Triangulation can also have intension without intending to be malicious, In toxic cases, it can be very intentional with the direct desire to hurting someone. If this is a frequent occurrence it’s a pretty good indicator that the person you are with uses manipulation and probably lying to control you and control events in your life.
This can be present in a person with or without a personality disorder or mental illness diagnosed or undiagnosed. Don’t jump to conclusions that the manipulative person in your life has a personality disorder. But don’t be so quick to disregard it and cover for the person either.
Information is power use it wisely.
When you see yourself being pulled into a situation of triangulation, set boundaries, a simple phrase like
“I don’t want to get involved in this” or
“I feel uncomfortable being present for this conversation”
and either it stops, or you get up and remove yourself. Or “I don’t think this is my business; I would prefer if you have this conversation with him or her directly”
If you notice you are the person using triangular manipulation, you need to spend some time examining why you have chosen to use this passive means of communicating versus being honest and direct. Deal only with you and the person involved in a calm communicative manner. You will need to take some time working with someone to gain the tools and skills to effectively communicate and break this cycle, learn to take ownership for your behavior, and responsibility for how you interact with and use other people.
Gaining these healthy skills will eliminate the need to involve other people in your conflicts or life issues. Reaching out to people for support and conversation, to get an outside perspective is healthy and encouraged. This is still triangulation but in a healthy acceptable form. This type of triangulation does not have manipulation attached and it is purely to gain insight and a different perspective. It is when the third party is dragging into the situation or forces themselves into the situation where it becomes an issue. When you seek out people to discuss stressors in your life, be sure they are people who can hear what you are saying and support you without lashing out at the person or putting themselves in the middle of the situation.
Manipulation can be intentional toxic and abusive. Especially when pulling people who do not need to be involved into the mix. Pay attention to the levels of manipulation and the situations you find yourself in. Remember keeping yourself safe, not allowing yourself to be beaten down by liars and manipulators is your main job in life.
Always remember that.
If you are in an abusive relationship, please reach out to someone you can trust today and start making a plan or call the national abuse hotline 1-800-799-7233 for help.
The national sexual assault hotline is 1-800-656-4673
Be careful of searching places like this on your computer as search history is traceable or calling from your phone since phone logs are easy to access. If you need to contact these organizations use a friend’s computer or phone or one at work if you can.
Suicidal thoughts and tendencies are associated with personality disorders, but they also arise when people are feeling trapped with no way out, if your situation has gotten you to this point, confide in someone you trust immediately.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance
Thank you for listening to this episode of Identify & Conquer. If you want to discuss personality disorders or manipulation, in more detail, if you are stuck in this cycle with someone, feel free to connect with me.
My name is Wendy Pilcher and I work with people who are in the process of rebranding themselves, making a life shift that makes you happier and more fulfilled…
I help you through your rebuilding process by conquering your limiting beliefs and saboteurs before they convince you that you don’t deserve the life you desire.
Your real life is waiting for you, let’s go!
Every minute not following your dreams is another minute wasted.