Triangulation is defined as indirect communication where one person (usually the narcissist) acts as a messenger between two others, often fabricating the message to suit the talebearer’s objective. Triangulation is commonly used by narcissists’, and it ties in with gas lighting and projection. In narcissistic families the narcissist will avoid discussing any issues they have with a targeted individual in the family unit. Instead, they will communicate with a third family member, or a few family members at one time, in regard to a problem, which normal healthy adults would be able to resolve by themselves without involving other people. The narcissist’s minions often feel compelled to become a part of the triangle in a bid to resolve the narcissist’s problems with targeted individuals. Usually, this solution to the problem ends in triangulation, anger and passive aggression.
The personality disordered mother or father is without an interpersonal tool box. They do not know how to resolve conflict, do not want to resolve conflict, enjoy drama, and will often create drama by deliberately becoming upset over trivial things which normal people simply do not become upset about. Vengeance will often be taken out against a target (which is usually one of the narcissist’s children) for trivial slights, via triangulation.
In normal families the parents act as leaders. They do not involve other people in their problems, and they deal with any problems they have with their children directly. Healthy parents do not discuss issues they have with one child, with the other children in the family. Healthy parents want their children to grow into assertive, authentic human beings who know how to handle problems head on without involving friends or family in their issues with other people.
How does the narcissistic family handle conflict?
The narcissist is no stranger to divide and conquer. With this strategy, the narcissist will sow seeds of instability between the family members, in the hope of creating havoc, and to eventually turn the entire family against a target of choice (usually the scapegoat). For this strategy to work, the narcissist must share information, or mean spirited comments (real or not), that the target has mentioned in confidence to the narcissist about their siblings. The narcissist thrives on telling each sibling how unhappy their other siblings are with them.
The narcissist uses divide and conquer day in, day out to create conflict. The narcissist is constantly twisting the words of their allies around to suit their own agenda, in the hope of emotionally harming their target. There is always a slither of truth added to the lies the narcissist tells each individual party that the other party has said about them.
Question: What happens in family situations where there is divide and conquer?
Answer: If all of the siblings feel offended by the target’s mean words, they will feel more compelled to triangulate against the target, in the hope of resolving what is now a family problem with the target.
In the narcissist’s mind, they honestly believe that if they can secure allies’ against another family member, than this family member will have no choice but to become submissive to the narcissist, and behave as the narcissist would like them to.
The narcissist doesn’t want to solve their problems directly with the many people they have a problem with. To do so would be to resolve the problem, and narcissist’s do not want to resolve problems. Instead, a narcissist will often create a problem with one of their children, the next door neighbour, or the enabling parent, just to gain attention, adoration, and sympathy from their many allies’. The narcissist feigns victimhood so well, and the narcissist’s allies’ (who are under the spell of mind control, and honestly believe they are helping) often take the problem on as though its their own, and try to fix the problem for the narcissist.
If one sibling can make the other sibling behave appropriately, (usually through aggression or anger) than the narcissist will be happy. However, all that happens here is that the attacked sibling, or enabling parent simply becomes resentful of the narcissist’s ally (usually a brother or sister, or son or daughter) because they have become involved in something that has absolutely nothing to do with them.
The narcissist’s children learn from the narcissist first hand, that the only way to handle a problem with a sibling, or parent is to gossip about this person to another family member, and to try to draw this person into the triangle.
Over time, the gossip spread about each family member behind their backs, is fed back to them through another family member. This becomes the family’s pattern of communication. Confrontation becomes something to be afraid of, which of course, results in a fear based system of communication. This fear based system of communication becomes the catalyst for passive aggressive communication which results in rage.
Where does the problem lie?
The narcissist has the emotional capacity of a three year old, which means that the leader in this family leads the children down the garden path, and ends up passing skills down to their children which will destroy the children’s future relationships. The ‘leader’ in this family is nothing more than a perpetrator, which is why this family often falls apart.
What is the problem with indirectness? Tools of the unskilled
Indirect communication between family members often leads to resentment and discontent in the narcissist’s children. When siblings find out indirectly about a problem another family member has with them through a ‘Chinese whispers’ type style of communication, the affected family member feels hurt, which is often the reason why relationships between siblings often fizzle out. Triangulation makes the narcissistic family unit an unpredictable, and frightening place to be.
Many adult children of narcissist’s eventually grow tired of the chaos that triangulation causes. They eventually realise that they cannot solve the narcissist’s problems, become tired of their own part in the dysfunction, and often walk away from an entire family, deciding that they will no longer have triangulation in their lives.
The narcissistic family’s values and belief systems are topsy turvy. In the narcissistic family set up, the children quickly learn that it is not ok to put up boundaries, behave assertively, or to resolve a problem through direct communication. Yet it is ok triangulate against loved ones, including friends and family.
It is very likely that at least one of the narcissist’s children will take on some of the trouble making behaviours passed down from the narcissist.
Venting or triangulation?
Venting to a trusted friend about an issue with another person can be very helpful, if the intent is to gain advice about resolving the problem. This is a very effective way of handling conflict resolution, and will often lead to the person enquiring, to take their friends advice, and to use it to help to resolve an ongoing problem.
However, involving other people in your problem with another person in the hope that this person will take on the problem and try to resolve it for you is called triangulation, and is one of the narcissist’s favourite tactics.
Confrontation in the narcissistic family
Confrontation is a big no no in the narcissistic family system. The narcissist’s anxiety ridden, petrified children become immune to triangulation, and will often resort to this learned behaviour through fear of confrontation. However, instead of resolving the problem, this fear of confrontation perpetuates the problem and exacerbates the issue even further.
When confronted, narcissist’s can become verbally or physically aggressive, may turn against the victim by implementing allies, and will most likely use the silent treatment to pay the victim back.
The assertive child, teenager, or adult child of the narcissist who dares to assert their needs, says no to the narcissist about an agreed upon arrangement, or challenges the narcissist’s poor behaviour will most definitely be shamed. Authentic children who speak their mind are the narcissist’s biggest fear. Hence, the reason why authentic children are almost always scapegoated, and emotionally crushed beyond belief.
The rule of thumb in this family is that you never ever confront anybody in this family unit. Children in the narcissistic family do not come out unscathed, and often suffer with some big emotional issues of their own. After all, these children have spent their entire childhoods with a narcissistic parent who exhibits a complete lack of accountability, a sense of entitlement, and who refuses at all costs to be wrong. Often the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the narcissist’s non-narcissistic children often struggle with some of these issues in adulthood themselves.
Damned if you do and damned if you don’t
Children of narcissist’s often hand over their power, back down, and accept mistreatment, in order to stay safe from potentially harmful caregivers, or an angry, aggressive golden child.
However, the problem with backing down, and forgoing the right to assert ones needs is that this ‘child like survival mechanism’ is merely a temporary solution to a very big problem. Not discussing problems with the person concerned, and turning on them instead through triangulation is like stepping on a grenade. Inappropriate aggression, venting, and resentment from the narcissist’s minions towards those triangulated against, is the consequence of an innate fear of confrontation.
Adult children of narcissist’s often refuse to assert themselves around their peers through fear that the people they associate with will react to their assertiveness with the same outrageous response the narcissistic parent once did.
Emotionally healthy families
In emotionally healthy families, parent’s do not recruit third parties (the other siblings), or use messengers to help to settle their differences with their children. Instead, they have face to face discussions with their child, teenager, or adult child.
Emotionally healthy parent’s encourage their children to discuss their issues with one another openly and honestly. These parent’s do not gossip about their children behind their backs with the other children. Instead, they guide their children in conflict resolution.