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Triangulation: A Narcissistic Abuse Tactic – Orange County Divorce & Family Law


Triangulation is a form of manipulation in which one person uses another person to manipulate a third person. When people triangulate, they exploit the dynamics between two or more other people for their own benefit. They may do it to increase their status, feel superior, acquire material gains, or for another selfish purpose. By using sneaky “divide and conquer” strategies, they can influence others to get what they want. Triangulation happens all the time in today’s world, within families, in the workplace, and in romantic situations.

Who uses triangulation?

Everyone is guilty of triangulation at some point. Even a toddler who lies about not having eaten dessert already is technically guilty of triangulation. But people with serious personality disorders, including narcissism, take it to a new level of toxicity. They habitually use triangulation to manipulate the people in their life, which makes them draining and difficult to deal with.

Examples of things narcissistic triangulation-

  • The husband or wife who purposely tries to make their spouse jealous by using other people who are (or purportedly are) interested in the. One example would be a husband that makes up a story about a coworker or other person who was flirting with him. Or a wife that tries to use other men to make her husband jealous.
  • Someone who can’t wait to make you insecure by relaying stories of people who were allegedly gossiping about you. “You won’t believe what so and so said about you…”

Narcissistic triangulation between parents and children:

  • The mother or father that tries to gain the favor of the children with manipulative or secret tactics, often to seem like the “cool” or permissive parent. “OK, you can have another bowl of ice cream, but don’t tell your mother!” When triangulation involves children, it is also known as “parental alienation.”
  • A narcissistic parent may triangulate one sibling against another. It’s common for narcissistic parents with multiple children to have one who is “the golden child” and another who is “the scapegoat.”
  • The “golden child” is a mirror of the grandiose self-image of the narcissistic parent. They will shower the child with praise, hold them responsible for projecting an image of success, and lavish attention and resources on this child.
  • The scapegoat child will bear the burden of the narcissistic parent’s insecurities and inner demons. They will harshly criticize this child, withholding affection and attention. They will negatively compare this child to their siblings.

Protecting yourself

If there is someone in your life who habitually uses other people to make you feel insecure, manipulate your actions, or get you to compete for their affection and attention, there is a good chance you are experiencing the effects of toxic triangulation behaviors. Your best move is to speak with a mental health professional about boundary-setting strategies. If you are experiencing this sort of thing in the context of a southern California family law case, our firm specializes in helping people navigate these obstacles.

Do you have a divorce or family law question?

Call our office today at 949-889-1227. We specialize in helping clients who have divorce and family law matters complicated by narcissism, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. John A. Bledsoe is Orange County’s premier divorce attorney and a certified family law specialist. Our firm offers a confidential initial case evaluation.  to learn more.

Our firm specializes in divorce and family law cases that are complicated by narcissism and other personality disorders, and we’ve written an extensive catalog of posts about how to handle the situation if your ex is a narcissist.

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