How & Why Narcissists Triangulate (Plus How To Respond)

It’s now pretty well known that the narcissists – as well as their close cousin, the psychopath/sociopath – love to triangulate in relationships once the mask comes off, and even once they’re over as well.

This means they constantly involve other people into interactions and situations, in a way that often annoys, upsets or otherwise provokes negative feelings in a target person. They are playing you off in some way against another person, often in a way that makes you feel isolated or inadequate by comparison.

But why do narcissists even do this? They must surely know it hurts us, so why do they do it not just once, but repeatedly, over and over again, in our face?

I phrased the question in this way to encapsulate the naivety that’s often found in victims of narcissistic triangulation, and that needs overcoming to get streetwise to how narcissists think and operate.

In general, narcissists triangulate to provoke negative emotional reactions in others, since this is what “inflates” or “feeds” them psychologically once the “honeymoon” phase has ended and the abuse starts. It is also a twisted way of confirming that they are still important in some way to the target, and that they continue to have emotional energy invested in the narcissist.

The goods new is that in realizing this, therein lies the answer – that emotionally detaching from narcissists and other abusers is the best way to end the impact of triangulation, move on with your life, and in the same stroke, to torture and annoy the narcissist who feeds off the fact they are still important to others in some sense.

Let’s look in more detail at the motivation for the narcissist’s triangulation, some common types of it, and how to detach from it.

Foundational Reason – Narcissists Feed Off The Emotional Reactions Of Others

This is one huge trap that victims of narcissists fall into – naively assuming that the narcissist thinks and operates the same way as them. They don’t.

Firstly, like all the Cluster B disorders, the narcissistic personality disorder embodies a mindset that is sick and inverted at the core. Therefore, all of the healthy, normal, sane things that most people derive pleasure from are inverted, flipped on their head.

Therefore whereas, a normal person is made happy when they see positive emotional reactions and moods in others, and narcissist or sociopath is made happy when they see negative reactions and emotions in others (anger, irritation, exasperation, anxiety, jealousy – a huge one in triangulation, etc). And it makes them even happier to know they are the ones who have provoked that negative reaction or created that negative state in you.

They are triangulating because they know it’s winding you up to see it done in front of you, and this negative emotional response is “feeding” or “inflating” them. Pathological personalities feed of ALL attention, including negative emotions like anger, hate and jealousy, because it shows them you still care on some level.

Secondly, whereas healthy, sane people mostly abide by facts and reality, narcissists are always only ever interested in context over content. This means that the context of interactions (power and attention dynamics) is always more important to them than the content (actual facts, logic, truth, reason, reality).

Therefore, when a narcissist is triangulating, they’re doing so because not because of the reality of whether they really like this new person (they often don’t actually, and are just using them as a “pawn” or “useful idiot”), but only on the context of whether their triangulation is irritating and annoying someone else.

It’s about power and attention dynamics with them more than actual reality.

Here are some excellent quotes from narcissism expert Richard Grannon that reiterate these points:

“The NPD feeds off drama. Or they seem to. What they’re actually feeding off is your emotional response. Because your emotionality and you’re “upset-ness” in their heads is directly proportionate to how much you care about them, and how much you care about them is directly proportionate to how much power they have over you.

….(Disordered people’s) real game is re-hook you and upset up. ‘upsetting-ness’ proves to them in their messed up minds, that if you’re upset, they still matter. If you’re upset, you still love me. If you’re upset, I still have control over you. So they will be as upsetting and abusive as they possibly can be (in interactions)”

Richard Grannon

As with all of the abusive tactics of the narcissist, it really comes down to the power and control it allows them to have over people. If they’re able to push your buttons by triangulating and provoking a response, then they still have power and control over you, which is what they want.

Therefore it’s important not to judge the narcissist by your own values and mindset. You’re dealing with a sick mindset that’s almost alien to that of normal people, where all that matters is the emotional reactions garnered off others, to prop up their broken personality. Once you see this, you can understand why they’re constantly triangulating and doing whatever else they can to upset you.

Social media is the perfect platform for narcissists to triangulate, which is why blocking them here is most important

Some Types Of Triangulation

Once we realize the it’s the emotional reaction that narcissists are feeding off when they triangulate, we can see how this is the common pattern in the different ways and contexts they triangulate.

Here are some examples:

In person – If you happen to bump into a narcissist ex in public, and they have a new partner or temporary love interest, they’ll often be deliberately and excessively affectionate with them as much in your view as well. Or the more outrageous ones might flirt with other people when they’re still meant to be with you. They want you to see them with other people, and compare yourself unfavorably – again it’s the negative feelings this provokes in the target (jealousy, rage, shame, inadequacy) that “feeds” them, because if you’re getting angry/upset/jealous, they still matter to you on some level.

Social media – This is why narcissists and sociopaths love using social media – in many ways, it’s the perfect platform for triangulation, with the “likes” system and general focus on attention and validation. It provides the perfect system for a disordered person to withdraw attention from you, and instead focus it on other people, or else wave new partners/interests in your face with photos, posts etc.

Here’s a good quote on this:

“Your (psychopath/narcissist) partner once directed all of their attention to you, which makes it especially confusing when they begin to withdraw and focus on other people. They do things that constantly make you doubt your place in their heart. If they’re active on social media, they’ll bait previously denounced exes with old songs, photos, and inside jokes. They attend to the “competition’s” activity and ignore yours.”

Jackson Mackenzie – see here

And it doesn’t end once the relationship ends either. They’ll still use social media to bait and annoy victims after breakups:

“Any and all communication is an opportunity for abuse (with narcissists).

That means if you choose to go and check them out on their social media, and look at what they are doing, they know very well that you do that. These are not stupid people; these are propaganda masters. These are psychological operations masters.

Even if they are not very bright, even if they have a very low IQ, they know very well at an instinctual level how to promote a certain image, and how to manage that image

So if you go looking on Instagram, Facebook etc, you will find communication on there passively that is a trap for you. That was deliberately put there to wind you up.”

Richard Grannon

Why is why FULL no contact (including social media) is necessary to stop them feeding off this. Block them and never check up on them again. If this is difficult for you, see the last section below.

Workplaces (and other group environments) – As a general rule of thumb, if you give a narcissist or psychopath any group environment, in short order they’ll start “working” that environment and manipulating and playing people off against each other. They might force fake banter and rapport with certain people (who they often don’t even like) and exclude one scapegoat or target, provoking negative feelings of rejection, shame etc. A narcissistic boss might continually compare you unfavorably to others. A promiscuous narcissist might run through several partners in a workplace/college, which again provides opportunities for triangulation and provoking jealousy. Any time you’ve got a bunch of people regularly interacting in the same “pool”, there’s unfortunately a risk of triangulation if narcissists/sociopaths are also present in that group.

The Repeating Pattern Of Triangulation

Another way of seeing triangulation from a narcissist is as a never ending cycle or pattern of behavior, because they constantly need to do it to prop up their broken sense of self.

Therefore, while you may be annoyed at their triangulation aimed at you right now, you’re only the latest person they’re doing this on. There were others before you and there will be more after you.

If a narcissist has been in group environment for a while, where the same people regularly interact or see each other, you may be able to spot this in retrospect. It may be that their open displays of affection towards you in the “honeymoon” phase were also actually a tool to triangulate with the previous person they were with in that environment.

Maybe their supposed affection in person or on social media towards you was really just a way of winding someone else up who they’d dated and abused in that environment, and so the cycle goes on with each person. Wherever you can, connect up with people and join the dots, and you’ll start to see the narcissist’s game – always context over content, and always feeding off emotional reactions of others.

Once you see this is a never ending pattern of behavior they repeat because they need to because of their addiction to attention and “supply“, we might not need to take their behavior so personally, and perhaps even feel a bit sorry for them (how pathetic is it that someone needs to triangulate to feel important and keep themselves afloat psychologically?).

How To Deal With a Narcissist’s Triangulation

Once you realize what’s the narcissist’s game is with their constant triangulation, the next question is what to do about it. You just need to starve them of the attention and sense of importance they’re seeking, and detach from them emotionally so they can no longer feed off your reactions.

Here’s two simple tips to address each of these points:

Tip #1 – Leave scenarios and relationships – This is the most foundational point – you must learn to spot when a narcissist is triangulating, and leave any situation where they’re doing it immediately. Understand it’s the emotional reaction they’re feeding off, and remove yourself from the interaction right away. In person, this just means leaving (many of us can get caught in a “frozen on the spot” reaction – you need to learn to push through this and force yourself to just leave anyway).

It means no contact – block them on all social media especially so they can’t triangulate on there. In relationships, it means breaking off right away – no forgiveness, no second chances, because they’ll do it again. If you bump into an ex in a social situation like a restaurant/bar, sit at a table facing away from them (if you keep looking over at them, you know you’ve not detached fully from them – leave and see tip #2). They can only feed off your emotional reaction if you’re somehow still engaging, observing or interacting with them, even checking up on them at a distance. Starve them of this attention, and move on with your life, and they can’t do this.

Specifically for triangulation within family units, where they’re trying to turn family members against you, Dr Ramani Durvasula has some good content on this.

Tip #2 – Therapy – Whilst tip #1 is the most important, I know from personal experience that it’s not always that simple. We can know intellectually what they’re up to, but their triangulation still provokes these intense feelings of jealousy we can’t control. And we might beat ourselves up for not being able to control these feelings. If this is something you recognize in yourself, it’s likely that the narcissist’s behavior is poking at, and stirring up, feelings of jealousy, which themselves often stem back to unresolved attachment issues from childhood.

You need to see a competent therapist who understands narcissistic abuse and co-dependency, to work through these issues. Same thing if you’re “addicted” to the narcissist to the point you can’t go no contact and feel a compulsive need to check up on them. These are issues that need working through with a professional, and the first step here is humbly admitting that you can’t control the feelings the narcissist is provoking in you, and seeking outside help.

And as a final point, if it really annoys you that the narcissists KNOWS full well what they’re doing to you, and continues anyway with their constant triangulation, and you want revenge, see the video below for the best and most sublimated way of getting revenge – healing and detaching from them so they are unimportant to you. Work on this with any therapist you enlist.

How Healing Tortures the Narcissist



Using my personal experience and research to educate others about narcissists and other pathological personality types

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