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By Mila Koljensic

Glossary of Acronyms

TAR = Toxic Abusive Relationships

CPTSD = Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is narcissistic triangulation and how can we spot it?

Picture this: you’re in a relationship with someone, and out of the blue, they bring in a third person. It could be an ex, a new special friend, or a colleague. Even though you never signed up for this, suddenly you find yourself in a bizarre competition. And the worst part? This game has been rigged from the start.

The narcissist uses this third person as a tool, much like a pawn in their twisted chess game. They’re not just bringing someone into the picture for fun; they’re doing it to knock you off balance. They want to make you feel insecure, jealous, and even paranoid. Why? Because when you’re in one or all of those states, you’re easier to control; easier to manipulate.

For the narcissist, life is all about control and admiration. They need it like we need air to breathe. And triangulation? It’s their secret weapon. By pitting you against someone else, they’re reinforcing their own value. They’re saying, “Look how desirable I am, you should feel lucky to have me.” It’s all about feeding their ego, and making themselves feel superior.

Impact of triangulation on the victim.

This is where the real damage is done. When you’re on the receiving end of triangulation, it’s like being on an emotional rollercoaster. One minute you’re up, thinking everything’s fine, and the next you’re questioning your worth and your value. The narcissist knows exactly what they’re doing. They’re creating an environment of insecurity and doubt, all to keep you off balance.

You’ve been pouring your heart and soul into this relationship, trying to make it work, when your partner invites a new player into the game. The narcissist starts talking up this new person, even flaunting them on social media. It’s a slap in the face, a deliberate move to make you feel like you’re not good enough.

The kicker in all of this is that the new person, this third wheel in the triangulation game, is just as much a victim as you. They’re being used by the narcissist, a prop in their grand performance. They’re not the enemy; they’re just another piece on the narcissist’s chessboard.

Let’s get real about the psychology behind triangulation. Why do narcissists do this? Well, it’s all about their deep-seated insecurities. They might come across as confident, even arrogant, but underneath, there’s a well of insecurity. By making you compete for their attention, they’re trying to prove to themselves that they’re valuable, that they’re worth something.

This need for validation goes back to their childhood. Narcissists learned early on how to manipulate, and how to play people off against each other to get what they want. Unfortunately, they carry these patterns into their adult relationships.

But let’s be clear – this isn’t about blame. It’s about understanding the mechanics of what’s happening. Knowledge is power. When you understand what’s happening and when you see the game for what it is, you take back your power. You stop being a pawn and start being the player.

The triangulation trap.

Let’s start by acknowledging triangulation’s raw, emotional impact. It’s a brutal assault on your self-esteem. You’ve invested time, energy, and even your heart into this relationship, but suddenly you’re made to feel like you’re not enough. 

The emotional effect of this is profound. It can lead to jealousy, envy, and a crippling sense of inferiority. You start questioning your worth, wondering what you lack compared to this new person. This is precisely what the narcissist wants. They feed off your emotional reaction. It validates their fragile ego and reinforces their distorted sense of self-importance.

The twisted truth is that it’s all an illusion. The narcissist elevates this third person – not because they value them, but to provoke you. In their mind, your emotional turmoil is a testament to their worth.

The narcissist has introduced this person into the triangle, to make you believe that the new person is better and more desirable. The narcissist might flaunt interactions with this person, especially on social media, showing off how much fun they’re having or how much attention they’re receiving. It’s a deliberate move to diminish you; to make you feel out of the loop.

Remember, this third person is a pawn, an unwitting participant in the narcissist’s game. Unaware of the full extent of the manipulation, they are used merely as a tool to provoke and control you. This person is just as much a victim of the narcissist’s manipulation as you.

Even more damaging is when this third person is someone close to you – even a close friend or family member. The narcissist might manipulate situations to pit you against each other, distorting facts and spreading lies. This not only causes emotional distress but can also lead to the isolation of the victim. You feel as though you’re fighting a battle on all fronts, unsure of who to trust.

The emotional aftermath of triangulation can be long-lasting. You might find yourself grappling with feelings of betrayal and confusion. You’re torn between the person you thought they were and the person they’re proving to be.

Manipulation and control.

Next, let’s focus on how triangulation serves as a powerful tool for manipulation and control in the hands of a narcissist. This isn’t about causing emotional distress; it’s a calculated strategy to dominate and manipulate both the victim and the third person involved in the toxic relationship. 

  • Manipulation is the narcissist’s tool for controlling the narrative. By introducing a third person into the dynamic, the narcissist effectively redirects your attention and emotions. You’re no longer focused on the significant issues in your relationship with the narcissist; instead, your energy is consumed by this new competition. This shift allows the narcissist to escape accountability and continue their manipulative behavior unchecked.
  • Narcissists want to control your emotions and, consequently, your whole being. Think about it – while you’re caught up in the emotional turmoil of a triangulating relationship, questioning your own worth and value, the narcissist is getting exactly what they want. 

Also, triangulation itself serves as a tactic to boost the narcissist’s ego. This is their way of compensating for deep-seated insecurities and fragile self-esteem. In their twisted worldview, having people compete over them confirms their superiority and worth.

Breaking free.

It’s crucial to break free from the narcissist’s manipulative grip, and to understand that the narcissist’s behavior is not a reflection of your worth. Their need to triangulate stems from their insecurities and their inability to form healthy, authentic relationships. They’re in constant pursuit of validation, and unfortunately, they use people as tools to fill this void.

  • Breaking free starts by recognizing that you are in a triangulation trap; this is the first step towards liberation. See the situation for what it is – a manipulative tactic to keep you off balance and under the narcissist’s control. This understanding is powerful – it shifts the dynamic, taking away the narcissist’s power over you.
  • The next logical step is reclaiming your self-worth. Remember that the narcissist’s behavior reflects their issues, not yours. You are not the problem. Their need to triangulate, to create these emotional dramas, is about their insecurities, and their need for validation. You don’t have to participate in this game. You have the right to a relationship that is respectful, nurturing, and free of manipulation.
  • On your journey toward breaking free, it’s essential to surround yourself with a support system. Friends, family, therapists – people who understand and can provide the emotional support you need. You don’t have to undertake this journey alone. Many people have walked this path before you, and their wisdom and support can be invaluable.
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to look forward! The end of a relationship with a narcissist can be the beginning of something new – a journey toward self-discovery, healing, and true happiness. It’s a chance to redefine who you are outside the shadow of the narcissist’s manipulation.

Let’s be clear, though: breaking free is not easy. It requires strength and courage. It might mean setting firm boundaries or even cutting ties completely. This can be challenging, especially if the narcissist has been a significant part of your life. But remember, you deserve a relationship that adds to your life, not one that constantly undermines your sense of self.

As we wrap up this conversation, I want to leave you with a call to action. If you recognize yourself in any part of this discussion, if you see the patterns of triangulation in your own life, I urge you to take that first step toward freedom. Educate yourself, seek support, and start to reclaim your life.

You can begin your road to recovery by joining TAR Network™, a 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to supporting victims of narcissistic abuse. We encourage those who have had their fair share of experience with TAR to join weekly TAR Live Meetings on every Monday at 7:00 PM ET and learn how to protect yourself from TAR, overcome the trauma bond and heal from CPTSD. 

We are proud to partner with Bree Bonchay, LCSW to bring World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day (WNAAD) to TAR Network™ and the CPTSD Foundation. This annual observance – on June 1st – is dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden but deeply impactful issue of narcissistic abuse. On this day, we unite to raise awareness, provide education, and offer support to survivors of narcissistic abuse while fostering a community of compassion and healing. Please visit TAR Network for updates.


TAR Network™ is a 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to bringing worldwide awareness and treatment to those whose emotional reality has been distorted by narcissistic abuse. The mission of TAR Network is to support men, women, the LGBTQ+ community, tweens & teens, families, parents who are alienated from their children, workers, and caregivers going through or emerging from TAR. With subject matter experts, affiliates, organizations with supportive resources, and our individual donor community our programs will help you out of the fog and into the light. TAR Network is currently developing several innovative projects: TAR Tales – a safe place to share your truth TAR Centers – a safe place to get vital CPTSD treatment TAR Anon – a safe and nonjudgmental worldwide support network. There is strength in numbers. We’ve all suffered from trauma and abuse at the hands of someone close. Please join us in this worldwide effort toward recovery.

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