Narcissists and triangulation – three’s a crowd
Dysfunctional families, including narcissistic families, often have indirect communication patterns involving creating and maintaining triangles or three-way relationships between its members, known as a Drama Triangle.
The interconnected, and interchangeable, roles we may play in this triangle include:
- Aggressor (or Persecutor),
- Victim; and,
However, while the roles can be changed, there will usually be one role that we tend to fall into. Also, this triangle will only continue if there is a Victim who is prepared to play that role.
The Aggressor/Persecutor role:
The approach of the person in this role is one which serves to maintain their power, domination and control over others through blaming and projecting fear and guilt onto the ‘Victim(s).’ This can include temper outbursts, being passive aggressive, manipulating, lecturing/talking down to others; being patronising and condescending, gaslighting and criticising and degrading others.
The Victim role:
The Victim role is one marked by low self esteem. Victims experience a lot of fear and rejection (usually stemming from childhood), and feel powerless, hopeless, undeserving and lack a solid sense of identity.
The Rescuer role:
The Rescuer’s role is to help the Victim, however the help may not be enough to break the triangle. The Rescuer may derive self worth from the role, and/or create co-dependency through increasing the need and reliance of the Victim on them.
In narcissistic families, the Narcissistic parent will be a messenger moving between two or more others, and lie to suit their own agenda. They avoid talking directly with the target/Victim. They will instead go through another family member(s) regarding any issues, which in healthy or functional families would not occur as people can settle issues between themselves without dragging others into the matter. The people the narcissist speaks to about another can unwittingly become part of the drama as they attempt to solve the issue the narcissist has with the Victim. However, this can end in toxic triangulations. Narcissists do not want to resolve conflict and enjoy manufacturing dramas, becoming upset over minor issues which functional people wouldn’t concern themselves with. Revenge can be taken against a target for insignificant things using triangulation, which has the added benefit for the narcissist of playing favourites and ‘divide and conquer’ especially if it’s among their children, creating sibling rivalry.
Other examples of triangulation include:
- a daughter is in debt, the father pays the debts (as Rescuer) and tries to educate the daughter but no no avail (switches role to Victim). Eventually the father becomes upset at the daughter (Persecutor), belittling her for his frustrations.
- parents arguing, then one of the parents confides in the child(ren) about incidents of abuse, then the child arguing with the abusive parent since the mistreated parent wont’s speak up for themselves
Stepping off the triangle:
- Become aware that you are in a drama triangle and admit your role within it, including what need it meets for you
- Work on improving your self esteem and self worth
- Develop healthy boundaries and learn to say ‘no’ – including letting yourself feel guilty but not making up for it
- Stop blaming others and take responsibility for your own life – including speaking up and minimising contact with toxic Aggressors/Narcissists. Be accountable and honest to yourself and others
- Acknowledge your feelings, emotions and needs
- Empower others by letting them learn to stand up for themselves
The final goal is to step off the triangle and remove yourself completely from toxic situations.
Further reading: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz