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Devaluation Part 3: Triangulation

Updated: Jan 8

A Narcissist’s ‘Dirty Tactics’

By: Gina Valencia

This is the fifth post in a series on narcissism, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and narcissistic abuse and recovery. Each month we will take a deep dive look at these topics, as well as attempt to decipher the actions and impact of narcissistic abuse. While a narcissist and victim can be either gender, for the sake of simplicity, we use 'he' and ‘they/them."

When a narcissist has exhausted their efforts in a relationship and entered the devaluation phase, they will use certain tactics to ‘rid’ themselves of their partner. Such tactics include gaslighting, triangulation, and smear campaigns; all of which are forms of manipulation that can leave a victim depleted of self-esteem and confidence.

In today’s post we focus on triangulation.


As described in ‘Triangulation is a form of manipulation and is used to exploit an interaction between two [parties] who are not communicating directly. This creates a communication triangle, often exacerbating conflicts and misunderstandings, serving to control, gain power, or divert attention from the core issues.’

In a couple dynamic, the narcissist will engage a third party to remove any uncomfortable focus from themselves and pivot it to someone or something else. A third party can be “a person, a job, a group of people, even an abstract belief, all in an attempt create uncertainty and fear, and destroy intimacy,” according to NPD Professor Sam Vaknin.

“I’d spend more time with you, but my job has me extremely busy.”

The job/boss here is the third party at ‘fault’ for the narcissist’s inability to spend time with their partner.

“I can’t quit the club; all those people are counting on me, and it would show a lack of commitment.”

The narcissist’s ‘commitment’ to the club/sport/team/group is the third-party interfering in the relationship.

“You knew I had cheated in the past. Why are you so shocked? I have an addiction.”

The ‘addiction’ is to blame for the narcissist cheating, not the narcissist.

In some cases, the victim can be the third-party. The narcissist’s family may reach out to the victim to inquire about the narcissist, as opposed to contacting them directly. If the victim tries to encourage the narcissist to contact their family, the narcissist may accuse the family of being problematic. On the other hand, the narcissist may tell their family that the reason they don’t call or visit more often is that their partner (victim) is the one with the problem, and yet neither party is able to communicate, essentially, using the tactic of triangulation to avoid having the parties corroborate stories.

Fueled by the narcissist’s insecurity and selfish need for approval, triangulation is a deranged power play used as leverage on others to obtain outcomes favorable to themselves. If the narcissist can’t control the victim, they will control the way others ‘see’ the victim, as stated by Dr. Carter; Surviving Narcissism.

“If I leave my work early to spend time with you, my boss will believe I have an unreasonable spouse. You’ll cause me to lose my bonus.”

“I will let all those people down if I quit the club, and they will say my partner is being selfish. You want that on your conscious?”

“Those with addiction issues need compassion and space, not someone who is shrill and judgmental.”

Triangulation is a form of gaslighting used to manipulate and control a victim by using the third party as the one to blame. The victim will become more susceptible to criticism and fear that others see them as such (unreasonable, selfish, judgmental), and will depend more on the narcissist for validation.

A comparison within a family is a narcissistic mother gossiping about one adult child to another, dropping “did you hear...your sister said…” allusions, eventually pitting one sibling against another. In the end, the narcissistic mother comes in as the unbiased party, ready to hear both sides (gossip) and offer her ‘advice.’

The narcissist comes across as the one caught in the middle, the real ‘victim,’ the calm one trying to please their unreasonable partner while also trying to continue their commitment to duty (job, club, rehab). Triangulation is yet another dirty tactic a narcissist will use to protect themselves, despite who it hurts.

An extension of triangulation is the tactic of smear campaigns and flying monkeys. These will be discussed in the next blog post in our series. (Subscribe to receive our monthly blogs!)

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