We tend to believe that we are immune to different manipulation strategies and tactics. “That will never happen to me”, we thought.. But some of these strategies are much more subtle than they seem and we only realize that we have been deceived or manipulated. when it’s too late.
Triangulation is one of the most common manipulation strategies, exercised by one person, the manipulator, on another, the victim, with the help of a third person, the collaborator. If you don’t want to fall into the triangulation trap, read on.: we explain how to respond to this strategy of psychological abuse.
Narcissistic triangulation, an indirect manipulation
Diego calls you on the phone very angry. He says that he has something to tell you about Pablo, a mutual friend. You meet in a cafe and Diego begins to unravel all the actions that he considers unacceptable on Pablo’s part.
You listen attentively, but with a strange feeling, as if none of this were with you. But, out of deference to Diego, you finally agree with him and begin to think that Pablo is not acting correctly and that maybe something has to be “done”. Without realizing it you have fallen into the trap of triangulation: Diego has manipulated you to put you against Pablo, without you having any problem with him.
As we have seen in this example, the triangulation is a toxic psychological mechanism in which an indirect manipulation occurs since the manipulated, generally, is part of such a mechanism unconsciouslywithout perceiving that he is doing anything wrong and without realizing that he is being deceived to harm a third person.
This is a common manipulation strategy in the personality type narcissistic either psychopathprofiles characterized by their lack of empathy and their tendency to manipulate or psychologically abuse other people to secure your dominance on them and prop up their ego.
Three pieces for a toxic game
As we have seen in the example, to execute this manipulation mechanism three pieces are needed: the manipulator, the collaborator and the victim.
The manipulator confronts a person by appealing or recruiting a third party to make common front and win the “war“. To successfully apply this manipulation strategy, it uses different tactics such as comparison, recruitment or defamation.
In the first case, he simply compares his enemy to a third person or he appeals to a conversation or an assessment —real or invented— of that third person, always with the aim of minimizing his victim.
In the second case, recruit one or more allies to isolate the victimwhile in the third case he makes use of more or less crude deception to harm the victim, exaggerating or directly lying about the facts that serve as a basis to minimize or humiliate the victim.
It should be clarified, however, that a large part of the manipulators who use the triangulation strategy do so unconsciously, without developing a highly organized plan, just following the impulse to use all the mechanisms at your disposal to harm another person.
That is to say, despite the fact that it is a resource typical of narcissistic or psychopathic personalities, any of us can fall into temptation to minimize or attack a person by appealing to a third party to help us in our objective. Think about it.
It is an equivocal figure within this toxic triangle. Often, it also collaborates more or less unconsciously, getting carried away by the vehemence of the manipulator criticizing the victim Somehow, the collaborator finds himself in a dilemma: to get involved or not in a problem that, in reality, does not concern him.
But given the arguments against the victim that the manipulator exposes, many people end up giving him what he is looking for: your agreement and acquiescence, so that the manipulator achieves his goal, put you on his side to have more weapons to attack the victim.
It should not be forgotten that, throughout this process, the collaborator does not consider other people as “manipulator” or “victim”. On the contrary, the manipulator seeks that the collaborator considers him a victim of acts that are supposed to be the responsibility of the other person… even though they are not.
The person considered a victim in this manipulation strategy may or may not be guilty of the facts that the manipulator accuses him of. But he is always a victim of manipulation, since becomes the target of this strategy of psychological abuse. The manipulator uses all available resources to minimize or isolate the victim, relying especially on the figure of the collaborator.
In what situations is triangulation applied?
As we saw in the example, the triangulation strategy is applied assiduously in interpersonal relationships, both friendship and sentimental. For example, it can happen when your partner compares you to his ex or when appeal to a friend’s opinion to criticize you: “Well, Sergio also thinks like me”.
It is also very common to appear in the family relationships. They can be subtle manipulations without major consequences — your child appeals to the father of a friend to achieve a goal: “It’s that Marcos’ father does let him stay out late”— or more serious manipulations that can lead to serious family conflicts: when a family member attracts other members to stand up together to isolate a third party.
Likewise, triangulation is also common in the labor spherecreating small pressure groups generally with a strong leader —the manipulator— who seduces several colleagues —the collaborators— to isolate a third party who is considered negative for the performance or work environment, even if the accusations are false.
In this and other cases, collaborators are characterized by their cowardice by preferring to be in the “strong” and “winning” group rather than reflect on the situation for themselves, staying on the sidelines or even defending the victim, for fear of ending up being the victim of a new triangulation process.
How to respond to triangulation
To respond adequately to triangulation and avoid its toxicity, we must, first of all, detect this process. Often, seen from the outside or explained from a theoretical point of view as we have done so far, it is very easy to recognize, but in the heat of a conflict it is very common for us to lose the ability to reflect acting by impulse or inertia.
If you feel that a person is recruiting others to attack, isolate or minimize you, first think about the root of the problem and to what extent the accusations you are receiving are true and what hidden objectives may be behind them: jealousy, envy, revenge, resentment, etc.
Even if you are really guilty of one or several facts that are imputed to you —for example, having cheated on your friend— you don’t deserve to enter this game either since it is still a matter between two people, not between three or four.
If you are not guilty of what you are accused of and they are defaming you, all the more reason you should remain calm and not fall into the toxic game of triangulation. Talk privately with the people involved and state the facts as you see them.
If, however, the toxic game of the manipulator is maintained, you should ignore it, not enter the fight and continue with your life. In some areas such as those described above, it is difficult to handle a toxic situation like this, but remember that what the manipulator is looking for is precisely to harm you. Don’t give him that satisfaction.
If you are the collaborator, you must perceive the importance of your presence in this strategy. Without you, the manipulator cannot put pressure on the victim; without you, there is no game: you must be aware of the importance of your silences or acquiescence.
You must be brave and not get involved in a matter that is not yours because your cowardice can do a lot of damage to a third person, and you will also have your share of guilt for having collaborated. After all, the collaborator has the power to solve this toxic game with a simple posture: “I’m sorry, but it’s a problem that you should deal with directly between the two of you.”
Finally, if you are the manipulator, it is more than likely that you will not feel that way and it will be difficult for you to back down on your strategy. But you must also be brave. If you really believe that you are right and that the other person has not acted correctly, let them know directly and do not hide behind third parties. You must think that, deep down, you are not right and that is why you seek support for your cause, because you do not see yourself capable of defending it on your own.
Lastly, it should be noted that the triangulation strategy admits different variants that complicate it since its actors do not always have such clear roles in an interpersonal conflict.
As we said above, the victim may also be guilty and attract other people to face the manipulator together, who, in this way, can also become a victim. For their part, collaborators can take their role so seriously that they themselves fall into manipulation.
This being the case, the best way to avoid this toxic game involving third parties is to be brave and direct and discuss problems face to face. No more.