What is narcissistic triangulation?

One of the most insidious tactics employed by narcissists in their manipulation and control of others is triangulation. This manipulation technique is designed to create tension, competition, and insecurity among individuals, often leaving victims feeling confused, isolated and powerless. This article delves into the dynamics of narcissistic triangulation, its profound impact on those involved, and strategies for recovery.


The dynamics

Triangulation occurs when a narcissist manipulates relationships by bringing a third party into the dynamic in order to create some form of conflict. This third party can be anyone – a friend, family member, ex-partner, colleague, or even an imaginary figure. The narcissist uses this triangulation to bolster their own ego, maintain control, and fuel their need for admiration. By introducing a third party into the mix, the narcissist:

Creates competition:

They pit individuals against each other, fostering a sense of competition for their attention, approval, or affection. This competition serves to inflate the narcissist’s sense of self-worth (they are desperately insecure) whilst diminishing that of their victims.

Invalidates feelings:

Narcissists often use triangulation to invalidate their victim’s feelings or perceptions. They may gaslight by denying the reality of the victim’s experiences or emotions, claiming that they are ‘over-reacting’ or imagining things.

Seeks validation:

Triangulation allows the narcissist to seek validation from multiple sources simultaneously. They may play the victim to one person whilst portraying themselves as the hero or saviour to another, manipulating each party to fulfil their own emotional needs. 

The impact

The effects of narcissistic triangulation can be profound and long-lasting, causing significant emotional and psychological harm to those involved. Victims will likely experience:

Emotional turmoil:

Victims of narcissistic triangulation often experience intense feelings of confusion, jealousy, and insecurity. They may question their own worth and value, constantly seeking validation and approval from the narcissist and others.


Triangulation can isolate victims from their support networks as the narcissist seeks to control whom they interact with and how they perceive others. This isolation can further reinforce the narcissist’s power and control over their victim.


Constant exposure to triangulation can erode the victim’s self-esteem and self-confidence, leading to pervasive feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. They may become hyper-vigilant, second-guessing their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

Strategies for recovery

Recovering from narcissistic triangulation requires time, patience, and self-reflection. There are a number of strategies to help victims reclaim their sense of self-worth and rebuild their lives:

Educate yourself:

Understanding the dynamics of narcissistic abuse including triangulation, is the first step towards healing. Educate yourself about narcissism, manipulation tactics, and healthy relationship dynamics. 

Seek support:

Surround yourself with supportive friends, family members, or a therapist who can validate your experiences and provide emotional support as you heal. 

Practice self-care:

Prioritise self-care activities that nurture your physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Engage in activities that bring you joy, relaxation and a sense of fulfilment. 

Process your feelings:

Allow yourself to acknowledge and process the range of emotions that arise from narcissistic triangulation. Journalling, therapy, or support groups can provide a safe space to explore and express your feelings without fear of judgement.

Challenge distorted beliefs:

Narcissistic abuse often leads to distorted beliefs about oneself and others. Challenge these beliefs by examining evidence that contradicts them and replacing them with more realistic and empowering perspectives.

Focus on personal growth:

Use your experiences as an opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery. Invest in activities that promote self-improvement such as learning new skills, finding new hobbies, or setting meaningful goals for the future.

Forgive yourself:

It is essential to practice self-compassion and forgive yourself for any perceived mistakes or shortcomings. Recognise that you were the victim of manipulation and abuse and you therefore deserve kindness and understanding from yourself.

Establish healthy boundaries:

Establish clear boundaries with the narcissist and other toxic individuals within your life. Limit contact with those who invalidate your feelings or use triangulation as a means of control:

Identify your limits:

Take the time to identify your personal boundaries. Consider what behaviours, interactions or situations are acceptable or unacceptable to you. Being more clear about your limits will help you communicate them effectively to others.

Communicate assertively:

Assertive communication is crucial for setting and maintaining boundaries. Clearly express your needs, preferences, and limits to others without being aggressive or passive.

Enforce consequences:

Be prepared to enforce consequences if your boundaries are violated. This may involve limiting contact with individuals who repeatedly disrespect your boundaries.

More self-care:

Prioritise self-care as a way to honour your boundaries and nurture your well-being. Saying no when you don’t want to do something is a form of self-care.

Nurture healthy relationships:

Surround yourself with people who respect your boundaries. Seek out relationships based on mutual respect, trust and understanding.

By understanding the dynamics of triangulation and other narcissistic tactics of manipulation, recognising their impact and implementing strategies for recovery, victims can gradually reclaim their sense of self-worth and rebuild their lives free from the toxic influence of narcissistic abuse. 

Remember that healing from narcissistic abuse is a process that takes time and patience but, with self-compassion and dedication, you can create a brighter and more fulfilling future for yourself.  You deserve to live a life free from the grip of manipulation and control and you have the strength within you to overcome these challenges and thrive.

It’s okay to ask for help with your healing, in fact, I’d encourage it. It’s a lot to process and work through. Get in touch today and get yourself booked in to talk this through with someone who specialises in narcissistic abuse and understands exactly what it is you need.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Manchester, Greater Manchester, M27 8UW
Written by Tracy McCadden, Counsellor & Supervisor BSc(Hons) MBACP
Manchester, Greater Manchester, M27 8UW

I have been in private practice since 2009 and have an educational background and vast experience in Psychology, Person-Centred Counselling, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Couple's Counselling. Support is tailored to individual need and I welcome individuals and couples that are committed to making a change for the better.

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