Ever been caught in a situation where one friend complains to you about another? And that friend complains to you about the first friend? Often this complaining is perfectly benign and unintentional in its harmful effects. But sometimes triangulation—getting a third person to validate your opinion—is toxic.
Think of the game mean girls play. Guys can play it too—both genders can be equally destructive. But for the sake of example, let’s say Tiffany tells Jane she saw Sally flirting with Jane’s boyfriend. Jane then says something snarky to Tiffany about Sally. Then Tiffany conveys Jane’s snarky comment to Sally, creating a hornets’ nest. If Jane and Sally ever get over their animosity long enough to compare notes, they will discover that Tiffany created the whole mess out of thin air. But Tiffany can deny it or create some other lie, and it becomes very difficult to sort things out long enough to get to the truth.
Why did Tiffany do it? She might be jealous of Jane and Sally’s relationship. She might be mad at Jane and/or Sally for some totally unrelated slight. She might want to control both of them and be bound to each by their confided secrets. She might like the power of being able to manipulate them. She might just enjoy creating chaos.
How Toxic Triangulation Works
A person who triangulates succeeds because he is a master at manipulation. As a healthy person, you wouldn’t dream of doing this to someone else, so you can be blindsided by someone else doing it to you. And then you can get sucked into a toxic threesome without even knowing it.
The triangulator gets you to validate his lie. He does this by getting you to believe an idea that supports something you already believe—that’s called confirmation bias. Or, he gets to you first with his lie and plants it in your brain before you have a chance to hear the truth from someone else. Or, over time he continues to indoctrinate you against the truth until you believe something that’s untrue. And, he can indoctrinate a number of people over time to get many people to validate his lie. Then he can get these people to confirm the lie he started in the first place.
All these problems can be generated by just one person if that person is determined enough. Often such troublemakers have a narcissistic, antisocial, borderline or histrionic personality disorder. They drag people into their drama to exert power over them and to get their way.
Do Not Play the Triangulation Game
Once you recognize how you are being manipulated, you can decide not to play. You do not have to participate in someone else’s drama. Do not accept third party information, and do not pass it along. Here are some suggestions:
1) Ask the triangulator if he has told the other person what he’s telling you. If not, he should.
2) Tell the triangulator that he should talk to the person he has a problem with himself. You will not do it for him.
3) Explain that you want to maintain your relationship with both him and the third person, and you do not want to get involved.
4) Tell the triangulator that you’re not comfortable with speaking behind someone’s back, and therefore you can’t continue the conversation with the triangulator.
Basically, you need to be above it all and resist getting sucked into this toxic game. Sometimes it’s hard to resist because the triangulator will tug at your heart strings and promise an intimacy that makes you feel special and connected. But it’s a false feeling because the triangulator is using you. Don’t let him do it.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.