Triangulation in a narcissistic relationship is when a narcissist turns one-on-one situations into two or more-on-one situations. It is one of the most prolific forms of manipulation that narcissists use to remain in power and control of others as it is designed to turn people against one another.

It can be really tricky to spot a narcissist who is triangulating because there aren’t specific phrases or vocabulary that’s solely associated with triangulation. So it is really important that readers understand that just because someone says something similar to the phrases listed below, doesn’t mean they’re a narcissist or using triangulation. 

It’s an important thing to remember because narcissists are masterful at blame-shifting. With just a few words they could manipulate their victim into believing that they’re the real narcissist in the relationship. Understanding that there’s much more that goes into being a narcissist or narcissistic than just a few phrases is really important if one is to avoid any type of self-doubt or self-blame. 

This article has 15 examples of triangulation in a workplace, romantic relationship, and in a family setting.

5 Phrases That Narcissists Will Use to Triangulate In a Workplace

  1. I wanted to talk to you about your job performance. I don’t ask for much. I expect you to follow my orders and follow them blindly. If you want that promotion you’re going to have to change your attitude or I’ll be inclined to give it to Jason instead. He’s everything I’m looking for in a supervisor but you still have a chance if you strive to be more like Jason. 
  2. Listen, the company is tight on money and we’re going to have to let someone go at the end of the quarter. I’m not technically supposed to tell you this but we’re considering letting you or Jamie go. It’s up to you to prove to us who should stay! 
  3. I have had it with all of the excuses. Ian, Kim, Chris, and Oliver, I have trusted you to do this job yet you’re still underperforming! Ian, I got your email about Kim, Chris, and Oliver and I totally agree! I’m sorry I grouped the four of you together.
  4. I really wish that I could give you that time off but I can’t because Amy asked first. After you mentioned something about it in our meeting last week she came and asked me for the time off. You should be careful what you say around here!
  5. Hey I’ve been meaning to talk to you about the project I have you working on. Don’t take this personally but John pitched me a new idea for a project and I’ve decided to go with him instead of you. I understand you’ve been working on it for months but this is a competitive environment and John bested you on this one! 
A narcissist triangulating at work

What Should You Take Away From These 5 Phrases?

We created a detailed outline of this in our article How to Spot a Narcissist at Work but accurately spotting a narcissistic abuse in a work environment is a daunting task. The reason being that there are so many aspects of a competitive environment like a work environment that allow narcissistic abuse to fly under people’s radar.

The tricky part about triangulation in a work environment, especially if the narcissist were to use phrases similar to the five listed above, is that it can come off as transparency instead of making one-on-one situations into two or more-on-one situations.

Take phrase number four for an example. It’s a narcissistic supervisor/boss telling an employee that he/she can’t give the employee the time off that they requested because Amy requested the time off first. However, the narcissist worded it in a way that would suggest Amy did something shady.

By doing that the narcissist has turned a simple one-on-one conversation into a two-on-one conversation and simultaneously pitted two employees against each other, it makes it a classic example of triangulation in a workplace.

5 Phrases That Narcissists Will Use to Triangulate in a Romantic Relationship

  1. I really don’t understand why you’re so lazy. I don’t want to be mean but it is true! I’m always nervous to talk to you about it because maybe my standards are just too high. I mean my ex was the hardest worker I’ve ever known so maybe I just need time to adjust to this new lifestyle. 
  2. I cheated on you because you weren’t there for me and he was. I can’t just wait around for my whole life waiting for you to be the man that I need. 
  3. Oh my gosh! Yeah so I like to gamble sometimes, what is the big deal?! I told my mom about how much you’re complaining about it and she thinks you’re insane as well. 
  4. My friend’s wife is so amazing. She works two full time jobs and still finds time to get to the gym every day. I’ve always been inspired by strong independent women like her! 
  5. I just think that you should stop being so sensitive. I don’t want to feel like I have to walk on eggshells around you. I told my sister about how sensitive and irrational you are and she said that it is not healthy and that I should leave the relationship but I’m willing to give us another chance. 
A narcissist triangulating with his wife

What Should You Take Away From These 5 Phrases?

This section served as an important reminder of how manipulative narcissists are. These five phrases that a narcissist would use to triangulate in a romantic relationship listed above are designed to manipulate the victim’s desire to be “perfect” for the narcissist.

For example, in the first phrase in this section, the narcissist made a subtle comparison between his ex and his current partner. They threw out an insult by calling the partner lazy. Then they covered it up by pretending to doubt themselves. Reinforced it with a sly comment about having high standards. Then topped it off by informing their partner that their ex met all of their standards.

It’s comments like these that turn one-on-one situations in romantic relationships into two-on-one situations. It is invalidating, devaluing, and dehumanizing and it creates a tremendous amount of negative emotions like mistrust, self-doubt, anxiety, shame, and guilt. It is the most lucid manifestation of triangulation in romantic relationships.

5 Phrases a Narcissist Will Use to Triangulate In a Family Setting

  1. You need to be more like your brother. He has a beautiful girlfriend, he’s the starting quarterback on the varsity football team, and he makes his own money. Are you not the slightest bit ashamed? Because I know I would be.
  2. I wanted to get you the newest Call of Duty video game but your mother said that it was too violent. I tried my hardest to convince her because I know how much it means to you but I guess she didn’t want you to have a fun time with your friends.
  3. I bought your sister a new dress for the dance because she has a date and she looks really good in it! You don’t have a date and dresses have never been kind to you if I’m being honest. If you were more like your sister this would be a different conversation but you’re not so I’m done talking about it.
  4. Oh absolutely not! I want to be on the same team as your brother! He’s the best Ping-Pong player in the family and I want to win!
  5. We are so proud of your brother Timmy. He has worked so hard over the past few years. The other day he called and told us that he has an interview with a huge tech company in NYC. If you work hard enough you might be able to be like him one day. I doubt it but hey, never say never right?
a narcissistic parent using triangulation on his kid

What Should You Take Away From These 5 Phrases?

Triangulation in family settings can be particularly malicious. When a narcissistic parent uses triangulation with their children two horrifying things happen.

First, the child who the narcissistic parent uses triangulation on is manipulated and bullied into developing a belief that they aren’t good enough to be respected, acknowledged, and loved. This is VERY dangerous and the list of emotional inadequacies that come from this level of neglect is longer than train smoke.

Second, the child who is the golden child or child who is on the “better end” of the triangulation will likely develop an unrealistic and grandiose perception of themselves. Children are naturally grandiose so when that is reinforced with the grandiosity, superficiality, and arrogance of a narcissistic parent, the likelihood of them following in their parent’s footsteps is very high.

Suggested Reading: How Are Narcissists Made?

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different phrases that a narcissist can use to manipulate others through triangulation. For victims of narcissistic abuse, the most important thing to remember when trying to spot triangulation is that it is all about making one-on-one situations into two or more-on-one situations.

Triangulation is designed to turn people against each other while the narcissist remains in power and control over the entire situation. Approaching triangulation cool, calm, and collected will allow victims of abuser to strip their abuser of the power and control they disparately need without causing a huge confrontation.

One more thing, triangulation can also be non-verbal. It’s for this reason that we strongly recommend that readers check out our articles 6 Insightful Examples of Triangulation In Narcissistic Relationships and What Does Triangulation Look Like for a complete guide to both verbal and non-verbal forms of triangulation.


This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

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REFERENCES

Straka, Silvia M., and Lyse Montminy. “Family violence: Through the lens of power and control.” Journal of Emotional Abuse 8.3 (2008): 255-279.

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