When someone turns a one-on-one situation into a two-on-one situation by involving a third party, it is called triangulation. It is very common to experience triangulation if you have a narcissist in your life.

Covert narcissists use triangulation to control and manipulate other people so they can have power and control over their surrounding environment. For a covert narcissist, this is important because being in a position of power and control gives covert narcissists access to an unlimited amount of narcissistic supply.

This article is going to help you grasp a better understanding of the reasons that covert narcissists use triangulation to maintain power and control over their surrounding environment.

Covert Narcissists Use Triangulation to Maintain Power and Control Over Their Surrounding Environment

In order for a narcissist to feel emotionally stable, they have to maintain their grandiose sense of self-importance, protect their fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, and ideal love, and maintain a belief that they are special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions.

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Narcissists will never be emotionally stable and this is true for all types of narcissists. Our article How Are Narcissists Made? has a lot of important information about this but narcissists are so emotionally incompetent that they can’t manage the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they have suppressed within themselves.

Most narcissists are able to feel emotionally stable and control their surrounding environment by accumulating massive amounts of narcissistic supply through the combination of their charm, charisma, extroversion, likeableness, grandiosity, and manipulation tactics (i.e. triangulation).

A grandiose narcissist with a positive public persona.

But this is incredibly difficult for a covert narcissists because they tend to victimize themselves, they are vulnerable/needy, they are socially inadequate/anxious, they are resentful, irritable, and hostile, they often come off as depressed, and they are passive-aggressive, hypersensitive to criticism, and argumentative.

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The characteristics that covert narcissists have make it difficult for them to create a positive public persona that everyone likes. Our article What Are the Signs of a Covert Narcissist? has a lot more helpful information about covert narcissists.

Because covert narcissists are so different from the other types of narcissists, they’ve had to develop a different set of skills to get the narcissistic supply that they need to feel emotionally stable. Yes, they use the same manipulation tactics (i.e. triangulation, gaslighting, baiting, etc.) but they have a slightly different approach.

Someone explaining covert narcissism and triangulation

Well, a grandiose, malignant, or communal narcissist might use triangulation by saying something like, “You are being so dramatic. I don’t drink that much and I know this because my ex never had a problem with it. Maybe I should have married him/her instead.”

When the narcissist says“You are being so dramatic” they are gaslighting you. Then when they say “My ex never had a problem with it” they are using triangulation. And finally, they devalue and degrade you by saying, “Maybe I should have married him/her instead.”

A narcissist triangulating his wife with his ex.

This comment can create an overwhelming amount of painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that trap you underneath the power and control of the narcissist in your life. With manipulation tactics like this, these other types of narcissistic personalities are able to control their surrounding environment from a position of dominance and superiority.

But a covert narcissist might say something like this to triangulate you, “I am sorry that I am not good enough for you. I was never good enough for my mother either, she hated me almost as much as you do. I’ll never be loved by anyone and I just need to accept that.”

When they say “I am sorry that I am not good enough for you” they are gaslighting you. When they say “I was never good enough for my mother either, she hated me almost as much as you do” they are triangulating you. And finally, when they say “I’ll never be loved by anyone and I just need to accept that” they are manipulating you into feeling guilty and pitying them.

This comment can also create an overwhelming amount of painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that trap you underneath the power and control of the narcissist in your life. But the difference is that manipulation tactics that are presented like this helps covert narcissists maintain power and control of their surrounding environment from a position of vulnerability and victimhood.

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In romantic narcissistic relationships, it is very common for narcissists to use a form of triangulation called typecasting in the early stages of the relationship to triangulate you with your ex. Our article Why Do Narcissists Triangulate You With an Ex? has a lot of helpful information about this early warning sign.

A covert narcissist’s ability to portray themselves as severely underrated, victimized, and depressed hides their grandiosity, arrogance, sense of entitlement, interpersonally exploitative behavior, and other core characteristics of a narcissistic personality.

The 9 personality traits of narcissistic personality disorder.

Being able to fly under the radar like this allows covert narcissists to use manipulation tactics (i.e. triangulation) to maintain control and power over their surrounding environment. When they can control and manipulate you, it allows them to control the narrative, and subsequently, remain in power and control of their surrounding environment.

By being in power and control of their surrounding environment, covert narcissists are able to maintain a grandiose sense of self-importance, protect their fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, and ideal love, and maintain a belief that they are special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions.

Covert Narcissists Use Triangulation to Control and Manipulate Others

Before we ended the previous section, we said:

“By being in power and control of their surrounding environment, covert narcissists are able to maintain a grandiose sense of self-importance, protect their fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, and ideal love, and maintain a belief that they are special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions.”

This is actually a very important aspect of not only the reason that covert narcissists use triangulation, but the reason that narcissists manipulate others. So, the remainder of this article is going to be focusing on that.

As we mentioned in the beginning of this article, narcissist want to feel emotionally stable. They do this by accumulating narcissistic supply from their surrounding environment.

With this supply, three things are possible:

  1. Maintaining a grandiose sense of self-importance.
  2. Protecting their fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, and ideal love.
  3. Maintain a belief that they are special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions.

Those three things that we just mentioned above helps narcissists suppress all of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions, allowing them to achieve their main objective, which is feeling emotionally stable.

Even though nothing is ever “good enough” for a narcissist, having enough narcissistic supply to make those three things happen is really good for them. In fact, it helps them create a public person that hides their abusive side to almost everyone in their life.

A narcissist pretending to be someone that they aren't

The problem that all narcissists run into, not just covert narcissists, is that the people that they abuse can see right through their public persona because of all the abuse that they are experiencing. This is a big problem because narcissists know that if they are outed as an abuser, they will lose all of their narcissistic supply and their world will come crashing down.

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Our articles What Happens When You Expose a Narcissist to Others? and How Do Narcissists Use Flying Monkeys? has really helpful information about this but a narcissist’s fear of being exposed is one of the reasons that they use triangulation, and other manipulation tactics, to control and manipulate others.

You see, for a narcissist to feel emotionally stable they have to be in full control of their surrounding environment, and everyone in it.

A narcissist having control over his/her surrounding environment

They can’t have the people that they abuse running around telling everyone how abusive they are. That would destroy their public persona, trigger all of their suppressed painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and compromise their emotional stability.

So, they use manipulation tactics like triangulation to control and manipulate others so they can control their surrounding environment and protect their emotional stability.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Covert narcissists, along with all the other types of narcissists, use triangulation to control and manipulate other people. Triangulation creates a power imbalance that helps them maintain power and control over their surrounding environment and everyone in it.


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References:

American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)

Rose, Paul. “The happy and unhappy faces of narcissism.” Personality and individual differences 33.3 (2002): 379-391.