Do you want to know why the narcissist in your life triangulates you with their ex?

If so, you’re in the right place. 

We were asked about this during a workshop about setting boundaries by a member of Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse.

So, I looked into it, and here’s everything I learned.

Generally speaking, narcissists triangulate you with their ex-partners to:

  • Create a sense of competition.
  • Keep you off balance.
  • Manipulate your perception of reality.
  • Divert attention from their manipulative behavior
  • Reinforce their desirability.
  • Test your loyalty and commitment.
  • Maintain a sense of superiority.
  • Avoid genuine intimacy and vulnerability.

In this post, I’ll explain each of these reasons to help you understand why narcissists frequently use this form of manipulation.

If you have or currently are experiencing narcissistic abuse, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse for help.

To Create a Sense of Competition

Narcissists triangulate you with their ex to create a competitive atmosphere. 

By comparing you to their ex, they hope to ignite a drive in you to prove your worth and secure your position in their life. 

A victim of narcissistic abuse feeling like they have to compete with the narcissist's ex.

This behavior serves a dual purpose for the narcissist. 

Firstly, it feeds their ego by making them feel sought after and important. 

Secondly, it ensures your focus stays locked on them, heightening their sense of control and superiority in the relationship. 

As you become more invested in winning their approval, the narcissist enjoys the attention and the power dynamics that favor them.

To Keep You Off Balance

Using their ex to triangulate you is also a tactic narcissists use to keep you emotionally off balance.

When they frequently mention their ex, it introduces a constant source of insecurity and doubt within you. 

This forces you to grapple with feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty about your standing in their life. 

It’s a manipulative technique designed to undermine your self-confidence.

As a result, you may find yourself seeking validation and reassurance from the narcissist, which further cements their dominance in the relationship. 

This ongoing state of emotional turmoil ensures that you are too preoccupied to challenge them or to see the relationship for what it truly is: a manipulation of your affections and loyalties.

To Manipulate Your Perception of Reality

Narcissists engage in triangulation with their ex to manipulate your perception of reality, making you doubt your judgments and question the truth. 

By weaving stories about their ex — whether about the ex’s behaviors, feelings, or the narcissist’s own lingering attachments — they introduce a layer of ambiguity into your relationship. 

A narcissist talking about their lingering attachment to their ex.

This tactic is not just about creating jealousy; it’s about altering your grasp on what’s real and what’s not. 

You might find yourself questioning whether they’re still involved with their ex or if you’re overreacting to innocent mentions. 

This confusion is precisely what the narcissist aims for. 

It allows them to rewrite the narrative to their advantage, making you more reliant on their version of events. 

As you struggle to differentiate truth from manipulation, the narcissist gains further control over the emotional landscape of the relationship.

To Divert Attention from Their Manipulative Behavior

Another reason narcissists triangulate with an ex is to divert attention away from their manipulative behavior. 

By constantly bringing up their ex, they create drama and conflict that shifts your focus. 

Instead of scrutinizing their actions or addressing issues within your relationship, you’re caught up in the emotional turmoil of rivalry and jealousy. 

This deflection is a strategic move. 

It protects the narcissist from criticism and accountability by ensuring that any discussions about improvement or change are overshadowed by the chaos of the triangulation. 

As you become consumed with proving yourself or deciphering their feelings about their ex, the narcissist’s behaviors go unchecked, allowing them to maintain the upper hand without having to address their shortcomings or the genuine needs of the relationship.

If you need help with anything related to narcissistic abuse, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse today.

To Reinforce Their Desirability

Narcissists use triangulation with their ex to reinforce their desirability and attractiveness in your eyes.

By suggesting that their ex is still interested or by comparing you to the ex, they aim to signal that they are highly sought after. 

A narcissist suggesting that their ex is still interested in them.

This approach is designed to make you feel fortunate to be with them, increasing your effort to hold onto the relationship. 

It plays into the narcissist’s need to feel superior and admired. 

As you worry about the competition, your actions and responses become more about securing your place with the narcissist, inadvertently boosting their ego and reinforcing their self-perceived allure. 

This constant need for affirmation from you serves to satisfy their deep-seated insecurities about their worth.

To Test Your Loyalty and Commitment

Engaging in triangulation with an ex allows narcissists to test your loyalty and commitment to the relationship. 

By observing how you react to mentions of their ex or to situations where the ex is brought into the dynamic, they assess your dedication and emotional investment.

 This manipulative tactic is not about fostering trust or building a stronger bond; rather, it’s about the narcissist asserting control and ensuring that you are deeply tied to them, often at the cost of your emotional well-being. 

The more you tolerate and engage with the triangulation, the more you prove your loyalty in the narcissist’s eyes. 

Unfortunately, this sets a precedent in the relationship where your boundaries are continually crossed, and your emotional needs are sidelined in favor of the narcissist’s desire for control and validation.

To Maintain a Sense of Superiority

Narcissists triangulate you with their ex as a way to maintain a sense of superiority within the relationship. 

By positioning themselves at the center of a supposed love triangle, they create a scenario where they appear to be the prize to be won, elevating their status in their own eyes and, ideally, in yours as well. 

A victim of narcissistic abuse seeing the narcissist as superior.

This strategy feeds into their grandiose self-image and supports their belief in their specialness and uniqueness. 

It’s a psychological game where the narcissist remains the focal point, and both you and the ex (whether actively in the picture or not) are pawns in reinforcing their inflated self-perception. 

To Avoid Genuine Intimacy and Vulnerability

Triangulation with an ex is also a tactic narcissists use to avoid genuine intimacy and vulnerability in the relationship. 

By introducing the dynamic of competition and comparison, they deflect attention from deeper emotional connection and the potential for genuine closeness. 

The continuous drama and tension serve as barriers to real intimacy, where true feelings, fears, and desires might be shared and explored. 

For a narcissist, such depths of emotional exchange threaten their control and expose them to potential criticism or rejection, which their fragile ego cannot tolerate. 

Thus, keeping the relationship centered on external drama—like that involving an ex—allows them to maintain the upper hand without risking the emotional exposure that comes with a truly intimate connection.

If you are ready to be more than a victim of narcissistic abuse, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse today.


Thank you so much for reading. I hope you found it helpful!

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt compared to or in competition with a narcissist’s ex? 

If so, how did that impact your relationship and self-esteem?

Please share your experiences or questions by leaving a comment below; I’d love to connect with you!

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About the Author

Hey, I’m Elijah.

I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years. 

I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.

Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.

Unfilteredd has strict sourcing guidelines and only uses high-quality sources to support the facts within our content. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, actionable, inclusive, and trustworthy by reading our editorial process.

Maggie Holland (2023. May, 17). Narcissistic Triangulation: Definition, Examples, & How to Respond. Choosing Therapy.

Asa Don Brown. (2023. November, 3). How Do Narcissists Treat Their Exes? (What They Do & How to Handle It). wikiHow.

Shahida Arabi. (2018. August, 9). Research Finds That Narcissists Try To Remain Friends With Their Exes For Darker Reasons. Psych Central.

Justin K. Mogilski, Lisa L.M. Welling, “Staying friends with an ex: Sex and dark personality traits predict motivations for post-relationship friendship,” Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 115, 2017, Pages 114-119.

Kaytee Gillis. (2022. November, 10). 9 Narcissistic Manipulation Tactics & How to Deal. Choosing Therapy.

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