Triangulation. It’s sneaky. It works behind-the-scenes with the intent to destroy their target. Abusers who use this tactic, which is very typical of malignant narcissists, could probably work at being spies because they have to be deceptive and very convincing – which they most definitely are, especially when they play the victim doing it.
When I was a teen is when I started to see that how she treated me wasn’t ‘right’. But because I grew up under this, it was still my normal, but there was something that tweaked at my gut telling me that how she was treating just wasn’t right – something was wrong. When I confronted my mother, I was told it was all in my head, that I was too sensitive – this is gaslighting – which is making their target feel crazy and unhinged, like we aren’t seeing and experiencing what we are really seeing and experiencing. This is when my eyes started to open as there are some things I could not dismiss – it was too in-my-face. Having the truth of her behaviour slowly being unveiled to me, was like peeking through a dense heavy curtain that could only reveal so much view a little at a time. I started to really notice her favouritism of her favourite child, which she didn’t even try to hide – aunts, uncles and family friends could see it. That is when, recalling memories from childhood, that it was true – this particular sister had always been her favourite and did get preferential treatment. One of my mother’s favourite expressions was, “I treat my kids all the same.” A lie she’d always tell herself to appease her guilty conscience, I’d wager, because she never did treat us all the same – at least where I was concerned anyway.
My mother involved my siblings in this triangulation and what this does is break any bonds that we should have otherwise had. Mother never encouraged us to stick up for one another – and why would she when we weren’t even allowed to stick up for ourselves against our parents – to do so was to be disrespectful, to be dishonourable. As I got older, my mother would recruit other people into her triangulating, like friends for instance and they had no idea how they were being manipulated.
My mother would smear me to my siblings (and others), making me appear incredibly inept and deeply flawed, evil even. She talked of me to them in such a way that made them pull away from me, so that with siblings a sibling bond would not be formed and no siblings bonds were formed until I was in my early twenties and a certain incidence occurred that caused my youngest sister to confide in me and I was there to console her. She was the only sibling I was close to after that – for a time anyway. I will never know all the lies mother fed them, but whatever she told, it was enough for them to keep their distance, relationship wise, and she was convincing enough for my siblings to believe her wholeheartedly. By the time I was a teen, I felt like the family outcast and the older I got the worse it got – and when I became a Christian at age 26, it got exponentially worse. This is what triangulation does – it alienates. It paints an undesirable picture of the narcissist’s victim, the scapegoat, which in my family, was me. I was the ‘screw-up’, the inept one, the stupid one. The naive one. And I was naive because my mother didn’t teach me things she should have in order to wise me up to the world, relationships, and teaching me about men for instance – her failing to prepare me did leave me feeling stupid and deeply flawed which also set me up for heartache and failure. When it came to going out into the world, I was not prepared and was left to figure it out on my own and when I made mistakes or wrong choices, I was ridiculed and demeaned for them, which reminded of how deeply flawed I was. As most mothers mentor their daughters into adulthood, my mother did not – she took joy in seeing me go into life totally unprepared. The only thing I knew how to do well is to keep a home because she made me clean her house by myself 90 percent of the time, by myself. (The other 10% the ‘favourite’ was supposed to help – but she got to spend time with her friends on Saturdays, I was not and my friends still remember that.) It’s like she took sick joy in seeing me fumble and make mistakes that could have been avoided – and then hold those things against me to make me feel even worse. What mother does that to a child they love?
Triangulation turns the hearts of those you love against you. If not for that one instance with my youngest sister, that actually created a bond between her and I for a time, I would have never been close to any of my siblings. It was so bad up until that instance, that I was not included in things that siblings did – I was often excluded from family outings too especially in the last year or two before I went strict no contact with all family of origin seven years ago. There was a separation that was felt emotionally and physically. I don’t know how my mother did it exactly – but she was pro at it – making sure there was no sibling bond as far as I was concerned. This instance with my youngest sister created a bond that would not have been created if my mother wasn’t away that particular weekend, if I hadn’t dropped in at my mother’s house on that particular day. This sister and I were close for a good many years – at least I thought we were – until eight to nine years ago, she started to pull away from me and give me the silent treatment my mother always used to – this performance is called ‘abuse by proxy.’ It hurt deeply and it made me insanely angry – no one talks in my family about this stuff – at least not concerning parents. We were conditioned to keep their behaviours secret – to not air our dirty laundry in public, as they called it – I guess that translated to not talking about their behaviour with each other as well, no matter how wrong it was. When children – even adult children – are conditioned to think and behave this way, it allows abusive behaviour to get passed down to the next generation because nothing get corrected – it permeates and affects future generations until someone takes a stand – which is exactly what I did and I was ostracized for it. In a narcissistic family, if anyone does take a stand, it is almost always the scapegoat that does – they are the ones who see the dysfunction very clearly after a time. In our family, I was that scapegoat and I did take a stand and try to expose and talk about the dysfunction and abuse and in doing so, as if I didn’t feel rejected before that, now I really did and it was unbearable – I got the impression that they felt like I betrayed them by exposing the real family dynamic that was both toxic and abusive, especially for me.
So as you can see, triangulation also discourages communication between siblings and anyone else the malignant narcissist pulls into their toxic web of lies. So when my sister (that I developed a bond with) started giving me the silent treatment, there was no talking about it. I knew this was a ‘punishment’ tactic for not conforming and staying silent – if there was other reason for it, I never knew what the hell I had done to warrant it, not even when my mother implemented it. I was supposed to read everyone’s mind I guess. I knew my mother was feeding this particular sister lies and it turned her heart against me – especially when I knew I did nothing wrong, at least not that I could see anyway.
The thing with malignant narcissists is that they paint themselves as the victim while vilifying their real victim, which in this case, was me. Mother would tell people that I was treating her the way she was actually treating me. My mother would accuse me of even treating my children the way she was actually treating me – and because she is so believable, she had my siblings convinced that I was the evil one – and not just siblings, family friends and I suspect, even in-laws. When rejection jumps to this level, I cannot tell you how heartbreaking it is. It’s like having people stolen from you – people you loved who you thought loved you. It was hard to bear and still sometimes is.
I omitted my mother from my life about 17 years ago because I could no longer endure her abuse – the smearing and lies, shaming and humiliations, degradations, along with silent treatments, being gaslighted, triangulated, to name a few – I was reduced to an empty-shell person, I was void of any identity and worth – she stripped me of it all. I felt like a walking black void of nothingness. And even though I was no longer in her life, she was still smearing me, discrediting me, creating lies about me. So when a decade later (about 7 years ago), after my one sister who I thought I had a bond with, suddenly started to distance herself from me, giving me the silent treatment and looking at me with a look they all often gave me – I knew that there was nothing left to hang onto. Nothing. It was a look as if they were seeing me as a facade – how they were seeing me was the picture my mother was painting of me instead of seeing me as who I really was, and am. Instead of questioning my mother’s facade and her warped depiction of me, they were believing the one my mother painted me with. And because our mother knew none of them would question her – because to do so was construed as dishonour or disrespect – she knew that their brains would consume what she said without question. Not once did it occur to any of them to ask me if what she was saying was true – especially the one sister who I thought really knew me. None of them thought to challenge anything my mother was saying. It blew me away that this sister would believe our mother’s smears of me instead of believing what she actually knew about me. It broke my heart.
My mother even used this tactic with me against my own father while they were still married and was in my teens and early twenties. Whenever he wasn’t around, mother would smear him – insult him, put him down, going so far as to insult his family and his family name. She’d go on about things she despised about the man, calling him selfish – that was the big one – then she’d look at me with the cold stare that shot daggers at your heart and between seething teeth exclaim, “And you’re just like him, you’re such a (his surname)!!” She would do this in attempt to turn my heart against my father – but because she did this to me behind my back as well, it didn’t work! This was an example of how I started to see my mother for what she really was – that I could finally see the real her behind the facade she presented to everyone else. By telling me all these things she hated about him, calling him selfish and such, saying I was just like him was her way of insulting me all at the same time. It rattled me to my core. It wasn’t hard for me to figure out that she had no great love for me, being I am such a (surname here)!
My mother really hated one of his sisters too. I don’t know what happened between them, but my mother would cruelly berate this aunt, referring to her as a whore, a slut, and how selfish she was, and she’d go on and on … and then again, she’d seethe at me with her dead-eye, dagger-throwing stare that struck the heart of me every single time, “And you’re just like her!” This was her way of berating me in a triangulating manner. It struck me to the core every single time. The damage that it does goes into your most innermost parts that eats away at your soul and psyche … until you just can’t take it anymore.
I am convinced that abuser’s triangulate to deflect onto others their own sins – and lucky me – I was that target, I was her scapegoat, her sin rag. They do this to take the focus of their own shortcomings and sins. They do this to attempt to make themselves seem saintly, which they are not. They are covert deceivers. They don’t like it when their scapegoats rebel by revealing the truth about their nature. It’s all deflection – it takes their focus off of themselves so no one thinks they are the actual awful person, they put all their flaws and sins on their victims so that no one questions them or hates them, but their target. It’s an awful form of abuse that is just one of the tactics disordered narcissists use – especially covert malignant narcissists.
I am a firm believer that if you are in a family like this, no contact is really the only viable and healthy option – but it’s a choice you have to make on your own, no one can make it for you. Many victims of this abuse try limited contact for months or years only to find out that even that doesn’t work – in fact, in can make the abuse worse. It sure did in my case. Strict no contact was the best option for me. It was the only way I could heal and be a better mom and wife for my kids and my husband.
The Lord Himself provided a door at the most inopportune time for me to take my leave seven years ago, and when the Lord opens a door, you take it – and I did. It was the hardest most painful decision, but it was also the wisest. I do no regret my decision and looking back, I would make that same choice all over again. When I was presented with, ‘stay with my family’ or ‘go with God’ – I chose God. After all, He chose me and He saved my soul – He blessed me in ways no human being every could. He has given me a life I only ever used to dream about – a loving husband and great kids who I love deeply and who love me.
When you choose God and trust in Him with your circumstances, in time the blessings will come and they will exceed anything you could have expected – at least this was my experience because I was always waiting for my bottom to fall out, for the ground to crumble underneath me. So when the Lord comes into your life and gives you a solid rock to stand on – that alone is the greatest blessing there is. Yes, there have been hard times and healing from this abuse is not delightful, it’s long and it’s arduous – but with God by my side – I will always choose Him. He had me when no one else did.
Living with and enduring the antics of an abusive narcissistic family is not a way to live. I grew up being robbed of my worth and even my own identity … and to stay in a family like that, in my humble opinion, just isn’t worth it. The Lord says He rescues the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds … and that is exactly what He did … for me.
~ Saoirse Quill
More on triangulation … http://www.daughtersofnarcissisticmothers.com/triangulation/