Triangulation: A Method Used by Abusers
[October 25, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
This is Wikipedia’s definition of Triangulation [Internet Archive link]1:
The term triangulation is most commonly used to express a situation in which one family member will not communicate directly with another family member, but will communicate with a third family member, which can lead to the third family member becoming part of the triangle. The concept originated in the study of dysfunctional family systems, but can describe behaviors in other systems as well, including work. [Emphasis added.]
Light’s Blog writes this:
When functional people have something to say, they say it to you. When dysfunctional people have something to say, they may tell someone else instead. (More here [Internet Archive link] on their post entitled “Psychological Triangulation”.)
We believers would probably classify gossip in the category of Psychological Triangulation. But, there is also more to it. Those who practice triangulation also add manipulation to the pot. If I send one email to Johnny that plants a seed of serious doubt about Sally’s ethics (or something — I am just making this up)….then, I send a similar letter to Sally about Johnny’s ethics….I have just triangulated. I have, possibly, isolated them from each other. I have rather put myself in charge. At best, I have made myself an authority and dragged others into a game of sorts. At worst, I have managed to isolate both parties from each other, while still holding the power.
This paragraph in Light’s Blog is highly revealing:
Ill-intentioned triangulation comes from a toxic person who is manipulating. It serves this triangulator best to have others involved in their toxic drama games. In these cases, the triangulation is little more than a tool used to drag the most people possible into the toxic swirl of their schemes as possible. Telling third (and fourth, and fifth) parties brings them more power or more gratification than it does to work toward the resolution of any issues.
How many of us have experienced this?? After I left my ex, I was getting letters from people I have not heard from in 15 years because abusers were just so very busy in pulling others into their drama games. Do they ever rest? I don’t know. I imagine that those who are addicted to drama just move on to something else, eventually. Not one time did I receive a letter showing any amount of love or concern for our welfare (when we left my ex) from the very people who swarmed and buzzed around me, contacting every single person they could find in my circles except me. And, I know that I used to do this, as well, because this was how my family functioned (or dysfunctioned, rather). It was not until God set me free from them that I began to see how manipulative we all were. Afraid to speak up or speak out. I must say that it is not easy to break these habits and be direct — but I will also say that it can be done with effort and by the grace of God.
That being said, not all triangulation is bad. Sometimes, it is just life. I communicate with David about our five year old because she is only five. She cannot really make many decisions about her little life so David and I do isolate her, to a degree. This type of triangulation is healthy and fades as children get older. Sometimes, it is forced upon us. Divorced parents do not always communicate with each other so the children are isolated from unified parents. This is not a bad thing….it is just something that is and has to be for the safety of the children.
However, abusers use triangulation to isolate and stay in control. They need to just stop it. Because of all we went through, when approached by someone who wants to gossip….or someone who wants me to somehow relay a message to my husband (who is a pastor), I just say, “Well, you’re talking to the wrong person!” or “I really can’t help you. You will have to approach so-and-so.” Our children know better, as well. They simply do not take part in triangulation or gossip.
I believe that the damage done by triangulation is why Jesus spoke so definitively on approaching people face-to-face, rather than the round-about-way (Matthew 18). We go to people — face-to-face. We look them in the eye and then, in compassion, we speak. And why do we speak? Not because we want to prove others wrong….but because we have the best interest at heart of the listener. In fact, we have their ear because they know that we love them. It has been proved over and over. We have earned that right. Otherwise, we need to keep our mouths shut.
1[October 25, 2022: We added the link to Wikipedia’s page on Triangulation. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]
[October 25, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to October 25, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to October 25, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to October 25, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (October 25, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]