33 thoughts on “Triangulation: The Trap Of The Problematic Person

  • March 18, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    This is my entire family in a nutshell. My mother, always the victim, taking turns badmouthing us behind our back (unless you’re a favorite). I could always tell when it was me as I got treated like crap or ignored by everyone until; I was through being ‘punished’, earned my way back into her good graces (kissing her butt), or someone else had ticked her off –but general bad treatment by everyone lingered since I’ve never been a favorite of hers. It took me til midllife to finally get my fill and tell them all to get lost and have not had contact since. I think the term ‘triangulation’ is code for ‘still acting like your in high school’

    • April 22, 2017 at 1:24 am

      Omg I was educated by my therapist that this was a family trait going back to my childhood. Although our parents passed away long ago I find myself in the middle of this whenever my siblings and I interact I have to admit me being the baby feel it is my job to fix it ,,,, It never changes they fight and now I do t comment and sometimes this feels worse why can’t we all get along

      • April 23, 2017 at 12:53 pm

        Hi Sam,
        I have asked that same question when counseling families with complicating dynamics and interactions. I have also asked the same question about my own family at times…
        It sounds like you and your family will not get along until everyone gets to a place of honesty, openness, and mature communication. You can pull the ship on your own Sam. You will most likely have to find a way to maturely exist within your family or put space between you.
        Take care

    • February 15, 2018 at 9:34 am

      Wow, I could of wrote that myself. It truely is an awful way to grow up and it rubs off on a person too. I had to fight/work at learning how to communicate my entire life. Mostly. I just avoid conflict so I ended up with no close friends cause I never been able to defend myself out of fear when I have been hurt. I would let it fester in me. I ended up with late stage cancer. Lucky to be alive too.
      And I did escape my family, didn’t subject the current generation to that poison. I guess I’m mant ways I’m just lucky that way, if I never married and moved away perhaps I be a drug addict with no one.

  • March 24, 2015 at 9:31 am


  • September 13, 2015 at 3:44 am

    This is exactly what I was trying to describe in my previous comment/question about the trauma bonding article! My ex and and unstable best friend against me, and another very stable best friend who stood by me. It has taken me forever to really figure out and accept the details, and has been the most traumatic and life altering experience of my life.

    (If you have a suggestion for a therapist in Austin/Houston/Beaumont, I would be most grateful!)

    • September 13, 2015 at 5:47 pm

      Hi Erika,
      sorry for the delay. You have great questions. Thank you for contributing them.
      Firstly, I am sorry for all that you have had to experience with your ex and friend. We all, as humans, have experienced similar situations and they aren’t easy to cope with or live through. I am glad that you are considering speaking to someone who might be able to help you or provide some level of support. Have you tried to search online for a therapist in your local area?

      I would try http://www.psychologytoday.com and click on “find a therapist” or go to therapytribe.com and put in your zipcode. I would focus on a therapist who can help you cope with loss and improve your quality of living. A therapist like this would have training with people who have experienced interpersonal difficulties (divorce, bad friendships, etc).

      All the best to you

  • October 21, 2015 at 7:35 am

    nope they need help….. not to be controlled by some mentally ill person

  • October 22, 2015 at 3:41 am

    I learned this dynamic as the “Karpman Drama Triangle” which went on to name the three points as “Enable, Rescue and Persecute.*” I found it illuminating that people can slide around the triangle and play all the parts.

    Ms Hill, I admire your candor in admitting to being pulled into the triangulation; it strikes me as courageous and strong for a therapist to state. It’s also soothing to think a professional does not see letting their humanity show as being a fault. Those professionals who want to present the smooth façade are the ones I cannot invest trust in.

    *It may have been in a book by Toby Rice Drews I read in 1989 called “Getting Them Sober.”

    PS the database at psychologytoday.com is a knockout resource, one that I saw for the first time only this week. Wonderfully thorough. — Thank you for this post!

    • October 22, 2015 at 6:15 pm

      Hi Upsie Daisy
      Thank you for such a humble and encouraging reply to this article. I enjoy writing these things for those of you who read my website and for those like you. It’s very gracious of you to point those things out. Thank you so much. I’m glad you found the article helpful and I’m glad that I can be a humble servant of information for you guys.

      All the best

    • August 6, 2017 at 8:43 am

      I had the same exact thoughts as Upsie_Daisy regarding your candor and raw honesty about your own vulnerabilities and difficulties during treatment of these problematic patients. For me, it really upped the value of your content! Thanks!

  • November 7, 2015 at 2:01 am

    Finding this article just gave me sanity, understanding, in what I think of as my Cinderella feeling. The unfathomable cycle of my mother and two half-sisters. Omg! God bless you. I’m 53, and have been running away from home, ha-ha, because of this since 1978. Only ever peaceful very far from them. Been ostracized my whole life. All the lying! But the chaotic feeling is horrible. Now it won’t be, because of this new knowledge. WOW. Thank you.

  • September 8, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    My ex is a “self taught expert” on everything related to the mental health field. When she sent me this article, I knew she was referring to our grandson, but instead this is her. She has ostracized everyone she has ever known but maybe one or two, including me. Her main emotion is anger, releasing thru hollow threats. She needs to be in total control, seeing a problem as always someone else’s fault. Very few people will even listen once she gets going since she can sound so over the top. She jumps to the worst conclusion and accepts it as fact, regardless of the truth. My grandson is a young teenager and is a wonderful and respectful boy in other situations, but enter her and there’s only yelling and namecalling. Because she spends so much time alone, her view of things has warped into her own little world. Is there anything short of removing him from her that I can do to help him? Is she past the point of being “stable”. Can I get her evaluated without her consent?
    I’m truly worried for him.

  • June 13, 2017 at 2:03 am

    I’m having an “Ah ha” moment right now! This is my entire family! My mother, father, twin sister, older sister and brother! My family is textbook and I never realized it until I was divorced last year and my twin decided to create such horrible drama, making me look so unstable with her unfounded lies, that she even went to my ex with these lies and got my custody modified to be supervised by…MY PARENTS! Who, do nothing but perpetuate her behavior because they’re literally afraid of the repercussions of confronting her. My father said she’s “crazy” and a “liar”, my mother and older sister believes her lies after I inform them of the truth and show proof, but they immediately forget about it and feel like doing nothing is best when they don’t realize that “doing nothing” is pretty much saying they feel the same way she does, which just empowers her more! When she’s confronted with the truth, she tells even more, elaborate lies to cover up the initial lies. So everyone just lets her continue to create chaos, despite seeing and witnessing actual evidence that she’s lying about me, specifically, and they still either believe her, or don’t hold her accountable and treat me poorly because I refuse to be around any of them as long as they continue to perpetuate her lies, drama and continued campaign against me (in collusion with my ex) in my custody battle! Now her own teenage daughters see how mentally unstable she is and are starting to show signs of cutting, suicidal ideations and depression. But twin sister blames all their problems on their father, her ex, because he’s not there to defend himself. She’s got the sympathy of my siblings and parents because of her daughters behaviors now and it just continues to grow more out of control. It’s a tiring, cyclical and traumatic experience. And to realize that this has been going on my entire life is sad, but freeing at the same time now that I know there’s an actual “term”, or definition of this behavior pattern. It all makes sense now. Thank you!

    • June 14, 2017 at 12:57 pm

      Hi LDR,
      Thanks for your input and comment. I’m glad you found the article helpful.
      I wanted to make a suggestion about Borderline Personality Disorder. You may find that one of the family members you listed above may have symptoms of this diagnosis. Triangulation occurs in many cases involving borderline personality disorder. There is often a reason for the triangulation and most of the time, it is a mental, emotional, or personality disorder. You can simply google “Borderline Personality Disorder” or check out Youtube and search for the video “Back from the edge.”
      Take good care

  • August 5, 2017 at 8:35 am

    My 8 yo daughter is currently being treated for ADHD, ODD, and depression. Her therapist recently said she recognized an attachment disorder emerging in therapy. The triangulation of adults is recognized as a symptom. I have recognized this, without knowing the proper terminology, and brought it to the attention of our psychiatrist and others involved in her/our treatment. We have our next family therapy in 2 weeks and I will bring this up at that time. In the meantime, what can we start to do at home to avoid this triangulation?

    • August 9, 2017 at 10:37 pm

      Hi Christina,
      I would start by identifying the triangulation and making it known that you know what she is up to. Addressing it head on can be useful. You do want to pick your battles. Plan to ignore some attempts to triangulate. Also plan to see a temper tantrum, oppositional attitude, or denial. You may also benefit from setting up consequences for triangulation, especially if there is manipulation or malice involved. Some people, as I stated in the article, triangulate unintentionally and need others to address them about their behaviors.
      All the best

  • August 6, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Wow, I stumbled on this quite by accident as I was searching for information on the term “triangulation” as it pertains to my favorite hobby of genealogy/DNA connections. Even as I realized I had the “wrong” site for what I was searching, something had me reading further. Well, it turned out to be the “right” site for what describes my mother and one of my sisters, and entire family dynamic, exactly!!

    My mother has suffered trauma (what she called an abandonment as a child), and my sister suffered trauma (sexual abuse by an uncle). These two individuals have run up, down and sideways for years over the remaining healthy ones, destroying the unit. The two of them could be examples in your article. My mother is the shy, weak, socially inept, needy, manipulative, passive aggressive one. My sister the very angry, aggressive, socially phony, trouble-making, emotionally locked-up (I remember her crying twice in my life.) one. I have wondered in the past whether my sister had BPD.

    For many years, we had double triangles zinging around us all (2 parents, 5 children); what on earth do you call a double triangle?? 😝 My angry sister wields my weak mother, and her moods dictated our family climate all our lives, even though my sister never told her about the abuse. Did my mother actually know and has guilt? I’ll never know, but I do know that my dear departed father never knew–because my uncle is still alive!

    I was ousted from the family (because they dragged the other siblings in) several times by one or both of the Triangulators (as I will now refer to them, thank you!) and finally walked away to health and happiness more than a dozen years ago. During my previous oustings, my father remained a constant in my life, visiting me separate from my mother and never allowing her to come between us. I wished he could reel the two of them in and I said as much, but I realized he had to survive the situation somehow and was powerless. My sister even caused scenes with me when he died 16 years ago.

    Somewhere in the middle of those awful years, I once managed to convince the entire family to go to family therapy. Guess which two were the most difficult to convince. We made it through two sessions, the latter of which my sister stormed out of. So much for that.

    When I decided 13 years ago to divorce my husband, whom my sister wasn’t crazy about, she suddenly was his best friend. Yet another triangulation. The two of them have kept up their b.s. relationship ever since. She even wrote/testified on his behalf so he could get an annulment. I asked my ex what basis she could have, when in fact, she wasn’t speaking to both of us for the majority of our 18-year relationship. I also never shared intimacies with her or anyone for that matter, but somehow she had deep insight into my marriage that she could comment at length to a church tribunal on it. Lots of ugly going on there.

    I have so many awful examples and memories, but I now, at 53, have the most wonderful and healthy life, sans all of them, except for one fantastic brother who needed to see them for himself after he got pulled into a triangle last year. The ensuing shunning he experienced has brought us closer and we have been able to examine the whole together. In fact, I will share your article with him.

    Sorry for the lengthy post, but I want you to know how much this applies in my family of origin and how enlightening I found it! Thank you!

    • August 9, 2017 at 10:31 pm

      Hi “Black Sheep,”
      Thanks for your kind comment and for sharing your experience. You certainly have gone through a lot. Have you considered therapy? Even if it is just to talk to someone or vent. I enjoy those clients who come to therapy to work things out in their head. They have the answers, they have the courage. They often just need to hear themselves reason, explore, or challenge their own beliefs. Therapy does not have to be a stressful journey between patient and provider. If you haven’t considered therapy, you may find it helpful. I send clients to http://www.psychologytoday.com and then “find a therapist.” If you do decide to pursue therapy again, you may want to ask about triangulation and how to cope with it. Whether you go back to therapy or not, you sound as if you are well aware of the games and have found a pretty good way to avoid conflict with the “triangula-tors.”

      If you are interested in this topic, I encourage you to Google “drama triangle.”
      Take care

  • November 19, 2017 at 10:26 am

    Hi- I have four adult kids. One of them yesterday accused me of doing this. I can see after reading about triangulation that this may be true. I feel horrible. This was never my intention. If I have talked to one about the other it wasn’t ever meant to be malicious, but out of frustration. And often times I have said something like ‘I’m really worried about her and what’s going on with her, maybe you could see if she will talk to you’
    Also the one who confronted me does complain about her sister to me and there are times I have said you are right. Or I might say something about one of them to another out of frustration when technically I should have confronted that one myself. I feel horrible. It has never been my intention to Cause the resentment towards me that I obviously have created. I never did this out of malicious intent. But that is how it is looking now.
    How the hell do I undo this?

    • November 22, 2017 at 10:31 pm

      Hi There,
      Thanks for your comment. I see your dilemma and I am sorry things got to this level. This is never easy to deal with or even undo. I think it’s important for us to keep in mind that it is okay if others come to you to vent or to get your opinion or perspective on something. That’s fine. Many people come to therapists for that very reason. However, what we must be careful of is giving “advice” or making suggestions that may keep problems going or that may put you in the position of triangulating (unintentionally). Staying on the outskirts of the situation is key. I would simply apologize and try to help the other person (if it is worth it) see what you were doing and not doing.
      The best approach is always to take the low road and back out so that things don’t get worse.
      Take care

  • December 14, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Wow…I have lived this my whole life! When I told my siblings I had cancer, instead of asking me, they asked one sister. That sister accused me of lying to get attention. I’m finally ousted from my “family” and this sibling got what she wanted. This behavior has created a monster in my oldest sister. She goes around telling people off because of my next oldest sisters actions. The next oldest brother hides behind the girls skirt. The next brother wants no part of it. It’s absolutely stupid. I’m terminally ill and this is drama I don’t need. I’m a stage 4 breast cancer patient.

  • December 29, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    It is very hard communicating with controlling people they always want the upper hand and never see wrong in themselves. It is the controlling individuals that use triangulation I have noticed as it gives them the control to do what they like and treat others how they like with the information they gather. Information can be misconstrued and misused to ones advantage. Most people are easy to communicate with but it is the ones I’ve seen that get defensive and vengeful that bend to triangulation to manipulate and use people to get what they want.

  • January 9, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    Ah ha moment and the only time I’ve felt better after a hearing a very nasty lie was when I waited for her to phone and before finding out what she wanted, I asked her for apology and heard her quivering voice guiltily ask “for what”? I said until then don’t bother me again. Since then all sorts of affected folks in this huge triangle have told me they knew she was not the popular person she thought… She now approaches me as a guilty soul, no apology though and expects me to let her into my life again. No way, never gonna happen sorry.

    • January 13, 2018 at 2:25 pm

      Hi Laroc,
      I like your statement

      “since then all sorts of affected folks in this huge triangle have told me they knew she was not the popular person she thought.”

      It is a huge triangle and sometimes the triangle is so big that you may have to cut ties with everyone involved.
      Take care

  • January 21, 2018 at 1:58 am

    Thank you for this article. I liked that you wrote that you were not always successful and I can understand that plus I appreciate your honesty. I passed it on to a friend to describe what my sister is doing. She has used my mom for years and also enlisted my siblings, Aunts and cousins, even people from church and our neighborhood. She has been heavily involved with our church and teaches all kinds of Bible study classes. Everyone things she is just a saint. She is also someone that buys people gifts to build the bonds to accomplish her goals. She has been doing this since we were kids but I never realized what it was. Last year she quit/retired from her job and moved in with my parents. She told me it would be temporary but I know she knew what she was doing and then said dad and mom need her there. But she never helped them do very much. So now since she doesn’t have any other responsibilities she has gotten a whole lot worse with her triangulation. Then last June she triangulated my brother right out of the picture. My mom wouldn’t let me take her and dad to see him since my sister convinced her that my brothers girlfriend was a horrible person. Four weeks ago at Christmastime she convinced my siblings that I should not be around our parents because she said I tried to give them a heart attack and that I could not be trusted. Three weeks ago she took them to Florida to my other sisters and then my dad got sick. He was diagnosed with blood clots to the lung and then stage 4 lung cancer. Now tonight her and all of her flying monkeys are together with my parents. My dad will probably pass in the next few days and my brother and I can’t be with him. So, I used to have 2 sisters and 3 brothers. Now I have 1 brother. This has hurt us both so much that we are just done. We don’t want to see or talk to any of them again. Except my brother wants to tell our siblings “I hope you are all happy” when the funeral is over.

    • January 24, 2018 at 9:42 pm

      Hi Orphan Annie,
      Thank you for your kind comment and for sharing your story.
      Your story is so very representative of many of my clients. The sad part, when dealing with a calculating and triangulating person, is that they will use you to the full extent necessary to accomplish their goals. I’m glad you brought this point up as well because a lot of people begin to question themselves and wonder if they are the “problem.” The triangulating person will play “nice” or “innocent” in your face but have a plan to use you in some way in the future. It’s terrible! You can count on this same person gaslighting you and undermining your feelings. These people, as you most likely already know, are very unhealthy. I don’t blame you for not wanting to ever talk to them again. You have a right to protect yourself. I wish these kinds of relationships could be different. But unfortunately, separation is sometimes the only resort.
      Take care and I’m sorry about your loss

  • April 8, 2018 at 6:31 am

    I wonder if some of this isn’t a holdover from childhood. I’ve often been of the opinion that bad strategies are often strategies that worked at one point.

    In my family growing up, I learned pretty quickly that no matter how unfair things were, trying to work things out with the adult in charge just got you in more trouble. Even if what you were in trouble for was completely out of your control. The only way to improve the situation was to appeal to another adult to intercede for you.

    • April 17, 2018 at 12:12 am

      Hi ElizabethCa,
      Very interesting perspective and I can’t disagree. We learn to survive the best way we can and sometimes our “survival mechanisms” aren’t the healthiest. We are certainly the product of our upbringing so triangulating behaviors can be learned. If it’s how you survived, then it’s how you’re always going to survive.

      Take care

  • November 4, 2018 at 2:34 am

    Is it triangulation when someone compares you to someone else in a way that puts you down. ie I was told I should just give person A empathy like person B gives empathy to person A? I was compared to person B in a way that put me down – or that attempted to put me down.

  • August 11, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    I think I have discovered that this is what my step daughter is doing. Probably her mother too. Her parents have had a bitter feud going for ten years and the poor girl is only 13. She doesn’t respect either of them and has figured out how to get control back. Now that she is older, she has started lying constantly and we have found out that she has been criticising each parent to the other and making them seem abusive or incompetent. Each parent protects her and doesn’t tell the other what they “know” because she says they will get angry at her. So each parent ends up continuing the cycle of protecting her while criticising and doubting each other and the girl gets all the sympathy and power. I’ve realised I got unwittingly pulled in as the rescuer/victim roles, thinking I was helping her, so I’m opting out of the parental conflict so as not to add fuel to the fire. I’m not blaming the girl – I understand why she went this way and that it possibly isn’t even intentional.

    She’s just recently told us passively-aggressively (through a social worker) that she only wants to live with her mother now (we had her 50/50). She hasn’t given a reason. This is the mother that the girl has told us for years that she can’t stand, she doesn’t love or even like, who is mean to her friends, who is dumb, abusive, yells at her for no reason and dates copious men she doesn’t like. But now she wants to live with her and not with us (a stable, nuclear family with her younger 4yo brother here too). I don’t think it a coincidence that we live half an hour from her mother’s place and all of her friends live there, not near us, and she gets far less limits at her mother’s house including sleepovers all weekend, sometimes with boys and roaming the streets with friends until dark. Lots of things we wouldn’t let her do.

    Her mother does make very questionable decisions about her daughter’s wellbeing in our opinion, and claims not to do the things her daughter says she does, but we have caught her out lying too at other times.

    How can they break out of this? I realise the first step is for them to get over their past for the sake of the child. They’ll need professional help with that but the mother doesn’t even want to be in the same room as my partner. Even mediation is hard. The mother won’t do family counseling either. Is banding together to confront the child with a list of the lies to get to the truth a good idea, or no?

  • August 17, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    I noticed you didn’t really give any steps on how to navigate triangulation my husband when angry with me will talk behind my back with my 30-year-old daughter I’ve gotten compassion for her being dragged in and compassion for him that he suffering but it hurts me and no matter what I say it just keeps happening any thoughts ?


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