The theory of triangulation in relationships was first introduced by Dr. Murray Bowen. Bowen observed that in many families, marriages and friendships when people are faced with an area of conflict they avoid dealing with the conflict directly. Instead of addressing the issue with the person involved they will draw in a third or even fourth person into the conflict.
This is not be confused with a simple discussion with a friend or family member about your thoughts and feelings. Triangulation involves much more detail and manipulation which can cause much strife among friends and family members leading to years of dysfunction and avoidance that could be passed down to each generation.
There are three roles in the triangulation. The first is the role of the persecutor who will most likely try and take the victim role. Which leads to the rescuer who will try and help the persecutor unknowingly falling into a very controlled trap. And last we have the real victim. Who has been whiplashed by the persecutor and left feeling alone and not knowing what to do.
Many people have experienced the effects of triangulation without even knowing that this is what is going on. In triangulation one person tries to control the thoughts and feelings of others against the person they have conflict with. The abuser will recruit friends, family members and any third party to do his or her bidding. The main person in the middle is the one in control of the information. He or She tells people what she or he wants them to hear. Often twisting information to their benefit. He or She does their very best to keep these people from speaking to each other. Almost pitting them against each other.
This person will often set up conflict against the victim as if it was a play. They will set up the scene before the victim gets there splitting person against person. And chiming in at precise moments to keep the feud going.
This person may also try to take control by engineering situations in which abuse is inflicted upon another person by excluding or singling them out. Such carefully crafted scenarios of social exclusion or condemnation against the victim. This person is clever with their words of seduction, through posturing, they entices their pawns to do her dirty work. Unaware the rescuer and others take up her cause and align themselves against the one they want to control and have turned themselves into bullies. Leaving the victim feeling lost and alone.
In most cases the victim will do one of these four things…
1. Speak up and try to defend themselves.
2. Further submit to abuse. They will either take it in hoping to not escalate it further and hoping it will pass.
3. Try to convince the Rescuer(s) that the persecutor is the one that is causing the conflict. Unfortunately by this time the rescuers have had the persecutors claws in them for too long now and they can’t turn back.
4. The will leave the relationship
So, how do you avoid getting involved in triangulation? Ask yourself a few simple questions…
1. Does this person often exclude people when they are upset with someone?
2. Does this person avoid face to face conflict but will divulge information behind the scenes?
3. Are there comments about the situation or are they negative comments about the person?
4. Are they looking to be heard or to cause conflict?
In any case unless you are dealing with children the conflict should only involve the people who have it. You can be a good friend by listening and advising the person to talk directly with the other person. Be a good mediator and keep things on topic of the actions not the person. It is a slippery slope when we start attacking a person with names and labels whether they are present or not.
A special note: If you happen to witness the public isolation or humiliation of a person, be brave enough to stop it. No one deserves to feel alone or picked on. We can all make a change in this world if we are brave enough to stand up for what is right.