Narcissistic Family Triangulation
Narcissistic Family Triangulation

Dealing with family dynamics can be challenging, but when narcissism enters the equation, it can become a labyrinth of emotional turmoil. In this article, we delve into the complex world of narcissistic family triangulation and offer guidance on navigating its treacherous waters.

Narcissistic family triangulation isn’t a term that rolls off the tongue easily, but it’s an issue that affects many people in dysfunctional families. It’s about manipulation, control, and often, emotional abuse. If you’ve ever felt like you’re caught in a never-ending game of emotional chess within your own family, keep reading. We’re here to shed light on what this entails, how it impacts your emotional well-being, and most importantly, how you can break free from its grip.

Understanding Narcissistic Family Triangulation

To effectively deal with narcissistic family triangulation, it’s crucial to first understand what it entails. Let’s break it down:

What is Narcissism?

Narcissism is a personality trait characterized by an excessive sense of self-importance, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. When this trait is taken to the extreme, it can manifest as narcissistic personality disorder, a condition that significantly impacts one’s ability to form healthy relationships.

What is Family Triangulation?

Family triangulation is a term used to describe a specific dynamic within a family unit. It involves three main roles:

  1. Scapegoat: This individual often becomes the target of blame, criticism, and emotional abuse. They are the ones who are blamed for everything that goes wrong in the family. If you want to know more about what a scapegoat faces, here’s how a covert narcissist mother can scapegoat her own daughter.
  2. Golden Child: This is the favored child who can do no wrong in the eyes of the narcissistic parent. They receive excessive praise and attention. The Golden Child gets all the praise. The Scapegoat gets all the blame. This is how a parent uses narcissistic triangulation on siblings to pit them against each other.
  3. Enabler: The enabler is typically the other parent or family member who enables the narcissistic parent’s behavior by either actively supporting them or turning a blind eye to their actions.

How Narcissism Contributes to Triangulation

Narcissism and family triangulation go hand in hand. Here’s how:

  • Manipulation: Narcissistic parents often manipulate family members to maintain their power and control. They pit siblings against each other, using them as pawns in their game.
  • Gaslighting: Gaslighting is a tactic narcissists use to make others doubt their reality. They may deny abusive behavior or rewrite history, causing confusion and self-doubt among family members.

Here are some examples of narcissistic triangulation that use both of the above techniques.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Narcissistic Family Triangulation

Recognizing narcissistic family triangulation is the first step toward addressing it. Here are some common signs and symptoms:

  • Constant Conflict: Frequent arguments, tension, and hostility within the family.
  • Blame-Shifting: The scapegoat is unfairly blamed for problems within the family, while the narcissistic parent avoids responsibility.
  • Emotional Exhaustion: Family members, particularly the scapegoat, experience emotional exhaustion due to the constant turmoil.
  • Enmeshment: Unhealthy emotional closeness between family members, often to the detriment of individual identity.

Understanding these aspects of narcissistic family triangulation is crucial in your journey to navigate and ultimately overcome its toxic effects. In the following sections, we’ll explore the emotional toll it takes and provide strategies for dealing with this challenging family dynamic.

The Emotional Impact of Narcissistic Family Triangulation

Navigating a narcissistic family triangulation can be emotionally draining and psychologically damaging. Understanding the emotional toll it takes on individual family members and the dynamics within the family is vital.

The Emotional Toll on Individuals

  1. Low Self-Esteem: Scapegoats often internalize the constant criticism and blame, leading to low self-esteem. For example, if you were always blamed for your siblings’ mistakes, you might have grown up feeling inadequate and unworthy.
  2. Anxiety and Depression: Living in a constant state of conflict and uncertainty can contribute to anxiety and depression. Imagine enduring years of emotional rollercoasters; it’s no wonder it takes a toll on your mental health.
  3. Isolation: Scapegoats may feel isolated from the rest of the family, leading to loneliness and a sense of not belonging. You might have felt like the family outsider, unable to connect with others.
  4. Anger and Resentment: Family members, including the golden child and enabler, may harbor deep-seated anger and resentment due to their roles in the triangulation. The golden child may later resent the pressure of living up to unrealistic expectations.

How It Affects Relationships Within the Family

  1. Sibling Rivalry: Siblings often become rivals in the eyes of the narcissistic parent, leading to strained relationships that can persist into adulthood. You may have grown distant from your siblings due to the constant competition for the narcissistic parent’s approval.
  2. Parent-Child Relationships: The relationship between the narcissistic parent and their children becomes one of power and control rather than a healthy, nurturing bond. Instead of feeling loved and supported, children are often manipulated and controlled.
  3. Enabler’s Guilt: Enablers may feel guilty about their role in perpetuating the dysfunction, leading to inner turmoil. They may have regrets about not standing up against the narcissistic parent’s behavior.

Long-Term Consequences If Left Unaddressed

If narcissistic family triangulation is not addressed, it can have lasting consequences:

  • Repeat Patterns: Children raised in such families may unwittingly repeat the same patterns in their own relationships and families. For instance, you might unconsciously mimic the behavior of the narcissistic parent in your own relationships.
  • Emotional Scars: Emotional scars from childhood can persist into adulthood, affecting one’s ability to form healthy connections and make sound life choices. These scars may hinder your capacity to trust and maintain fulfilling relationships.
  • Continued Manipulation: Narcissistic parents may continue to manipulate and control adult children if boundaries are not established. Even as adults, you might find yourself susceptible to their manipulative tactics.

In the next section, we’ll explore strategies on how to deal with narcissistic family triangulation, helping individuals break free from the cycle and start on a path toward healing and healthier relationships.

How To Deal With Narcissistic Family Triangulation

Narcissistic triangulation must be stopped before it causes damage that cannot be reversed. And this is true of all kids of narcissistic triangulation – in romantic relationships, in friendships and of course, in families.

Dealing with narcissistic family triangulation requires a strategic approach that prioritizes your emotional well-being and promotes healthier family dynamics. Here are practical steps to help you navigate this challenging situation:

#1. Recognize the Triangulation Dynamics

Awareness is the first step. Recognize the roles within the family, including the narcissistic parent, scapegoat, golden child, and enabler. Understand how these roles contribute to the dysfunction. For example, if you’re the scapegoat, acknowledging your role can empower you to break free from it.

#2. Avoid Being the Messenger

Narcissistic parents often use family members as messengers to convey criticism or blame. Refuse to play this role. Encourage direct communication between family members. If the narcissistic parent tries to make you convey a message to a sibling, kindly suggest that they talk directly.

#3. Encourage Direct Communication

Promote open and honest communication within the family. Encourage siblings to talk to each other directly rather than through the narcissistic parent. For instance, if there’s a disagreement, suggest that your siblings discuss it together rather than involving the narcissistic parent.

#4. Stay Neutral

Avoid taking sides in family conflicts. Staying neutral can help prevent further division and reduce the power of the narcissistic parent. For instance, if your siblings are arguing, avoid taking a stance that aligns with the narcissistic parent’s narrative.

#5. Set Clear Boundaries with Manipulators

Establish firm boundaries with manipulative family members. Be clear about what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t. For example, if the narcissistic parent resorts to name-calling or insults, calmly state that such behavior is not acceptable and disengage from the conversation if necessary.

#6. Validate Others’ Feelings

Acknowledge the emotions and experiences of other family members. Validation can help heal emotional wounds and build trust. If a sibling expresses frustration or hurt, validate their feelings by saying something like, “I understand why you feel that way, and it’s okay to feel that.”

#7. Limit Exposure to Manipulation

Limit your exposure to the narcissistic parent’s manipulation and gaslighting. This may involve reducing contact or setting boundaries around communication. If the narcissistic parent tries to manipulate you, limit your responses and interactions with them.

#8. Build Allies

Seek support from other family members who also recognize the dysfunction. Building alliances within the family can help create a united front against the manipulation. Connect with siblings or other relatives who share your concerns about the narcissistic parent’s behavior.

#9. Maintain Healthy Relationships

Nurture relationships outside of the family to ensure you have a support system that isn’t tainted by narcissistic family dynamics. Cultivate friendships and connections that provide emotional support and a sense of belonging.

#10. Seek Professional Mediation

Consider family therapy or professional mediation to address deep-seated issues. A trained therapist can help facilitate productive conversations and guide the family toward healing. If conflicts persist, suggest family therapy as a way to address underlying issues.

#11. Keep Records

If legal or financial issues arise due to the triangulation, keep detailed records of interactions and agreements. This can protect your interests. Maintain a written record of important conversations, agreements, or instances of manipulation for legal or personal reference.

#12. Understand the Manipulator’s Motivations

Try to understand the motivations behind the narcissistic parent’s behavior. This can help you detach emotionally and avoid taking their actions personally. Reflect on why the narcissistic parent acts the way they do, understanding that it’s rooted in their own insecurities and narcissism.

#13. Practice Self-Care

Prioritize self-care to manage the emotional toll. This can include therapy, mindfulness, exercise, and spending time on activities that bring you joy. Make self-care a non-negotiable part of your routine to help you cope with the stress of dealing with narcissistic family triangulation.

#14. Evaluate Your Options

Ultimately, you may need to evaluate your options, including reducing or cutting ties with the narcissistic parent if the toxicity continues to negatively impact your life. Assess whether maintaining a relationship with the narcissistic parent is beneficial or detrimental to your well-being and make informed decisions accordingly.

Dealing with narcissistic family triangulation is a challenging and emotionally draining journey, but it’s a path toward healing and healthier relationships. By implementing these strategies, you can regain control of your life and protect your emotional well-being. Remember, you are not alone, and there is support available to help you on your journey to recovery.


In the complex web of narcissistic family triangulation, finding your way out can seem like an insurmountable task. However, armed with awareness and practical strategies, you can break free from the cycle of manipulation, control, and emotional abuse.

Remember that healing takes time, and it’s essential to prioritize your well-being. Seek support from friends, therapists, or support groups who understand the challenges you face. By recognizing the roles within your family, setting boundaries, and fostering open communication, you can begin the journey toward healthier relationships and emotional recovery.

The path ahead may be daunting, but with determination and self-compassion, you can reclaim your life from the clutches of narcissistic family triangulation.

Further Reading

For those interested in Triangulation as an topic and want to learn more about it, here’s a book that also covers narcissistic triangulation:

Triangulation: Narcissists, Borderlines, & Sociopaths Do It. How You Can Stop It. Why You Must. – Redwood Alter McKinnon