Triangulation is a commonly known tactic of narcissists. It involves the narcissist having a third party try to talk to you about what is bothering her. For example, if you have set limits on the time you are willing to spend with your narcissistic mother, she may have your father talk to you about how you should spend more time with your parents.
I realized recently that there is another kind of triangulation that is often used with covert narcissists. It is where the covert narcissist tells you about the terrible things someone else has said about you, & tells them terrible things you have said about them. The things they share aren’t necessarily true.
If you have two narcissistic parents- one overt, one covert- then chances are you are aware of this, even if you haven’t thought about it before. I have experienced this firsthand. My father, a covert narcissist, tells me anything bad that my overtly narcissistic mother says about me (I’m not sure how much is true of what he has said). He also has told my mother I’ve said bad things about her when I hadn’t. For example, he has told me many times my mother has said someone should report me for having too many pets (I have a legal amount of pets & I own my home rather than rent, so no one would do anything if I was reported, by the way). He also has told my mother that I said she isn’t allowed in my home when I said no such thing. The truth is I told him I was sick of her insulting my furkids & if she couldn’t be civil to them, she doesn’t need to come into my home ever again.
I’ve heard of other covertly narcissistic parents doing similar things, & I’ve wondered why. After praying about it, I think I understand.
Telling their child such things, be they true or false, means the child will pull away from the overtly narcissistic parent & be closer to the covertly narcissistic parent. This means more narcissistic supply for the covert narcissist.
This dysfunctional behavior also causes the child to think poorly of the overt narcissist, & it makes the covert narcissist look good by comparison. After all, the covert narcissist comes across as concerned for the child (“I thought you should know what your mother said about you..”), unlike the overt narcissist who has said such hurtful things. And, the covert narcissist isn’t the one who said the hurtful things- he only relayed what he has heard, supposedly because you need to know these things.
This form of triangulation is also a type of deflection, because it takes attention off of the covert narcissist & his bad behaviors. You become angry with the overt narcissist for saying such terrible things, & automatically don’t pay as much attention to the covert narcissist’s bad behaviors since your focus is elsewhere.
Covert narcissists love looking like a martyr, & this type of triangulation helps them to do that as well. See what terrible things he has to put up with? He has to listen to his mean wife talk trash about his child! How horrible for him! He is often so focused on making whatever was said (or he wants you to believe was said) that it stirs you up so much, you fail to realize at first that he didn’t defend you. In fact, if you aren’t aware of this tactic, you may even feel sorry for him that he had to be exposed to this.
So how do you deal with this type of hurtful, dysfunctional behavior?
Obviously, setting boundaries in a normal way with any narcissist is futile. Do not admit that it hurts you to hear these things, or the covert narcissist will realize the effectiveness of this weapon to hurt you, using it constantly.
Instead, show no reaction. Pretend whatever is said doesn’t affect you in the least. He may keep pushing the issue trying to get a reaction. If he does & gets flustered at your calmness, & says something like “Aren’t you upset?” use logic in your response. I’ve said things like, “Why would I be? I know she hates everything about me. This is hardly a surprise. Besides, I just don’t care what she thinks about me anymore.” Then I changed the subject as that information sank in.
Change the subject. Repeatedly. As often as needed. Without saying anything along the lines of “On another matter..” or “Let’s talk about something different”, just bluntly change the subject. Narcissists, overt or covert, don’t like subject changes- they want to be in charge of the conversation. It will annoy him, but at least he’ll be off the topic.