What is Triangulation and How is it Affecting Your Family Dynamic?

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Have you ever heard of Triangulation?

Even if you don’t know what it is, chances are you’ve experienced it.

It’s what’s know as a transactional model of communication.

You can find it in passive aggressive behaviors like the extended silent treatment. Or family members taking sides in an argument. It’s actually a pretty normal daily occurrence for most families.

However normal it may seem, Triangulation isn’t actually a healthy way to communicate. It can lead to drama, insecurity, and even abuse.

So today we’re going to talk about how to bust Triangulation in your family unit. Let’s get to it!

The Karpman Drama Triangle

To understand how Triangulation works, it’s important to know about the Karpman Drama Triangle.

The Drama Triangle is a model created by psychologist Steven Karpman. It shows how family members can get stuck in a cyclic and often adversarial dynamic.

Tips for staying out of the waters of drama

The roles in this dynamic are Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor/Perpetrator. Generally, the roles are played by three separate people (i.e. parent, parent, child).

However, a person can occupy any spot on the triangle. They often shift back and forth depending on their unmet needs.

For example, a child may grow up as the victim. However, they may also occupy the rescuer role to get their needs met. The victim can even become the perpetrator at times.

A great visual overview of the subject

How Triangulation Perpetuates Abuse

Triangulation perpetuates abuse by keeping family members from connecting. Communication is low level at best and personal responsibility is non-existent for all the roles.

Often, the participants are locked in a cycle of drama. This produces shame, anger, insecurity, and loneliness which in turn leads to abuse.

The participants also take their drama with them to new dynamics. For example, the child grows up and gets married. Their partner and their children are now subject to Triangulation. The cycle continues.

The Winner’s Triangle: The Antidote to Triangulation

As messed up as it can get, Triangulation at it’s core isn’t actually a bad thing.

The reason why we get into triangular relationships is to add stability. We need each other. The challenge is to make sure your triangle is a healthy one.

How can we do that? Well, we have to reference another triangle for the answer:

Train Your Brain For Success

This is the Empowerment Triangle or “Winner’s Triangle.” This method encourages participants to change their perspective on themselves and each other.

The Victim becomes the Creator. They are empowered to take responsibility over their own life and choices. The provide the other roles with creative solutions.

The Persecutor becomes the Challenger. Their power is controlled instead of overwhelming. They provide the other roles with growth opportunities.

The Rescuer becomes the Coach. Instead of becoming entangled in the drama of others, the Coach respects boundaries and provides healthy encouragement. They empower the other roles to solve their own issues.

An excellent description of the Empowerment Triangle

How to Keep Triangulation From Developing

There are many ways to keep your interpersonal transactions healthy. Here’s just ten:

  1. Set and maintain clear boundaries with family and close friends
  2. Focus on personal responsibility
  3. Get perspective from outsiders (i.e. counselors, trusted mentors)
  4. Educate yourself on healthy and unhealthy family dynamics
  5. Empower yourself by working through insecurities (great worksheet here)
  6. Recognize where you are on the triangle at any given moment
  7. Identify and work through toxic behavior in yourself
  8. Learn ways to safely disengage from drama
  9. Go to a Marriage and Family Therapist, encourage the family to join
  10. Improve your communication skills

Wrap Up

Triangulation, as bad as it sounds, is actually fairly easy to defeat. With just a little healthy communication and accountability, your family dynamic can change drastically.

And remember, unhealthy dynamics thrive because of SHAME. So if you find yourself participating in the Drama Triangle, just know it’s okay. We all fall prey to it to some degree.

Acknowledge your involvement in the drama, learn from it, and move ever upwards. I know you can do it <3

Much Love,

MB

References: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2791501/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15605630/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangulation_(psychology)

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22 thoughts on “What is Triangulation and How is it Affecting Your Family Dynamic?”

  1. Wow, never heard of this term, but how familiar are the negative situations described. Those theories should be taught in schools! Thank you for the insights! 🙂

    1. You’re welcome! Yes so many common negative situations fall under this term without us even knowing it. Knowledge is definitely power here and I’m glad the post could give you some good insights!!

      1. thatlittleblog

        This was excellent and something I’m so keen to explain to my husband to be mindful of when we’re communicating with our daughter. Thank you !

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this post! I’ve seen this happen in my own family but never had a name to call it by. This was incredibly informative and the visuals really helped to deepen my understanding. 🙂

      1. This wasn’t a term I was aware of but it’s certainly interesting to hear about. I think we’ll all be familiar with some of these traits and it’s handy to have a name to put to it. Thank you for putting together such an easy to understand post on this!

  3. What a fascinating subject! I have never heard of triangulation, but I am sure I have experienced this either in a family dynamic or professionally. Thank you for sharing this information!

  4. Brianna Johnson

    Great article! Very informative. Glad to learn something new that I can apply to our future family (:

  5. Thank you for this stimulating way of looking at communication. It is so important in these times where we are going through a transformation of all our relationships due to the pandemic, and the new forms of communicating online with one another. I appreciate that you did not just point toa problem but clearly shared what its solution can be. I enjoy your writing style and will be reading further on other things you have shared. all the best, Maude

    1. Thanks so much for reading and the thoughtful comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the piece, I always try to present solutions if I can.

  6. completely agree with ANNA!
    never heard about this term, but the situations are well known!
    thanks for writing a much needed article!

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