To draw you closer, narcissists & psychopaths create an aura of desirability—of being wanted and courted by many. It will become a point of vanity for you to be the preferred object of their attention, to win them away from a crowd of admirers. They manufacture the illusion of popularity by surrounding themselves with members of the opposite sex: friends, former lovers, and your eventual replacement. Then, they create triangles that stimulate rivalry and raise their perceived value. (Adapted from “The Art of Seduction” by Robert Greene).
A note before I continue: people fall in and out of love. People find new love, before and after relationships come to an end. People cheat on one another. This section is not about these everyday occurrences—no matter how heartbreaking and unfair they might be. Instead, I will be describing a very specific set of patterns and behaviors that psychopaths utilize in order to torture and control their targets.
Psychopaths, like most predators, seek power and control. They want to dominate their partners sexually, emotionally, and physically. They do this by exploiting vulnerabilities. This is why they love-bomb you with attention and flattery in the beginning of the relationship—because no matter how strong or confident you are, being in “love” makes you vulnerable by default. Psychopaths don’t need physical aggression to control you (although sometimes they do). Instead, relationships provide them with the perfect opportunity to consume you by manufacturing the illusion of love. This is why it’s so damaging when bystanders say: “Well, why didn’t you just leave?” You never entered a relationship with the psychopath expecting to be abused, belittled, and criticized—first, you were tricked into falling in love, which is the strongest human bond in the world. Psychopaths know this.
So how do psychopaths maintain such a powerful bond over their targets? One of their favorite methods is through triangulation. When I mention this term, survivors usually equate it with the next target, but that is not always the case. Psychopaths use triangulation on a regular basis to seem in “high-demand”, and to keep you obsessed with them at all times. This can occur with anyone:
1. Your family
2. Their family
3. Your friends
4. Their friends
7. Complete strangers
The psychopath’s ability to groom others is unmatched. They feel an intense euphoria when they turn people against each other, especially when it’s over a competition for them. Psychopaths will manufacture situations to make you jealous and question their fidelity. In a normal relationship, people go out of their way to prove that they are trustworthy—but the psychopath does exactly the opposite. They are constantly suggesting that they might be pursuing other options, or spending time with other people, so that you can never settle down into a feeling of peace. And they will always deny this, calling you crazy for bringing it up.
The issue here is that you’re accustomed to such a high level of attention after they first lured you in, so it feels very personal & confusing when they direct that attention elsewhere. They know this. They’ll “forget” plans with you, and spend a few days with friends that they always complained about to you. They’ll ignore you to spend more time with their family, when they initially told you that they were all horrible people. They’ll seek sympathy from an ex when a member of their family dies, and explain that they just have a “special friendship” you wouldn’t understand. Often—if not always—that ex is someone they first claimed was abusive and unstable.
Seeking attention, sympathy and solace from people who are not you is a very common tactic of the psychopath. As an empathetic person, and as their partner, you rightfully feel that they should be seeking comfort in you. You’ve always healed them in the past, so what’s different now? They once claimed that they were a broken person, and that you were the reason they were happy again. But now, they turn to private friendships or past relationships that you could “never understand”. And they will always make sure to shove this in your face.
This brings me to the next topic: social media.
Technology makes it so much easier for psychopaths to manipulate through triangulation. It can be as simple as liking a comment from an old ex, while ignoring one from you. They will “accidentally” upload a photo album where they’re embracing the ex they once claimed to hate. Everything appears to be unintentional—you often attribute it to insensitivity—but make no mistake: it is carefully calculated.
They will post strategically ambiguous statuses, songs, and videos that suggest you might be “losing” them. They will share things that are intentionally meant to lure in new & old targets. For example, an inside joke with their new victim. Or the love song that they once shared with their ex. This does two things: it leaves you feeling unhinged, anxious, and jealous. But it also makes the competing party feel confident, loved, and special. They are grooming others as they erode your identity—two birds with one stone.
They want you to confront them about these things, because they are so seemingly minimal that you will appear crazy and jealous for bringing it up. They will calmly provide an excuse for everything and then blame you. Covert abuse is impossible to prove, because it’s always strategically ambiguous. You can’t prove that they’re luring in their ex because of a song they posted, but you know it intuitively. This is how they finalize the crazy-making. Because let’s be honest: complaining about Facebook statuses & comments does seem immature. That’s exactly how they want you to feel.
Psychopaths are also expertly skilled at surrounding themselves with givers—insecure people who find self-worth in taking care of others. This is why your giving seems so insignificant and replaceable during the relationship. They adore qualities in others who are nothing like you—sometimes even the exact opposite of you. The message is simple: you are no longer special. You are replaceable. If you don’t give them the worshipping they deserve, they’ll always have other sources. And even if you do give them positive energy, they’ll get bored of you eventually. They don’t need you. Their current round of fans will always spoil and admire them, making you believe that they truly must be a great person. But take a careful look around. You’ll notice that they all seem to have an unspoken misery about them.
The final triangulation happens when they make the decision to abandon you. This is when they’ll begin freely talking about how much this relationship is hurting them, and how they don’t know if they can deal with your behavior anymore. They will usually mention talking to a close friend about your relationship, going into details about how they both agreed that your relationship wasn’t healthy. In the meantime, they’ve been blatantly ignoring frantic messages from you. You’ll be sitting there wondering why they aren’t chatting with you about these concerns, considering it’s your relationship.
Well, the reason is that they’ve already made the decision to dump you—now they’re just torturing you. They only seek advice from people they know will agree with them. That “friend” they’re talking to is probably their next target.
After the breakup, they will openly brag about how happy they are with their new partner, where most normal people would feel very embarrassed and secretive about entering a new relationship so quickly. And even more surprising, they fully expect you to be happy for them. Otherwise you are bitter and jealous.
During this period, they make a post-dump assessment. If you grovel or beg, they are likely to find some value in your energy. They will be both disgusted and delighted by your behavior. If you lash out and begin uncovering their lies, they will do everything in their power to drive you to suicide. Even if you come back to them later with an apology, they will permanently despise any target who once dared talk back to them. You’ve seen too much—the predator behind the mask.
This is why they constantly wave their new partner in your face, posting pictures and declaring their happiness online. Proving how happy and perfect they are. It’s a final attempt to drive you insane with triangulation. To make you blame the new target, instead of the true abuser.
Exes who stay strung do not understand that they are puppets to the psychopath. Instead, they feel that they are fulfilling some sort of beautiful duty as a friend—someone who will always be there for them. They don’t understand that they are only kept around to spice things up when the psychopath becomes bored. They don’t see that they are the basis of so many fights—not because their friendship with the psychopath is special and enviable, but because the psychopath intentionally creates that drama. They are operating under the delusion that their friendship with the psychopath is brilliant, unique, and unprecedented. When in reality, they are just used for triangulation.
So how can you protect yourself from this devastating emotional abuse? First, you must learn self-respect. I will discuss this in more detail later on in the book. But the bottom line is, you need know what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in a relationship. You should know that a partner who cheats and antagonizes is not worth your time. You should never resort to calling yourself crazy in order to account for their extremely sketchy behavior. But that’s hard to do with subtle, covert, crazy-making abuse.
So here’s where I introduce “The Detective Rule”. The idea is simple: if you find yourself playing detective with someone, you remove them from your life immediately. Remember your Constant? Do you play detective with them? Do you cyberstalk their Facebook page and question their every intention? No, of course not. So you know the common denominator is external.
Even if this sense of distrust feels obscure and unreasonable, trust your gut. If you are constantly worrying or doubting your thoughts, it’s time to stop blaming yourself and start taking action.
Miraculously, every single time you remove that toxic person from your life, you will find that the anxiety subsides. Some of us are better at judging ourselves than others, so this finally gives you a chance to put that to use. You can decide whether or not you like the way you feel around someone. No one can ever tell you that your feelings are wrong. Remember the question: “How are you feeling today?” The answer is all that matters.
Triangulation leaves long-lasting emotional scars, and it makes you feel as if you are a jealous, needy, insecure monster. Start healing those scars and understand that they were manufactured. You were not yourself—you were manipulated. The real you is kind, loving, open-minded, and compassionate. Never question these things again.
I’m working on a new book about this stuff. If you would like to be notified when it’s released, you can enter your email address below. This is not a mailing list. Just a one-time notification: