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Author Topic: What does triangulation mean?  (Read 101604 times)
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« Reply #20 on: May 08, 2013, 03:01:03 PM »

What term would be used to describe this kind of situation - Is it a form of triangulation or is it something else?

Your uBPDbf constantly has women in his back pocket - either as an emotional relationship with the possibility of bringing them forward to a romantic relationship if he starts to feel insecure in his relationship with you.  Or, as a way to create space and distance with you if he's feeling threatened - ie engulfment.  

HardTruth, I don't think there is a clinical term.  Fallback lover (fallback man, etc.) is the common slang term.  There are many reasons why people line up others as fallback partners. Often they fear being alone or fear what it means to be alone, especially if they derive their personal worth from being partnered up or buy into the erroneous view that couplehood enhances their value. Sometimes people feel vulnerable because they love the person so much and they fear loosing them.  Sometimes, people hate not having someone to care for or to take care of them. If such people see singlehood on the horizon, they make doubly sure there is somebody else on deck. Breakups are difficult even if you are the one initiating the split. In many ways, a breakup is a loss or a failure. We or the pwBPD might feel guilty. Sometimes we like the person even if we don’t wish to remain romantically together permanently. So, when suspecting there might be a breakup soon, it feels much better to be swept up in the excitement of a new person rather than tolerating feelings of sadness, loneliness or guilt.

The message we try to convey here is that it is healthier to spend time figuring out why the relationship didn’t work, what we might do differently next time, whether the relationship was worth saving or how we might choose a more suitable partner.

And all of the above should not be confused with Substitute lover which is when a new lover is taken as a proxy for a night or a week when the main lover is not available.  The psychology behind this can be validation, spite, instant gratification, etc.


This board is intended for general questions about BPD and other personality disorders, trait definitions, and related therapies and diagnostics. Topics should be formatted as a question.

Please do not host topics related to the specific pwBPD in your life - those discussions should be hosted on an appropraite [L1] - [L4] board.

You will find indepth information provided by our senior members in our workshop board discussions (click here).

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« Reply #21 on: May 08, 2013, 04:34:39 PM »

Skip, yes, I see what you're saying. I think the Bowen triangulation concept is the one that is getting most confused (well, maybe just tossed around in the wrong places).  I absolutely agree that broad generalizations are very limiting and not helpful. I'm just trying to sort out the dynamics for future reference. Very interesting stuff.

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But you gave away the things you loved, And one of them was me
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« Reply #22 on: May 08, 2013, 08:27:21 PM »

I was considering my thoughts on this when I noticed Skip's mention of "jargon". There's certainly no shortage of jargon (occasionally to the point of seeming cliché) in the personality disorder lexicon. It should be noted that the word "triangulation", and it's implied definition, is not to be found in the DSM or Millon's subtypes criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder. A valid topic for discussion, to be sure, but one of the greater scope of Human nature.
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« Reply #23 on: May 09, 2013, 09:57:36 AM »

The topic is what does triangulation mean...   and we have many meanings for it, just like most words have multiple meanings. Problem is on these boards the meanings really can be confusing since they change the meaning of a sentence depending on which meaning you attribute to it. We either give more context to explain which meaning we are using, or perhaps come up with a few more words to clarify whether we mean someone is a fallback lover, or changing positions within a Karpman drama triangle, or some other 3rd person is being involved in a situation...   each of those is common and meaningful, we are just [confusing matters by] calling them all "triangulation."

We could use an adjective each time...   say Karpman triangulating, or backup-guy triangulating. In some way we need to still have common phrases to cover each meaning that are unambiguous, or ride people to explain what they mean by triangulating, when they use the term.
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« Reply #24 on: May 09, 2013, 12:46:11 PM »

Triangulation is part of a BPD's standard toolkit.  A tool which they intuitively wield with the skill of a master.

I look at triangulation in a broader perspective as one party(Leader) pitting two parties(Follower and Enemy) against each other for the perceived gain of one or two of the parties.  In Karpman terms, the rescuer(Follower) and the victim(Leader) "benefit" together against the abuser(Enemy).  A political triangle would involve the politician(Leader) pitting groups against each other to the benefit of the politician and a politically favored group who are pitted against the enemy.  

Triangulation is a natural part of the human social condition.  As other posters have pointed out family triangulations seem to be very common too.  

A borderline uses forms of triangulation because they simply work for them.  Triangulation automatically screens out those who are unwilling to play into the triangle thereby leading the BPD afflicted person to a more than ready source of willing supply lined up to meet their perceived needs of the moment.  Much like the premature "I love you" statements, the borderline is an expert at identifying those who are susceptible to them and exploiting them using a variety of tactics.  These tactics are honed by years of experience and are only effective on those who are predisposed.

Triangulation is an excellent first screening tool for a borderline in its never ending quest for the perfect host.  I had known mine for years and she played victim so many times against her exH that everyone hated him.  HNM included.  Recent events have proven to HNM that everything she said about him for all of those years were total lies.  In retrospect, I now know that what she did was triangulation.  At the time, I just saw a poor little thing who was not being taken care off properly by a sorry slacker.  Little did I know the truth.

I will freely admit that her triangulations with me on her exH drew me into her web of deceit.
« Last Edit: May 09, 2013, 01:05:12 PM by HostNoMore » Logged
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« Reply #25 on: May 09, 2013, 04:05:26 PM »

Triangulation is an excellent first screening tool for a borderline in its never ending quest for the perfect host.  I had known mine for years and she played victim so many times against her exH that everyone hated him.  HNM included.  Recent events have proven to HNM that everything she said about him for all of those years were total lies.  In retrospect, I now know that what she did was triangulation.  At the time, I just saw a poor little thing who was not being taken care off properly by a sorry slacker.  Little did I know the truth.

I will freely admit that her triangulations with me on her exH drew me into her web of deceit.

I don't think that bad mouthing your ex or playing "damsel in distress" after a divorce is triangulation. 

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« Reply #26 on: May 09, 2013, 06:08:52 PM »

What I find helpful about the concept of triangulation, was understanding that humans tend to gravitate toward triangles to alleviate stress/anxiety...   not just pwBPD

and also, the importance to me personally of recognizing if I'm an active player in a drama triangle; after learning about Karpman Drama's triangles it helped raise my awareness about staying OFF of a triangle by not participating, neither being a rescuer, persecutor or victim.  


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« Reply #27 on: May 09, 2013, 08:22:07 PM »

There seems to be a great bit of confusion on triangulation!   I greatly agree with Skips comments in and also cannot stress enough the point that it is a misconception in referring to all affairs /cheating as triangulation.
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« Reply #28 on: May 13, 2013, 12:06:19 PM »

The concept of triangulation in relationships originated from Family Systems Theory (Bowen). Bowen proposed that triangulation in human relationships are ubiquitous, natural,  and can be either functional or dysfunctional.  All people do both sometimes.

Example of functional triangulation; where a third is introduced and the diad becomes more stable eg ., man, woman, child, / wife, husband, therapist , etc. , or if the triangle results in problem solving, stabilization, and promotes individuation (strong sense of self).

Example of Dysfunctional triangulation;  where the anxiety/tension of two is diluted by the introduction of a third entity and prevents problem solving, creates additional problems, is destabalizing,  and often involves, scapgoating, secrets, or negative advocacy.

All people triangulate all the time; it is not exclusive to pwBPD. The natural purpose of a triangle is to alleviate tension and anxiety between two people and when functional can enhance problem solving and actually enhance relating...   everyone does it.  (Bowen)

A person struggling with a personalty disorder will often rely on problematic triangulation; The reason this would be has to do with an inability to focus on a solution (problem solve) and a strong need to instead defend an existential "identity" point on the drama triangle,  most often "victim" in the case of BPD.  Problem solving requires a strong sense of self, ownership and responsibility,  an ability to deal with uncomfortable emotions (what's my part in the problem? / shame), and the ability to maintain agreements, etc.  Due to BPD symtomology, these skills/traits are difficult if not at times impossible for pwBPD to perform, thus the more primitive fall-back of maintaining the role of victim at all cost,  not as a strategy in an arsenal of sophisticated tools,  but as a result of a LACK of tools and a lack of flexibile coping skills.   (Greg Lester, Personality Disorders in Social Work & Health Care, 3rd edition, Cross Country Education.

A problematic triangle or triangulation is not something that is DONE TO US, it' something that we participate in or not; usually because of our own over-identification with a point on a drama triangle from family of origin,  on this board, most often 'resucer'...   but even if you start out as a rescuer you will usually eventually play all roles and leave a drama triangle identifying strongly with the role of "victim".

Bowen v. Karpman

In Bowen Family System terms, we understand that triangles are natural, we all do it. It's problematic if it inhibits individuation, creates more problems, or involves scapegoating/secrecy.  It was the study of family dynamics where the importance of triangles was first observed. A family with an alchoholic parent and an enabeling codependent parent, may scapegoat the angry child and identify that child as the problem in the family (the identified patient)...   when really, the child is acting out the pain of the family system, but he is scapegoated as THE problem, while the underlying systemic sickenss of alcoholism goes unaddressed by the parents.  

Karpman stems from Transactional Analysis, and it helps conceptualize the roles we take in relating and how they switch among victim, persecutor, and rescuer.  A drama triangle diagram ala Karpman helps us to understand better our own role identifications.   Karpman diagrams many types of triangles, they aren't all 'bad' ...   the one we focus on here is a diagram relating to a Drama Triangle.

An affair could be analyzed through a lens of either theory, using Bowen or a Karpman Drama Triangle.  Not ALL trianglation is BAD, but much of what we see on this board leans toward problematic triangles due to the nature of BPD and frankly, to the nature of codependency.

Bowen: tension in couple diminished through introduction of 3rd party vis a vie affair. Couple avoids relationship problem solving and instead argue about the affair partner. Affair partner is scapegoated as the problem, and couple nevers deals with their own problems effectively between the two of them, as their tension is outsourced through the affair.  Some might argue this triangle is actually working.  

Karpman: man meets woman in distress, she is upset because her husband mistreats her. Man overly identifies with role of rescuer and attempts to rescue woman (victim) from her husband (persecutor). Suddenly there is a role switch; upon developing closeness with woman she suddenly pulls away from the man (her rescuer). Man reacts with alarm (attachment protest)and is now in role of (persecutor/split black due to trigger of intimacy) while woman remains in victim role and finds another new rescuer or goes back to husband. Man entered the triangle as a rescuer , became the persecutor when he was devalued, and leaves the triangle feeling like a victim.  He has expereinced all roles on the triangle, but to the degree he finds himself in this kind pattern a lot...   he may be a starting gate rescuer and his own behavior and beliefs need to be examined if he wants to break HIS pattern.  

By the way...   this same dynamic could happen in a family between wife, husband, child...   or at work between boss, manager, and coworker, or in  a therapy office between client, therapist, and spouse, or between three friends, ...   etc.

How to avoid participation in problematic triangles

1) strengthen your own individuation (know yourself) through therapy, study, practice of self-care, break free of old family dynamics, etc.

2) identify if you are a starting gate rescuer, victim, or persecutor and work to lessen your participation (become more flexible/resilient) in these rigid roles to the degree it is problematic for you.

3) become aware of codependent traits in yourself or your family of origin; starting gate rescuers generally fall into codependent belief system and behaviors.

4) Be cautious of individuals who present with a long history as a victim or who engage in extreme black/white thinking about relationship dynamics (I'm blameless);  and become aware  of your own tendency to do this too, and/or your own tendancy to want to rescue a victim.

5) Focus on developing your own coping and problem solving skills and encourage others to do likewise.

The concept of triangulation and the roles we play on a drama triangle or through triangulation with others can be very useful in our own recovery process; it's not meant to be be seen as a mysterious 'thing' that only pwBPD do TO US.  It's not. It's a human thing.  Finding yourself invovled in problematic triangle dyanamis is a wake-up call to start examing your own choices, beliefs and behaviors.  It is useful to raise your level of awareness about problem triangles and your participation in them.  


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« Reply #29 on: May 13, 2013, 01:32:50 PM »

I agree, from a healing perspective, we should ask, what is the highest and best use of the concept of triangulation?

The answer, I believe, is in looking at ourselves.  Am I triangulating to avoid dealing with tensions in my relationship with another or others? Many of us are.  Am I a willing participant in solving others problems by participating in triangulation.  Those who do this are generally avoiding their our own stuff.  We have all seen this. We don't want to do these things.  smiley

As for characterizing the actions of others, the use of triangulation is less actionable.  We can lament on others having bad values and bad boundaries -- in the same way, we can lament on others triangulating.  Understanding that someone triangulates routinely rather than facing their issues tells us that we will have difficulty resolving matters with them...   it may also give us some leads on how to resolve conflict with them.

Characterizing affairs and second lovers in terms of triangulation seems to me to a secondary issue.  The primary issue of an added lover is our values and boundaries. Right?  This has huge moral and character implications. Can we learn from the "why", sure, but we probably want to find the resolve to examine our own values and commitment to them first.  

Granted, if we are in "infidelity recovery", it is helpful to understand what triangulation was in play with our partner and to also look at ourselves to see if we are contributing to the intensity that made our partner choose avoidance.

The tools are here to promote understanding and healing and its important to always keep this foremost in mind when we use them.

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