This is Wikipedia’s definition of Triangulation:
The term triangulation is most commonly used to express a situation in which one family member will not communicate directly with another family member, but will communicate with a third family member, which can lead to the third family member becoming part of the triangle. The concept originated in the study of dysfunctional family systems, but can describe behaviors in other systems as well, including work.
Lights blog writes this:
When functional people have something to say, they say it to you. When dysfunctional people have something to say, they may tell someone else instead. (Lights blog no longer has this article published but I would like to still give credit. It was entitled “Psychological Triangulation”)
We believers would probably classify gossip in the category of Psychological Triangulation. But, there is also more to it. Those who practice triangulation also add manipulation to the pot. If I send one email to Johnny that plants a seed of serious doubt about Sally’s ethics (or something — I am just making this up) . . . then, I send a similar letter to Sally about Johnny’s ethics . . . I have just triangulated. I have, possibly, isolated them from each other. I have rather put myself in charge. At best, I have made myself an authority and dragged others into a game of sorts. At worst, I have managed to isolate both parties from each other, while still holding the power.
This paragraph in Lights blog is highly revealing:
Ill-intentioned triangulation comes from a toxic person who is manipulating. It serves this triangulator best to have others involved in their toxic drama games. In these cases, the triangulation is little more than a tool used to drag the most people possible into the toxic swirl of their schemes as possible. Telling third (and fourth, and fifth) parties brings them more power or more gratification than it does to work toward the resolution of any issues.
How many of us have experienced this?? After I left my abuser, I was getting letters from people I have not heard from in 15 years because abusers were just so very busy in pulling others into their drama games. Do they ever rest? I do not know. I imagine that those who are addicted to drama just move on to something else, eventually. Not one time did I receive a letter showing any amount of love or concern for our welfare (when we left my ex) from the very people who swarmed and buzzed around me, contacting every single person they could find in my circles except me. And, I know that I used to do this, as well, because this was how my family functioned (or dysfunctioned, rather). It was not until God set me free from these methods that I began to see how manipulative it all was. Afraid to speak up or speak out. I must say that it is not easy to break these habits and be direct — but I will also say that it can be done with effort and by the grace of God.
That being said, not all triangulation is bad. Sometimes, it is just life. I used to communicate with David about our (then) five year old because she was only five. She could not really make many decisions about her little life so David and I did isolate her, to a degree. This type of triangulation is healthy and fades as children get older. Sometimes, it is forced upon us. Divorced parents do not always communicate with each other so the children are isolated from unified parents. This is not always a bad thing . . . it is just something that is and has to be for the safety of the children.
However, abusers use triangulation to isolate and stay in control. They need to just stop it. Because of all we went through, when approached by someone who wants to gossip . . . or someone who wants me to somehow relay a message to my husband (who is a pastor), I just say, “Well, you’re talking to the wrong person!” or “I really can’t help you. You will have to approach so and so.” Our children know better, as well. They simply do not take part in triangulation or gossip.
How do we heal from the triangulation suffered at the hands of those who aim to hurt us (whether subconsciously or purposefully)? I love Shahida Arabi’s comprehensive article on healing from this particular type of abuse. She mentions three very important tactics when pulling away from triangulation (shown in quotes):
- “Know that you are irreplaceable and know exactly why.” Abusers often want their victims to believe that they can have “another you in a minute” (yes, I just sang the Beyoncé song as I typed that. Sorry not sorry). Friends, we know better than this. Do you know better than this? Do you know that you are created and crafted by a Creator God who loves you more than you can imagine? Do you know that He was smiling as He designed you? Do you know how precious you are to Him? You are irreplaceable. If you were replaceable, He would have replaced you. Instead, He died for you.
- “Eradicate subconscious wounding that says you’re not enough and cultivate new seeds of self-worth. “ Yes, I know. Easier said than done. This takes time. Arabi says, “Childhood is where many survivors first learn to dim their own light.” This is heart-breaking. There is nothing like growing up feeling like you don’t belong and are not worth anything and then marrying someone to seal the deal. But, I promise you . . . this can be undone. Truth can be learned. Good, solid hermeneutics can change these lies. Find a way to do this. The hard work is worth it.
- “Minimize unnecessary comparisons and reprogram negative self-talk.” A wise woman once said to me, “Comparison is odious”. Oh, how true. Release such a negative self-focus and realize that you are a gem. A true, beautiful princess created by a God who loves you. Who redeemed you permanently. Own that. Again, find a way to do this. And then give that worth to others. Let those waters of life flow freely through you.
All of this is work — I know. Please know that I know this. I have spent the past seven years realizing my worth, in Christ, and I have had to be proactive almost every day, in realizing this. And yet, with each step I take, Jesus pours more grace on my efforts. Like a cleansing, fulfilling, splashy, refreshing and beautiful drink of water. I sense His pride in my baby steps, and His pleasure. I revel in His pleasure over this. I know that I am His and He loves me. Despite any triangulation, gossip, rumors or pain that have been inflicted on me. And despite any I have afflicted on others.
I believe that the damage done by triangulation is why Jesus spoke so definitively on approaching people face to face, rather than the round-about-way (Matthew 18). We go to people — face to face. We look them in the eye and then, in compassion, we speak. And why do we speak? Not because we want to prove others wrong . . . but because we have the best interest at heart of the listener. In fact, we have their ear because they know that we love them. It has been proved over and over. We have earned that right. Otherwise, we need to keep our mouths shut.